If you want to make a career out of book publishing, you must make peace with the fact that you will be marketing your books.
I know, not everyone’s excited by the prospect of promoting one’s work, especially us writerly types. However, read on if you’re hoping to make money from your books.
Let’s start with self-publishing. Imagine that you’ve finished your debut novel, uploaded the file to an online bookstore, and launched your book’s product page. You then leave your book there and let the website do its job in selling your book. Yay! One ticket to authorship success.
Not quite! If this is all you do, the likeliest outcome is that you will get a couple of sales—if even that—then your book slips into obscurity.
Here’s the thing about self-publishing your novel: if you don’t work to find readers for your book, no one will buy it.
On the major self-publishing platforms—like Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple—there are millions of other self-publishing books competing for attention. Few titles make high on the popular sale rankings, and even fewer get featured. These listings overwhelm readers, so you’re unlikely to get many customers from browsing.
Furthermore, self-publishing books have an unfortunate reputation of being low quality, so many readers are less likely to give a self-published book a chance. Assuming you put in the work and money to get your book high-quality editing and design, these concerns should be unfounded, but you still need to get past the stigma to get the sale.
And I must make sure to emphasize this point. Even if you do everything right marketingwise, if your book is unedited, has broken formatting, and has a poor book cover and store listing, you might as well be promoting a cat’s used litterbox. Marketing only works with a good product.
So, how does an author get that book out to readers? Marketing and promotion require ongoing effort: create professional-level store listings, promote through social media, reach out to book reviewers and other promotional outlets, solicit book reviews, build your audience and mailing list, run ad campaigns, and embark on interviews and articles.
And most importantly, keep on writing and publishing books. For a career author, the backlist is gold. The more books you put out, the more ways you need to find new readers and the more sales you get from fans. With a catalog, marketing becomes multiplicative.
Meanwhile, you may be considering publishing your book traditionally. This way, you submit it to a publisher and receive help from your publishing house’s marketing department.
Yes, “trad pub” authors do benefit from receiving a marketing team alongside editorial and production staff. But here’s another hard truth: if you traditionally published your book, you still have to market.
Few authors receive a full-on marketing campaign from their publishers. Full-page advertisements and Barnes & Noble displays are usually reserved for bestselling authors, celebrities, and the rare debut author who wins the industry equivalent of the lottery with a six-figure-plus advance. More likely than not, you’re not in any of those categories.
For the rest, publishers often practice discretion in allocating their limited marketing funds. Often, they give little to no marketing budget to first-time novelists. That leaves the greenhorn author to handle most of the promotional work to earn back the advance and justify the next book.
So, why have a traditional publisher if they don’t market your books? That’s one reason why some aspiring career novelists opt for self-publishing.
But here’s another fact to keep in mind: the most successful authors are putting out bestsellers because they’re working with their publishers to promote.
Let’s loop back to those celebrities with a book deal. One dirty secret is that publishers frequently lose money on celebrity authors because those celebrities aren’t promoting their books. Millions of Instagram followers and a preestablished entertainment career don’t guarantee that a celebrity will make back the advance and marketing budget. On the other hand, the authors who do turn a profit for themselves and their publishers do their share of the marketing and work with their publishers’ departments so that everyone in the endeavor benefits.
Fortunately, all the techniques I describe for self-publishing markets also apply to traditional authors. You just happen to obtain a marketing team in a different way.
If any of this article bums you out, let me leave you with some reassurance: if you put the work into marketing and publicity, you will become better over time, and you will see more results from your promotion.
It’s like with book writing. When you’re deep into a manuscript, it’s hard to know if efforts will pay off. It’s the same with marketing, especially when it feels like you’re shouting into the void.
But both writing and marketing take time. If you plan out marketing campaigns, maintain discipline, and expand your backlist, your efforts will snowball, and you will see the results of your hard work.
I have faith in you!
Over to you: How do you feel about book marketing? What tips do you have for getting over the difficult parts of promoting your books?
ABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 20 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Director of Sales and Marketing for Outskirts Press. The Sales and Marketing departments are composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.