We tend to confuse marketing and advertising when it comes to our books. Advertising is what you do when you’ve already written it and published it and you’re only looking for readers. That’s running ads, buying a promo, tweeting about it, or posting in FB groups. That’s not really marketing. That’s shoving your book under someone’s nose and hoping they like it enough to buy it.
Marketing encompasses a lot more than that, and it starts with your product, a fact many indie authors don’t like because they prefer writing the book of their heart and hoping someone likes it enough to read it. That’s fine; whatever floats your boat. And honestly, it’s what you should do when you first start out. But writing the book of your heart, or the books of your heart, won’t get you very far unless you can meet in the middle between what you want to write and what readers are looking for. As I’ve said in the past, authors who can meet in the middle find their longevity in this business. Or rather than compromising on every book, write something you love, then something you know will sell, and go back and forth. I was reading Bryan Cohen’s new Amazon Ads book Self-Publishing with Amazon Ads: The Author’s Guide to Lower Costs, Higher Royalties, and Greater Peace of Mind and in it he quoted John Cusack, who said something like, “I do one project for them and one project for me.” I can’t find attribution for that quote, but for the sake of this blog post, let’s go with it. That’s not what this blog post is about, as it is your choice what you want to write, but as Seth Godin said, and I quoted him not long ago, “Find products for your customer instead of trying to find customers for your product.”
(And if you’re interested, a really great talk by Kyla Stone is available here. She talks about writing to market, but she couldn’t get to where she is today if she wasn’t writing what she loved to write.)
I’ve spent six years publishing and learning from my mistakes. Here are some tips I picked up from other authors and what you can implement with your next books.
Make sure your series looks like a series.
If you look at any big indie’s backlist all their series look like they belong together. It doesn’t matter if they’re all standalones and readers don’t have to read them in order. If they fit together, create their covers so they look like they do. Not only does a reader glancing at your Amazon page know they belong in a series, they just look nicer when they’re all branded in the same way. That means a matching background, maybe, cover models who have the same vibe. Create a series logo and add that to the cover as another way to identify one series from the next. If you do your own covers but publish as you write, create all your covers at once. That way you’re not stuck with one cover that’s already out in the world you can’t duplicate. That shoves you into a corner you don’t want to be in. Book covers are more important than we want to believe, but trust me. Look at any of your comparison authors’ backlists and see for yourself how they brand their series. Also make sure if you’re going to run ads that they meet Amazon’s policies. I had to tweak my small town contemporary series because Amazon kept blocking my ads. I had to zoom in on their faces and it ruined the entire look. I’m much more careful now.
These are books under this name. It’s easy to see the trilogy belongs together, the three standalones and then the small town series. Amazon didn’t like they were in bed. Too bad. They did.
Write in a series, but also don’t tie things up –until the very last one.
Elana Johnson calls these loops. You can end each book with an HEA, but with the overall plot, don’t wrap things up! This encourages the reader to read through your entire series to see how things finally end. With my small town series, everyone is in town for a wedding, and there are wedding activities throughout. The last book ends with the couple’s ceremony. What’s fun, the couple getting married isn’t even one of the couples featured in the books. They are background characters that help with the subplot of each book. That’s it. That might be a flimsy piece of tape holding the books together, but it was a fun way for me to end the series–with the reason why everyone was together in the first place. When Elana talks about loops, she doesn’t mean ending books on a cliffhanger, though it is well within your right and another marketing strategy you can incorporate into your writing. Elana has a wonderful series for indie authors, and you can look at the books here. I’ve read them all, and this isn’t an affiliate link.
Use your back matter.
When you write in a series, and the books are available, your Kindle can help you out by prompting you to read the next one. That can be a boost, but also, you want to take matters into your own hands and add the link to the next book in the back matter of the one before it. If you don’t write in a series, add a different book. If a reader loves your book, they’ll want to read more from you, and you might as well make it easy for them. Too many calls to action may confuse a reader, so you don’t want pages and pages of back matter asking a reader to buy a million books, sign up for your newsletter, and follow you on Twitter and Facebook. Choose the one most important to you, add it immediately after the last word of your book while they are still experiencing that reader’s high, and ask them to buy your next book or sign up for your newsletter. I have also heard that graphics work wonders and adding the cover along with the link is a great way to prompt readers to buy.
Introduce your next book with a scene at the end of the previous book.
This is one I learned from the writers in my romance group on Facebook. Say your novel is about Travis and Amy, but the next book is going to be about Rafe and Emily. End Travis and Amy’s book with a short chapter/scene in Rafe’s POV to get them excited for the next book. I haven’t started doing this, but the writers in my group give it 10/10 stars, would recommend as a great way to get readers buying the next book. Also, if you’re writing romance, readers gravitate toward those hunky men, so if you can, write from his POV. I’m definitely doing this with the trilogy I’m publishing in January, and with the six books that are with my proofer now, the third book ends with an HEA for that couple, but I added a chapter from the heroine’s POV for the next three books. I suppose I could have done it from his POV, but hers felt more natural, and I hope it will be enough to get the readers invested in her story and how the series plays out. You can do this with any genre you write in–if he’s a detective, maybe he stumbles onto a new case, or maybe something serious happens in his personal life. Whatever the case may be, add something that will entice readers to click on the link you’re putting in the back.
Bonus scenes for newsletter subscribers only.
I haven’t started this up yet because 1) you have to write the bonus content 2) I don’t know my newsletter aggregator well enough to make something like this happen, and 3) with my newsletter signup link already in the back, I’m giving away a full-length novel. If you don’t have a reader magnet, writing a bonus scene that is only available if readers sign up for your newsletter is a great way to add to your list and hopefully, the more engaged your list is, the more readers you have.
Looking at your entire backlist as a whole–or what you’ll be writing in the future.
If you think of marketing as an umbrella for your entire career, then think of advertising on a book by book basis. Marketing involves all your books, who you are as an author, and what your message is. That’s why so many authors want a logo–but attach feelings, emotions, and what you’re giving your reader in your books to that logo so they think of those things when they see it. It’s why soda commercials are always happy. They want you to equate having a good time with drinking their product. What do you want your readers to get out of your books? If you’re a romance author, an HEA, for sure, but what else? Is your brand a damaged hero? Found family? If you write women’s fiction, do you want your readers to expect a woman on a journey, or maybe sisters repairing their relationship? Best friends who have grown apart only to be reunited for some reason? Of course, that sounds like all your books will be about the same thing, but that’s not really the case. What is your theme, what is your message you want your reader to get from your books?
Training your readers to expect a book at certain time will help you build buzz as your readers will get used to your schedule. Figure out a comfortable schedule and try to maintain it. Once every 3 months seems like a good practice if you can keep up with that as you’ll never fall off Amazon’s 90 cliff. Also, if you’re writing a series, keep in mind readers don’t like to wait and you’ll have your work cut out for you if you can only release one book a year. You might just have to be resigned to the fact you won’t get the number of readers you want until all the books are released.
It’s a bit older now, but Jamie Albright spoke at the 20books convention a few years ago. She shared some good tips if you can only write and release one book a year.
Tweeting incessantly about your books isn’t marketing. Doing research on your next book before you write it, figuring out your comp authors and comp titles, doing cover research, and writing a good blurb is marketing. Running ads and buying promos to that book once you’ve written it is advertising.
It took me a really long time to figure this out–ten failed books because I genre hopped and was only writing what came to me. I didn’t publish on a schedule, didn’t have a plan. I’m still not publishing on a schedule, though I am going to try to aim for one book a quarter after my COVID stockpile is out into the world.
I’m getting a hang of this marketing thing, but it’s nothing you can achieve over night. I spent five years making mistakes. I’ll spend the next five fixing them.
Thanks for reading!
If you want resources on planning your career, Zoe York has a wonderful series of books that talk about that. You can get them here. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B082CZDK75
Sara Rosette also has a wonderful book on how to write series, and you can find it here. https://www.amazon.com/How-Write-Structure-Troubleshooting-Marketing/dp/1950054322/