Welcome back to the Part 2 of the Ultimate Guide to Marketing. Following our overview of key business concepts, we’re ready to jump into the actual marketing. We’ll start with a few formulas and concepts that make it easier to focus on what really matters amid all the noise.
In this section, we’ll cover:
- A Marketing Flight Check
- The Most Important Rule of Marketing
- The Internet Marketing Formula
- The Ultimate Book Marketing Formula
We’ll begin with why, contrary to popular advice, you should not double down on poorly performing books.
Basic Flight Check: Things To Do Before We Begin
These elements are basic; most people will have them in place. If you don’t, stop reading and tackle these—they’re worth the trouble. These apply to Amazon, not for other retailers.
- Create an Amazon Author Central account. This is so you can claim all your books and have a bio, author photo, and link to your website. You do not need to enter a bio, picture, or website if you do not have one; many authors simply use their logo or their latest cover for their photo. You don’t have to sign up for all of the regions; just make one in the US (unless your books are super popular in a specific region) and make sure all your books are claimed.
- Create an Amazon Affiliate account. While you can’t use Amazon Affiliate links in PPC ads (it’s against the affiliate TOS), you can use them on your website. Some promo sites will also allow you to enter your affiliate code when you book a promotion. This will not make you rich, but it can earn you a few hundred to a few thousand extra dollars a year (depending on how many books you sell) with zero additional effort. Much like the Author Central account, just create a US affiliate account—don’t worry about the other regions unless a huge portion of your fanbase is located there. I also wouldn’t bother signing up for affiliate programs on other retailers unless you sell a huge amount there.
- Link your Kindle, audio, and print editions. This often occurs automatically, but sometimes the automated system drops the ball, and the various formats of your book will all be floating around in isolation. If your versions aren’t linked, login to your KDP account and contact support to link your books.
I won’t pretend doing these things is fun; if you’ve put them off, then the likely reason is precisely because they’re boring. But spending the hour it takes to get these things shored up will dramatically amplify the effectiveness of all your marketing efforts going forward.
Critical Flight Check: Check Your Series Pages
Most importantly—and why it’s receiving its own special section—make sure that each of your series is actually linked as a series. You can confirm they’re linked when you see this on your book’s page:
When you click on the series name—The Eden Hunter Trilogy, in this case—you are lead to what’s known as a series page, which, as its name would suggest, contains the entire series on one page:
Linking the books in a series serves four functions:
- Amazon’s automated systems will market Books 2, 3, 4 and so forth more aggressively to people who have bought the previous volumes, since the system knows the books are related. On many devices, an automatic pop-up will trigger at the end of the book with a direct link to the next volume in the series. This increases sellthrough.
- It provides a clear indication on the book’s Amazon page that this is part of a series with multiple books, rather than forcing the reader to hunt through your website/all your books to find out.
- Readers can one-click buy the entire series from the series page.
- The series page has relatively few ads or distractions, which means directing paid advertising traffic can be very effective in specific circumstances.
The series links are a little wonky, and can disappear randomly or when you release a new book in a series. Login to your KDP account and contact support if a series is missing its corresponding page.
Now that we’ve addressed the administrative stuff, let’s hop right into the most important rule of marketing.
The Most Important Rule of Marketing
Stellar marketing cannot save an unsellable book or series. If you’ve exhausted your marketing options and a book still sinks like a stone, move on. Many books don’t sell. Forcing the issue won’t change that reality. Never throw good money after bad. Treat it as a sunk cost and a learning experience, then write another book.
This is especially important when it comes to a series, since continuing on is not just a matter of risking money, but significant additional time.
If Book 1 bombs, reviving the series is a Sisyphean task unless:
- You botched the launch advertising (e.g. did no advertising or your advertising dollars were used on ineffective ads/promo sites)
- You botched the packaging (cover/blurb) by targeting them toward the complete wrong genre
If either of these apply, fix them. If not (e.g. your book’s presentation and advertising were competent) , then congratulations: you’ve likely written an unsellable book. Don’t worry; you’re in good company. I’ve written plenty of them, much to my chagrin.
It is, however, easy to fight the inevitable and instead get sucked down a rabbit hole of writing new books in the series, new covers, rewriting old books, deploying expensive advertising campaigns, and so forth. Unfortunately, the problem at the root of a book’s sales woes is usually a core part of its narrative (e.g. not hitting the sub-genre tropes/unlikable main character/uninteresting concept) OR timing (e.g. just plain randomness/lack of current market demand). Trying to fix the former is akin to hitting a dart board blindfolded while riding a roller coaster, and the latter is out of your control.
Remember, a business’ primary objective is to turn a profit. And nothing kills profits faster than investing huge amounts of money into a poorly performing series or title.
Some people argue that, since books are forever, poorly performing titles might turn a profit years down the line. Thus, tweaking or finishing the series is still worthwhile. This argument ignores opportunity cost. Much more important than money—and far more scarce—is time. Picking up pennies when you can find dollars or gold bars instead is a poor use of resources. If you spend three months on a trilogy that nets you $1,000 over its lifetime, that sounds like a win. But if you could’ve written a series that would’ve netted $100,000, you actually cost yourself $99,000—and worse, you spent a quarter of your year in exchange for an extremely modest return.
A flop is relative to your current career position; for a new author, $1,000 is a large win. For those used to 5-figure releases, it’s a disaster. The principle is what’s important: if, relative to your career expectations, a book flops, the wisest move is to wrap things up quickly before you accidentally dig a money pit.
There’s a corollary to this rule—not all books respond to the same marketing venues. E.g. one series might kill on AMS, but perform terribly with Facebook Ads. The same general idea applies: forcing the issue will only lighten your bank account. Double down on what works and quickly fix or eliminate what’s costing you money.
The Internet Marketing Formula
Effective internet marketing involves just three steps, adapted from Perry Marshall’s excellent 80/20 Sales & Marketing:
- Traffic: directing the right potential readers to your book page via paid ads, your mailing list, social media, Amazon’s algorithms and so forth. Commonly referred to in the indie world as “generating visibility.” Often thought of as advertising, although there are ways to generate free/passive traffic, too. Covered in Part 4.
- Conversion: convincing readers to buy your book via a stellar blurb and cover, competitive price, hook-filled first few pages and so forth. Later, you convert them into fans by pointing them to the next book in the series or offering them something of value to sign-up for the mailing list. Covered in Part 5 (covers/blurbs) and Part 6 (email lists).
- Profit: did you make money? You must be tracking your numbers, so you know if your traffic and conversion efforts have been effective. After looking at the numbers, you have two options:
- If you made money, you repeat the process or, if you have additional marketing funds, slowly scale up your spend to grow your business.
- If you lost money, you typically need to troubleshoot one of the following problems:
- TRAFFIC: the advertising was too expensive or it was ineffective.
- CONVERSION: your cover or blurb are weak, or your price is too high.
- CRAFT: sellthrough (readers purchasing the next book in a series) is ultimately the lifeblood of your career. You can get a bunch of cheap, quality traffic and send it to a Book 1 with a great cover/blurb/price…but if the story doesn’t deliver, no one’s coming back for Book 2, and you’re DOA.
- Ultimately, this can be summed up with the following rule: double down on whatever makes you money and immediately stop or fix what doesn’t.
That’s all marketing is: you need to get targeted readers to your book’s page, and then you need to convince them to buy it; and you need to do these two things at a low enough cost to turn a profit so you can repeat the process again.
Simple. Not easy.
The Ultimate Book Marketing Formula
As mentioned previously, indie author success can be distilled into three core components: productivity + craft + marketing. Your job as an indie author comes down to honing these three areas through repeated practice. When your skills in one of these areas is weak, achieving success becomes difficult to the point of de facto impossibility.
But this concept, while useful, isn’t an actionable strategy. What benchmarks should an author aim for when it comes to “marketing” or “productivity” to be successful?
Enter the Ultimate Book Marketing Formula. This heuristic is the 80/20 rule in action—the key stuff that you must do, with zero padding. There are ten thousand more things you can do. But if you consistently execute well in these five components, you’ll stand a good shot at making it. How can that be, you say? This formula forces you to focus on keystone tasks—and, most critically, get them done. It is designed to maximize your odds of succeeding in a competitive business.
Ready? Here it is:
Market research + 3 targeted traffic sources + great covers/blurbs + newsletter + consistent new series novel releases of 40,000+ words/150+ pages (4+ per year) = full-time author
Or, put another way:
- Research: Understand the tropes and audience expectations of your sub-genre. Clearly incorporate these into the book, its cover/blurb, and advertising so that your target audience knows that your book is for them at a glance.
- Traffic: Find and master three effective, targeted traffic sources that suit your marketing strengths and budget.
- Covers/Blurbs: Get eye-catching, professional covers and write compelling blurbs that make your target audience want to read the book.
- Newsletter: Build your mailing list and engage with your subscribers to sell your books.
- Consistent new full-length releases: Once you nail the first four steps, your most effective marketing tactic becomes a consistent stream of new releases. However, if you suck at the first four things, publishing more books will only lead to more expenses.
- Readers prefer full-length novels (40,000+ words) and will pay more for them ($2.99+) than shorter works.
- Writing in a series makes marketing easier. A certain percentage of readers who buy Book 1 will also pick up Books 2, 3 and so forth (known as “sellthrough” or “readthrough”). An author with a long series of books with high readthrough can spend more on advertising and still be profitable versus an author who writes standalones/has poor readthrough. There are very few genres where you can write profitable standalones. See Part 7 for more.
- Amazon’s algorithm’s reward new releases, and readers like them as well. Consistent releases smooth out your earnings, making your cash flow more stable. Your best marketing is a new, quality book.
These five parameters were not devised because of preexisting biases against literary fiction, short stories/novellas, standalone novels, taking years in between releases, or anything else.
Play with the variables in accordance to your personal strengths and weaknesses; some people are productivity monsters, writing 12+ books a year. They constantly tap into the massive boost Amazon grants new releases (covered in Part II), instead of doing stuff like Facebook Ads. Other authors only release a couple times a year, but build a huge mailing list that reliably launches them into the Top 100. Which lever(s) you pull should be dictated by your strength and overall strategy.
Finally, a commitment to continuous improvement through iteration (kaizen) will propel you forward as other authors stagnate.
The rest of this guide covers each element of this formula in depth, so you’ll understand exactly how to execute them properly.
I’m Going to Ignore Marketing and Just Write Good Books
The formula doesn’t ignore the importance of writing good books. It’s critical to your long-term success—just not in the way most authors think. Unfortunately, “write good books” is a uselessly vague piece of advice, often proffered with a not-so-subtle undertone: if you’re not selling, your books are crap. This might be the case, but marketing shortcomings are more common. We’ve all encountered fantastic TV shows, movies and books that died from lack of exposure. And there are plenty wonderful stories, too, that are simply too niche to make much commercial impact.
Thus, writing good books is not a reader acquisition strategy. No one can tell if your book is good from the cover or blurb (or even the sample, which I strongly suspect most readers don’t read prior to purchasing). They assume your words will be entertaining when your presentation hits the correct notes. It is not until they are deep within the book some hours later, however, that the final verdict is known. Thus, writing good books—particularly strong, satisfying endings—is a reader retention strategy. Ultimately, all business is built on repeat business (for us, readers who become fans).
Without penning compelling books that your target audience LOVES to read, you will never have a career. But publishing a good book will do nothing by itself, either (with rare exceptions that I can assure you are not you), until you make it visible to the world through competent marketing.
In Part III: The Ultimate Guide to Market Research, we’ll explore why product positioning and market research are the most important components of marketing. That’s right: most of marketing is done before you even write a word.
- The Internet Marketing Formula: generate traffic to your Amazon book page (via paid ads, mailing list, PPC and so forth), convert potential readers into buyers by having compelling covers/blurbs; later, convert readers into fans by having a compelling mailing list offer, and then evaluate the ROI (return on investment) by doubling down on things that make you money and immediately stopping activities that don’t.
- The Ultimate Book Marketing Formula: genre research + 3 targeted traffic sources + newsletter + great covers/blurbs + consistent new series novel releases of 60,000+ words (4+/year) = full time author
- A new release is the ultimate marketing strategy once you have the other four elements working. Until then, publishing a good, new book is not a reader acquisition strategy; it is a reader retention strategy. To acquire readers in the first place, you need to generate traffic + have compelling covers/blurbs.
- Sketch out a rough, 5-minute production schedule/release plan. It doesn’t have to be comprehensive, and it’s not set in stone. Just try to determine what you can realistically publish in the next year based on your available time/money/current habits + discipline (e.g. current marketing/production/craft skills) and your monetary goals. Work backward until you have a 1 – 2 keystone habits you can implement today.