Recap: The Ultimate Book Marketing Summary

Well, we’ve made it to the end of the Ultimate Guide to Book Marketing. If you haven’t read the other parts, consider this a 5,000+ word standalone crash course. If you have been following along, this serves as an 80/20 refresher on the critical takeaways.

At this point, I’ll remind you to take action. Identify your biggest problem area and address it. Or, if that’s too daunting, pick something small that will have an immediate impact. Just get started.

On that note, let’s not waste any more words on the preamble. Onward.

Strategies, Systems & Checklists

This is a step-by-step book marketing system. You don’t necessarily have to follow this guide note-for-note; in fact, at some point, I’d expect you to create your own. The key is to have a blueprint. Why develop a system? Information in the internet age is a commodity. Without implementation, it’s worthless; now, more than ever, the value of information lies in efficient, rapid execution. A system is a blueprint that produces repeatable, consistent results. Instead of remembering what to do, or when to do it, we can focus on executing – and also consistently iterating to improve our system (kaizen). Most elements of this marketing system can be distilled into simple checklists or formulas.

Checklists are often dismissed as mindless or only for newbies. But as The Success Equation states, “The proper use of checklists improves performance without demanding a higher level of skill.” (p. 166)

In other words, systems and checklists shortcut a steep marketing learning curve. And if you already know a lot about marketing, having a framework to build upon can help you assemble what otherwise looks like a jumble of random puzzle pieces. To build on a prior analogy, systems and checklists are like video game strategy guides or LEGO blueprints.

In a video game, much of the fun & satisfaction comes from endless trial and error. Not so in business, because you’re lighting real money on fire instead of fictional lives. You can bumble your way through the levels, dying a lot, or you can save the princess in record time.

Finally, systems encourage action by organizing tasks into easy to follow steps. They break everything into small wins (habits) that are far less daunting than the larger task at hand.

Your system does not have to be perfect. Great is often the enemy of finished, especially in the beginning. Like a book, you start with a rough draft, then you revise it.

The core of our book marketing system is the Ultimate Book Marketing Formula.

On Business

Business can be distilled into two core elements: strategy (your system – your plan of what to do) and execution (actually implementing your strategy well). Most people focus on executing better (e.g. productivity). Sometimes that’s the problem – but productivity-related execution issues are often strategic blunders, where your system does not match your existing capabilities and resources.

If you build a strategy around monthly releases, but can only write 4 books a year, that’s a strategy problem which results in poor execution. There’s a feedback loop between these strategy and execution elements – calibrate your strategy to your strengths and in accordance to your available time/money/other resources. Good execution flows from good strategy, and can turn a relatively simple strategy into something far more than the sum of its parts.

But it’s tempting to either jump beyond your current capabilities or employ something overly complex. As Tim Ferriss says, “People tend to abandon the good system they’ll follow in search of the perfect system that they will quit.” A simple, effective strategy that meshes with your life is far better than the ultra-optimized one you’ll never use. This is the purpose of the Ultimate Book Marketing Formula: it cuts away everything to the bare essentials.

Finally, understanding the principles that make a strategy effective is far more important than copying it beat-for-beat. For example, in the Ultimate Book Marketing Formula, I recommend that you publish at least 4 books a year (one book every quarter). This is because Amazon rewards new releases – and this new release visibility runs out after 90 days. But the core principle is consistency – so that your readers don’t forget about you, or grow impatient waiting for a new book. Thus, you might take this principle and release 2 books, but intermittently release short stories or appear in anthologies to keep your name top of mind.

Always build your strategy upon the underlying principles. This is the sign of true mastery in any discipline.

Key metrics for assessing the health of your business are cash flow (monthly) and net income (yearly/quarterly/per ad campaign). Don’t charge anything to your credit card. The interest rates are terrible, and you should expect this journey to take 5 years – long after any 0% APR deals have expired.

Mindset & Principles

Mindset is the foundation of success. You need good mental “software” to keep going through the inevitable ups and downs. This is not a positive thinking sort of mindset, but rather the ability to assess what really matters and avoid the inevitable noise. This noise is both internal (e.g. “I can’t do this” or “I’m not good enough” or “I hate marketing”) and external (“what will happen with KU” or “I can’t believe Amazon changed again!”). The best solution to noise is simply not to engage. Accept that there are many things outside of your control, and focus on what you can (which is consistently marketing and producing new work).

You need to think critically of all advice, and remember that the emperor often has no clothes. Once you taste a little success, continued sales are not assured; the indie landscape is constantly changing and churning. Your ability to adapt and evolve based on the current environment will dictate your long-term success.

Compound interest rules the business and practice world. You can either improve by 1% each week, or decline. There is no status quo or pause button in life. Progress is slow and often imperceptible in the beginning, until you hit a point of critical mass. But in 3 – 5 years, that 1% weekly improvement will make you world class. This improvement only comes if you keep showing up and embracing new challenges, even when things are hard. Especially when things are hard. And only if you focus on the 80/20: getting really good at the few tasks that move the needle. Double down on your big winners while ignoring small, marginally effective tactics that are actually time thieving liabilities.

Great marketing cannot save an unsellable book. If you’ve exhausted your marketing options and a book still sinks like a stone, move on. Something is amiss, and it will be expensive (and often impossible) to identify and fix the problem. Most books don’t sell. That’s just the way things are, so write another one.

Finally, choose one thing to implement at a time – address your biggest problem right now, break it into smaller pieces and fix it. Then go down the list and address your next biggest problem.

Marketing Formulas

  1. The Internet Marketing Formula: traffic > conversion > ROI (get traffic to your Amazon book page, convert them into a sale with a kick ass blurb/cover/sample, then assess whether you’re doing it profitably – double down on things that work, immediately fix or cut those that don’t)
  2. The Trifecta of Indie Author Success: genre craft + marketing + consistent production
  3. The Ultimate Book Marketing Formula (this distills #1 + #2 into a single, actionable system):

Genre research + 3 targeted traffic sources + great covers/blurbs + newsletter + consistent new series novel releases of 60,000+ words/150+ pages (4+ per year) = full-time author

While there are ten thousand additional things you can do, focusing on these five things and executing them at an 85 – 90% level is a better bet. This formula forces you to focus on fundamental tasks. Tweak the variables in accordance to your signature strengths. And make sure your weaknesses aren’t sabotaging your efforts.

The rest of the summary focuses on how to execute each component.

A final note on craft: writing good books is not a reader acquisition strategy. It is a reader retention strategy. Business is built on repeat customers. To have a long-term career, craft is indeed king – but only if you can make your work visible to potential readers via marketing. Publishing a great book, on its own, will (almost always) do nothing, contrary to well-meaning but erroneous advice.

Component #1: Genre/Market Research

  1. Research your sub-genre on the Kindle Bestseller charts (nicholaserik.com/top100).
  2. Assess the level of competition/how well the books are selling.
    1. Write out the #1, #5, #20 and #50 books. Everything ranked between 1 – 10,000? Good opportunity to carve out a living. 1 – 2000? Lots of money, but hyper competitive.
  3. Determine whether this sub-genre can meet your financial goals.
  4. Determine whether your writing style & production level are a good fit for the audience’s expectations.
  5. Determine whether you can realistically “break into” the Top 50/100 with your current resources (time/money).
  6. Write down 10 indie authors and 10 traditionally published authors in the sub-genre.

Breaking into a sub-genre’s Top 100 charts is not the be-all, end-all goal. Nor do you have to do it with your first book (or at all). But it’s a good gauge of the competitiveness, and the resources required to carve out a niche in given sub-genre.

Proper market research gives you the tools and information to craft enticing hooks/concepts/taglines and a distinct author brand. A brand is a promise of a consistent customer experience; your author name is an implicit promise of a certain type of reading experience. The core of your brand is your USP (unique selling proposition), which is what you offer readers that no other author can.

The USP operates on two levels:

  • Author: What do you offer that no other author can? What makes your work distinct? This is often a matter of craft/voice, although not always. (e.g. Elmore Leonard’s dialogue)
  • Book: The hook, concept or tagline. If you can’t translate your concept into a snappy tagline or killer one sentence hook, your book is likely a commodity.
    • The Matrix: what if reality was actually an elaborate computer simulation?
    • Groundhog’s Day: romantic comedy where main character is caught in an endless time loop
    • Her Last Tomorrow: Would you murder your wife to save your daughter?

Commodity books can sell, but they usually have a shorter shelf-life and require more marketing to push.

Formula Component #2: Three Targeted Traffic Sources

Traffic is what most people think of when the word “marketing” comes to mind: paid advertising and getting eyeballs on your book. Generating traffic is crucial, of course, but it’s just the first step in the cycle.

There are dozens of potential traffic sources; your core job isn’t to brainstorm ideas, but narrow your list of options down to sources that fit your personality, time and capital. We are not looking for anything that can possibly give us visibility; we are searching for the best sources of readers possible. This is a subtle, but key mental shift: we’re trying to find out true fans.

Thus, your first order of business is to rapidly test the most promising options, keeping detailed records on the resulting costs and sales. To create a list of promising traffic sources, we can ask ourselves two key questions (adapted from Noah Kagan):

  1. Who is my reader?
  2. Where are the best places to find them?

If you’ve already done marketing in the past, analyze your records. Identify your biggest winners and time/money wasters.

Alternatively, if you don’t want to slog through a massive list of traffic sources like a pig hunting for truffles, you can bypass the trial and error and select options from my Top 5:

  • (1 + 2) Your newsletter & Amazon’s recommendation engine. If you have absolutely no time for marketing, focus on these and you will see results. They’re that powerful; understanding them is critical to your overall success. For those who are “wide” (have their books on all retailers), you’ll also need to understand merchandising; that’s how retailers like iBooks operate.
  • (3) PPC Ads: can be a money pit, and not effective unless you have $200+/mo that you’re willing to lose. Requires trial and error and constant monitoring, as winning ads eventually turn into losers. However, PPC offers unlimited traffic potential, since you can spend $5/day or $500. Perhaps most importantly, PPC ads are highly targeted. Recall that we don’t just want three sources of traffic; we want three targeted sources of traffic.
    • PPC has the added benefit of being a transferable skill. I understand that you might want to become an author more than anything in the world, but there are no guarantees. Many skills relevant to fiction writing & eBook publishing are decidedly narrow and non-transferable, but PPC is useful in a number of industries and for all other internet businesses, too.
  • (4) Paid newsletter promotions: easy to use, and solid ROI for the top 5 sites. A BookBub can be career changing (although that’s rare; it’s still lucrative, though). Check out my curated list of top sites (nicholaserik.com/promo), complete with direct links to the submission forms.
  • (5) Your choice from the remaining traffic options.

Note: if you’re a Romance author, Facebook (the social media aspect) cracks your Top 5 (and, thus, your three traffic sources), without question.

This takes up two of our three traffic slots. I recommend PPC and paid newsletter sites to 99% of authors, assuming you can invest a few hundred dollars a month in your business. Note that PPC doesn’t work for all authors – and there’s no real way to predict that without testing. I am a fan of paid traffic, however, because it’s scalable and instantly available – Facebook will always take your dollars. Organic traffic often takes years to build.

To be honest, you can stop right there – do these two things well, and you’re set. I’ve cut my focus almost exclusively to PPC ads and paid newsletter promotions. But most authors are concerned about doing too little, since entrepreneurial culture is obsessed with #hustle and #BackbreakingWork.

Once we have our traffic sources, we want to maximize them effectively. Amazon is the biggest bookselling engine on the planet; if we can tap into some of this free visibility, it’ll help our book reach more readers. Three things matter more than anything else for tripping the Amazon’s recommendations:

  1. Sales volume & velocity (key for pop lists/bestseller charts)
  2. Sales consistency (key for pop lists/bestseller charts)
  3. The sample of people who buy your book (key for Amazon’s automated emails, also-boughts and on-site merchandising)

To satisfy the first two stipulations, you should structure your promotions so that your sales chart gradually increases a la the graph on the right. Amazon’s algorithms interpret this as organic purchasing activity, whereas they disregard sudden spikes as paid promotion. Note that your sales will never be this linear/smooth. You just want your sales to gradually increase over the course of the promotion to maximize visibility and the tail.

how-to-distribute-traffic

This ultimately boils down to the following heuristic: backload your biggest traffic sources toward the end of a promo, if possible, and create a consistently increasing sales curve.

Now, let’s revisit why we want those traffic sources to be targeted.

The first reason is simple, and low-tech: if you write urban fantasy, fans of urban fantasy will be more likely to buy your book, enjoy it, and spread the word about it. Advertising costs will also be lower, since you’ll get more clicks and engagement with better, more narrowly targeted PPC ads. It’s tempting to shotgun your book out to everyone with a pulse, but the truth is, only a sliver of the market is likely interested in your title. Fortunately, that’s more than enough to sell a lot of books.

The second reason is Amazon’s algorithms.

Amazon’s recommendation engine – known colloquially as the “algos” is a machine learning, baby AI designed to analyze data. By feeding it a well-targeted sample of buyers, it will then extrapolate from this sample and start recommending your book to similar people. In short, if you have an urban fantasy book, and you feed Amazon 150 voracious urban fantasy readers – who have purchased dozens of UF books on their Amazon account – Amazon’s recommendation engine searches through the customer base to find other people who fit this “voracious urban fantasy reader” profile.

This is much more valuable than feeding Amazon 1000 “general” readers. Yes, the initial sales and ranking numbers will be better, but in the long term, this confuses its data crunching monster. Without the laser targeting, it shotguns your book out to a bunch of people who aren’t interested. Thus, conversion and click rates plummet – which Amazon interprets as a lack of reader interest.

Thus, while an untargeted sale might be worth simply 1 sale, a targeted sale of a urban fantasy book to a voracious urban fantasy reader might be worth 2.5 – 3 sales in terms of visibility (note that this doesn’t apply to sales rank; it’s merely fuzzy math to demonstrate the visibility impact).

To be clear, the power of the data monster has grown to almost mythical status since it was originally introduced by Chris Fox in Six-Figure Author. Yes, Amazon’s recommendation engine is powerful, but it’s also not omnipotent. Also, contrary to popular worry, it’s not easily confused. If you get 150 targeted sales and 100 “general” sales, it doesn’t suddenly shit the bed and stop recommending your book. Volume is still the main factor – just know that targeted volume is the best option.

You can get tight targeting in three ways (in order of targeting specificity):

  1. Your newsletter. Assuming you write one sub-genre, your newsletter is the best source of ravenous, highly-targeted fans.
  2. Facebook, BookBub and Amazon PPC. Target authors who write similar books.
  3. Paid promotional sites. Most sites have genre lists – e.g. science fiction – but don’t drill down into sub-genres. This type of broad targeting can still be effective when combined with #1 & #2.

I’d aim for 25%+ targeted sales. Sales volume is still the most important factor in Amazon visibility, and it’s often difficult to generate this volume without venturing (slightly) outside your core audience. The real reason you want to target your buyers actually has nothing to do with fancy technology and everything to do with commonsense. If you get your urban fantasy book in front of people who like urban fantasy, they’re more likely to buy. This means your marketing costs are going to be cheaper and more effective.

On the other hand, putting your urban fantasy book in front of thriller fans is an uphill battle. You’ll need to spend more to achieve less.

Now, let’s talk about volume. Targeting is sexy and sleek, because it sounds fancy and like some sort of “secret.” But Amazon’s AI is like a baby mammoth: you can coax it along with carrots (or whatever mammoths ate), or you can whap it in the back with a big stick to get it moving. Sales volume and velocity – a lot of sales in a short time frame – is the stick that tells the system “hey, this book is popular and a lot of people are buying it.”

Basic, but don’t forget it. We need a certain amount of volume before its AI even becomes interested in our carrots (the targeted).

Promo stacking helps generate the sales volume necessary to crack the Top 100 genre charts and trip Amazon’s recommendations. By concentrating and combining our traffic sources over a short period (3 – 14 days), we can push our book higher up the charts – thus garnering organic visibility/sales.

An illustration:

  1. Day 1: promo site 1 + promo site 2 + promo site 3 + promo site 4
  2. Day 2: 1/3 of personal newsletter subscribers + $10 PPC campaign
  3. Day 3: 2/3 of personal newsletter subscribers + $20 PPC campaign
  4. Day 4: $40 PPC campaign + seven additional newsletter sites + email to subscribers who didn’t open/click the original emails

If you’ll notice, this follows the principles we outlined above: creating a gradually increasing sales curve. Whereas each individual source by itself might have only generated ten or fifteen sales, in tandem, they form a powerful push. So you might get 50 sales from the 4 promos on Day 1 – but this turns into 65, because you hit the Top 20 of your genre and got additional traffic for free from Amazon’s charts/recommendations.

Super basic, but super effective.

As for how often one should promote, that varies based on the ROI you’re getting. Rules of thumb to start with:

  1. Always during a launch. Amazon provides visibility perks to new release books that can be amplified with a big promo push. Each ad dollar is worth 1.5x – 3x during a launch (not a real calculation, just an illustrative heuristic).
  2. Promo sites w/ backlist books. No more than every six months. Results dip with greater frequency.
  3. Low spend PPC ads ($5/$10 per day). Can run daily. Are usually focused on Book 1 or a boxed set (e.g. to get readers into your series funnel).
  4. Automated systems: newsletter autoresponders, social media posts and other forms of passive marketing can and should run continually.

Pricing impacts visibility, as lower priced books tend to convert better, thus enhancing your organic rank. This leads to a common misconception: that a lower price generates visibility/traffic on its own; this is not true. With a discounted book, you will still need to send your own traffic. It’s merely easier to find and convert traffic when your book is a lower price. And when this ball gets rolling a little, Amazon’s organic recommendations can continue the sales of the discounted book.

Pricing at $0.99/free makes sense under the following scenarios:

  1. Launches. You can launch a book for $0.99 or free to maximize your sales rank and visibility during the first 30 days. Additionally, you can discount earlier volumes (say Books 1 & 2) to generate additional visibility for a later release in a series.
  2. Special promotions. If sales have been lagging, you can drop your price for a limited time and run some additional paid promotion. I recommend only doing this every 3 – 6 months, as most promotional sites have significantly diminishing returns when overused.
  3. A “loss-leader” funnel starter. If you’re going to keep a book at $0.99 or free (e.g. permafree), you must have a series/backlist behind it. Your goal is to grab readers with the cheap or free book, and then get them to buy the other 5, 6, 7 etc. books in your series.

Formula Component #3: Blurbs/Covers (and Other Optimization)

Optimization is about enhancing your Amazon book page’s presentation to convert more traffic into actual sales. Your cover, title and blurb are the most important elements of your book page, and will account for 95%+ of your results. The hierarchy is as follows:

  1. Cover
  2. Title
  3. Blurb
  4. Price
  5. Categories/keywords.

Covers & Titles

  • Your title, subtitle and series title should communicate the sub-genre. Esoteric or metaphorical titles are poor choices for genre novels without Big 5 ad budgets; when in doubt, strive words that clearly signal the expected reading experience (something a la Killing Floor – which is the first Jack Reacher book). If writing non-fiction, you can incorporate SEO into the subtitle to harness Amazon/Google keywords. This is the only effective use of keywords.
  • Cover = packaging, not artwork. You want a cover that is professional, clean, readable and instantly signals the genre/expectations at a small size.
  • Browse Amazon’s top 100 bestseller list in your sub-genre. Note the trends in terms of titles, covers and other elements (e.g. is the typography usually distressed? Is it a sans-serif or a serif?).

How to commission a kick ass cover:

  1. Find 3 – 5 covers that you like on your sub-genre’s Amazon Top 100 bestseller list.
  2. Hire a cover artist with a portfolio matching your desired style & book genre. For a list of recommended artists, visit my indie resources.
  3. Send your 3 – 5 sample covers to the designer and tell them to MAKE IT LOOK LIKE THE EXAMPLES.
  4. Ensure that the typography is legible at a small size and branded consistently across all books in the series. If possible, maintain the same author name typography across your backlist for branding.

Once you have a feel for the key elements/expectations, you can riff on these (or subvert them entirely) in your title and covers, thus making your brand distinct. However, “zagging” (even slightly) before you understand these key expectations is a recipe for a bad, ineffective cover. Learn what readers want, understand the psychology behind it, then learn to play off that as you develop your author brand.

Blurb

The blurb answers this reader question: as a fan of genre x, will this book satisfy my expectations and entertain me? Write the blurb toward your target audience—not to everyone; speak to readers in their language (which you can find in reviews) either by using commonly repeated words (heart-pounding, gritty, darkly satirical) or infusing the blurb with the book’s tone (snarky). And be sure to establish your book’s USP (unique selling proposition) via a snappy tagline and hook in the first 90 – 100 words, since most buyers will make their reading decision based on this.

And here are some basic tips:

  1. Tone: this should reflect the tone of the book/reading experience.
  2. Style: short sentences. Fragments are okay and can help the rhythm.
  3. Formatting: a splash of bold (particularly for the tagline) can give a professional flair. Don’t be afraid of the return key—it’s your friend.
  4. Proper names/nouns: avoid unfamiliar ones. Only mention the protagonist and antagonist—or the male/female leads in a romance.
  5. Avoid clichés: trouble is, problem is, only thing is, can he get the girl/save the world?
  6. Hook/tagline: the most important part of your blurb. Must have a rhythm/snap/musicality to it and pique serious curiosity in less than 15 words.
  7. First few sentences: The area “above the fold” on Amazon totals less than 90 words. Most readers will only see this.
  8. Setting: try to seamlessly incorporate it within the first or second sentence, especially if your book is a fantasy/sci-fi book that is heavily reliant on setting.
  9. Length: typically no longer than 200 – 250 words.
  10. Specific: show what makes your story/characters strong + unique. Note that this is not the fancy names you came up for your fictional fantasy realm. It’s about the feeling and experience you’re going to provide. Don’t be overly general. Be clear about the stakes.
  11. Audience: you can select the audience by including the genre, or similar authors—this can be done as a question a la “do you like strong heroines?” or statement “an adrenaline-packed treasure hunt for fans of Dan Brown.” Usually used as the tagline/hook at the top of the blurb.
  12. Snapper: end with a “snapper” –a rhythmic, pithy line that hooks the reader’s attention and forces them to either purchase or check out a sample. Alternative is a simple cliffhanger, which works the same way as it does within the book.

Finally, a practice routine:

  • Find 5 blurbs in your sub-genre’s Top 20 list that make you want to read the actual book.
  • Find 5 blurbs in your sub-genre from NYT Bestsellers that make you want to read the actual book. These are generally written by pro copywriters.
  • Copy these 10 blurbs into a document. This is known in copywriting as a “swipe file.”
  • Read the reviews for these 5 books in your genre—what did readers consistently hate/like the most? Did the blurb mention these elements? Add 10 commonly mentioned tropes/themes/subjects to your swipe file.
  • Copy the blurbs from your swipe file out word-for-word by hand. This gets the feeling in your bones. Consider what phrases, words and structural techniques were most effective in grabbing your attention and evoking an emotional response.
  • Write the blurb. If you’d like a list of formulas, download the free cheatsheet at nicholaserik.com/cs1
  • Let it sit for a day or two (or at least a few hours), then come back. Read it aloud.
  • Try to cut the blurb by 50% without losing any meaning. Ruthlessly chop superfluous words and uncompelling phrases. This will leave only the punchiest, most exciting parts.

Keywords

  • Keywords are useless on Amazon unless they’re already part of the pre-existing title & subtitle.
  • Keywords can be used to access special Amazon subcategories (nicholaserik.com/keywords)
  • Keywords are very useful on Google Play.
  • You can find keywords via tools like OneLook, Google Keyword Planner, keywordtool.io, Merchant Words, Keyword Inspector, Goodreads’ Listopia (for book titles for AMS ads) and Book Series in Order (for titles/authors for AMS)

Categories

  • Aim for 6 – 10 categories, so long as they fit the content of your book
  • Plug in keywords from Amazon’s list (nicholaserik.com/keywords) to get into the categories you want
  • It’s usually quicker and more effective to email KDP support and ask them nicely to put your book in other categories.

Pricing

  • Determine your price by answering two key questions:
    • Is my main goal revenue or visibility?
    • What is the optimal price for my goal given my specific book/series?
  • General rule of thumb: lower price = more visibility/less revenue; higher price = less visibility/more revenue
    • Sometimes this is thrown out of whack, i.e. where a book sells better at a higher price.
  • Look at the indie bestsellers in your genre—what do readers expect to pay?

Back Matter

  • Mailing list sign-ups in front and back.
  • Strictly limit your back matter CTAs to three: mailing list, a review request, and a link to buy the next book.
  • Excerpts don’t seem to have any effect on sell-through to books within the same series (e.g. from Book 2 > Book 3), but they do increase sell-through to unconnected books (e.g. one standalone > another standalone in the same genre, or Book 5 of Series A > Book 1 of Series B)

Formula Component #4: Newsletter

A newsletter is your most important marketing tool. There are five reasons why you should prioritize building one:

  1. You own it. Social media and other platforms can be shut down or changed. You control your mailing list.
  2. Your personal customer list is better than anyone else’s. Your fans are more likely to purchase your books than cold buyers via PPC/promo sites/other advertising.
  3. You can push a massive number of sales at full price (visibility). Your fans will buy your books at full price, which means you can get 70% royalties, while also being less reliant on promo sites and PPC for visibility.
  4. You can get dozens or hundreds of reviews on launch day. By forming an ARC team, you can ensure your book launches with enough reviews to qualify for promo sites/catch the eye of potential readers browsing the store.
  5. You can interact directly with readers. Send them surveys, ask them questions, or just shoot the breeze.

If you don’t have an email service provider (ESP), I recommend MailerLite, as it has all the features an author needs and is reasonably priced (free up to 1,000 subscribers; $10/mo for up to 2500).

There’s significant debate about whether organic or non-organic subscribers are better. I don’t believe this is a question of either/or, but one of you should pursue both. Organic subscribers have a one-time setup cost: just put a link to your mailing list, with an offer for a free book, in the front/back matter of all your books. These subscribers, which are usually better engaged and a bit warmer, will passively accumulate without further input.

However, this accumulation process is slow, which means we should supplement our efforts with non-organic mechanisms such as author cross promos and PPC. Using these sources, we can build a subscriber list of thousands or tens of thousands of names in the time it might take us to get 100 organic subscribers.

The key to effectively turning non-organic subscribers into fans is through the use of an autoresponder.

A simple five part autoresponder can be remarkably effective. I send all of my signups (organic and non-organic) through an autoresponder to introduce them to my work and welcome them to my list.

Here’s a sample. Test the timing, different subject lines, and styles to optimize:

Aim for an open rate of 70%+ and click rate of 45%+ with your first email. This will decline with ensuing emails.

  • Immediate: Welcome (e.g. what to expect) + Your Free Book (give them a link to the free book)
  • Day 3: Free Book #2 (if you have another – don’t send them all at once) or Ask Them if They Got Book #1 Okay/How They Like It
  • Day 10: Free Book #3 or Ask Them About Their Favorite Books in the Genre/Recommend Them One
  • Day 15: The Next Paid Book in the Series (or Box Set), with retailer link/cover + small backstory/blurb
  • Day 25: Ask Them to Join Your ARC Review Team or Ask Them to Review the Free Book

The key thing to remember here is that we want them to become aware of our backlist and become a fan of our work. The latter is taken care of by the free books (if they’re good). The former is a matter of actually, you know, telling people about your backlist in the autoresponder. Never assume even a huge fan is familiar with all your work.

As for when to contact your list? Your list is your most valuable asset; you don’t want to wear it out with frivolous emails that aren’t relevant. I email my list for four things:

  1. Launches
  2. Free, exclusive books or stories
  3. Deals (not all of them)
  4. News (only if it’s really important or interesting, which is almost never)

Monitor your open/click rates to assess engagement. That will tell you if you’re sending emails too frequently – or not enough.

What Now?

We’ve made it to the end. Even this summary ended up being over 5,000 words, which goes to show just how large a topic book marketing is. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t panic: instead, take some small action. Start chipping away, day-by-day. You don’t have to be a master today; it took me five years to learn all this stuff, and I suspect the next five will be filled with things I didn’t know, too. That’s the nature of the game: you never know everything. You just have to keep moving.

Keep practicing, keep testing, and keep learning. It’s that simple. And when things get confusing, use The Ultimate Book Marketing Formula as your North Star.

Genre research + 3 targeted traffic sources + great covers/blurbs + newsletter + consistent new series novel releases of 60,000+ words/150+ pages (4+ per year) = full-time author

I’ve seen it work over and over. I didn’t invent it, I just wrote it down.

Now go sell some books.