Welcome back for final part of the Ultimate Guide to Book Marketing! In this section, we’ll be putting everything we’ve talked about together – and I’ll show you how I’m planning to apply the guide’s principles to my own books during 2020. If you’re just stopping by and want to start from the beginning, you can find the complete series here. Each part stands alone, though, so if you’re just interested in a particular topic, feel free to jump in wherever you see fit.
The purpose of this last section is two-fold:
- To demonstrate how productivity, craft, and marketing dovetail with the rest of the guide’s principles to form a cohesive strategy with a clear action plan.
- To show you my thought process and how I adapt things to my books. While this guide has been very methodical and presents everything in step-by-step fashion, it is your job to apply the concepts to your own situation. Not everything will line up 1:1 with your career. I’m showing how I do that, so you can take those ideas and use them to create your own strategy.
Anyway, without further ado or preamble, let’s hop into the Ultimate Write to Market Strategy.
The Ultimate Write to Market Strategy
Way back in Part 1, I had you sketch out a rough draft of your strategy for the next year. You needn’t read that part first, however; I’ve copied and pasted the strategy template here and filled it out. Here’s what my final draft looks like:
- CORE OBJECTIVE: hit $25k net a month
- LAUNCH WIDE or KU: all in KU
- SERIES? PLANNED # of TITLES?: yes. Two 5 – 6 book series and finishing the final books in two trilogies.
- LENGTH: 40,000 – 60,000 word novels
- NEW TITLES IN NEXT 12 MONTHS: 12
- SUB-GENRES: urban fantasy, post apocalyptic, space opera
- CORE TRAFFIC SOURCES: Facebook Ads, Amazon Ads, BookBub Ads, promo sites
- NEWSLETTER BUILDING PLANS: organically only via reader magnet novellas specifically written for the two 5 – 6 book series. Not building sci-fi pen name.
- PRODUCTION BUDGET PER TITLE: $750 – $900
- ADVERTISING BUDGET PER TITLE: variable
Everything fits on a single page. That’s by design: it takes the last 50,000 or so words of this guide and crunches the key questions you need to answer into something your brain can glance at without being totally overwhelmed. Simplicity always trumps unnecessary complexity.
Let’s break down the rationale behind these decisions.
The core objective is simple: I want to hit $25k, net, in a single month. All the other decisions flow from here.
That’s an aggressive earnings target, especially since I haven’t released a book in the last year. Thus, I need to maximize my potential upside. By building up my catalog in the same popular KU sub-genre (urban fantasy), it means my backlist is highly correlated. This increases my upside, but also reduces the floor, since there’s risk in placing all your eggs in one genre/retailer basket. If my books don’t resonate with Kindle Unlimited or urban fantasy readers, or my Kindle Unlimited strategies need work, then I’ll be buried beneath authors who have advantages in those areas.
I’m confident that my books hit the right urban fantasy notes; the existing ones have solid reviews and one series hit the USA Today Bestseller list. Kindle Unlimited strategies aren’t a problem. To date, however, I’ve struggled with Kindle Unlimited readthrough on my urban fantasy titles, which is part of the reason I took my backlist wide. This, however, I think is due to continually missing pre-order/release dates and releasing relatively slowly. Urban fantasy sees a lot of titles released each month, and many of the most popular authors are prolific. To stay visible, you need to be releasing books at a solid clip.
Many authors are worried about Kindle Unlimited being a risk from an existential standpoint (e.g. you can be arbitrarily banned). I believe that’s less of a risk than the program’s structure suddenly changing. This has happened multiple times, most recently in 2015, when the borrow system (you used to get paid ~1.30 per borrow after someone read 10% of your book) was replaced with the current page read system.
Despite that risk, I’ll be placing the rest of my books back into Kindle Unlimited soon, because if one of my upcoming books is even a modest hit, its success will lift the entire backlist by virtue of the aforementioned correlation. Should I have a solid KU hit with the rest of my books wide, the upside is far lower; Kindle Unlimited readers are unlikely to purchase non-KU titles, whereas they’ll gladly devour multiple backlist books if they can borrow them.
Mitigating some of the risk, however, are two factors. One, I know the ropes and what to expect after taking the existing books wide. It’s steady if unspectacular money with some marketing elbow grease. So if I double my urban fantasy backlist over the coming year, and things don’t shake out in Kindle Unlimited, that isn’t the worst fallback plan. Two, I don’t actually have all my eggs in one basket, anyway. I do client work and marketing courses for authors, which gives me another income stream and hedges against any massive flops.
As for the remaining decisions: I tend to write better when I write shorter, hence the lower projected word counts. I’m not averse to writing longer if the story demands it, but 40k – 60k is a comfortable length for urban fantasy, so I’ll probably stick in that range. I’ve found that it’s challenging to advertise trilogies profitably via Facebook, BookBub, and Amazon Ads, so I’m planning on 5+ book series to make it easier to market. Two planned series might turn into one longer series if the initial one becomes a solid hit. No strategy is set in stone; it should be flexible, since telling the future is impossible.
On the traffic front, I’m comfortable with all the PPC Ad platforms and promo sites, and prefer using paid advertising, since I have full control over the results.
I’ve done quite a few cross promotions to build my newsletter in the past (along with Facebook Ads), but I have no plans to continue with non-organic methods of list building. Instead, I have novellas for each current series (and will write novellas for each upcoming series) to boost organic subscribers.
In terms of production costs, I’ve found from commissioning 80+ covers in a wide range of prices that, above $200 – $300, you hit a point of diminishing returns. I’ve found lots of quality designers in that range; spending more doesn’t seem to produce additional sales or benefits (an obvious exception would be if your genre requires illustrated covers, which are going to start at higher price points). Keeping the production costs lower limits my risk – I can swap out the covers if need be without much hesitation. When you sink $700 or $1k into a cover, that becomes a much more bitter pill to swallow.
One thing I’m doing is testing the first in series covers before releasing anything. You can see an example of this here:
This costs the same as a single expensive cover (total of these three covers was $800) and mitigates the risk of missing the target audience. Once I have a cover I’m comfortable with for Book 1, I can be confident that the remaining covers in the series will also resonate with my target audience, since they’ll share similar branding.
The rest of the production costs are for proofreading. I’ve found that getting two proofreaders is usually required to squash the majority of typos in my novels, even though I write fairly clean.
Finally, the advertising budget will vary. I’m going to spend less at the beginning, as I focus on writing. Consistent production has been my biggest problem (I haven’t published a novel of my own in a year), so I want to concentrate on getting that dialed in before I worry too much about complicated marketing plans. Babysitting ads and logging numbers are both more interesting to me than writing at this point, so they’ll definitely take attention away from getting words down. I also need more books to effectively employ some of the promotional strategies, so it doesn’t make sense to come out wallets blazing from a profit maximization standpoint, anyway. I expect that to change; for the first couple books, I’ll probably spend a few hundred bucks on the launches, whereas come August 2020, it’s conceivable (if things are going well) that I’ll be spending $5,000 – $10,000+.
One important note: I’m focusing on my urban fantasy pen name; I just have a couple trilogies that I want to wrap up under my sci-fi pen name. This is not really related to the strategy; in fact, strictly speaking, finishing those books is probably a bad business move (those series never sold well). But I’d like to close those trilogies out, and they’ll also give me additional examples and case studies to show clients and in my courses. Thus, from an overall business and learning standpoint, they do make sense. If I was strictly writing fiction, however, finishing those trilogies would be a poor use of time, since I have no plans to build up my Nicholas Erik pen name past those books.
All right. We have the strategy. Let’s talk about how I’ll make this a reality.
Now that I have my high level strategy, I need to translate that list of abstract items into actual, you know, tasks I can execute. Recall from Part I that execution flows from strategy. The two are inseparable. When you have a bad strategy, your execution inevitably suffers. As a simple example, consider this “strategy”: drink eight beers and then try to write your daily words. For most, this results in unbelievably poor execution. No one would use this as a strategy. But people make “big, audacious” goals that effectively do the same thing – disempower them through their sheer ridiculousness.
Then they compound this by trying to fix everything at once – making huge goals in all areas. Lose 100 pounds, write 12 novels, become a marketing guru. This year will be the year that everything clicks.
Life doesn’t work that way, unfortunately. Not that you can’t make great progress. You can. But remember this when you’re setting up a strategy for any part of your life: adherence is number one. If you can’t show up to execute it, it doesn’t matter how great your diet, book launch, job plan, schedule or productivity hack looks on paper. You need to scrap it, and then revise it into something that you can actually execute.
And to do that, you need to be really selective about what you do. Focus on one thing at a time. Get it really dialed in. Why am I not focusing on marketing out of the gate? Because I need to get the writing back up to speed. That’s going to be rocky. I know that. The first couple weeks will not be particularly fun. So it’ll demand a ton of focus.
And that, really, is the key ingredient of this strategy: it’s designed for me, based on reality. Which means my plan for the year essentially boils down to:
- Read 50 urban fantasy, sci-fi, or craft books over the next year.
- Publish 1 full-length novel (40k+ words) each month with an emphasis on practicing dialogue and scene structure.
- Do a large launch or promotion on a backlist series every month.
Obviously, I’m not starting from scratch, so it’s worth noting that I have these elements already established:
- PPC: I’ve probably run 2,000+ ads at this point between my own books and working with other authors.
- PROMO SITES: I know what sites work and have tested things across multiple genres.
- BLURBS/ADS: I’ve hand copied many blurbs and written 100+ in a variety of genres.
- COVERS: I have professional covers and now employ a testing process (illustrated above) to shore up previous misfires in this area.
- BACKLIST: I have 9 existing urban fantasy books with solid reviews.
- BRAND: from reader reviews/feedback, I’ve determined that my overall brand can be summed up as: Anti-heroes with a touch of philosophy. Darker edge without being bleak.
- AUTHOR WEBSITE: I have this already set up, with newsletter sign up forms, a list of books, series pages, about, and contact pages.
- NEWSLETTER: sign up forms, lead magnet novellas/stories for existing series, autoresponder, know how to use cross promo services like Story Origin/Book Funnel/Prolific Works.
Basically, my entire marketing infrastructure is in place. All that I need to do is focus on writing and then execute the marketing strategies that I’ve already been using over the past couple years.
As for the plan itself: reading 50 books is for market research and craft purposes. I want to get a feel for what’s selling (both long-term and in Kindle Unlimited right now) and get a better understanding of how bestselling authors write their books.
As for the specific emphasis on dialogue and scene structure – “getting better at craft” is too broad a goal 24+ books in. There are five core areas of craft: character, plot, setting, scene and story structure, and dialogue. Some would add theme, voice, and style, and I wouldn’t argue (however, these generally take a backseat in importance when it comes to genre fiction; story and characters tend to be king and queen). For the first few novels, it’s possible to improve all of these skills at once. Once you’ve hit an intermediate level of proficiency, making significant strides often requires specific focus on a single area.
This does not mean ignoring the other areas, merely being content with allowing those skills to remain at the same level for the time being. Often you’ll find that improving one area dramatically will lift the others as well, however; more compelling dialogue creates more engaging characters, and also moves the plot along at a faster clip, for example.
I’m starting with scene structure, because my Kindle Unlimited readthrough stats suggest that people aren’t finishing books at the rate that I’d like. I believe this is a scene structure issue, hence the initial focus. This could end up taking the bulk of the year, or it could be done and dusted after a novel or two. I’m prepared to dedicate whatever amount of time it takes.
Finally, the large launch or monthly promotion will mostly be comprised of launches. If I hit the book a month target, then it could conceivably be all launches. But if I miss a release, hold a few books back for a rapid release, or see an opportunity to push some of my backlist, a promotion may carry the load that month instead of a launch. The ultimate goal here is consistency: I want my books to remain visible and for my royalties to not jackknife downward. Some downswings are inevitable, particularly if non-release months hit the calendar. But hopefully the monthly iron in the fire can mitigate the most precipitous dips.
Anyway, if you’ve read my stuff on productivity, you know that I’m actually not a fan of yearly goals (or goals in general). They’re artificial, constraining, and largely ineffective, since they focus on the end. The ultimate result is that even if you achieve them, you spent the entire year in a state of failure, save for the one moment where you crossed the finish line. Then it’s back to failure once you set the next batch of goals.
No wonder no one actually achieves their goals. They suck.
So we need to reverse engineer all of these to figure out what we need to do on a daily basis:
- Read for an hour.
- Write 2,000 words.
Yes, that’s all it takes to write 12 novels and read 50 books in a year.
- 50k words x 12 = 600k words = 1,643 words a day.
- 50 books = 1 book a week @ 6 hours per book = 51 minutes per day
Then we throw in a little slack for rest/days off/general life stuff and you have your daily habits. About two hours of work. You’ll notice that I don’t have anything marketing related listed. That’s because, in my case, I’m pretty much knee-deep in various marketing stuff all day, and the tasks/workload vary considerably. So I’ll be doing quite a bit of marketing over the next year. But at this stage of my career, it doesn’t break down into a neat daily habit. Which is fine: you’ll find some things don’t fit into that structure.
Throw in the hour of work on average for marketing (which on many days will be zero, but the day before a launch might be an all day affair) and we have about three hours of daily work.
And then we throw the yearly stuff in the trash and pretend it doesn’t exist. Otherwise it looms like an albatross over everything and leads to dumb decisions like “hey, I should write this novwel in three days.”
If I hit my daily tasks, everything’s fine.
If I don’t, then scrambling around and setting big goals down the line may save the day once or twice. But eventually I’ll burn out. And that sure as hell won’t help anything.
That’s it. Just focus on winning the day and everything else takes care of itself.
The Ultimate Write to Market Strategy: General Edition
Okay, so not everyone has time to write 12 novels and all that stuff. What about a more widely applicable strategy?
Let’s take a look at the Ultimate Book Marketing Formula again:
And then let’s reverse engineer the Formula into a strategy for a hypothetical new author:
- CORE OBJECTIVE: break $1,000 net a month
- LAUNCH WIDE or KU: all in KU
- SERIES? PLANNED # of TITLES?: yes. Two series of 4 – 6 books, alternating releases.
- LENGTH: 60,000 – 70,000 word novels
- NEW TITLES IN NEXT YEAR: 4
- SUB-GENRES: contemporary romance
- CORE TRAFFIC SOURCES: Facebook Ads, Facebook, newsletter swaps, and promo sites
- NEWSLETTER BUILDING PLANS: cross promos until they hit 5,000 subscribers, and organically via epilogues after the happily ever after
- PRODUCTION BUDGET PER TITLE: $750
- ADVERTISING BUDGET PER TITLE: $1,000
Here, we’ve adapted pieces of the guide to fit contemporary romance. Our hypothetical author has chosen to release their books in KU, since they’re new and figure that Amazon’s marketing tools like free runs and KCDs will be useful for generating visibility. Oh, and about that visibility: they know it’s a little bit easier to attain, since each borrow counts the same as a sale in Amazon’s sales rank algorithm. Finally, from a little poking around and talking with successful authors, they know that contemporary romance does well in Kindle Unlimited.
Our author here writes a little bit longer than I do at 60,000+ words, plus a day job and a family that take current priority over writing, so they hash out a plan for four releases during the next year.
On the ads front, they’ve heard Facebook Ads and Facebook are important pieces of the puzzle for most romance authors; a significant portion of the audience hangs out on that platform, which makes it a good place to focus. They’ve saved up a bit of money from their job over the past months to put toward production and advertising costs to give their books a professional polish and launch push. And since they’re outgoing, and have less cash to play with for each new release than some of the heavy hitters in the genre who spend 5-figures per launch, they’ve decided to focus on networking with other authors and doing lots of cross promos/newsletter swaps. Our author understands that these can burn out their list, so they plan on being careful and choosing wisely, but for now, they feel like the trade-off is worth it to build up their brand.
Instead of novellas, the author has settled upon writing 2,000 to 3,000 word epilogues for each book, which romance readers love and will gladly sign up to the list for. This saves time and words for actual full-length releases, which also make it a fit for our author’s busy schedule.
Our author doesn’t have any of the infrastructure like a website or newsletter set up, and they don’t yet know the nuances of writing a blurb or working with a cover designer. So they’ve set aside some time in the first year to build these things and learn the ropes. In the future, they expect that, with these elements taken care of, they might be able to write 5 – 6 books a year, even with a full-time job and family time.
Finally, this author has read hundreds of contemporary romance books. So they’re a huge fan of the genre and understand the tropes. But they still want to stay up on what’s popular/hot in Kindle Unlimited, particularly on the indie front to make sure their own books evolve with the expectations of the marketplace.
On a yearly basis, that looks like:
- Read 25 Top 100 contemporary romances in the next year.
- Publish 1 full-length (60k+) novel every three months.
- Complete one major marketing project each month: website, newsletter, autoresponder etc.
We can then reverse engineer that to the following daily habits:
- 1,000 words per day.
- 30 minutes of reading per day.
- 1 marketing task per day.
Our author knows that if they’re consistent that, within a few years, they’ll have 12 – 15 books in their catalog. Maybe they’ll be a full-time author; maybe they’ll be earning a decent side income. Whatever the case, they’ll be well positioned to keep growing and building their career brick-by-brick into the future.
And that, really, is the ultimate goal. Each day, you put another brick down. It can be a tiny brick. But always be building toward whatever it is you want. Consistency is an unbelievably powerful force.
We’ve reached the end of the Ultimate Guide to Book Marketing. Thanks for reading. If you’ve read this front to back, you might be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information. That’s okay. Take things one task and one day at a time. And if you’ve been at this for a long time, and are just overwhelmed by the sheer amount of things you have to do as an author and small business, just remember the 80/20: chop most of the BS out of your day.
It only takes about three to four hours to publish and market 4 – 12 novels a year, depending on how long your books are and how fast you write. Often, the path forward is not through addition, but through subtraction. Cull things to the essentials, hone those to a fine point, and then use the rest of your day to cook, walk your dog, play an instrument, volunteer, with your family, or however you like to spend your time.
Or crank things to eleven and work 12 hours a day on your core 20%.
The choice is yours.
Now go sell some more books.
- Review the rough draft of the strategy you designed in Part 1. Then take out a new sheet of paper and revise it:
- Your core objective
- Whether you’ll launch your books wide or in KU
- Whether you’ll write in a series and, if so, the planned # of titles
- What length they’ll be: novels, novellas, serials, or short stories
- The number of new titles you’ll release over the next year, with approximate word counts
- The sub-genre(s) you plan to write in
- Your core three traffic sources
- How you plan to build your newsletter
- Your production budget for each title
- Your advertising budget for each title
- Break that down into yearly production, reading/craft, and marketing targets.
- Break those yearly targets down into daily habits. Then tear up the yearly targets (keep the strategy, though! you’ll be referring to it) and get to work right now.