Monday, January 30, 2012

Five Ways to Market Indie Books

Last week, I noticed a Goodreads blog post by Susan Kaye Quinn--a writer we featured on The Writers' Lens giveaway in December--celebrating her rise into Amazon's Top 100 for Science Fiction. Congratulations, Susan! And thanks so much for agreeing to tell us how you did it!

by Susan Kaye Quinn
First, the most important thing: write a really good book. One with a great concept, well-written, spit-and-polish clean (of typos), and a fantastic finish. One that readers will want to press into the hands of their friends and say You HAVE to read this! How you do that is buried in the craft of writing and storytelling - and I’m not talking about that today. It’s also important to package your book well with a great cover/blurb and a good price point. Without these things working in concert, all the marketing in the world (contrary to some opinions) will not sell the book beyond your immediate social circle. Marketing can only get that awesome book you wrote in front of people’s eyeballs so that it can sell itself.
(Caveat: this is based on my personal experience with my YA indie novel Open Minds, and may not apply to other genres.)

Here are five ways to do that:

1) Be fun. Pay it forward. Be a friend.
Do all those great things that make social networking work. Get on twitter to chat and exchange information. Facebook about things you care about. Blog (if you can do it sustainably) about your passions, and you will draw people to you that love the things you do. Network with writers and other friends that get you, and develop real relationships with them. Then, when you have a book that’s ready to launch into the world, make it a party, invite your friends, and have a great time. Because they’re your friends, they’ll celebrate with you, and they will love being the first seeds of word-of-mouth. When you’re getting ready to launch, it helps to announce 4-6 weeks ahead: far enough to build some advanced buzz but not so far as to induce book-fatigue (4-6 weeks is also how far ahead you should be sending books to book bloggers). Amazon doesn’t have pre-orders for indie books, but I’ve found putting your book on Goodreads is a great way for friends to “earmark” your book for when it comes out. Sometimes fans will add your book for you, as was the case with Closed Hearts (the sequel to Open Minds, due out in May) - people are already adding the book to their TBR once they finish Open Minds.

After the launch, you can continue to tweet/FB about your book as long as it’s not excessive and you do most of your social networking about normal things. I get the most RTs on blurbs about the book (What if you had to mind control everyone you loved? Open Minds $2.99 #paranormal #sciencefiction #youngadult) or quotes from reviews (“The last book that affected me so much was The Hunger Games” via@LynNerdKelley Open Minds $2.99 #Kindle #Amazon).

2) Book Blog Tour
By which I mean professional book bloggers who review books and have a following. It’s great and fun to have a blog tour on your friends’ blogs (see #1), but you are likely talking to the same people (again). Don’t repeat yourself endlessly, trying to market your book to the same people again and again. (Boring. Also annoying. To your friends! Not the people you want to bore and annoy.) By taking your book on the virtual road with book bloggers, you reach people in different networking circles - and the book bloggers, via their reviews, will increase your discoverability. Query a book blogger just like you would query an agent. Read this post for more on that. After I launched Open Minds, I did a book blog tour that measureably helped sales. In addition, most book bloggers will cross-post their reviews on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Goodreads, LibraryThing, and more. Those that don’t will often cross-post if you ask (nicely!). Amazon reviews can help your discoverability in Amazon’s marketing machine, but also serves as an ambassador to the world for your book. I’ve had many people tell me they bought Open Minds after seeing the wonderful reviews book bloggers have posted there.
3) Giveaways
When you’re ready to invest some money in advertising (beyond your initial investment in cover/editing/launch), giveaways and paid ads can get your book in front of a whole new set of eyeballs. Goodreads is a fantastic place to reach readers by doing a giveaway. For the price of a paperback, you have essentially a week long (or more; you set the terms) ad on one of the largest book networking sites on the planet. You can only run Goodreads giveaways for 6 months after the book’s release, so use this time wisely.
Giveaways on book blogs can also be effective, although it depends on the number of visitors for that blog (you can check Alexa ratings to get some idea of a blog’s reach, but it’s important to not just strive for larger blogs, but also support smaller/newer book bloggers). I often ask bloggers to add subscribing to my newsletter as a way to earn bonus points in a giveaway, which gives me a great way to keep in touch with people who are already interested in the book.

4) Paid Advertisements
There are lots of paid advertisements out there, and I caution people to carefully evaluate whether a paid ad can return the investment in sales. Pixel of Ink and Kindle Nation Daily have a good track record of boosting sales (at least temporarily) enough to pay for their ads, but they’ve also recently raised their prices, so that may be more difficult to achieve. Check the Kindle Boards for different authors’ experiences with paid ads, to see where the latest marketing finds can be found. However, the popularity of these lists is such that you have to book ads months in advance. I will be running ads in February but have seen several friends have great success with POI and KND.

5) Play With Price
Many people drop their books to 99cents, or even free, thinking that this will automatically boost sales (or downloads). This may or may not work for your particular book, but the most effective technique I’ve seen (by fellow writers) is making the first book in a series 99cents or free to increase visibility of the series, then making sales on the subsequent books. I set my price for Open Minds at $2.99 initially and have kept it there, so I haven’t done this personally (yet). But several fellow Indelibles authors have had great success with this strategy, and I plan to experiment with price when I have more books in the series.

Always Be Writing The Next Book
The best advertisement for your previous book is the next book (assuming they are in the same genre, and preferrably the same series). Write that sequel! Don’t sacrifice quality for speed, but don’t spend all your time refreshing your sale numbers either. You are the only one that can make the donuts (write the story), and you need to make sure you spend time on that every day.

I wish you many happy book sales! 
OPEN MINDS $2.99 E-Book
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  1. Susan, thanks again for sharing these tips. I learned so many things that will help me market my book more effectively. NOW to implement!

    And I wish you many happy book sales, too. :)

  2. Hi, Susan, congrats on the great listing and tips.

  3. All good tips, Susan. Thanks for sharing these.

  4. Great tips from a great writer. Thanks for the help.
    I'll use them wisely.