Marketing for indie/small press authors is something worth thinking about. It’s not all that different to how traditionally published authors are marketed, but there is certainly a lot more emphasis on the author being responsible for it. With traditional press, they might pay for inclusion in bookshop catalogues or have their own distribution where sales reps go out and promote the book to bookshops. Small press often have distribution too, but bigger press = bigger distributor = additional reps on the ground.

So what can you do?

Get out there. Get yourself involved in as many fiction conventions as possible. Find out ones that have panels you’d be suitable for and ask to be involved. Just search for writers festivals and your home town. Getting your name and face in front of your target audience is invaluable. People may not buy your book straight away, but over time they’ll keep hearing your name and can be swayed to do so. A very effective thing to do, if you’re well organised is to find out if the people attending your chosen convention get a showbag. If so see if you can donate a branded bookmark, business card, flyer etc. for inclusion into each bag. There may be a small ‘insertion fee’ but remember, you’re marketing directly to your target audience.

If getting into bookshops is your goal, then even if you have a distributor, you need to get out and visit bookshops in your city. Again, you can google this (bookshop, name of your city). The legwork is time consuming, but it can be fun and educational to visit 10-20 bookshops in a day. Don’t just show up and ask them to stock your book. Make sure you have a promotional flyer for your book (see example here) in case the person you’re speaking to isn’t the one who orders books. Also make sure you have your own consignment form and stock on hand so if a shop shows interest you can leave a few books for them to stock with clear terms for both parties. The other key thing is to follow up. If they show interest, you need to be “tolerably persistent” until you get an order or a firm “no.”

In my experience bookshops will often give you good advice about the market you’re writing for. They’ll tell you who’s the sort of person who buys your genre of book and give tips on what type of stories in your genre are selling. If you’re really nice they may even buy a couple of copies as a firm sale.

If you have an ebook available, then email marketing lists are easy and readily available. They work by you going to the list manager’s website, filling in your and your book’s details and paying for an add on their mailing list. Ads vary greatly in cost and cost effectiveness, but they do work. If you can land Bookbub to advertise your discounted or free ebook, then pay the price for it (can be over $1000 for a 99c book and up to $4000 to advertise a book costing over $3.) Their prices vary, but they provide a price list and estimate of the downloads you’ll receive so you know what you are getting into and the likely return on investment.

I’ve used several email lists over the last few years. The better ones for me have been Book Gorilla, FKBT (especially their new release list), E-Reader News Today, Robin Books, Bargain Booksy and Book Barbarian. Having said that, none have actually generated a positive return on investment, so you need to be prepared to accept that while you may lose money in the short term, you need to spend it to gain an audience.

One thing to remember is to be patient. In the modern publishing world, you can take time to build an audience. In the old days if you’d been unsuccessful with a major publisher (ie: not sold to expectation), you’d be hard-pressed to find someone to publish your next book.

What follows below is from a blog post I wrote in October 2018.

Marketing for indie/small press authors is an interesting process. Unlike with traditional publishers nearly the entire onus is on the author. For me, I’ve recently run my first giveaway for Incite Insight. This was always going to be loss-making since I wasn’t charging for my book. I spent about A$90 on a few mailing lists to advertise that the e-book was free for five days. I had over 1200 downloads of the book on the first day, when the bulk of the advertising was sent out, and over 1600 by the end of the five days. The giveaway has so far netted me several new reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, many more ratings, and a lot more adds by unique users on Goodreads. I’ve had several new kindle unlimited borrows of both Movemind and Incite Insight since the promotion, so it seems to have generated interest in my writing in the short term at least.

Since I’d only sold 800 copies of Incite Insight prior to the giveaway, I more than doubled my readership in a single day, which felt like quite an achievement. Despite this, I wouldn’t recommend it as a strategy for a new writers for several reasons:

  • Despite the quantity of downloads, these sales don’t count towards my Amazon ranking (there is a separate ranking list for ‘free books’).
  • Unless you have something your readers can pay for after reading the free e-book, you won’t get any return on your investment.
  • You can just make it free and do your own social media post about it, you might get a few hundred downloads, but to get the quantity of downloads to make it worthwhile you need pay to advertise.
  • The return in terms of reviews and ratings was (for me at least) far less than for paid readers. While I gained a couple of new Amazon reviews from the 1600 downloads, I’d received over 20 reviews from the prior 800 sales.

However, I think it would be a good idea for the following:

  • If I was a new author, I’d wait until I had two, or better yet, three titles available. Then I’d run a free promotion on one of the titles, followed by a second one on a different title a few weeks later. This would let you gauge the impact on your sales, help you get some reviews and build some momentum for you as an author.
  • Three weeks to a month after I released a new title (ie: wait for the friends, family and fans to buy their copies), and assuming I already had another three titles available, I’d consider making the new release free to help it gain some additional reviews and awareness. The consequential sales/borrows of the e-book should offset some of the cost of advertising that the book is free. Often, your latest writing is your best, so picking up new readers whose first exposure is to your best work is a good idea (and the psychologist in me says if they’ve like the first book of yours they read, then they’ll view the others in a better light).
  • If your goal is to gain new readers, improve your target audience’s awareness of your writing, or to boost the number of ratings and reviews rather than a monetary return on investment/making money from sales, then this is probably the most cost-effective marketing you can do. It exposes your book and your name (important for branding) to hundreds of thousands of readers (depending on the mailing lists you advertise on) and gets a lot of readers you would not normally reach (people will download it simply because it’s free) to read your book.
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