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Things I Did to Market My Book and How Well They Worked
A breakdown of some of the things I tried
Having your first book come out is exciting and exhausting and there is a ton of stuff to sort through about marketing. Before my book came out, I consumed a lot of information about what worked best with book marketing looking for some magical set of rules for the best way to do it. Spoiler alert: I think there is no one best way that will work for everyone.
Still, I know that authors are just trying to figure out what is worth spending their time on, so maybe some of this will help. And although I think this may be helpful for authors with books coming out (or already out), if you are looking to build platform toward a book deal, some of these things can be done for that too.
Also, keep in mind my book is a nonfiction humorous advice book and so the things I targeted were things I thought would work for my type of book (but I think a lot of these ideas would work for other types of books too).
What I’m basing “worked well” on
In this piece I’m going to cover some of the things I tried and how well I thought they worked based on what I could measure. As a traditionally published author, I don’t have access to all the data about sales in real time, and things that might lead to a sale down the road are hard to track. Unless someone says, “I heard you on X podcast and then bought your book two weeks later” it’s hard to know where the sale came from.
But these are some things I can look at:
I can see an hourly update of my book’s sales rank on Amazon in different formats, but this only accounts for sales on Amazon.
I can see weekly numbers of sales in Amazon Author Central that pulls from NPD BookScan (AKA Circana), but these numbers don’t capture audiobook or ebook sales or things like library sales so they are incomplete.
I get a royalty statement twice a year that comes out several months after sales happen so it’s really hard to say what specific thing worked based on that. Additionally, my publisher sold audio rights to another company so I don’t see audiobook sales numbers on my royalty statements at all.
I can see referral traffic to my website and clicks on my book page on my website from some other websites that give me some indication of how well a freelance piece or another piece of content might be doing, but this is not the same as sales info.
Additionally, when a lot of stuff hit at once (like around launch) it was harder to speculate which of those things were working. I did see more of a sales bump at launch but I can’t exactly say what led to what in terms of sales very well during that time. So with these disclaimers, let’s get to it.
Things that seemed to work best
I know, I know. Some of you probably didn’t want to hear that but a TikTok video that took off led to the biggest sales bump that I could track. There was probably a fair amount of luck in this although I do think if you are up for using TikTok it could be worth your time. I wrote a deeper dive into using TikTok to promote books here.
When it comes to newsletters there are two paths, and despite what Robert Frost may tell you, you can potentially take both of them:
Appearing in others’ newsletters: Getting your book talked about in a meaningful way in a newsletter relevant to your readers can help, I think. I saw sales bumps when my book was mentioned in some newsletters and I often buy books of interest that I see in newsletters. So spending some time pitching these makes sense to me.
Creating your own newsletter: I started a newsletter leading up to my launch and then after the book came out switched over to hosting it on Substack. I don’t honestly know that my newsletter is leading to tons of book sales, but there are definitely other cases where that is true. If I were going to be a hardcore marketer about the thing, this newsletter should probably be focused on introverted parenting or parenting humor. But I write about a lot of other stuff and I hope to write books on other things in the future, so I settled on focusing more broadly on humor. And because I also teach writing, covering some of the writing-related topics makes sense too. I think it’s a reasonable strategy to have a newsletter to build a platform or support a book coming out but it also takes time. I find writing this newsletter to be enjoyable and I like the stability of it not being at the mercy of social media algorithms, so it feels worth it to me.
A lot of my platform prior to getting a book deal involved me having pieces in major publications so it made sense to also do freelance pieces to promote the book. I saw some bumps in sales with certain freelance/humor pieces (especially when relevant to the book’s content), and
if when I have another book coming out in the future, I will probably spend more time focusing on this than I did the first time around.
I got a little distracted by the shiny objects of other marketing things (I am basically a magpie) but I think because I have freelancing experience, focusing more on companion pieces and excerpts makes sense for me.
One note on getting an excerpt or mention in a big outlet — one thing that I’ve also learned in talking with other authors is the thing that you might think will sell a ton of books does not always do that.
There are some exceptions—if you find yourself chatting with Terry Gross, or Reese Witherspoon picks your book for her book club I think you are probably pretty set. But books that get mentions in big media outlets don’t always move a ton of copies, something seemed to also be confirmed by the recent Penguin Random House trial.
And if I’m being completely honest, realizing this sometimes helped me manage the writing envy around the types of coverage other books were getting that mine wasn’t around the time of my launch.
Having a writing community
Some of the press opportunities I got for my book came via connections that I had formed with other writers and those opportunities did lead to sales. Additionally, having other writers I could share ideas, promotions, and vent sessions was really helpful. So building a community well before your book comes out is helpful in more ways than one.
Other things I tried and how well they worked
I did several podcast interviews and some were bigger shows. I think these probably are useful and I enjoy podcasts so this felt like a good avenue of promotion for me, but again, it’s hard to track who ultimately buys your book based on listening to a podcast.
I posted about the book on social media at times (mostly Instagram and Twitter) and had friends who were kind enough to share about it or share my posts. I think some of this led to sales but it’s hard to track how much and I think there is a little too much emphasis on social media book marketing sometimes.
But you should obviously post about your book so people know it exists. I also think there is a tricky line in posting too much sometimes and what you are posting about also matters and posting on social media could probably be a whole other post topic.
I did some Q&A-type interviews and also got quoted in some pieces by other writers and some of these did seem to at least lead people back to my website, but it’s harder to track sales directly as a result of these pieces. I would probably do interviews again in the future, particularly with relevant audiences.
I also spent a little time trying to respond to HARO inquiries, but I felt like it was a time suck and not leading to quotes so I stopped But I also know writers who had more success with this, so again, it all depends!
I taught a few one-off writing classes around launch time and I think these may have helped sell some copies. I think with certain topics, teaching classes related to them can work really well. My book’s topic was probably less of a good fit for this, but I also like teaching and have practice with it, so it felt like a good use of my time.
There are a lot of book awards out there and some are obviously great for sales (although some prestigious ones may not move as many copies as you would think) but the smaller ones are a little harder to wade through. I entered my book in a few awards based on how useful they seemed and on them not having exorbitant entrance fees.
As a result, my book won the “Best Title” category in the Zibby Awards and was a finalist in the Colorado Author League Awards. It’s again, hard to say how much this helps in terms of sales but it can feel nice to get recognized and I think is worth entering a few awards. As a side note, this is a helpful website for evaluating some of the smaller awards out there.
Instagram book tour
I did an Instagram book tour that basically involved a company getting copies to interested Bookstagrammers and having them post about the book. I paid for the tour and my publisher paid for the books and mailed them to the bookstagrammers.
There were several really nice posts as part of the tour and some of the reviewers added Amazon/Goodreads reviews which is honestly extremely helpful as it can be really hard to get book reviews and book reviews can be helpful.
Also, at the time I did it, it was a relief to just outsource some promotion to someone else. I think it led to some sales but probably not a ton. If you are looking at tours, I would consider how much they cost (including costs for books and shipping if you don’t have a publisher paying for it) and spend some time looking at the posts that existing tours have done so you have a sense of what posts will look like.
It feels unlikely to me that you are going to see a direct return on investment in terms of books sold in a traditional publishing scenario with a book tour like this as you are not making a ton of money per book.
But you are paying for a chance to get your book seen, get some reviews, and have some nice social media images. I also know some authors who were not happy with their tours so YMMV.
Although I don’t regret doing this for my book I’m not sure I would do it again for another book. I think it really depends on what is going on with social media, what the book is, and what I want to get out of it.
I did one in-person event and a couple of virtual events around release time. The in-person event did sell books and the virtual ones probably less so.
I don’t think doing a lot of events was a great fit for me as I think many of these rely on authors to bring in their audience and your audience probably mostly maxes out at attending one event or maybe two.
Events can be good avenues for building relationships with bookstores or other authors, so doing some, especially for your first book makes sense. But for me, I don’t think I would focus a lot of time on events in the future.
However, this probably depends on your personality and your book. I also appreciated the tips in this post by Jami Attenberg about events.
In-person booth sales
I did a couple of in-person booth sales locally and these were not a great fit for me. I am not a natural salesperson (shocking from the person who wrote a book about introversion, I know) and I think the handful of copies I sold were probably a result of other authors in the booth pointing people my way (thank you, other authors!).
I know these work great for some people, but I think you probably want to have the right book/interest in doing them. I did enjoy meeting other local authors at these events though.
I did a Goodreads giveaway a bit after my book came out. It’s again hard to track if the Goodreads giveaway led to more sales. It did lead to a good chunk of people (over 1000) adding it to their “to-read” list since it automatically does that when you enter a giveaway. So I think this at least made some people aware of the book but it’s hard to say if it led to sales.
I think there is some strategy around Goodreads giveaways — like if you list one before the release date it will email everyone who had entered and not won that the book is available now on the release date thus giving them another nudge/reminder that it exists.
But given that it’s a little murky how useful it was I’m not sure I would do it again. I think it’s probably ideal if your publisher does this for you.
I heard mixed things about doing these and I personally don’t usually enter to get whatever prize or pin or swag that comes with pre-order giveaways even if I do pre-order a book (#lazy).
I did a pre-order giveaway that entered people into a giveaway for a copy of the book and some swag and then proceeded to spend way too much time searching for and overthinking what swag to include. I didn’t feel like it was super helpful, so I think I would likely skip it next time.
Little Free Library drop-offs
I spent a little time leaving copies of my book in local Little Free Libraries. On the one hand, this gets the book into the hands of a potential reader but on the other hand, I’m not sure it goes much beyond that.
I did also send some copies to the people who manage a Little Free Library and some of those people posted about my book on social media and/or added a Goodreads or Amazon review and those things were helpful. But it also costs time and money to research these and send the books so it’s hard to totally measure return on investment on this.
I do still drop copies off in LFLs at times because it is kind of fun to do and if anything gives you joy in the book marketing process, I say embrace it. But I probably wouldn’t devote a lot of time/money to leaving several copies in the future.
I read about some people reaching out to libraries to request they order a copy of their book and I spent some time trying to do this. But many libraries seem to want you to have a library card to make a request (which is understandable), so I don’t think this was a good use of my time.
I think library sales that I did get were probably a result of my publisher’s efforts and the review my book got in Publisher’s Weekly likely helped with this as some libraries want a professional trade review to order a copy. I would probably opt to just ask friends to request it from their library in the future.
I played around a little with doing some Amazon ads for my book and did sell some books (looks like a total of 52). But this took time and money and there was a big learning curve to figuring it out. I’ve heard that the Amazon ads are probably not as worth it for traditionally published authors and can see why given that you aren’t making that much per book sale. What I did like about it is that you can actually track very specifically if it’s working or not.
Also, you could argue that showing the book to people through things like ads just helps with general exposure. Sometimes someone needs to see a book several times before they buy it, so there may be some things like this or the Goodreads giveaway, or a Bookstagram tour that you do as more of a means to pay for some exposure and less of an “I will pay this money and then make it back in sales” tactic. But it’s probably helpful to just realize that going into it.
A few final things
If you are in the midst of prepping for a book launch, the two most helpful books for me leading up to launch were:
Courtney Maum’s Before and After the Book Deal, which walks you through the basics of what to expect and answers a lot of questions you may have.
Dana Kaye’s Your Book, Your Brand. Kaye is a publicist and I found her point of view in the book helpful — she walks you through some ways to promote your own book and talks about what to consider if you do want to hire a publicist.
I also updated my press page with most of the book-related press I got so if that is helpful to see it’s here.
That was a lot! I probably did some other things but those are at least most of them and if you have questions about whether I tried something else or more questions about the above feel free to leave them in the comments.
And I’m always curious to hear what other authors think worked best, so feel free to chime in in the comments with that info too!
*This newsletter contains affiliate links for which I will receive a small commission when you make a purchase through links at no additional cost to you.
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