I often receive emails from prospective authors that communicate something along the lines of: “Please help me write my book. Call me. I have this amazing idea for a best-selling book that will make us both a lot of money!”
The problem is that writing a great book is only part of the equation. After talking to other successful writers, I’ve learned that the only way to gain a readership is by investing energy into marketing.
Publishing: A changing industry
In the mid to late twentieth century, an author could just be an amazing writer and sell copies with little to no effort or attention put into sales. He or she could just write up a storm and make money because the publisher would handle everything for their authors.
In those days, self-publishing was not well respected. It seemed synonymous with failure. People assumed self-publishing authors printed their own copies because they couldn’t get a traditional publisher. Self-publishing authors were pretty much resigned to selling a few hundred copies to their friends and family if they were lucky. No profit was made. More likely, they would wind up with boxes of books in their garage collecting dust and mildew.
Then Amazon dramatically changed the self-publishing industry.
As Amazon grew, it became easier and easier for anyone to download a manuscript onto the Amazon platform and publish his or her work. Then Amazon advanced its print-on-demand capacity so that authors no longer had to purchase thousands of books and store them in their basements. Suddenly, customers could order copies directly through Amazon.
Today self-publishing is an acceptable, and even preferable, way for authors to release their books. Not only can they get their books into the hands of their readers quickly, but they retain all the creative control of the material and can keep most of the profits. Many authors who previously had no outlet to sell their books are now able to make a good income.
Setting yourself up for success
When self-publishing your book, there are a few things you need to create to have a successful release.
Create an attractive cover
It’s easy to find someone to design a cover for your book. I recently used Fiverr with success. Although this freelance marketplace got its name by offering services for five dollars, that is not the typical price any longer. Still, the price is often reasonable, and sometimes you can find a great deal. My ghostwriting logo was purchased for a little over a fiver.
Write a compelling blurb
The back cover blurb or online tease is an important tool for enticing new readers. Writing a compelling one is an art form. You can study up on different techniques to find a good way to communicate your book summary in a few lines.
Of course, if you have received any endorsements or editorial reviews, include them front and center within your Amazon description.
The importance of reviews
Before I hit the purchase button for any book or item on Amazon, I always check the reviews. I want to know what others think. I’m not alone. Most people want some reassurance that they’re spending their hard-earned dollars wisely.
As an author, you need to collect reviews from readers. Remember, reviews should be honest. Never purchase a review. That’s decidedly unethical. Having said that, it is the norm to offer free copies of your book in exchange for a review.
Amazon will tag a reader who has purchased the book through them as a “Verified Purchaser.” This is important. If you collect too many reviews without that title, your collection of reviews will be flagged. Amazon might assume that you have asked your friends to post reviews without having purchased or read the book. This would be unethical.
As a side note, if you list your book on Kindle Unlimited, readers can pick it up for free. You get paid based on the number of pages they read. However, don’t think you can shortcut the system by having people pretend to read it. Yes, Amazon has an algorithm that will detect if someone just flipped through the pages quickly and will flag the review accordingly.
Also, if the self-publishing author has the same last name as the reviewer, Amazon will object. They will assume that the reviewer is a family member. Amazon doesn’t allow your close family and friends to review your books since, understandably, your mother would probably not be an objective reviewer.
Every ninety days, Amazon allows you to post your book for free for five days. That’s the time to get people to download your book for reviews. They will be considered a “Verified Purchaser.” It’s within the framework of the rules.
How to get a good number of reviews
If you were throwing a big party, how would you go about making sure the bash was a success? You’d probably start by setting a date and sending out invitations. You’d ask for RSVPs. People understand that you need to predict the number of guests to make sure you have the right amount of hors d’oeuvres and eggnog.
So, let’s say you invited fifty people and forty agreed to come. Would you expect all forty to show up without any prompting or reminding? Well, maybe if this was your first party, but you’d learn a lesson after that. If you invited them on Dec 1st for a party on the 20th and never sent any sort of follow-up, you’d probably wind up with five guests on the day. If you were lucky.
In order to get a good turnout, you need to follow up a few times before the day of the event. Then it’s probably a good idea to remind everyone again two or three days before.
In sales, follow-up is the key to success. I know, throwing a party doesn’t seem like a sales activity, but it is more relevant than you realize.
The importance of follow-up for self-publishing authors
Now, how does throwing a party relate to a self-publishing author getting reviews? Well, the principles discussed in the previous section definitely apply. When you set your free days for your book on Amazon, it’s a good idea to personally invite everyone you know to pick it up. Ask them for an honest review in exchange for a copy.
Then follow up. Yes, it’s a free book, but you still want to make sure they download your book during that period. Otherwise, you’ll have to get them to buy it, which is much harder.
Once they have the book, there is no time limit for the review. The next step is to get them to read your book. That might take time. Two weeks is a typical expected turnaround, but keep in mind that most people are busy, and reading isn’t always high on their priority list.
Again, follow up. Ask them when they think they can read it, then mark that date on the calendar.
There is a fine line between being a follow-up expert and a nuisance, so you’ll need to judge that carefully. If your friend keeps setting dates but never begins to read your book, chances are she won’t read and review your book. That’s OK. Let it go. Maybe she will surprise you later.
When a friend says they have read your book, that’s a good time to ask them for an honest review. Make sure they know how to post a review on Amazon. If they don’t, walk them through the process. It’s easy, but it can help to have someone by your side guiding you.
So, if you’re a self-publishing author and you wish to get a good number of reviews, there is really a three-step process. You need to get people to:
- Download your book
- Read your book
- Write an honest review
Take one step at a time and follow up. Before you know it, you’ll have dozens of reviews.
Putting a book up on Amazon without any thought to marketing is a bit like putting up a hotel on a deserted island in the middle of the Pacific. No one will know you are there. No one will buy your book. It doesn’t matter how beautifully written or captivating your story might be, no one will read it.
In order to sell beyond your friends and family, you will need to find a way to promote. Here are a few ideas:
Create your own blog
It’s always a good idea to purchase the domain name of your name (or your pen name) as well as the title of your book. Even if you aren’t ready to create a website, buy the name so that it doesn’t get snapped up. There are probably several people with the same name, so you might have to use your middle initial.
When you are a few months away from releasing your book, start blogging about the subject matter to build interest among your readers. You might also offer a free eBook in exchange for a reader opting into your mailing list. You can create a monthly newsletter to keep in touch with these people.
Create a social media presence
There are many social media platforms. It can be overwhelming. I’d suggest starting with one site, one that you like, and expand from there. A lot of authors choose to create an author page on Facebook. Start by inviting your existing friends to follow you, then expand your followers as best you can. Post content daily. Promote your blog now and then, but not too much. People won’t follow a slew of advertisements.
Instead, share relevant content. For instance, I recently ghostwrote a book called Discovering Kindness and received a cover credit (a nice bonus for a ghostwriter). I have been working with the author to create interesting content. One thing I do is to often share videos and articles about random acts of kindness. These relate to the message of the book and uplift our followers. It’s a win-win. I also feel that humor goes a long way, so I include funny memes and cartoons on his author’s page, keeping the style of the author in mind.
There’s a lot more to marketing and selling your book on Amazon. These are just a few tips from my personal experience as a ghostwriter. You can learn more from the many resources available in the library and online, including classes you can take. You also might consider investing in Amazon ads to boost sales, but that’s a subject for another article.
Congratulations on writing your book. Now go out and market the heck out of it!