Saturday, April 2, 2016

You Gotta Know When to Hold 'Em: Marketing & Advertising for the Indie Author

Let me warn you now: this article is longer than what I usually post here, but I think it's worth it. In keeping with our theme of "Marketing," I went in search of an exceptional article to share with you, and Heather Day Gilbert pointed me to her two-piece article for NovelRocket. Fit the bill for "exceptional." I hope you learn as much as I did from the piece.


I asked several authors to fill me in on advertising and marketing tips—in other words, share what's worth the money and what isn't. While each author had different experiences, we hope you can take away ideas that light your marketing "fire."

As we all know, indie publishing is FAR from one-size-fits-all (thank goodness!). However, I'm pretty certain all these authors would advise you to only take on as many of these marketing/advertising opportunities as you can handle, both financially and personally.

Some authors had no noticeable sales spikes from their book trailers. But the overall recommendation was that if you do a trailer, make sure you share it pre-book release and make sure it's an accurate, yet short trailer. However, the advice was also offered to keep your budget small on trailers, since they're not the focus of your marketing process, just an addition to it.

This was, by far and away, the method most authors recommended to get the word out on your books. This means you need to be established in various forms of social media. Points mentioned in this regard were:

—Tweet regularly. You can join tweet exchanges (this was news to me!) where you tweet for others and vice versa. Spammy tweets are not recommended, though, so try to keep your tweets more personal and don't litter the feed with them.

—Determine your twitter audience. Heather Sunseri, author of Mindspeak and Mindseige, advises authors to be real, which means sharing tidbits about your life. But she also advises not to stray far from topics that would interest your target audience.

—You can also prepare book release or other tweets and share them with your followers, groups, or launch team. It's easy for them to copy/paste them (I'd recommend hashtagging for more specific notice).

—Line up blog interviews ahead of time. You never know which blogs will drive the most traffic to your book, so the more blogs you visit, the better. I personally had several purchases after appearing on an ABA Medieval site that has thousands of readers, but I also had several people put my novel on their To-Read list after I visited a fellow homeschooling mom's blog. Basically, figure out where your reader demographic congregates and request a guest post, interview, or review slot.

—Lock in book reviews ahead of release time (let early readers read your book). That way, when your book launches, some of the first reviews to hit Amazon and Goodreads will be from your early readers, who've had time to thoroughly review your book. Please realize, those initial Amazon reviews will stay in place as the first ones readers see.

And since a self-publishing launch doesn't have to happen all at once, continue asking review sites to review your book, even months after you launch. The beautiful thing about self-publishing is that we don't have to stop marketing our books—it's the "slow burn" effect, which I'm sure I've mentioned before and will continue to mention!

—Facebook was mentioned as a wonderful way to reach readers on a personal level. Initially, I avoided having a FB Author page, but it has been my best source of connecting quickly with my readers.

—Email lists/Newsletters are consistently touted as the best way to get the word out to readers who love your writing and will buy your books. MaryLu Tyndall, who's maintained a substantial e-mail list for many years, recommends placing an email signup in multiple locations (blog, FB, etc). MaryLu offers a book giveaway to new subscribers once monthly. She also recommends only sending email updates when you have something newsworthy to update, so you're not inundating your subscribers with unimportant emails.

—If you're comfortable with it, public speaking was mentioned as an effective way to increase your book's reach and sales. Libraries often love to have authors visit and field questions about their books (especially if your book is in their library! Make a point of donating and signing yours to your local library(ies) once you have softcovers.)

—Book clubs and direct contact with your readers were also considered crucial, even if they didn't result in massive sales. The idea of giving back to your community, via signings and public speaking, was a driving factor for many authors.

—Also, updating your alumni sites and contacting local papers are small but crucial steps to get the word out closer to home.

The consensus seemed to be to do as much or as little as you can afford.

—Bookbub was consistently mentioned as being worth the advertising cost, but you have to make sure your book is at a competitively low price (say, 99 cents; or even better, FREE, which can seriously bump sales/reviews afterward), and you've categorized it in the right genre. ENT (E-reader News Today) is another site like this. Just know that these sites generally require a minimum number of Amazon reviews and are more selective about what they will pick up.

—Authors also said that although you might not get fast returns from paid ads, the result of consistent exposure to a book ad might pay off later. I have mixed feelings on Facebook ads, since in the interests of experimentation, I paid $30 to boost a Facebook post advertising a radio show I did with blogtalkradio. I was able to target it to the US, Iceland, and Norway (Viking haunts). I will say I might've gotten a couple new followers and a couple book sales, but I don't think I boosted the right post. It's probably better to boost one when your book is on sale for 99 cents or free. If you've done a paid Facebook ad, please comment below with YOUR results and suggestions.

This idea brought mixed responses; namely, that judges are quite subjective and feedback can run all over the board. If you're only looking for exposure and not feedback, I'd recommend free online contests, such as reader's choice awards or e-cover art awards. With these contests, you gain some exposure but don't have to pay to enter. As an indie, I have to ask myself why I am entering award contests, when my readers really don't care if I have awards in my bio or not. For me, it's not worth it to pay to enter contests at this point.

However, as of March 6, 2014, ACFW has announced that indies can be eligible for Fiction Finder and the Carol Awards (in 2015). Although there will be minimum requirements to meet, I feel this is a huge step forward for Christian authors as a group. I hope more contests open doors to self-published novels and novels produced by smaller houses. I think this will bring a wealth of previously undiscovered gems onto readers' radar. I could definitely see the benefits of entering a contest like that.

I think the key with contests is entering ones you know will reach your demographic/readership. For example, enter mysteries in a mystery contest, Christian fiction in a Christian contest, etc.

Sites such as The Fussy Librarian and eBooksoda deliver book recommendations to readers directly via email. Both are just getting off the ground, but I've already gotten feedback that one reader found my book through eBooksoda. They are choosy about genres they accept, but it's worth checking into.

Radio interviews and vlogs are another great way to gain exposure and connect with your readers. It's easy to set up a YouTube channel, so your vlogs can be centralized in one place.

I quickly learned that only certain book review sites will accept indie novels. Most larger sites work directly with publishers. But if you poke around the internet and watch who's reviewing authors in your genre, you can find individuals or sometimes larger groups willing to exchange a review for a free book. There are a couple Facebook review sites for Christian authors to connect with reviewers: Crossreads Reviewers and the recently established Christian Fiction Reviewers. An excellent post I recently discovered on all the ins and outs of finding reviewers was here at The E-Book Author's Corner.

There are also author co-ops that utilize NetGalley. I paid an author friend to use her slot for the month of February. I would just give the caveat that if you go with a co-op, make sure your genre matches what your group usually distributes to readers. I didn't garner large numbers of reviews, but I learned that one library might purchase it, so that was a win for me. I'll probably try this route again.

I have mixed feelings on authors doing freebies. I know it can generate early release buzz, but then again, you run into readers who aren't in your target audience and might give lower than average reviews. I'd love your thoughts below on freebies (as a reader OR an author). I have found some favorite authors via free Kindle downloads, but that generated no income for said authors. However, it did generate a loyal influencer who will spread the word and buy all the author's future books. Therefore, I am planning to do this at some point, if I choose to go with Kindle Select.

Nowadays, you don't have to look far to find the latest book giveaway, often complete with a free Kindle/ipad/mp3/Amazon gift card. I wonder about the effectiveness of these costly prizes. Yes, they draw a lot of attention and plenty of entries. But do they pay off in the end?

Staci Stallings, co-founder of CrossReads, shares that CrossReads offers a $50 Amazon gift card with their Book Blasts twice a month, which links readers back to author sites and social media outlets, resulting in solid increases in an author's audience. However, an uptick in sales on featured books tends to correlate closely to the book's price point, with 99-cent and free books getting the most boost.

I've had mixed success with book giveaways on blogs...I would say 8 out of 10 winners will review my book and spread the word. But much of this just depends on how your particular book resonates with that particular winner. I've decided not to spend my profits on electronic incentives for giveaways.

I'd also like to point out the importance of following through on your giveaways. I think many of us have had experiences where we've won a book and the author never made good on sending it to us, or finally it showed up five months later when you'd forgotten all about it. Now, maybe I'm just a gal indoctrinated with Southern ideas on courtesy, but I believe if you promise something and don't make good on it, you look like a liar. In other words, it'll reflect very badly on you as an author. If there is a good reason why you can't get that book out, offer a gift card or alternate gift. But at the very least, contact the winner and apologize.

As I've said in previous posts, Goodreads giveaways are a great way to get many people to add your book to their To-Read list, thus increasing your visibility on Goodreads. Some of those people will eventually buy your book, even if they don't win. But I'd just advise to offer at least three copies of the book and let your giveaway run a month so it will reach more people who might potentially share it with others and review.

Heather Day Gilbert enjoys writing stories about authentic, believable marriages. Sixteen years of marriage to her sweet Yankee husband have given her some perspective, as well as ten years spent homeschooling. 

You can find Heather at her website, Heather Day Gilbert--Author, and at her Facebook Author Page, as well as Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, and Goodreads. Trial by Twelve, the second in her A Murder in the Mountains series is available on Amazon.


  1. Linda, thank you for posting Heather's article. Outstanding marketing ideas and very helpful for someone (me) who's looking for help.

    1. Glad you think so, Janetta. I got some good points from it when I first read it, so I was glad they allowed me to reprint it here.

  2. Replies
    1. Aren't they? So glad to have this post on our blog!

  3. Hi there Linda, thanks for posting! Happy to answer any questions on marketing--this post was a little older, so some things have changed. For instance, I had great success with running a book freebie and advertising with ENT (E-Reader News Today) coupled with a Facebook video ad. Marketing techniques are constantly changing, so it helps to plug in with indie groups online! Thanks for featuring this!

    1. Facebook video ad--oh, I bet that was fun! I've had good luck with ENT, too, so I'm happy to see your endorsement.

      Thanks so much for allowing us to reprint the article!