How to Use Common Sense (and Search Engines) to Market Your Self-Published Book
How to Use Common Sense (and Search Engines) to Market Your Self-Published Book
(Photo: daniel juliĆ  lundgren)

Developing a Common Sense Marketing Plan for Self Publishing - Why So Hard?



When something "makes sense", it's when the logic and emotion agree. This is the point of sales, actually.

And sales are hard to get if you go with what "conventional wisdom" is pitching out. Traditional publishers(and all those making money from indie authors) are against you succeeding, really - unless they can make money from you or your books meanwhile.

The story goes back to the days of vanity publishing, but was also just recently showing up with all the Gold Rush (ie. "Get Rich Quick") books that came out on how to self-publish. Even celebrities got involved.

The best one I heard about as a certain celebrity who told how he arduously wrote, proofed, and self-published his book (and told you how you could do it too - for cheap)... and then went out and blew $10,000 on promotion for it.

What? Oh - he's a celebrity. That makes sense. His book wasn't about helping you publish and sell your own books, it was about getting him more well known. That all made sense when I got the punch line. (Then I blocked that guy on all my lines.) Fake.

There I was, working to make sense of all the various advices that were floating around, only to find out that most of them didn't.

Some of these were:
  • Use exclusivity of Amazon (and leave at least as much money on the table from other distributors)
  • Price your book at .99 (until Amazon changed it's algorithms.)
  • Spend half your day communing on social media, being careful not to pitch your book to anyone (which meant you were burning time you could have used writing.)
  • Get your friends and family to leave reviews (unless you got caught by Amazon)
  • Buy reviews (the infamous John Locke method - with the .99 book.)
  • Note: Reviews only work on Amazon, and only partially.
  • Blog about your book (while you could be writing your next one.)

Meanwhile, several surveys (like Taleist and DBW and a recent one from the University of London) came out years apart and told a similar set of facts:
  • Most authors made about $500 a year (the same amount as belonging to an average MLM "opportunity")
  • Most authors have only published a single book, if that.
  • Successful authors (making over $10,000 a year) had published several.
  • The small (5%) set of authors actually making a decent living had published at least five and all in a series, tightly written for a genre.
  • These pro authors spent next to no time marketing their own books, self-published or not.
What?!?

Read that last one again.

Yes, the best-paid writers spent most of their time writing their next book, not marketing.

Other data that came out is that when they could afford it, they sent that book out for editing and got started on their next one. They also hired covers to be done  - once they could afford to do so. So: they could just keep at what they knew best, which was writing.

All this hocus-pocus about doing the social media circuses, guest blogging, virtual book tours, real-life book signings... That was all bunk.

Thanks a lot, guys.

Where real book discovery happens.

  • Other surveys about where people discovered books and made their buying decisions said that real-life friends told them about it. 
  • Studies of reviews showed that people mostly ignored them.
  • For non-fiction books, the next highest result was search engines recommending them.
Now we can get somewhere with this.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) depends on good content well described in terms search engines can use. Various tools tell us where people are looking for solutions and what they are using as keywords. Who is searching where for what is also known - simple site-traffic demographics.

Look at what really works, not what people have opinions about. Opinions are worth what you pay for them.

It's not touchy-feely to get someone to buy something. Sure, you appeal to their emotional desires as part of the copywriting, but it's otherwise just hard-core Search Engine Marketing that will help strangers buy your books.

The only other real consistent scene was to build a mailing list of buyers and maintain a valuable relationship with them. (This became the real secret to Amazon "bestsellers" - get your list to buy it at a low price and leave reviews. This jumps it to the top of their list. If the book is any good, it will stay there.)

One last marketing strategy continues to work, especially for fiction: Price your first book low or free. Regular price for the rest. When you complete the series, bundle them together and sell as a set (while you are busy writing the next series.)

How to SEO your book and not kill yourself off.

Like the old joke - you don't get down from an elephant, you get down from a goose. (Goose down, right?)

Most books ignore SEO in their descriptions, title, and even the web page authors or their publishers make for that book. I even read today that in non-fiction, even the topic and the book itself needs to be SEO'd - using keyword phrases people are searching for. Search engines can now scan within a book itself and do.

One reason may have been that SEO was full of tricks for so long. Most of those scammers have been busted thoroughly at this point. Now SEO is built on valuable content, becoming an authority people can trust for a given area.

It still changes all over the place, but the main approach is still to simply write content people are looking for, using the terms they think apply.

Fortunately, this hits the author in their strong suite - creating content.

The trick - and test - is figuring out how to do this "SEO" stuff as part of creating content. (Which is another reason most people don't do it.)

The one strategy that has always worked: put your target where they are shooting.

Years of working at computers and SEO taught me that simple idea. People are already aiming somewhere - just find that out and put your target there. Of course, in a crowded arena, there are many targets trying to get hit - so you might not be able to get your bullseye in there. Other arenas have no targets - but the shooters also have no intention of hitting anything (no sales.)

The trick in SEO is simply finding where there are some sales, but least effective competition.

I use Market Samurai to do market research - it's a one-time purchase and they keep it updated. They also have a nice training area, a Dojo. That's where you can get started learning about this if you don't know.

A second working strategy - get in front of as many eyeballs as possible.

While this obviously means porting your book to all possible ebook distributors, it also means publishing the paperback, hardback, and audiobook version. Because no two readers have the same preferences.

That also means getting as many formats for each book you publish posted to as many of the major platforms as possible. Your cover goes on Pinterest, Flickr, and major image-hosting sites. Your PDF version goes to Slideshare, Scribd, Doc-Stoc and the other major doc-sharing sites. You create a book trailer: the audio goes to Soundcloud and iTunes, the PDF transcript (which you made the images from) goes to doc-sharing sites, the video itself goes not just to YouTube, but also DailyMotion and the other key video sites.

This is an old technique which still somewhat works - of taking over several of the top rankings for a given keyword because of Google and others wanting to give the most applicable content, in all possible formats - "Universal Search".

The real bottom line is that some people like videos, some like images more. Any of these can be encouraged to find and by your book.

The third working strategy - prime the pump with social signals.

While you can do this with a handful of social syndication sites, such as Hootsuite and Onlywire, even IFTTT - I prefer Synnd. It takes longer, but lasts a lot longer - because its distributed amongst it's subscribers. As well, it's not just you sending out social updates on your own. Read up on it.

The point is that it helps great content succeed. If you just put out salesy junk, then your content will never get support and go viral. You can't prime the pump on a dry well and get anything out.

Getting some social signals being pushed along could give you the tipping point you need.

At very least, since 99.99% of the content out there isn't being plussed or liked, or tweeted about - you'll rise higher on any keyword ranking you may have targeted just because search engines still put some weight on what people are talking about.

With Twitter and Google getting back together, this should see another boom in this area. For those self-publishers who are ready, that is.

The common points to these common strategies:

  • You can do them yourself, 
  • They'll work as well as you use them.
  • You can start with just sweat equity, although some paid tools and services will accelerate your efforts.

It's all part of lean publishing.

Start where you are with what you have, if only an Internet connection and your computer.

Profit from day one, by keeping your costs below your income. A handful of self-published books priced at .99 may only bring you .35 per sale - but that adds up. It's much better than having nothing published and available for sale.

The whole subject of Lean publishing is well represented over at Leanpub, which is where I'd suggest anyone new to publishing head first. (And then buy my books in this area - or read the earlier blog posts here, which contain most of the how-to's I've put into books.)

Set a budget of less than you are making from your books and stick to it. There are some inflated ideas of quality out there which can help you spend thousands on editing and covers. Sure, get some help if you need it, but do a swap or call in favors. Don't spend what you don't have. You can even build an audience using Wattpad without publishing anything at all. That audience can help you clean up your text and vote on possible covers.

Remember, like any Gold Rush, there are people on the sides of the race who make their money selling stuff to the miners - until they run out of money, that is.

The Common Sense Marketing Plan is almost ready.

Because this post is so long already, I'll let you have it next time.

Each section of that will take some explaining. I've already covered a lot of it earlier, but not in one spot. This latest batch has forced me to actually set up an case study that tests all the steps I've been researching.

It's a spreadsheet, and more than a bit of work. Fun, though. And will help you remarket any book you've already published. Yes, that is what I intend to do with those earlier ones of mine - in the order of any sales they've already been giving me.

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