Image: Matthew Loffhagen
You had the idea, you wrote the book, you edited it, you perfected it, you published it. Am I going to say ‘now comes the hard part’? No, everything you just did was definitely the hard part. But if you want to find readers and build an enduring readership, there is more work to do. Of course, you’re not afraid of work, you just published a book! So, where do you start?
Well, in Part 1 of the answer, we’ll be covering the psychology of post-publication, the three-book rule, and the value of different types of review, while in Part 2 (available here), we’ll delve into expanding your platform, using social media to your advantage, advertising, book tours, and using book categorization to attract an audience, as well as how all these disparate parts knit together.
Let’s begin, then, by talking about how to switch from the publication sprint to the promotion marathon.
Get your head on straight
It takes a lot of work to get a book to publication, and part of that is often adopting a certain mindset. Maybe you’ve been hyper-focused, maybe other goals had to fall by the wayside, maybe you had to decide you were done with a book even as your heart cried out for just one more month of tinkering. Whatever the situation, it’s worth taking the time to consciously readjust to life without a deadline.
Marketing is a constant facet of the writer’s life – a boiler that needs stoking occasionally to keep the ship chugging along – and it can be unhealthy to transition the thinking of publishing a book to the process of marketing it. Late nights and laser focus are great for the finite process of reaching publication, but ‘little and often’ is the order of the day for effective post-publication success. Try not to see promoting your book as the next step of writing it; that job is done, and your satisfaction is the only guaranteed payment, so make sure you’re getting your due.Don’t move on too quickly from publication – it’s a big step, and one you should savor.Click To Tweet
Changing gears from writing to promoting isn’t automatic – you may need to formalize the process with a gathering or activity, take a little time away, or plot out what’s next so you can see the difference. A big part of this is absorbing the fact that you’re a published author. This can be a struggle for a lot of writers – no bells and whistles go off, no alarms sound, your book is just available for purchase. Even when your readers arrive, I’m afraid there’s no certificate to confirm that you’re now officially an author. You just are, so try to embrace that fact.
Promotion helps people find your book, but if you leap into it as a means to ‘prove’ that you really are an author – especially to yourself – you’re more likely to find it frustrating. Again, it may take deliberately formalizing your achievement for it to sink in, and no-one’s saying you have to overcome impostor syndrome in a night, but publishing a book was one thing and promoting it is another. Take a deep breath, pat yourself on the back, and consider your options for the next stage.
The three-book rule
Once you publish a book, it’s time to start promoting it. That’s non-negotiable if you want to find an audience – you have to tell people there’s a book for them to read. Unfortunately, if you’ve written fewer than three books, there’s a caveat: you need to write your next book, too.
Why? Well, book marketing tends to be much more effective once you have three books to your name. There are a range of reasons for this. One is that it’s the number at which a lot of readers start trusting you as an established voice – the point at which they stop feeling quite so much like they’re ‘taking a chance’. Another is that it’s the number of books that turns a reader into a fan: the first book they read because it’s interesting, the second book they read because they liked the first, the third book they buy because it’s got your name on it and they trust your name. When you have one book, selling one book is exactly that. When you have three or more books, selling one book is a sale and an advertisement for your other work. Another reason for the three-book rule is that this is the number where the various online algorithms that put your work in front of potential readers start really working for you.
These reasons aren’t independent from one another, and if the three-book rule was boiled down to a key fact, it’s probably the point where the author starts mattering more than any one book. Book stores start treating your name as a selling point, people start recommending your stable of work rather than one book, and fans know to look out for your future work.Marketing is a must for every book, but it tends to have limited effect until your third release.Click To Tweet
The three-book rule can be disheartening, but it’s not the case that marketing and promotion are pointless until you reach this stage. In fact, another reason that authors tend to take off on their third book is that they’ve got two books’ worth of previous promotion under their belt. Not only has their name started to permeate the market, but they’ve also got a better idea of what works and what doesn’t. So, yes, it’s still worth reading on if you’re on your first book, but it’s also worth adjusting your expectations for what success might look like in this context. Remember: the idea isn’t to sell out book one, then sell out book two, then sell out book three. The idea is that you keep gathering readers for the entirety of your career, and early-adopters get to be smug about having discovered you before anybody else. After all, there’s a reason first editions sell for so much more than the rerelease.
Perhaps the most immediately important thing to do once your book is published is to get reviews, and these come in two major types.
The first major type of review is reviews on online bookstores. If you’re selling on Amazon, you need Amazon reviews. Why? Well, this is usually one of the chief metrics by which online booksellers measure your book’s relevance. Online bookstores keep their algorithms secret to avoid them being gamed, but number of reviews seems to correlate with a book’s appearance and placement in the ‘Customers who bought this item also bought’ and ‘Recommendation’ sections.
In short, the more reviews you can get on an online bookstore, the more that bookstore will do to advertise your work. Of course, sales also help, but reviews actually have more influence on an individual basis. It’s worth calling in every favor you have to load your book up with reviews, especially because ‘number of reviews’ has a value even outside of their content or consensus. A quick ‘I loved it’ still bumps your numbers and – here’s something to keep in mind – so do the bad reviews. That’s not to say that bad reviews don’t hurt, but they do up your relevance.
The second major type of review is one published through another venue. These still grab readers, but they don’t automatically make your work more visible where it’s sold. Obviously, the worth of a review is tied to the reach of the source, but remember that every review is still a resource for you; it’s content to share on social media (something we’ll return to shortly), and it creates the sense that you’re being talked about. If you’re trying to talk a major reviewer or blog into taking a look at your work, proving that a bunch of lesser blogs have already covered you is a compelling argument.Reviews are vital, especially for new authors – call in every favor you can.Click To Tweet
So, how do you get reviews in the first place? Well, I’ll cover that in more detail when I talk about book tours, but in short, you either contact reviewers or hire someone to do it for you. Some reviewers won’t accept a free copy of your work, but some will, so make sure you have one ready. Reviewers need a reason to dedicate space to your work, but they still need to fill that space, so you can almost always find someone who’ll write about you. If you’re just starting out and haven’t done any other promotion, they might not have much of an audience, but I’ve already described how collecting reviews allows you to climb the ladder.
Some services offer paid reviews, but since online stores are always looking for new ways to purge this kind of content, it’s often a false economy. Sites that focus on actual competitions and honest feedback, like Readers’ Favorite, are less pay-to-play in their outlook. Just keep in mind that in such cases, a site’s reputation is a lot of what it’s offering; do your research before you invest time, effort, or money in any service of this nature.
One rule that covers both types of review is not to respond publicly, especially negatively (and that includes ‘clearing up’ any misconceptions you think the reader has). Nothing says small-time like an author who responds to every review, and while your work is your baby, protectiveness, outrage, and ill-feeling come across especially poorly online. It’s so rare as to be impossible that an author can argue a poor review into a good one, while it’s far more common for angry author rebuttals to become a source of scorn. Remember that reviews aren’t aimed at you; their writers are just expressing an opinion, and sometimes you’ll overhear them. Don’t lavish attention on the negative; just thank them (internally) for increasing your presence and move on. If you really can’t help but respond, take that energy and instead thank a few positive reviewers for the kind words.
Once you’ve digested the above, join me for Part 2 (available here), where I’ll talk about social media, author websites, and more.
You can also let me know what marketing techniques have worked for your books, as well as what hasn’t been worth the time and effort, in the comments below. You can also check out 6 Things You Should Know About When To Self-Publish and Everything You Need To Know About Guerrilla Book Marketing for more great advice.