Today’s guest post is by author and publisher Mike O’Mary (@Lit_Nuts).
I was recently on a video conference with members of the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA). We were talking about “discovery”—aka, how do small publishers (and independent authors, for that matter) let book lovers know about all their great new books?
I currently publish a book promotion newsletter, but prior to that, I ran a small press for several years. On average, we sold 6,000 copies of each book we published, including two that sold more than 20,000 copies, all without traditional distribution and on a tight budget. One of the critical pieces of our strategy: securing reviews so we could do serious advertising later.
But before I get to that: Make sure you have a great book. I know it goes without saying, but don’t expect to sell 5,000 copies of a mediocre book. The steps that follow will get your book into the hands of thousands of readers. If they like your book, you’ll get lots of positive reader reviews, good word-of-mouth, and thousands more readers. If they don’t like your book, you’ll get negative reader reviews and bad word of mouth. Enough said.
Okay, so first you need to get reader reviews on Amazon, BN.com (Barnes & Noble), Goodreads and elsewhere—but especially on Amazon and Goodreads. Here’s how to do that.
Consider doing a giveaway on Goodreads. I know, the idea of “giving away” your book may not sit well with you—especially when I tell you that it currently costs $119 to give your book away via Goodreads. But it’s worth it. You can give away up to 100 free copies of the Kindle edition of your book. Goodreads will handle fulfillment for you. In return, you get your book into the hands of dozens of engaged readers (and on the “Want-to-Read” lists of everybody who expresses an interest in your book), which will very likely lead to reader reviews on Goodreads and/or Amazon or elsewhere. You also get to send a follow-up/thank-you message to everyone who expressed an interest in your book during the giveaway, which is usually hundreds or even thousands of people.
That said, be realistic about your expectations: most of the people who express an interest in the giveaway (and many of the people who actually receive a copy of your book as a result of the giveaway) will not post a review. But many will. If you give away 100 free copies on Goodreads, it’s fair to expect 20–30% of recipients will post reader reviews in the ensuing days/weeks. That’s not a bad return on investment.
A blog tour is a great way to promote not just your book, but also yourself as an author. I’ve used several blog tour services, and I can recommend a WOW! blog tour or a TLC Book Tour as effective marketing tools.
Blog tour organizers like to engage readers via eligibility for a drawing (i.e., “leave a comment and be eligible for a drawing for an iPad”), and that’s fine—but your goal is not to get as many people as possible to enter a drawing; your goal is to get your book into the hands of readers. So work with your tour organizer to be sure the host of each blog will be giving away at least a few review copies (preferably digital copies) of your book to their followers with the expectation that recipients will post a reader review online. I also recommend asking your tour organizer to let you review the proposed list of blog tour participants. I always research each proposed participant myself to make sure it’s a good fit—and to make sure they are active bloggers with a decent following.
Another option is to organize your own blog tour. There’s a good list of book review blogs on Reedsy. You can always submit your book for review—but you can also offer to do guest posts. Your proposed post could be simply about your book or about yourself as an author, but a unique angle (an interesting discovery you made while researching/writing your book? practical advice based on the content of your book?) is preferable. Whatever you write about, be sure to think in terms of providing readers with something of value—including the opportunity for some of them to receive a free review copy of your book.
Advertise via email newsletters
I’m a big believer in book promotion newsletters. I used them extensively when I was running an indie press, and I now publish one. Newsletters are an economical way for authors to get their books in front of thousands of readers. But with 100+ newsletters out there, you need to know which ones to use. You can read my previous post about Using Book Promotion Newsletters to Increase Sales for advice on how to get the most out of this marketing channel.
Ideally, book promotion newsletters will generate enough sales to at least pay for themselves. But even if you just break even, that’s good! The primary goal through all of this is to get your book into the hands of readers, and to get some reader reviews on Amazon, Goodreads and elsewhere.
KDP Select Giveaway
Another way to get copies of your book out there for reader reviews is through a KDP Select giveaway. To enroll in the program, you need to halt sale of your ebook edition everywhere other than Amazon for 90 days, which is a bit of a hassle (and maybe impossible if your book was published and distributed by a traditional publisher and distributor). But if you worked with a small publisher or self-published, KDP Select may be an option for you.
My small publishing company did not have traditional distribution, so I controlled distribution and pricing myself. So to enroll in KDP Select, I temporarily turned off ebook sales via BN.com and Smashwords (which in turn, turned off sales via Apple, Kobo, and others), and then turned sales back on when I took the ebook out of KDP Select.
While you are in the KDP Select program, your ebook will be available to people who have paid for Kindle Unlimited (they can borrow your book at no cost, and Amazon pays you per page read), and you can give away your ebook for up to five days during your 90-day enrollment. I would give it away for three days early in the 90-day period, and then use the other two days late in the 90-day period. The result will be lots of free downloads, and ideally, a “tail” of paid sales when your Kindle ebook goes from free back to regular price.
Also, I advise promoting the heck out of your KDP Select giveaway. There are a bunch of websites and email newsletters where you can promote a giveaway at no cost or low cost (again, see my previous post on book promotion newsletters). A good giveaway will result in thousands (maybe tens of thousands) of downloads—and ideally, lots more reader reviews and word-of-mouth marketing that you wouldn’t get otherwise.
After your enrollment in the KDP Select Program expires (be sure to set it up so it doesn’t renew automatically), you can turn distribution back on at other retail outlets.
Using these tactics, your ebook should be in the hands of thousands (if not tens of thousands) of readers, many of whom got your book for free, but also many of whom paid to buy your book. You should also have lots of reader reviews and positive word of mouth, which will help drive and sustain your sales going forward while also giving you the opportunity to do additional marketing based on the strength of your reviews. If so, kudos to you. It’s a lot of work, but it’s all doable. Good luck!
Mike O’Mary is founder of Dream of Things, an independent book publishing company, and cofounder of LitNuts, a newsletter about indie books.