How to Develop a Marketing and Promotion Plan as an Indie Author

Photo by Monstera from Pexels

Today’s post is by author Emma Lombard (@LombardEmma).

Disclaimer: I’m in Australia and my publishing and promotion choices may not be available or right for you, but they’re the right path for me as a historical fiction series author. I am not paid to promote any of the services, companies or resources in this article.

I’m going to be honest, my initial foray into researching self-pub author publication and marketing threw me into a tailspin of information overload. There are so many paths and options to choose—but that’s the whole beauty of self-publishing, isn’t it? The following article was born of several author acquaintances asking me what paths and options I chose to launch my debut historical novel, Discerning Grace.

Before You Begin

Join the Facebook group called Wide for the Win.

No, seriously. Stop reading and go join them. It’s a brilliant free resource.

Even if you hate Facebook or don’t use it that much, you really should hop back on there just for this group. They really are that good! They share a boatload of intimate strategies about self-publishing. Search the Tree of Knowledge first. Read everything there before you even think about asking questions on the main feed.

If the Tree of Knowledge is too tricky to navigate—it’s huge with zillions of threads and conversations—you can always buy the Wide for the Win ebook. It’s the brain child of Mark Leslie Lefebvre (from Draft2Digital) and Erin Wright (head honcho of Wide for the Win Facebook group). The information is much more structured and easier to navigate.

Setting Goals

I had to decide what I wanted from the first six months of my authoring journey: to be in the best-seller charts, to have thousands of downloads on a freebie, to garner early reviews, to grow my newsletter subscribers, or to roll in money like Scrooge McDuck?

I’ve picked two early goals: garner early reviews and grow newsletter subscribers.

My first-year goals

  1. Publish Discerning Grace (Book 1) in all formats (ebook, paperback, large print, audiobook)
  2. Get as many reviews for Discerning Grace (Book 1) as possible, on all storefronts
  3. Grow my newsletter subscriber list
  4. Publish Grace on the Horizon (Book 2) in all formats (ebook, paperback, large print, audiobook)

See how I don’t even mention $$$ or sales numbers in this first year? That’s not my goal (yet).

My second-year goals

  1. Publish Grace Arising (Book 3) in all formats
  2. Grow my newsletter subscriber list
  3. Run a BookBub 99c promo with Discerning Grace (Book 1) with the idea of achieving sell-through to Book 2 and Book 3
  4. Publish the trilogy box set (all 3 books in one)
  5. Run another BookBub promo on the box set
  6. Test paid advertising on Facebook, Amazon, and BookBub

Only after I’ve achieved these goals am I going to worry about money and sales numbers or paying for advertising. And only then will I work my strategies to grow these numbers into something that makes me a living (that’s a whole different topic for a different article—and for when I’ve crossed that bridge).

Now that I’ve laid out my goals, I’m going to stick to them. Of all the research I’ve read, it seems that most indie author careers only take off after 5 to 7 books. With only my first trilogy planned, I have a loooooong way to go, but having this knowledge also prevents self-flagellation in these early days. I’m running a marathon here, not a sprint.

Important: I Chose to Publish Wide

I am publishing wide, which means I am not prioritizing Amazon as an exclusive publishing platform over any other storefront. It just so happens to be one of my storefronts where my books are available. Here are the distributors I’m using.

  1. Ebooks: distributed through Draft2Digital (which distributes to Amazon Kindle, Apple Books, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, plus loads of other smaller international online storefronts, as well as libraries).
  2. Paperbacks: printed and distributed through IngramSpark (which distributes to Amazon storefronts in many countries, Barnes & Noble, plus smaller international online storefronts, and libraries).
  3. Audiobooks: produced and distributed through Findaway Voices linked to my Draft2Digital account but is a separate company (which distributes to all the same storefronts and libraries as Draft2Digital that also accept audiobooks, plus a few extra)
  4. Google Play: I’m only direct with this storefront because Draft2Digital doesn’t distribute to them

Some may think I’m nuts for not publishing directly to Amazon because Draft2Digital will take an additional 10% of my royalties (as it does from other retailers too), but the way I see it is if I was prepared to let an agent and a traditional publisher do the legwork, I would have been sharing a boatload more in commission. So, I personally don’t have an issue with giving Draft2Digital their dues for uploading to all the storefronts on my behalf.

I chose this route because self-publishing requires learning a lot (no, seriously, A LOT!) of new technology. My brain could only handle learning the dashboards of these four publishing/distribution companies to start with (preserving my time and sanity).

I was also cracking under the pressure of just THINKING about fixing a launch date with so many unknown variables ahead of me. So, I decided on a soft launch to take the pressure off myself. It’s for this same reason that I didn’t set up pre-orders and don’t ever plan on using them. I’ve seen too many tears from authors when it goes wrong. I’m not comfortable adding a potential problem to my plate.

Also, you know the saying, ‘Don’t keep all your eggs in one basket’? Using different publishing platforms ensures that if one company goes belly-up (or even has technical glitches), my books will remain in circulation in the other formats.

Marketing Plan and Results: My First Three Months

As you will see from the Wide for the Win group, there are actually dozens and dozens of ways to successfully market your books. I have chosen the paths of least resistance. It may cost me a little more in money, but it saves me a bunch of time and anxiety. It is also why I ended up choosing to do a soft launch instead of a hard launch for my debut novel, Discerning Grace.

What is a hard launch?

  • A hard launch is when you pick a specific date to launch your book baby—and then work like crazy to build as much hype as you can before that date. It involves creating a detailed marketing plan that starts months in advance of your launch date. For an experienced marketer or existing influencer: it’s a brilliant challenge to put your skills to the test; for a newbie, not so much.
  • When it’s planned well, with a huge network of support behind you, a hard launch can (but isn’t guaranteed to) push you into bestseller status. Indie author Nicholas Erik shares how a romance author hit the USA Today bestseller list (source: The Hot Sheet by Jane Friedman)—personally, I’m exhausted just reading this. Whew!
  • If your plan succeeds, reaching more readers quickly should theoretically translate into great sales right out the gate (though not necessarily, as Nicholas Erik’s article shows). But it takes an extraordinary amount of planning and networking—months in advance.
  • If your third-party vendors cause a delay, there’s a risk that the book you’ve promised your readers won’t be available on your launch date. Even with a well-laid plan, if some disaster strikes news headlines on your launch day/week, this can impact your launch (*cough cough, pandemic anyone?).

What is a soft launch?

  • A soft launch means quietly publishing your book and ironing out the wrinkles before you go in for the hard sell. There is no pressured approach to upload your book links to all your platforms and sites. It enables spreading out your marketing after your book is published instead of stacking it all before launch day. For me, this is much less stressful, with fewer potential pitfalls, and fewer people to rely on.
  • Without a fanfare announcing its arrival, you can ensure your book has published properly on your favorite publishing platforms before telling readers that it’s available. It’s also a calmer way to gather reviews for your book before launching into paid advertising.
  • The downside: You’re unlikely to hit those bestseller charts—but realistically speaking, other than a great feather to stick in your cap, what purpose does it actually serve? Do you judge a book by its bestseller status? You’ll get lower uptake on sales, including less visibility to start with, but there are ways to build this as you go (e.g. paid newsletters, cross promotion with other authors, paid ads). Accordingly, you’ll see lower initial income that won’t improve if you don’t take further steps to market and promote your book after it’s published (and keep the effort going)

Month One Plan

Company Cost Aim Result
By the Book Newsletter
(my own author newsletter)
Announce Book 1 available on all storefronts and libraries
Free Book Reviews
Blog Posts
• Fantastic book reviews across all store fronts
• Blog articles & interviews
• Social media exposure
The Fussy Librarian
(with BookFunnel freebie)
One-time paid newsletter burst
To grow newsletter subscriptions 600 new subscribers

Why I chose The Fussy Librarian over other paid newsletter companies: They are the only paid newsletter provider I found who let me use a BookFunnel freebie for my book giveaway. Other paid newsletter providers require your book to be free on retailers.

Important: You cannot set your book for free on Amazon if you distribute to them through Draft2Digital. Also, the amount of headaches I see daily from authors battling Amazon to keep their books set at free for promotions was another factor that dissuaded me from publishing directly with them.

Month One Results

This sales report chart is produced by ScribeCount. It does not include paperbacks from IngramSpark or ebooks from Google Play—these features are still coming to ScribeCount.

Sample sales report pie chart produced by ScribeCount, showing royalties earned for a single Ebook title in month one, broken down by storefront and geographic region.

Month Two Plan

Company Cost Aim Result
Historical fiction author promo
annual subscription
To grow newsletter subscriptions 300 new subscribers
Cover competition
6-month subscription
• Build buzz about new book
• Use handy promo tools like Review GIF Maker
• My cover came 6th out of 300 entrants
• Lots of enthusiasm on social media and in newsletter
• Smart GIFs for social media
Written Word Media
• Exposure
• Be included in curated email
• Interview
• Nothing measurable
• Great interview for my website
• Wouldn’t use again

Month Two Results

Sample sales report pie chart produced by ScribeCount, showing royalties earned for a single Ebook title in month two, broken down by storefront and geographic region.

Month Three Plan

Company Cost Aim Result
The Coffee Pot Book Club
Editorial review
• Give my book legitimacy from reputable co.
• Get quotable sentences for marketing
• Brilliant editorial review (good for fragile newbie author ego)
• Excellent marketing quotes
The Coffee Pot Book Club
Blog tour organiser
• Book reviews
• Blog posts
• Quality book reviews left on all storefronts
• Social media exposure
• Social proof book and author name (Google search for book & author name put me on first 7 results pages last I checked)
The History Quill Book Club
(Uses Amazon affiliate link)
Free (in beta) Tailored book discovery emails to readers of historical fiction Spike on Amazon
Mother’s Day Kobo promo
Only accessible through Draft2Digital
Find new readers Spike on Kobo
New Beginnings promo
Only accessible through Books2Read
Find new readers Sales across international storefronts
Memorial Day Kobo promo
Only accessible through Draft2Digital
Find new readers Spike on Kobo
(Book Readers Appreciation Group)
Recognized mark of excellence within the self-published book industry • DISCERNING GRACE was awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion
• Social media promotion
• Quality recognition

* You have to apply using this Request for Promotion Consideration form to receive promotional opportunities through Draft2Digital—it doesn’t automatically happen just because you’re published through them.

Fun Fact: You can only apply for Apple Books promotions if you’re published through Draft2Digital—you can’t apply for promotions when published directly with Apple Books.

Month Three Results

Sample sales report pie chart produced by ScribeCount, showing royalties earned for a single Ebook title in month three, broken down by storefront and geographic region.

What Happened After 3 Months

My sales graph for Discerning Grace for the first three months specifically doesn’t show any sales numbers or royalties. This is because part of the wide mindset is to aim for growth, no matter how slow. It just has to be steady.

I sold double the number of books in the third month than I did in the first. Note that each storefront provides their data on different days, so ScribeCount can only show you what info they’ve received. Some storefronts have data available the next day, others have a week or even a month’s delay in reporting. It’s also why I don’t get too hung up on the numbers side of things (in the Wide for the Win group, this appears to be everyone’s headache). I’m focused on the overall growth and achievement of my initial goals.

Bar graph showing increasing sales every month over a three month period.

Month Four: Plan in Progress

Company Cost Aim
Scandalous Lords & Ladies promo
Already subscribed To grow newsletter subscriptions
The History Quill
ARC review service
Book reviews
Swoon-worthy romance sale Apple Books promo
Only accessible through Draft2Digital
Find new readers

Months Five and Six: Plan in Progress

Company Cost Aim
Independence Day Kobo promo
Only accessible through Draft2Digital
Find new readers
Discovering Diamonds
Historical fiction book discovery service
Free Book reviews
Book tour organiser
Free (in beta) Book reviews
Book Love Tours
Book tour organiser
Book reviews
Fussy Librarian
(with BookFunnel freebie)
To grow newsletter subscriptions
Voracious Readers Only
Book discovery service
6-week Free Trial
(with an option to subscribe for USD20 per month thereafter)
Book reviews

I’m pleased considering I haven’t laid out any big bucks for paid advertising yet. Publishing wide definitely takes constant promotion but it’s heartening to see it all laid out on the page like this to realize that the effort is helping me achieve my initial goals so far.

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