Valuable insights from people who’ve done it
As a writer, don’t you think life would have been so easy if all you needed to do was write?
This isn’t true, especially if you are a self-published writer who’s just brought their new ebook out in front of the world.
According to Bowker’s report on Self-Publishing in the United States, 2013–2018, “The total number of print and ebooks that were self-published in 2018 was 1.68 million in the U.S.”
That means a staggering 4,500+ books were released each day.
And this includes only self-published books in the U.S. It doesn’t account for the thousands of books published by publishing houses in the other 190+ other countries across the globe.
In such an overflowing market, what can authors do to make sure their books attract the right audience?
To answer this and other questions helpful to the writing community, I started a Space on Quora where I conduct interviews with published authors with the aim of creating a place for them to share their experiences in the writing, publishing, and marketing businesses. It features a new author every few days with an exciting set of questions featuring their struggles and success stories.
One of my favorite questions that I ask each author I interview is: “what is a book marketing trick you learned the hard way?”
In this article, I have combined the incredible book marketing and promotion lessons I learned from seven successful authors from India and abroad.
Social Media Can Be a Powerful Tool
Tamara Whitlow is a writer and a mother of two from Columbus, Ohio. Her first book Worth the Wait was widely appreciated by readers for the heart-warming plot and intensely relatable characters. Her second book, Finding N, has garnered some fantastic reviews from readers all over the world. In her own words, Tamara wants people to get hope from her books, a way of making the worst situations possible to get through.
When I asked her what was one tip she would like to share on how to connect with an international audience, here is what she had to say:
“I stay on social media!
Stay interactive with everyone and support others.
You are more well-received when people feel that you are not just looking out for yourself. Twitter and Instagram are places where I meet a lot of my international readers.”
Of course, an author needs to have a strong social media presence and powerful personal branding. Then again, it is essential to take care that not all content sounds self-promotional, and they have to engage other members of the community as well.
It is a delicate balance, but as authors, this is something we have to learn.
You Are the Face of Your Book
Mohit Garg works for American Express. He’s been working for a few years and never liked it, but he has always wanted to be a writer or photographer. He published his first book, Lives of Vulnerable Entities, almost a year back.
This is what Mohit had to share when asked about the book marketing trick he learned the hard way:
“Some people on social media might be very helpful while others can be a waste of time and money. So, it’s extremely important to plan and spend time to figure out a day-wise structure to follow.
Or, if you have the money, you can hire a marketing team to do the work. Most importantly, take your work forward to people yourself. You are the face of your book, the more hard work you do, the more fruitful the outcome would be.”
It is possible for writers to outsource marketing as well as invest in paid reviews. Here is something interesting Mohit added:
“Paid reviews are a bad thing. I came across people who were ready to put multiple reviews in less than INR 100 ($1,33). I didn’t want to invest because I wanted to keep things real. I wanted to know what people genuinely felt about the book.
So, if you come across people who do paid reviews, please don’t go with it. Even if you do, ask them to be fair to you and your work. Honest reviews will help you more in the long run compared to paid sugarcoating.”
Be Careful Who You Trust
Jyoti Arora is an Indian blogger and author of four books. She writes contemporary fiction and dabbles in technology-related write-ups. She was one of the 100 women achievers invited to witness the 2016 Republic Day parade of India as a special guest.
She had something similar to say when it came to asking people online to review your books:
“I learned that you need to be very careful while dealing with book reviewers, promoters, etc. Not all people who offer to help you promote books are helpful. Most are out there just to rob you of your money.”
The paid reviews are rampant on social media these days, where most reviewers don’t even take time to read a book. They just skim through the pages, post a few generic lines, give five stars, and move on.
As writers, we must ask ourselves: such half-hearted reviews might bring our book’s rating up, but are they really what we are looking for?
Maintain an International Appeal
Sam Anthony is a high school mathematics teacher and an independently published author from the UK. He has written three psychological-thriller novels and one anthology of short stories. His books have been loved by readers all over the world for their unique premises and creative titles (The Adulterer’s Handbook, The Adulterer’s Confession, and The Adulterer’s Dilemma).
Here is Sam’s tip for reaching an international audience with your self-published books:
“I live in the UK, but most of my sales have been in the U.S. I’ve tried to write books in a transatlantic way, but there have been some areas of confusion. ‘What the heck is a lay-by?’
I use Twitter to reach an international audience, with some occasional Bookbub adverts.”
As someone from India, I can relate to this on another level. There are several words that we Indians use on a daily basis that aren’t part of the international lingo.
I think Sam’s lesson is relevant to every author: if you want to appeal to an international audience, you have to keep cultural influences to a minimum.
Also, Bookbub could be a great way to reach out to potential readers. I haven’t tried it myself, but I’ve heard outstanding reviews from fellow authors.
Pay Attention to the Cover
Chandrayan Gupta is a 21-year-old novelist, blogger, and law student from India. Since he was 14, he has been struggling with mental health issues. And he likes detective thrillers. So, he created a series that blended the two. An emotionally damaged private investigator and a clinically depressed teenager team up to solve challenging crimes while helping each other through their issues.
Chandrayan’s marketing tip is related to having an attractive cover:
“Book covers play a very big role in attracting new readers. I self-publish, so I design my covers myself, and every time I do, I keep in mind that the cover is the first impression that a book has on the reader.
At the same time, the cover must be consistent with the themes of the book. If a book is a romance novel where one of the protagonists was a soldier before, but the cover shows a thrilling firefight, then it’s really not okay. I think, that the cover must be beautiful and attractive, is inaccurate. It just needs to be consistent with the overall theme of the book.
At the end of the day, the cover exists to instil a certain feeling in the reader, make them feel a certain way.”
Of course, one cannot deny that even today, several readers pick a book based on the cover. If you design an attractive cover that acts as a preamble, an introduction to the book, it serves its purpose.
Grab the Reader Through the First Chapter
Shreyan Laha is a science fiction author and a rural development professional who hails from Jamshedpur, India. His book A Year Without Summer was one of the highest-selling science fiction books in India.
Here is what Shreyan had to say about how to generate interest in the readers about your book:
“Grab the reader through the first chapter.
The second thing I would like to share is to have a blurb which is quite different to most of the books existing in the common readership around where you live. That should be the USP of your book.
Always have a precise answer to ‘Why would a reader pick up my book instead of hundreds of others?’
Also, build relationships. There must be people by your side who will order your book and not say ‘no’ when you ask them to read it.”
Shreyan raises a crucial point here. As authors, we should always know what makes our book unique and focus on the USP while pushing it to an audience.
If we can make sure that the first 1,000 readers can’t stop reading once they’ve started, then half the battle is won. Word-of-mouth will take care of the rest.
Quality Content Sells
Anjum Hassan is the much-loved author of the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize Nominee Neti, Neti. She mostly writes fiction. She also writes other things like essays and, only occasionally now, poems. She started out as a poet and book reviewer.
When I picked up her novel Neti, Neti from the shelves of my college library, I had expected a “typical” novel following the life of a troubled urban youth living in Bangalore. What I hadn’t expected was for the book to hit me right in the face and rip my heart out. Just a few paragraphs in, and I was sitting straight in my chair, hooked, drawing my friend’s attention every few pages to show him an exciting line, something I could relate to.
I definitely hadn’t expected it to become one of the best books I had ever read.
So, when I reached out to Anjum, asking her if she would like to be a guest on my interview series, imagine my happiness when she agreed!
Here is what Anjum had to say when asked about the one book marketing trick she learned the hard way:
“I don’t really know any book marketing tricks and I started to be published just as the age of book marketing was dawning in India, in 2006. I think what has worked for me is being in the field for a long time and letting readers find my books through their own means.
Of course, I’ve all along done book launches and literary festivals and conversations like this one. And perhaps they help a bit.
But finally one has to leave it to the mystique of destiny. You said you just happened to pick my book out of a shelf in your college library. I very much believe in those sort of chance encounters when it comes to reading.”
What she said is very accurate.
One can shout from the rooftops about their book, but, if it delivers some value to the reader, sooner or later, it will find its way to their hearts. The process might take time, but it will happen.