The Essentials of Publishing and Marketing Your First Book
You’ve done it. You’ve written a book and edited to perfection—or damn near, anyway. Now it’s time to decide how you’re going to launch your book out into the world.
I’ll talk a bit about the two paths to publication, traditional and self-publishing, and then I’ll share a bit about marketing.
Because, like it or not, whichever path you choose you’ll need to learn to market your work if you want to find monetary success with your fiction.
Trust me, this is a huge topic, so all I’m going to be able to do here is scratch the surface. I can’t tell you how to do any of this in this blog space, but I can tell you what to do.
Some of this you may already have down pat. Some you might need some additional guidance on. That’s okay. There are resources out there to help you. Consider this article an overview. A road map. The outline to publishing and marketing your novel. You’ll need to fill in the milestones, landmarks, and pit stops for yourself.
It will help for you to have a clear idea of your personal definition of success. With that in mind you can design your publishing and marketing activities in pursuit of that. Your definition of success might simply be to hold a copy of a book you wrote in your hand. In that case, CreateSpace is your best friend, dear author. You might want to replace your day job’s income and go full time with this author gig. Fantastic! You can totally do that. But know that there’s work involved.
Overview of Indie versus Trad
So, the first question you have to ask yourself is whether you’ll go for traditional or self-publishing? With one, you get the prestige of working with a New York publisher, and a greater chance of having your book show up on the Barnes & Noble's bookshelf. With the other, you retain all the control of your work and have access to greater royalties. So, what’s your poison? Here’s a quick breakdown of a few more differences to help you decide.
Mumbo Jumbo Explained
I’ll take a moment here to clear up some of the mumbo jumbo from that comparison section.
Your book cover, your blurb/product description, andyour story itself, including both formatting and writing quality, make up the triumvirate known as the marketing package.
You want to nail these. I don’t talk about it anywhere else, so I’ll mention it here. Quality control is up to you. Get feedback. Make sure you’re putting out excellence. That falls to you, my friend.
This is the marketing copy that appears on your product page on the bookseller’s website (e.g., Amazon.com). This is generally a short, enticing paragraph or three about the book, with a call to action (CTA).
CTA (Call to Action)
An invitation or suggestion that the reader take an action (click a link, buy a book, like a page, sign up for a list, etc.).
Something you provide to a reader in exchange for their email address, which you add to your list. This can be a short story, novella, whole novel, desktop wallpaper with book-centric art (like the painting that serves as the backdrop for your fantasy book’s cover), a prequel, a letter from the character, or any combination of the above. Your imagination is the limit here, but you want to offer something of value to the reader, and it should be something that identifies them as a fan of your work.
Be sure to include a lure to your lead magnet in the back matter of your book.
Your personal collection of email addresses from fans of your work. You’ll want to compile these through a list manager like MailerLite, MailChimp, Aweber, Active Campaign, Ontraport, etc.
The list is what gives you direct access to your readers. You attract people to it with a lead magnet. You continue to engage them with well-written email messages. Occasionally, you tell them about something you have for sale. You build friends. You reign your author kingdom.
The stuff you put in the back of your book, specifically the calls to action. This can also include your author bio, acknowledgements, etc.
You do want to ask the reader for a review, and tell them how they can get a free story (or whatever you’re giving away as your lead magnet) with a link to your lead magnet.
In general, I'm talking about advertisements on a few main platforms here: Amazon Marketing Services, Facebook, and BookBub. Two of those (the first two) are relatively in your control and worth experimenting with and then exploiting when you have a working ad. Certainly, BookBub is worth going after, but take the time to learn what they’re looking for to set yourself up for success in landing placement on their very successful list.
What's BookBub? It's a site that makes money rain on your face.
A note of caution here, your advertising budget can get away from you if you’re not careful. Learn the ropes before you dive into the deep end. And try not to mix your metaphors like I just did.
Indie versus Trad?
So, to summarize, traditional publishing requires you to find an agent, and to have that agent represent your manuscript to editors, who then lobby their publisher to purchase the rights to that work and offer you a contract.
From contract to publication, for new authors without a platform, it is said to take two years. Much of the marketing branding is out of the author’s hands. They have a team on their side to help with editing and marketing. They’ll still need to do a lot of marketing work on their own if they want to be successful.
For indies, the path is immediate, but it includes all the steps. Editing, formatting, cover design, print production, marketing copy creation, advertising, publishing, all of it. However, they enjoy complete control and many of these tasks can be hired out. In essence, successful indies build their own publishing teams.
Okay, hope that helped. Now you have to choose. If you’re going traditional, I wish you luck, point you to Jeff Herman’s Guide or the Writer’s Digest Guide to agents and publishers. If you’re going indie, assemble your production team and get to work!
Once you have your product and marketing package complete, and your website and mailing list are functioning, it’s time to publish and tell the world.
For beginners, I recommend choosing one platform to sell your books on, at first. If you’re intent on “going wide” (publishing on multiple platforms) then I recommend using a distributor like Draft2Digital to minimize the overwhelm.
Now, there’s no way I can cover everything you should know about each of these upcoming topics in a single blog post. I mean, I could write a book about them. (Oh hey, I did! More coming on that in the future …) But I do want to paint the bigger picture of what you should be doing at this stage in your author life if you want to build a successful and sustainable career with your writing.
Always keep writing, so you’ll have the next product to market. Note that there are two stages there, the creative side and the business side. At some point you have to acknowledge that your art has transformed into a product. But always reserve some time in your life for the stage where it is art. Keep writing. Keep writing. Keep writing.
You have to make your book available. You have to build your crew. This consists not only of readers, but of the team you bring on board to aid you in publishing. It includes your professional editors, formatters, personal/virtual assistants, cover designers, and the like. It includes your beta readers and your street team, the people you reach out to for those critical early reviews.
Tell the World, but Zero in on Your People
Create a website for your author life. Drive targeted traffic to it. Capture your traffic’s email addresses with a lead magnet. Use ads to drive traffic to your books or your website. Communicate with your fans. It’s that easy and that hard.
Ask your fans for reviews. Actively seek reviewers who’ve reviewed books like yours and ask them to review your book. Often, you can contact them through their review page on Amazon, or even get their email address. Write them a personal note; don’t use a form letter.
There are two major phases I can identify in book marketing, the launch phase and the evergreen phase. In other words, there are activities you should do all the time and activities that layer on top of those when you have a book launch.
At launch, you’ll likely want to employ targeted tactics to increase sales of your new book. You’ll try more widespread promos, advertise more heavily, announce to your list.
Regardless, you should incorporate regular marketing activities into your writing lifestyle. You should set marketing targets, experiment with advertising, drive traffic to your lead magnet, and continue to get the word out about your books.
You should continue the conversation with the readers who’ve signed up for your list and entertain them with stories from your writing life, snippets from your current work, and recommendations for things that have entertained you.
I encourage you to join author’s groups online to find out what’s working and what’s not. Experiment with different ways of reaching new fans. There are so many tools and communities open to authors right now, and the marketing widgets that work change all the time. Take advantage of your relationships to stay on top of the current trends.
Much like writing, marketing is not a one-and-done activity, and it does get easier with time. You can do this.
Remember, the world needs your story. Now go share it!
All the best,