Lately, I’ve been immersed in the murky world of book marketing. Specifically, I’m a self-published author with a new novel available on Amazon.com. And, to be frank, I’m frustrated and disappointed with my book’s sales so far. It’s been a spectacular failure — really, so much of a failure that it’s now interesting to me as a case study.
Trying to generate buzz for a novel has been (and continues to be) a learning experience for me and, thankfully, I think some new directions are finally emerging that may help. But, until I can prove that those new ideas work, I wanted to document some massively ineffective things that I’ve done.
In other words: I can’t authoritatively tell anyone else what to do to help sales of their books. But, I have a feeling I can tell you with authority what does not work. And hey, that may also be of interest to some.
Visions of Social Media Buzz Danced in My Head
Before I launched, this was my vision: Once Amazon finally approved my book and had it fully listed (by which I mean it appeared in the stores where it belonged, and it had the “Look Inside” feature working — which took a while for them to do), I would “launch” it by mentioning it on all of my social media networks and, hopefully, that initial burst would give it a bit of traction.
(Oh, how I was wrong!)
Maybe I’m not as connected as everyone else; I have no idea. But, I’ll share some stats for others to compare:
- Facebook: I have 3,355 “friends” as of today. That’s down from 4,000+ in years past. My wife & I used to run a popular blog, and that resulted in my having so many friends. Even 3,355 seems a lot to me, as I really don’t “know” the majority of these people. But, this is definitely my most frequently used social platform. (My FB.)
- Twitter: 662 “followers.” TBH, I feel like Twitter is a complete waste of time. I joined back in August in order to participate in a literary agent thing called #PitMad (which I still think was pretty neat). (My Twitter.)
- LinkedIn: 375 “connections.” I’ve had these connections for a long time, as I’ve built them up slowly, almost all people I know in some professional capacity (though, lately, LinkedIn “connections” have loosened a good bit from previous years, leading to a lot of spammy sales people trying to connect). (My LinkedIn.)
- Instagram: 350 “followers.” I’m fairly active on here, having been a member for a few years, mostly posting pics from my travels. A lot of these connections are cross-overs from FB, I believe. (My Insta.)
- Medium: As of now, I have 1,200 “followers” here — not insignificant, really. I’ve been writing here since 2017, and I get usually ~10k total views/month consistently.
Adding all of that up, my total social media reach would be 5,942 people, though it would include some dupes, of course. Let’s call it 5,000, though.
I want to get to the awful sales numbers, and will. But before I do, let me also share the other steps I took to hopefully help my launch.
Other Things I Did, Pre-Launch
Before launching, I did some other things that I thought may help (and, although I certainly still have no great sales stats to share, I do still consider these to be good things, on the whole):
- Additional Titles Ready to Go: I uploaded two other books of mine to Amazon.com. The rational there was that, if someone bought my new novel, perhaps they’d want to buy my other books as well. So I dusted off two other books I’d had for sale previously on Lulu.com, and made new paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon. (Addl book 1, Addl book 2).
- Amazon Author Page: Amazon lets you setup an author page, where you can upload your photo, a bio, and even connect your blog (all of which I did). (My Amazon Author page.)
- Author Web Site: When I knew I’d be publishing my novel, as well as the other two books, I realized that an author site would definitely be handy. Inside all of my books in the copyright area and also at the end in the author bio, I refer people to my author web site for further info. My author web site has my books, links to Amazon, my bio, links to my blogs, links to my social media, and contact info. So, if anyone wants to know anything about me, or to get in touch, it should be super-easy for them. (My author site.)
- Facebook Author Page: This is said to be good to have, and certainly comes in handy for running ads. (I’m actually of mixed feelings about mingling personal and professional pages, btw, but that’s a topic for a different post.) (My FB author page.)
- Medium Article Bios: Here on Medium.com, I have hundreds of posts. At the bottom of each one (this one included), I put the three-dot separator, and then an “about the author” paragraph. This paragraph has links to my Medium profile, my Medium publications, my author site, my Amazon author page, FB, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and gives my email address. Then at the end, it has a specific blurb for the new novel: “His latest novel, CHROO, is available on Amazon.com. If you enjoy humorous literary tales, please grab a copy!” It was, of course, a real pain to go into each of my hundreds of articles and add that link. But, looking at my stats, I figured that’s 10,000+ potential eyeballs, monthly, who might see that. Maybe one or two would click!
- Banner Ads & Links on Other Sites: I soon realized doing all of the above that I had some other sites that get traffic, and which run Google AdSense ads, anyway. So, on one that gets about 10,000 hits/month, I put a banner ad directly advertising the new novel at the top-left, complete with a photo. I linked to it from a few other sites, too (though none get as many as the 10k of the site mentioned).
- Professional Cover Design: I should add here, btw, that I didn’t just half-ass the cover. I realize that covers are much more critical than most would admit. People DO judge books by their covers! So, I worked with a designer on that, and she came up with a cover I really loved, including a custom caricature of the title character (a dog named “Chroo”). Here’s the cover:
- Email Signature: Finally, I realized that I send quite a lot of emails in my line of work. Fortunately, I’m self-employed, so I’m able to do whatever I like with my email signature. So, I included a specific link to the new novel there, too. People probably ignore email signature files, mostly. But, as with many of the ideas listed here, I don’t believe it’ll hurt to have it there. Here’s a screen-grab:
On November 18, the big launch day came, and I shared the cover above on all of the platforms (along with a link to the Amazon page, of course).
To date, I’ve sold 5 paperbacks and 2 eBooks. Not spectacular (to put it mildly). My author royalties total $32.44.
Of the 7 copies sold, I can account for most of them:
- Two friends from high school bought one;
- One friend told me he bought the paperback and the eBook;
- A family member bought one; and
- A friend from PDX bought one.
My point in sharing the above bullet points is to note that 6 of my 7 sales probably would have happened had I done almost none of the above marketing activities. These were people who, if I’d simply posted “Hey, I just published a novel. Here it is on Amazon!” … would have probably gone there and purchased one. Which is all the more depressing as it means that my “sales” outside of those very close to me … was one copy, and after all of the above!
I also, on the 17th, did a Facebook “boosted post” of the cover (long with a link to Amazon) from my author page. I actually thought this was pretty neat, as I could specifically pinpoint the audience demographics. For example, I thought the novel shown would appeal to (1) Chihuahua fans, who are (2) also book lovers. That boosted post reached 1,796 people, and got 251 “likes” (two comments and 13 shares — which was nice). The cost of that was $26 ($0.08 per engagement).
I then did another boosted post days later (similar in nature, only it suggested that the book would make a great GIFT for literary Chihuahua owners). That reached 1,091 people (169 likes, 16 shares). The cost of that was $22 ($0.13 per engagement).
On the above two “boosted” posts, I did gain followers on my author page. When you boost a post, and look at the likes/loves/etc., it shows an “invite” button next to people’s names (inviting them to like your author page). I clicked that each time and I guess about 20% of those I invited actually did like the page. So … that’s something, I suppose.
What I Did Wrong , And How I’m Addressing That
Well first, it’s not over. The good news is that all of the above is done and not going anywhere. All of those links and sites and banner ads exist, and can’t hurt. But, clearly, my vision of picking up traction based on my 5,000 social media connections absolutely fizzled out.
I more or less expected Twitter to not matter. The only reason I have 600 “followers” there is because of a thing called “#WritersLift” where writers basically follow each other simply because you’re a writer and so is the other person. With a little effort there, a writer can garner a thousand or two connections in a month. Only, such connections aren’t real engagements with others. It’s purely there to boost one’s stats, which it’s said can help some writers appear to have a “platform.”
Now, Reddit is another place I hang out on socially, but didn’t mention above. That’s because it’s a tough place to be self-promoting. The community there really looks down on such things, on the whole. But, there’s a lot of help and discussion there. So, I got to talking with other authors, one of whom honed in right away on a critical mistake I made: not getting reviews. My books’ reviews so far:
“That’s going to hurt you a lot,” this author told me. Apparently, no one wants to read a book that has no reviews (or worse, I guess a lot of negative ones). Thankfully, my problem isn’t negative reviews, anyway! But, having none looks bad, I’ll admit.
What I’m doing now (or, “trying next,” I should say) is mainly focusing on two sites that I think might help:
- StoryOrigin: This web site has tools to help with garnering reviews, along with many other author tools and utilities. I’m still new there and don’t yet understand how it all works. But, I’m definitely going to give it some attention! It’s my #1 focus marketing-wise for my novel. (Other resources along the lines of StoryOrigin include TBRindr and Booksprout.)
- GoodReads: I sense this site might also help, in ways I’m not yet 100% sure of. I got my novel listed there, which is definitely a good thing. We’ll see, in time, what else I can do on this site.
The ideal time for getting reviews, I’m told, is a month or so pre-launch. But, “better late than never,” I’m told. Time will tell.
✍🏻 Jim Dee maintains his personal blog, “Hawthorne Crow,” and a web design blog, “Web Designer | Web Developer Magazine.” He also contributes to various Medium.com publications. Find him at JPDbooks.com, his Amazon Author page, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Medium, or via email at Jim [at] ArrayWebDevelopment.com. His latest novel, CHROO, is available on Amazon.com. If you enjoy humorous literary tales, please grab a copy!