What I’m Finally Learning About Marketing Fiction

A multi-channel approach is the best way to connect with customers

Don Simkovich, MA
Oct 23, 2020 · 10 min read
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Photo by Suad Kamardeen on Unsplash

My fifth novel that I’ve co-authored is in the final stage of formatting before it’s self-published and goes live on Amazon in less than a month. While I have no idea how many sales we’ll make, I do know this — this is the first time that my co-author and I have a framework of a marketing plan.

Marketing fiction has always seemed like a strange mystery even though I’m used to writing blogs for businesses. I’ve read books from some of the most respected self-published authors and I’d still scratch my head.

There was excellent advice from David Gaughran where I learned the importance of “also boughts” on Amazon. If you write in a genre like crime thrillers, don’t beg your friends who like romance to buy the book. He’s a novelist and the author of Let’s Get Digital, among other guides for writers. His conclusion is that it’s best to have your customers who buy your book to “also buy” books in your same genre.

Joanna Penn, also a novelist, has terrific advice for writers and I bought her book, How to Market a Book. I checked our Amazon description like she mentioned and knew we had to write other books, too.

On YouTube, I found author and young adult novelist Derek Murphy and his Creative Indie website. He offers tremendous value for writers and encourages writers to find readers organically by writing blog posts and holding contests to build mailing lists.

I gleaned something specific from each of these noted and trusted professionals but sales were flat and I felt overwhelmed. Until I put the pieces of the puzzle together into a marketing framework.

First, I had to answer the question, “Why would anyone care about my story?” That’s where the marketing message comes from.

Marketing fiction must focus on the experience

I’ve been writing as a journalist or marketer-for-hire since I graduated from college. The first part of my career was writing and marketing in the non-profit world where people are drawn by a cause they believe in.

I promoted the cause to volunteers, donors, and potential donors. They were in it to help the organization and thereby feel good about themselves for doing so. Raising the issue of the community or societal problem was most important.

Next came marketing for businesses. The more collateral I wrote, the more I discovered that marketing for companies is based on the customers’ needs. Questions like, “What was the customer problem and how did they feel after using the product?” became key.

About a decade ago I began writing fiction during a personally difficult time. It became a release as I dusted off the mental rust from writing short stories in my university classes.

I published through a small press that offered limited guidance on marketing. I’d get the book “out there” and some days I’d make sales, but other days I didn’t.

Frustration set in when I felt like the harder I tried to promote my work via social media, the fewer sales I made. Then I discovered the principle of having a following and keeping them engaged.

I built a small fanbase, wrote a few more stories, and then got busy with family, some writing assignments, and delving into the first novel of what has become the Tom Stone Detective Stories.

Our first marketing efforts

We knew we couldn’t just publish a book and readers would magically appear so we created:

  • a website for the publishing company
  • a Facebook page for fans
  • a blog for our Tom Stone Detective story posts, and
  • an email list by our third novel

We tried advice from Derek Murphy and used a free version of King Sumo to hold a couple of contests that brought us about 20 email subscribers. The last contest, though, only brought in several people and cost us about $15 in mailing costs plus the expense of our books. We decided to shelve that idea, but remain open for the future.

So we had pieces of the marketing puzzle in place, but that still wasn’t a marketing plan.

We told everybody on social media

When we were finishing our first novel, I began reading up on what to do and what not to do in marketing fiction. Advice got confusing, real fast.

What worked for one well-known self-published author, didn’t seem to work for someone else. My brain ached as the reading took me in a spiral of conflicting ideas.

We tweeted out our covers and buy links and once-in-a-while we’d make a sale. Good. But no sales happened consistently.

I knew we didn’t want to spam our followers on Facebook and other outlets so we mixed up our post content. Still, we went invisible.

We had to create a body of work

A strategy for fiction authors is to write a few books in a series and then release them about once every four to six weeks. It’s called a rapid release strategy.

Readers who purchased the previous title are notified a month or so later about the next title. That way, they remember the author.

That wasn’t us. It took us a year and a half to publish our first novel because we scrapped our original idea after almost seven months.

We published the next novel about seven months later.

Forget rapid release.

Here’s the truth that writers have to face in order to be successful: they must build a library of work. It’s the literary equivalent of walking into a grocery store and seeing a shelf full of the same products.

Prolific author James Patterson knows this well. It seems I get notified from Amazon about every week that he’s released a new title — or a new title has come out with his name attached.

By the time we published our fourth title, we had also written a short story. Now, we’re getting ready to launch our fifth novel and we have two more short stories that we can release in e-book form shortly after.

We’ll now have five novels and three short stories that we can leverage by offering discounts and freebies. Each title will cross-promote the other titles. Based on David Gaughran’s advice, I’m not pitching my friends or relatives who don’t read thriller fiction. I want to attract readers on Amazon who “also bought” a similar story in our genre.

That’s a specific strategy, but I created a marketing framework thanks to Alexa Bigwarfe of Write, Publish, Sell who wrote a pdf on having a successful book launch. That’s when I was able to arrange specific marketing strategies into a cohesive framework.

Our marketing plan leverages our titles

The old adage makes so much sense to go where your customers are. Sounds great. But where are they? They’re on social media, right, using various hashtags?

Yes. And it’s tough to maintain visibility there. But that’s not the only place your readers, or customers, are.

As we finished our most recent novel, which took us almost a year to write, I was struck by how I enjoyed the story. And I was proud of our work. It was challenging to write and I felt that this story, like our others, has a tremendous amount of heart even though it’s a detective thriller.

So I read again about marketing fiction. And then a light came on. A marketing plan is about using the various pieces of the puzzle and tying them together.

Please note an important truth about marketing — you need to have a budget. It doesn’t have to be large. We might only spend about $200 to $300 in a four-month span but it will take us into new territory and give us a chance to experiment.

Then you need to know where your money is going to go.

I could envision our marketing plan and placed it on a spreadsheet. I’ll revise this slightly but at the far left, the tasks are in the first column. Additional columns show each month, activities, and possible money to spend on those activities.

Excel spreadsheet of a book marketing plan.
Excel spreadsheet of a book marketing plan.
Image of spreadsheet by Don Simkovich

Our marketing plan

New releases — after releasing our new novel in mid-November, we could come back with a short story release in December and January. Then, we could also re-package articles I’ve written about drug smuggling and release those as an e-book.

It’s okay that these new releases are short stories or non-fiction articles. I know there’s a novella or two inside of me as well that can be released in the next four to five months.

If we can release a new title each month for the next two to three months that will be a major step forward. And we can do it even while writing our next novel.

If we did absolutely nothing else to market our books, this would have a payoff, I’m sure. We’ll have eight titles by January 2021.

Like all authors, we have to create stories that are well-written, free of errors, and properly formatted with professionally designed covers. This is our product line. If it’s low quality, readers won’t buy additional titles.

Each title has a cost for cover design and formatting or time if we do short stories in a DIY capacity. Pricing each title also becomes a marketing strategy.

This is easier said than done, but we have a mailing list of just over 60 readers. Small, right? But if we can do giveaways throughout the year and promote the link to sign-up then we can collect at least a few new readers each month.

We have a few avid fans on our list and we may connect with several more who will then talk about our work. That can prompt word-of-mouth marketing.

We have a Facebook page that gets attention so we’ll keep feeding it with worthwhile content while not spamming our audience. Tricky. I’m also using Instagram now and think it’s easier to connect with readers than Twitter. On Twitter, it seems easier to connect with other writers.

On Goodreads, I’ll post once a week and I’m also posting on Quora.

Blog tours don’t necessarily lead to sales, but for our first three novels we did a blog tour and wound up with some excellent reviews. I believe we also had a small spike in sales during and after the tour.

For our fourth novel, which I also believe is well-written, we chose not to do a tour and that was a mistake. We wanted to see if we could market with little or no spending — and so many of our contacts on Facebook were all excited for us. Some bought the books, but a blog tour would have been beneficial.

We’re actually going to do two blog tours. Both are reputable. I’ve used one before and I’m looking forward to using a second one about two months after our new title is released.

One of the tours has opportunities for limited Q&A sessions.

I had heard about Fussy Librarian, Freebooksy, and many others, but I didn’t fully grasp the concept. Was it worth spending money to promote free books and titles discounted to 99 cents?

I’ve finally decided we need to try and experiment. We’re going to discount a few titles via the directories and see.

What I’ve realized is that we can now use a directory a month to promote a title. Yes, it will cost from $20 to $40 each time from what I’m seeing, but it looks like that can be an efficient way to go.

If we had one or two titles, then it wouldn’t be worth doing every month.

A full list with ratings of directories is available on Reedsy.com and Kindlepreneur.com.

We’ve experimented with boosting our Facebook posts before and there were some positive results. So we’ll continue and now we’ll delve into Amazon ads. I’m starting to read up and watch videos on best practices for Amazon ads.

When I first published fiction several years ago, interacting with other authors on their blogs was fun and it gave visibility. We’ve interviewed several authors on our Tom Stone Detective stories blog, but, alas, we didn’t much last year. We let it slide instead of keeping it going.

I’d like to cross-promote with other authors in our genre so our plan is to keep the interviews going. The digital world is great for building community and all businesses, including authors, should find ways to interact within a community.

Looking to the future

It’s important to note that I didn’t just write a plan for a book launch, although that’s important to do. Instead, I’m concentrating on on-going marketing efforts.

As I commit to writing more titles, we’ll begin to automate as much of our marketing as possible. I’m aware of marketing services that can be useful for authors, and I wonder why some use them but other authors don’t. I’ll scan the horizon to continue making our marketing more efficient and effective.

But until then, I believe we have a framework that we can use to promote our work and spread the word.

Once you have a framework, you can go back and tweak it to improve it. It’s like having an outline for your story. You can adapt and adjust as your story progresses.

The same is true with marketing your fiction. Have a budget, see what works and make adjustments.

Now, when you’re writing fiction you don’t always need an outline. You can fly by the seat of your pants — hence, the pantser.

Be deliberate when you’re marketing your fiction. Create a plan to get in front of readers. Winging it doesn’t work.

Publishous

How to be your best self.

Don Simkovich, MA

Written by

Don is co-author of the Tom Stone Detective novels on Amazon and writes content for businesses. Visit www.donsimkovich.com / https://socalcontentwriting.com

Publishous

Make tomorrow better today.

Don Simkovich, MA

Written by

Don is co-author of the Tom Stone Detective novels on Amazon and writes content for businesses. Visit www.donsimkovich.com / https://socalcontentwriting.com

Publishous

Make tomorrow better today.

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