Writing isn’t easy.

But compared to the business of writing, it’s an absolute breeze.

Because these daily topics have so far dealt with a lot of questions I’m asked, I figured I’d continue that trend and talk about something I actually get asked the most: how do I sell books.

Or rather, what do I do to market my books.

The short answer would be to go read my post on how to make a living writing fiction from back in April. In that post, I’ve piled in everything I’ve learned about writing and the business of writing, and it’s the reason I went on a blogging hiatus: I didn’t think I had anything else to say on the non-fiction side of things.

Alas, I still get asked about marketing, so there are obviously more answers and more explaining to do. And I’ve learned lots more since April too, as every writer should.

The idea of marketing books comes from the industry of promotions that we live in. We turn on the television, we see adverts for cars. We listen to music on Spotify, we get adverts for albums. We go to a football match, adverts for football shirts, for upcoming matches.

This subconscious absorption of a culture of advertising is one of the reasons why when we finish a book–or while we’re writing it–we can’t help but work out how the hell we’re going to tell everyone about it.

My first advice on how to market books? Write the book for a start.

When I wrote my first novel, I spent a lot of time telling people about it. On my blog, on my Facebook page. I did a lot of advance advertising. I built up to a big launch…

And then the launch was a bit of a washout because everyone was already sick of hearing about it.

In the traditional publishing world, launches are important. Getting a certain amount of sales in a certain amount of time is what the business revolves around, after all, and is the difference between a bestseller and a failed book.

In the independent publishing world, things are different. We don’t need big launches for our books.

I’ll say that again: we don’t need big launches for our books.

I can hear the cries already. “I just spent a year writing it — of course I’m going to go all out and promote it at launch!”

Telling your friends, family, blog and social media about your new book release is fine, but an expensive, exhausting launch period just isn’t necessary anymore. You’ll likely lose more money than you make.

Bear in mind I’m talking newer authors here. Established authors can, and will, of course benefit from big launches. They’ve spent years acquiring fans, so that’s just a part of the journey.

But big launches for a first book? Not important.

The best thing you can do to market that first book is get it on sale and then get writing the next one.

I understand this is frustrating. You want to make instant money. You see everyone selling better than me and you can’t understand why. Trust me, I’ve been there, and not so long ago.

But the publishing industry has never been one of short-term rewards but for a very, very lucky minority. Even multi millionaire bestsellers like JK Rowling went through loads of rejections before finally getting a publishing deal. Even then, it took a bit of time for Harry Potter to start selling.

In indie publishing, there is no rejection anymore. And because there is no rejection, we come to expect sales right away. We spend lots of money on promoting and lots of time marketing, when in fact the best thing we can do is write the next book.

So that’s my number one marketing tip at any stage of a writing career: write the next book. Don’t have any expectations for that first book, because chances are you’ll be disappointed. Accept that a career in writing is a career, and nobody owes you a living. You have to earn it. If you don’t have the guts for the long haul, you aren’t ready to be a writer yet. Sorry.

So, say you’ve got a few books out. Say you’re launching a new book in a series — the third book, for the sake of this argument. Is now a good time to think about marketing that first book?

Absolutely yes!

You have a few products out. So you can run a discount or a free promotion on that first book and bring eyes into your whole series. Do an ad with Bookbub if you have enough reviews. Go perma-free if you’re feeling ballsy.

The best time to market a book is when you have a funnel of other books to attract readers to.

Think about those promotions I mentioned earlier on. The discounted football shirts, just because I’m a big football fan. What is the purpose of those? Well, it’s a bonus. You turn up to the match you’ve paid for and you buy that shirt as a bonus. That shirt wouldn’t be discounted without a reason. It’s a draw-in. A deal sweetener.

Or a better example: I got a letter a few weeks ago from an online food delivery service. They told me I could have the first and the fifth box free if I signed up for at least five weeks. The other snack boxes were £3.99 each.

There’s a reason for this. It’s to draw the customer in to the next product–the paid for product. And it worked. I enjoyed my free box and stuck around for the next few. I’ve just had my free fifth box, and now I’m thinking about staying on even longer.

Now let’s imagine this in book terms. Say you’ve only got one book out, so one box. You make it free. Advertise it. Promote the hell out of it.

Okay… and?

There’s nowhere to go next for the reader, for the customer. All you’ve done is given away a few books. Sure, you might keep a few readers, but most of them will just forget you. Readers want instant gratification. They want to finish a book and if they love it, they’ll devour the rest of an author’s bibliography.

So promote those first books in a series when you put a second book out. And a third. And a fourth. Never just on its own.

And that’s about it for active marketing. Seriously, that’s all I do. I promote my first books in series when I have a new book coming out.

How? Well, I have a mailing list that has grown into the thousands over time. I use free and discount promotions, ad sites. I tell my Facebook and Twitter and blog followers when I have a new book out…
And that’s it.

A word on the mailing list: get one set up. Now. Drive readers towards that list the moment they finish your book. It’s a way of you keeping in touch with readers without having to worry about being lost in a sea of tweets or buried under Facebook’s weird ever-changing visibility algorithms. Put links to it in the back of your books and on your websites. Let it grow naturally.

And as you keep on releasing books that people want to read, it will grow, that’s a guarantee.

Summary

It’s easy to look at sales, see them not doing as well as your expectations, and deciding you need a promotion.

But really, it’s a good idea to show some restraint. Monthly or weekly discounts are just going to stop readers buying your books at full price. It’ll look desperate, too, and that’s not a look that’s advisable.

So be smart with your book marketing. Do promotions and discounts and freebies and Bookbubs and Freebooksy’s and mailing list and social media and permafree… but only when you have a few books out. And even then, do them on special occasions, like a launch of a new series book or a Halloween promo, things like that.

Until then, best option is just to keep on writing.

Writing isn’t a get rich quick business. It never has been, and it never will be. If you can’t accept that truth–can’t accept the years of hard work you’re going to have to put in before you start seeing sales–then maybe being a writer isn’t such a good idea.

Nobody gets rich quick in any profession, bar a lucky 1%. The industry and readers don’t owe you a living. So fuck luck and start working hard and making your own.

Keep on working hard, battling through, fighting.

Or don’t, and keep on hoping to be that lucky 1%.

PS: be human in all of your marketing too. That’s something I’ll go into more in the future. Scheduled posts are a big no-no.

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