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January 19, 2016
By Jane Friedman
Self-publishing guru Jane Friedman helps indie authors find the publicity plan that best fits their needs.

There’s no shortage of marketing and publicity services that promise to help self-published authors secure media attention and book reviews and increase sales. For the unschooled, however, it’s hard to know whom to hire, how much to invest, and what type of marketing and publicity will make a difference.

Furthermore, companies that offer self-publishing services—knowing that there’s more demand than ever for such help—will offer package plans that, in the end, may have little or no effect on sales. (I’m thinking primarily of broad advertising in mass market outlets, paid reviews, and social media campaigns that are never seen by the target readership.)

Authors who try to buy attention or publicity would often do better to focus on the bigger picture of building marketing momentum effectively and meaningfully over a span of months—even years. In my experience, there are five strategic models that lead to effective marketing and publicity campaigns for books.

1. Reach Out Directly to an Established Audience

This is the easiest (no-brainer) model: authors who already have a direct line to readers can execute an engagement strategy to ensure that they make the right number of impressions, at the right time, to maximize sales. People already well-known in their fields—or who have a backlist history and, therefore, readership—and people who have name recognition (celebrities!) are well-situated to succeed.

That’s why author-marketing guides often emphasize how to establish or increase direct reach to readers—via email news

letters, social media, and advertising. Such efforts can fail unless the author has a body of work to draw upon and act as a lure. For this reason, first-time authors have the most difficulty improving their reach. This seems to belabor the obvious point, but because it is the most prevalent strategy out there, I see a lot of frustrated authors trying to “find their readers” with a single book (or no book!), without success. That brings us to the next model.

2. Always Be Producing

The more books you have out there, the easier the marketing game is. That’s because you have more options for giving things away for free, putting other things on discount, and bundling books together—or making them part of a multiauthor bundle.

"Authors who try to buy attention or publicity would often do better to focus on the bigger picture of building marketing momentum effectively and meaningfully over a span of months—even years."
This principle applies to any creative pursuit. The more work you put out, the more people will discover you. For example, bestselling novelist Bella Andre has said that her sales really started to skyrocket after she released the fifth book in her series. You’ll find the same story repeated across many authors’ careers; overnight successes are rare. However, some authors lack the patience to see their work build a readership over time, or they have only one book in them. This is of course problematic from a marketing perspective.

3. Produce Across Multiple Mediums or Channels

Authors skilled in multimedia have an advantage over those who release only e-books or print books. Reader discovery increases when you can produce audiobooks, illustrated editions, podcasts, serialization (even if just at Wattpad), YouTube videos, and so on. However, such efforts require a level of professional execution to be taken seriously and to have a positive effect. With his multimedia project Into the Nanten, author Jay Swanson is an example of someone doing it right.

4. Know the Right People or Start Meeting Authors with Pull

If you don’t have direct reach to readers, the next best thing is knowing someone who does. Having connections with influencers who are willing to mention or recommend your work to the appropriate readers is powerful. This isn’t necessarily about securing blurbs (although those are nice, too), but more about a personal introduction from a known name—as well as about offering influencers a reason to feature you. (Sometimes authors have no idea who the influencers are in their categories or genres; tools such as Followerwonk and BuzzSumo can help you find out.)

If you’re not lucky enough to count such influencers among your friends, ask yourself if there are other authors or organizations you could collaborate with. For example, Facebook groups can help connect authors working in the same in genres.

5. Right Concept at the Right Time for a Specific Market

Last year, Publishers Weekly featured Victorine E. Lieske, a successful self-published author who argued that her success isn’t related to specific marketing tasks—resonating with specific readers is about publishing the right book at the right time at the right price.

Before pub day, every author must consider his or her marketing model. What approach builds on the assets you already have, or complements your strengths and is feasible for the readers you currently reach? Think about the big picture before you spend a lot of time, money, and energy on marketing tactics or onetime efforts that will not contribute to a sustained, long-term strategy. 

Jane Friedman teaches digital media and publishing at the University of Virginia and is the former publisher of Writer’s Digest.

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