This post is primarily addressed to the good people over at www.reddit.com/r/selfpublish. There have always been lots of posts asking for marketing advice and a lot of the advice is either super obvious or terrible. I'm not incredibly successful by any means, but I've made a good bit more than I've put in.
Here it goes...
Step 1: The Really Obvious Stuff
In case you didn't know, you should use social media. You should also have a professional website. If you need a guy to design your website, shoot me an email and I'll hook you up with my web guy. He will get you set up in about a day for $200. Which social media websites should you use? All of them. GoodReads is the most important. Do some giveaways and start building reviews.
- GoodReads Pro Tip: at the conclusion of your giveaway, message the winners personally and make sure they like your genre. Do it under the guise of confirming their address. You can weed out the bots and people who actually don't like your genre and just want free crap.
Become active on forums and different writing communities. Join a local author group and make friends. Find the people more successful than you and learn from them. There is a subreddit for every genre - use them! If you write fantasy, hang out and interact on /r/fantasy. After people get to know you, dropping a line or two about your own writing (tastefully...) will be welcomed and respected.
Step 2: Printing
If you're really serious about making money in the crazy world of books, you need to spend money first. I highly recommend getting a few thousand (~$100) bookmarks printed at UPrinting that describe your book, have a link to your website, and links to Amazon. If you have multiple series or genres, get multiple bookmarks. Give them out at live events and hand them out everywhere you go. Go to bookstores and ask to leave them by the register or in your genre's section. Drop a stack off at a local coffee shop. Always keep a stack in your car and a few in your wallet to hand out to people you meet who might be interested.
The banner: Having a great banner is critical for live events. A great banner can run up to $400. Honestly, an eye catching banner will not only bring people to your booth at an event, it will sell copies for you.
Step 3: Going Live
I've said it before about a thousand times on reddit, live events are the best way to market. Now that you have beautiful bookmarks and a great banner, find every event you can and book a table. If you want to go to a huge event, get other authors to split the table with you and bring down the cost. The table pictured above cost $30 and I made hundreds.
How to sell in person: I've read plenty of posts from other indie authors about how they feel gross selling in person and they can't do it. They don't have the personality for sales. Guess what? The moment you tried to make money from book sales, you became a lifelong salesman. At my first live event, I only sold 3 books. I still blame the frigid weather and outdoors setting for the most part, but I didn't know how to sell. I sat behind my booth and waited for people to come up and ask a direct question. The event drew about 1,000 people and I only sold to 3 of them. Pathetic.
Find people selling books at your own live events and watch them for 10 or 15 minutes to get the feel of how they do it. Observe them make a cold sale to a disinterested passerby. Get a good 30 second pitch down and stick to it. You'll be pulling people in left and right.
- My actual spiel at live events: stranger walks by and A) if they glance at my banner, ask if they like fantasy or B) ask if they like to read. If they like fantasy, give them a Goblin Wars bookmark and pitch them the book. If they like to read, ask them what genre. I'm in 3 genres, so I can usually grab them from that point. Always end your pitch with a price. Don't make the customer ask for it. Offer them a deal on multiple books, especially if you have 2+ out in the same series.
- Another great strategy: take pictures (with permission) of cos players at live events and post them to your website in a Convention Recap style blog post. After you take a picture, hand them a bookmark with your address and tell them it will be posted soon. You just sent traffic to your website and every click is a potential sale.
Step 4: What do I write / how much?
The obvious answer is obvious. Write what you love! And never stop. With only 1 book released, physical promotion and live events are tough. People don't take you seriously and you can only market to fans of 1 genre. The truth is, series sell. Standalone novels are outsold by series novels 2 to 1 or better at live events. An article I read once said that you need to spend 90% of your "book time" writing and only 10% marketing. Every time you release a new novel, bump another 10% into marketing. That's a good formula to follow.
- Don't skimp on a cover and good editing. You'll destroy potential fans if they read your first book and find errors or the cover is crap. The upfront cost might hurt, but you're hopeless without it. If you need a cover artist, I can recommend a few, just shoot me an email. If you need an editor, I know a couple of those too.
Step 5: Online Marketing
Unless you miraculously get accepted to the shrine of holy book sales known only by whispers (aka BookBub), don't bother paying for advertising. GoodReads ads and other pay-per-click ads generate few sales and almost never pay for themselves. A few services out there look great, but many of them are expensive scams veiled as instant success. To name a few of the well known scams: Reedsy, BookDaily, NetGalley, etc. Stay away.
- KDP & Kindle Select - I recommend it. I know a lot of people don't, but I've found the countdown deals to be fantastic.
- KDP free download days - I sort of recommend it. Only do free days for book 1 of a series that already has book 2 released. You want to gain long term fans. Use those days sparingly.
- Kindle Unlimited - I recommend it. You still get a cut of the sale price and it encourages people to give it a shot. Plus, there are several websites and subreddits devoted to books on KU and they will advertise you for free. This is especially true for romance / erotica.
Do a blog tour. What's that? Find a blogger (like me) and book reviewers and send them free copies of your eBooks to check out. Ask them to interview you for their blog. Run a giveaway contest on their blog. Ask other authors to be interviewed for your own blog so you can share an audience. Offer to write guest posts on other blogs about anything the owner of the blog wants to read. The more places that have your name and a picture of your book, the better.
Step 6: Mad Profits
Be realistic. Don't set out to self-publish or publish through a small press and quit your day job. Especially in the first year, it won't even pay for itself. Your covers and editor fees will rack up and that mountain of book related debt won't start to erode until you have 2+ novels released. Try to only check your sales rankings once a week and you'll avoid most disappointment. Use your sales rank as a reward: every 10,000 words you write on your work in progress earns another peek into Amazon.com's author central.