Not every writer wants to spend money on marketing their book. After shelling out some of their hard-earned coin for editing, a cover, and maybe even polished back cover copy, the last thing a lot of cash-strapped authors want to think about is spending even more.
Sometimes it’s simply a matter of creating a budget and leaving room for ads and publicity. But what if you’re done spending money...or you don’t have any to spare?
Don’t worry. Some of the most powerful and effective means of marketing your book don’t cost a cent. However, there is a small caveat: you have to do the work.
One of the biggest struggles many new and emerging self-published or indie authors face is discovering the amount of work involved in spreading the word about their book. Even authors with advertising and publicity budgets can’t just throw money at the problem and hope the work is done for them, unless they are fortunate enough to have a publicist or someone else working on their behalf. Marketing and publicity take both time and effort, and you should expect to spend a minimum of six months to a year promoting each title, dedicating a portion of your work hours to it.
Without a marketing strategy in place and the willingness to do the hard and sometimes unpleasant work—not because it’s ethically problematic, but because most authors do not love self-promotion—it will be challenging to get your book in front of people.
So if you have no budget, what are your options?
Reconsider your approach to social media
It astounds me that many authors still refuse to engage with readers and other authors on social media. Yes, it’s a fair amount of work. But it can also be fun. After all, engaging on social media isn’t about direct promotion. It’s a means of getting yourself out in the community and talking to readers and other authors. Not only does this increase your exposure, but it’s also a chance to find out what people want to read and engage with those who might be interested in your book. Plus, it’s a fantastic opportunity to keep an eye on bookselling trends, look for ways to promote your book (surreptitiously, if a trending topic happens to match with your book), and even see what other authors are doing to promote their own work.
Social media is one of the most effective ways to engage with your readers and to find a new audience. But don’t just restrict yourself to Facebook or Twitter. Try your hand at Instagram, TikTok, LinkedIn, Reddit, Clubhouse, and more.
Make sure to check out the Writers’ Center’s “Social Media Etiquette for Writers,” and find out the things that you should do, things you should avoid, and the things that will land you in hot water.
Need help with social media and getting started? Take a look at “The WC Guide to Creating a Social Media Platform: PART I” (for beginners) and “The WC Guide to Creating a Social Media Platform: PART II.”
Get your book reviewed early…and as often as possible
One of the most essential steps for driving book sales is your marketing and promotion strategy. Unfortunately, too many authors start exploring this step far too late in their book production cycle. (Hint: you should be ready to start working on promotion roughly four to six months before publication.) Book reviews are an excellent method of not only getting your book in front of readers but also increasing publicity, book and author brand awareness, and giving you additional tools for your marketing efforts, such as blurbs and endorsements. Even a middling book review tends to have some positive feedback you can use in press releases, ads, social media, and more.
But in order to increase your chances of getting your book reviewed, you’ll need to start early.
- Create a strong submission package that will make editors and review publications want to review your book.
- Make a thorough and extensive list of publications, websites, and book blogs that might be interested in reviewing your book. Target a broad range, from small indie bloggers to larger “hopeful” submissions.
- Create a calendar with reminders that note the submission dates for each publication/site. (Some places, for example, won’t consider a review if the book is submitted more than four months before publication.)
- Check the submission requirements, and follow them to the letter.
- Personalize your submission for each publication or site. They’ll want to know why your book is important to their readers.
- Be polite, and thank them for their consideration.
- Follow up within a reasonable time frame, but don’t be aggressive about it.
Work with another author
If you’re struggling with expanding your reader base, reach out to another indie author and see if they might be interested in cross-promotion. Perhaps you could team up and offer a bundle—such as a free or discounted copy of one of their older titles, or perhaps a free novella or short story, with the purchase of one of your books, in exchange for the same. This could open you up to a new reader base, but make sure that your books are in similar, or at least compatible, genres that share a reader base. Chances are, readers buying a guide to parenting are unlikely to want to read a horror novel. (Unless it’s perhaps Rosemary’s Baby.)
Don’t promote just one book
Whenever you release a new book, your older book sales also increase. Sometimes, this boost can give a book that didn’t have much luck the first time a chance for more exposure, but your older books can also be used to help your latest book. Think about limited-time offers that might turn an uncertain reader into a reader who just can’t resist a good deal. Along with your new book, you can offer your readers:
- a free novella
- a free copy of an older title
- an excerpt from an upcoming title or work in progress
- a chance to win free books
- an opportunity to name a character or place in your new book
Market by doing what you do best: writing
“It might sound simple, but one of the best ways you can get readers hooked on your writing is to write,” writes Sarah Juckes in “7 Insider Tips You Need to Learn from Self-Pub Pros.” “It can take a lot for a reader to part with their hard-earned cash for a book by an unknown author. If they are familiar with your writing already, perhaps from a blog or via social media, then you’ve just made it a whole lot easier for them.”
Readers love being part of a writer’s journey. Think about the authors you love. How exciting would it have been to have joined them in those early days, to have offered encouragement when they struggled, and have shared their books with friends and family in the hope of helping that author grow their base so they could write more books? Think about writing book reviews for book blogging sites—or better still, start your own—writing short stories, posting some of your current work on reading sites like Wattpad, and even submitting short stories, poetry, essays, and articles to magazines and websites.
Every time you post something new, you’ll find yourself engaging with a whole new audience, and finding new fans of your work. And if all goes well, that could lead to sales and more reviews.
Hannah Guy lives in Toronto and is a professional writer and copywriter who specializes in books, books, and more books. Follow her on Twitter at @hannorg.