By David Gaughran
The sales of every book decay with time, but the great thing about self-publishing is that a book won’t get yanked from the shelves if its numbers drop, and it won’t be forgotten about by the publisher. It has an infinite number of lives because its fate is being controlled by the person who cares about it most in the world: you.
All self-publishers experience a dip in sales and it’s often really tricky to get things going in the first place. Sometimes you launch your book and get a quick burst from those who know you, and then sales just die. I know what it’s like. We’ve all been there.
Most self-publishers start from zero as a complete unknown, like I did, so don’t panic. Building an audience is doable. You haven’t started too late. If anything, the tools for reaching readers are much more sophisticated today than when I started in 2011.
Produce A Quality Product
Before you start putting a promotion together, you need to look at your entire package to see where you can make improvements—and you can always make improvements. Examine every aspect of what you are presenting. If you fail to do this, you will get a limited return from any marketing. There’s no point spending money on advertising if you don’t have the basics in place. As Seth Godin says, the best marketing is baked in.
This means casting a critical eye over every aspect of your presentation and seeing if it compares favorably to the bestsellers in your category – because that’s what you are up against.
You need a striking cover, something that looks good in thumbnail and speaks to your genre. Something obscure, a design which only looks good blown up, or a cover which pays no heed to genre conventions has no place here. You have two seconds to get people – the right people – to click on your cover. And that’s the only job it has. The place to wow readers with originality is inside the book.
Your blurb is another opportunity to hook readers and can really sway on-the-fence purchasers. Don’t spend months and months writing a book and dash off a flaccid blurb in five minutes. Take the time to write something compelling. If you don’t know how to do it, then get help. Others often have the requisite emotional distance to mercilessly trim your epic down to a few punchy paragraphs. Remember that the job of the blurb is to get them to purchase, not to impart a blow-by-blow account covering every minor character and sub-plot. Simple. Punchy. Compelling. (Click.)
Lots of readers try before they buy, so make sure your formatting is neat, that samplers don’t have to wade through pages of extraneous front-matter before they get to the actual book, and that your opening grabs them. You don’t have to start with an explosion, but you do need something to get their attention, to make them want to read on. Again, something compelling, and that can be anything from your voice to the unbearable predicament your hero faces.
Too many self-publishers race through these steps, desperate to get their book out there. These are the little details which can make a huge difference. You need to study the big sellers in your genre – how they present their books, the approach they take to covers, the promise to the reader they make in their blurbs. It’s often what sets them apart – a certain slickness and coherence in the overall package.
When you do have those basics in place (and don’t be afraid to revisit them), then you will get a much better return from any marketing. And if you focus on the right kind of marketing, you give yourself a real chance of getting sales moving.
Choose Your Promotions Wisely
One thing I’ve learned is to ignore the internal pressure to constantly promote. You need to pick-and-choose when to push your books. It’s okay to have a sales dip because it’s better to focus your marketing in bursts. Concentrating your efforts can greatly increase sales overall by amplifying the effect. Timing is critical.
I generally recommend avoiding anything that’s a huge time sink. Blogging and other kinds of platform building can be effective (especially for authors of non-fiction), but require a time investment that is usually better spent working on the next book.
The really effective tools don’t take up too much time at all – running a sale, experimenting with free, taking out an ad, doing a group promotion with other authors in your genre, having a mailing list – and you can read more about those here.
There are a variety of tools you can use to get sales going, but don’t get frustrated and don’t expect success to happen overnight. It usually takes authors several books, and several false starts, before they break out.
Start Building a Mailing List
Building your audience often seems like a chicken–egg situation, where you need a bigger mailing list to increase sales, but you need increased sales to get a bigger mailing list. The only way to get around that is to persevere.
Make sure the text around your sign-up link is enticing and tailor it to the book in question. Each time you have a sales spike, you should see a corresponding uptick in mailing list sign-ups. Then, the next time you release a book, you should be able to climb a little higher in the charts and grab a few more names. It takes a while to build a strong list, but keep at it and you’ll soon see a difference.
This game requires persistence and luck as much as anything else. But if you make new work your primary focus, present your books professionally, and approach marketing in a smart way, you have a great chance at success.
David Gaughran is the author of Let’s Get Digital, one of three top-rated self-publishing guides in The Indie Author Power Pack: How To Write, Publish & Market Your Book, available now on Kobo for just 99c/$0.99.