Your Book Is A Roadside Attraction
It says a lot about an area and the people that occupy it when they put up signs like this. Same with websites, social media accounts, and advertising – we can think of each of those things as these weird little signs that can point potential readers in our direction to stop along the road or they’ll drive on past us without a second glance.
If someone interacts with it via a ‘like’? That’s like a snapshot along the highway. It gives us a chance to show up in a friend of their’s feed.
Signs, ads, billboards, gas stations with interesting tourist traps, roadside attractions – if done right all of these will attract a steady stream of individuals that will take the time to stop for a while and be present. We’ve been doing this since ancient times and building legends, even pilgrimages around them. Why not do the same for your book?
Finding & Attracting Your Audience
I write poetry and American Gothic. I may incorporate additional elements, such as science fiction and futurism, but my best work is and always will be heavily influenced by grief, magical realism, questionable realities, and regional social commentary. Most of what I know about my audiences comes from WordPress analytics. This helps me know that while my top 10 countries for visitors in 2020 were:
- the United States
- the United Kingdom
Beyond this information, I don’t know much about my readers besides the google searches they use to find my website. And those keyword combinations? They make me smile, but they aren’t very helpful.
So, how do we, as independent authors and publishers, find our readers? How do we decide on where to spend our advertising efforts? How do we interact with social media? The answer is one that is anxiety inducing and one no one wants to hear: YOU or YOUR BOOK have to get the attention of an audience of potential readers by putting out the correct signs to lead them to your work. You have to hope that the law of numbers is on your side and for every thousand people looking at an ad, one person will click all the way through to buying your book.
I have a poetry book that’s being released later this month. How am I going to find its audience?
Breadth vs. Depth
When you first start marketing something, if you don’t know where your target market is hiding, you need to play a game. Be the pied piper and bring those readers out of the woodwork with your magical marketing flute by having your song go to where they are.
As much as we all love existing in our comfy social media reading and writing community bubbles, be it BookTube, #WritingCommunity, #WritersCafe, #PoetsOfInstagram, #PoetryIsNotDead, or your writing Facebook group. The reality is that’s not where the majority of your future readers are going to hang out. So where are they?
We’ll have to check a broad selection of sources before we can focus our energies on a depth of understanding of our eventually targeted audience.
Break your marketing budget up between time and money.
Your time will be dedicated to attracting readers by dedicating time to them without spending money to have others do it for you. There are lots of free or low cost options that are time intensive, but very rewarding in terms of readership response.
But there’s that first hurdle – designing an ad.
Design A Professional Ad That Targets Your Audience
I hate putting myself out there. I am socially awkward and constantly afraid of annoying people. Somehow my whole life I’ve been told that I both talk too much and too little. But here’s the thing: at the end of the day, no one is going to advocate for you in the way you need to advocate for yourself. So, I better go annoy some readers, because it’s impossible to please everyone and I never expected the whole world to like me.
But where do our readers hang out online and in real life? It’s quite possible they don’t hang out in the same places, or if they do, they’re not attracted to the same style of advertisements.
Every genre is marketed differently. I’m going to use the example of Romance as a genre that is well known for having a specific marketing style that is recognizable even if the words are absurd. World of Longmire did an entire feature on some generic romance novel covers that I’m going recommend you look at as examples because none of these are real books and I find them entertaining.
Just like a book cover, your ad should make your genre immediately recognizable without any text. IngramSpark puts out articles on cover design trends (here’s the one from 2020). The trouble I have with this article is that at least one of these design tactics ignores how many readers, myself included, look for that immediate non-verbal cue to inform a potential buyer of what the book is about.
Your advertisement is probably going to be based on your book cover. If you pay for a book trailer or make an advertisement in Canva be sure to check where all you can then take that ad. What are the requirements of your potential advertising platforms? These requirements are essential for preventing wasted time and money. Plan this in advance.
Where Do Paid Ads Go?
Supporting other independent publications, such as your local independent newspaper in your closest major metropolitan area is a great way to keep your money supporting other independent authors. If you write stories that are regionally significant, you will likely find a reader base by advertising in this area as well.
If you have trouble thinking of which metropolitan area near you is “the city” think about which city nearby people moved to after high school to find work (if they moved). For me that was Richmond, Virginia.
If you have the budget in time for contacting each place, nothing is stopping you from advertising in a variety of independent newspapers in select areas across the country where you think you have a chance at attracting readers. Readers of independent newspapers are often attracted to other independent publications, such as ProPublica (yes, they accept advertising). Here are some independent newspapers currently advertising available space:
- San Francisco Bay Area
- Portland, OR
Independent Bookstores & Conventions
I know it’s hard to imagine right now, but there will come a day when meeting readers in person and showing your face will make a difference, especially in niche genres like Science Fiction, Fantasy, True Crime, Horror, and more. As an introvert, conventions are the most extroverted thing I do and they exhaust me. But the opportunities to get known are the thing to point out here.
At a talk hosted by Neil Gaiman in Pittsburgh in 2012 he mentioned the importance of conventions and writing conferences early on in his career. While I recognize that the indie writing and comic scene has changed somewhat since the 1990s, it has not changed as much as many people think. People like getting out of their house, and once more people have the vaccine, I believe this will happen again.
At conventions, authors have opportunities to sign up for panels, to give writing workshops, to volunteer to help host events, and run booths to sell their books and other merchandise (bookmarks, buttons, world maps, posters of book covers, etc). By being willing to get out from behind a screen and engage our readers in person we form connections that can’t be made through text on a page and give ourselves a voice and image. Plus, if you volunteer with the convention yearly, often times you get additional networking benefits such as meeting new people who may know other potential readers of your work.
If that sounds scary, it should. You should proceed with authenticity and caution, fully recognizing the limitations your innate human flaws create. To quote T. Swift “Haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate,” and you should be prepared for that with no plans for retaliation. Be kind and show gratitude to your audience. Show this time and time again. Your thoughts will guide your actions. Think about your readers, even the ones that give you 1-star reviews, like a tiny choir of angels cheering you on (and remember that Satan was an angel too).
When you’re at a convention you’re genuinely not alone unless you choose to be. Friends and strangers interested in your book that could quickly become your readers will make your acquaintance.
While you’re waiting to foster the bravery for conventions, you can contact independent bookstores that are part of larger networks to see if they would be interested in an ARC of your book. This can lead to bulk orders to sell the books in their stores if they think it will sell. Myopic Books in Chicago will purchase used copies of your book from you (at a reduced rate, most likely at a loss) and sell them at a low cost if you get any returned. While you’re going through the effort of selling your book to independent bookstores, you can discuss with them the options to do live events to drive up interest in your book.
By encouraging readers to go through independent bookstores to purchase your book you are helping a local economy and community. You are becoming part of something greater than yourself. People remember this and word of mouth marketing is valuable. Make good impressions – these will travel far.
Take Advantage Of Your College / University
Remember that place that took your money in exchange for a degree and some unique memories, some of which you may be taking to your grave?
Take some time to reach out to your alma mater’s bookstore and say, “I’m an alum/alumna and I wrote a book! I would be very appreciative if you could sell a few copies on commission and add me to the section dedicated to alumni publications.” Some university bookstores make it even easier than that if they’re part of the Barnes&Noble college bookstore network and you’re already selling your book through them.
Every alma mater has an alumni newsletter – be it digital or print. You likely have access to an alumni network, even if you’ve never been in contact before. Take advantage of these resources and announce your book to them. There are usually forms to fill out, but they’re all pretty simple. Your spouse or partner can also do this for you with their alma mater.
Reach out to any of your former professors if they’re still teaching and see if they’d be interested in reading your book. You may be surprised by the answer. It will also encourage you to have the book in the most polished form possible before you send it out into the world.
Look into listing an ad for your book in your alma mater’s newspaper, especially if this has decent circulation. It’s important to note that you don’t necessarily have to be an alum of a school to run an ad in that university’s paper – check their rules.
University campuses are incredibly effective places to advertise books, especially if that age group is your target demographic. That said, if you’re writing a book about planning retirement late in life, maybe don’t try to sell that to someone who just turned 18.
Public libraries are a quiet refuge where people that don’t know what they want to read can go and discover something new. That new thing could be you.
Another great place to donate copies of your book is your local public library. As you travel, you could also do this with the public libraries in the locations wherever you go. With the advent of digital lending it is a lot cheaper to offer free copies of your book to public libraries, but physical copies have the benefit of being able to sit on the “New Arrivals” display near the circulation desk.
Some public libraries host genre specific book clubs. See if you can submit your book to be on the upcoming reading list for one of these.
Many libraries will work with authors if they would like to plan and host a free event to promote their book. You may need to print out flyers or a poster detailing your target age range, genre, and what you plan to do with your audience, but this is a way to introduce yourself to a smaller group of potential readers. For more details, contact your local public library since policies and associated fees vary based on location.
The Social Media Fallacy
Social media isn’t very social. Between FOMO and the constant need to satisfy the dopaminergic attention seeking behaviors of yourself and others, you’re wading through a sea of noise. You will deal with people that will treat you as less than human and you will fight uphill battles against anyone with more money than you because the reality is that YOU are the product, not the Advertisements that are paying for you to see them.
Social media feeds are governed by algorithms that dictate every advertisement and post you are exposed to based on engagement patterns and paid sponsorship targeting. If you want to use social media to sell something to a different audience than the one you normally interact with, you will either need to create a different account for that type of interaction or you will need to work hard at using the exact hashtags for optimal exposure. That is, unless you are buying advertisements.
If you decide to buy advertisements you need to do so intelligently. Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter each have methods for targeting a specific audience.
There are classes and books available on how to use social media algorithms and this is the area most talked about for independent authors at this time, so I’m going to leave this category here for now and not repeat what others have said.
Targeting Feed Advertisements
Take the time to learn how to engage your audience. If you are looking to engage an audience on Twitter to use the platform to advertise your work for free, create a strategy. You will want to learn how to do this with all platforms if you plan to minimize the amount of money you spend.
Newspaper and Magazine Book Reviews
As someone that reviews independent published and publisher books, I want to be very clear:
Best Sellers Happen Through Marketing
There are always exceptions. Many newspapers and magazines include editorial book reviews for new releases. It never hurts to contact someone and ask if your book can be added to that review pile. If it seems like someone could potentially be interested in your book, why not ask? What’s the worst they can say? No?
Tracking What Works
You will be receiving a lot of data as you market your book and start to sell it. What do you do with that? This is where we start cutting out excess spending in areas that aren’t helping us.
Create a milestone timeline for sales and advertising budget allocation. By 6 months – 1 year you should be allocating 80% of your budget (time and money) toward the advertising sources responsible for 90% of your sales. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to know everything when it comes to your readership. This is where interacting with your audience and getting to know them really matters the most.
Maybe you wrote a book that was NA, but your actual readership tends to be in the 30-45 age range? What if you thought your audience would be predominantly female and non-binary, but instead they’re male and non-binary? As authors our assumptions about who our readers are going to be can be wrong. Pay attention to who your readers actually are and embrace them as they are.
Do You Have Marketing Tips?
Do you have non-social media marketing tips that I missed? What do you think of these?
I hope this was helpful for those that are publishing independently and looking into marketing their work.