There’s this idea that promoting your books has to be expensive, that it has to take chunks out of your writing time. It really, really doesn’t. It can be free. It can be set up in an afternoon, and maintained in lunch breaks. It can be more addictive than writing.
I’m sticking to the stuff that’s (nearly all) free here. I’m experimenting with paid adverts at the moment, and I’ll let you know how that works out, but there’s always that danger that once you start paying for promo you may spend more than you make.
I deal mostly in ebooks, so for me, promotion means connecting with readers online. It’s great – I don’t even have to leave the house! Waterstones would never let me host an event in my pyjamas, but I can blog hop from bed.
Write More Books
It’s what the people want! Every new book promotes your backlist. Simple as that.
So, okay, a good website isn’t free. Or rather, the site is, but it’s really, really worth paying for your own domain. As well as solelyfictional.org (which I use mainly for sentimental reasons these days) I’ve also registered nkkingston.com and minakelly.com. Makes it much easier for people to find you. I also pay for hosting, and I paid for my current site design. For me, both are worth it, but that may not be true for everyone.
Make sure you have a nice, easy to find page with all your published books on. Include links to every place they’re available for sale (the fewer clicks the better), a cover image, a blurb, and an excerpt. Make things as easy as possible for your readers.
Social networking isn’t to everyone’s taste, and that’s fine, but even if you rarely use it there are advantages to setting up a small home on the various sites that link back to your website so people can still find you.
I used to do way more of this, but I found it interfered with my writing.If it does that for you, look at your priorities. The following advice is given knowing perfectly well that I’m not taking it. I don’t take my own advice on exercise or putting the washing away either, and I do okay.
Blogging is a good way to gain followers and keep your website high in the Google rankings (Google wants the most relevant results, and if your site is rarely updated it doesn’t look as relevant as one that is). For a long time you’ll feel like you’re shouting into the void, but in theory after a while you’ll start to get followers, and it tends to be an exponential thing. You need to update regularly and consistently – weekly is a good shot, but if you can talk more then go for it. Keeping to a theme is good, since readers will come to you for your blog as a whole rather than individual posts.
Reviews are a popular choice for writers – after all, readers like reviews, and you want more readers. But purely positive reviews are of little use to readers, and negative reviews can open you to criticism, suggestions you’re putting other writers down to push your own work. If you can walk the line, more power to you, but bear this in mind.
The other obvious theme for writers is writing. For a select few, this works. For the vast majority of us, it doesn’t. For a start, you’re targeting writers rather than readers – writers read, yes, but writing takes up a large chunk of their leisure time and you’re limiting your audience. (Yes, I know, I know. See aforementioned inability to take my own advice).
If you write in a particular genre you’ve got more to go on. Historical authors can blog about their chosen periods. Science Fiction authors about science. Fantasy authors about legends and mythology, or the practicalities of armour, or the biology of dragons. You get the idea. Blog about a subject that overlaps with your writing, not about your writing itself.
If you blog, you can also do blog hops and blog tours, or host them. More on that later.
Now we’re getting into the marmite of social networking.
Look, if you hate it, fine. You don’t have to do it. But it’s still useful to set up a base that at least directs people to your books. When someone searches for you, you want to be easy to find, and Facebook is very good at that.
If you write under your own name and you’re comfortable having complete strangers follow you, make your profile public. Just… think about all of the consequences, especially considering Facebook’s ‘privacy’ policies.
If you don’t write under your own name, or you’re the kind of person who has curtains in their house and doesn’t want to share everything with strangers, set up a Page. You can run it from your profile without even revealing who you are (though Facebook does frown on doing that).
What I don’t recommend you do is set up a second profile. It’s against Facebook’s ToS, and though it’s pretty common you’re still taking a risk. If Facebook chose to, they can delete all of your profiles – all that promotion, all your personal stuff, gone. I wouldn’t bother take the risk.
If you’re into the bare minimum of use, add a link to your website and upload your book covers (with descriptions linking to where you can buy them) so people can buy them. If you blog, use an app like NetworkedBlogs to automatically update your facebook page when you post. When you have a new release, add it.
That’s me, basically. I’m one step up for minimum use. And that’s fine.
If you want to get the most out of your facebook page, it’s time to get social. Post regularly, preferably daily. Accept that maybe only 20% of your followers, if that, will see your posts (unless you pay). Watch those stats at the top – what gets the best responses? Talk to people. Talk about thing other than your books. Develop a voice. Ask people questions. Invite their opinions. Be friendly. Be social.
If you’re not planning to use it, I probably wouldn’t even bother set up an account. People follow twitter through their feeds, which move fast, so though a mostly-static page with your website address at the top is useful if they search for you, you’re going to be very forgettable.
You can get facebook to update to twitter, and vice versa, with a whole variety of apps and programs. Just bear in mind the character limit on twitter – if you’re posting from facebook you’re going to annoy people pretty quick with anything too long. Too many clicks to get to the original message.
Don’t just talk about writing or your books. Again, it’s boring. Talk TO people. Ask questions, talk about favourite TV shows, bitch about the weather, share favourite quotes. Be a person. And if you have a new book out, maybe through a link in once in the morning, once in the evening (timezones) but that’s it. Too many links will make people unfollow you. Nothing but links and you’ll get marked as a spammer. SOCIAL media.
Hashtags are your friend on twitter. #ff stands for Follow Friday, a chance to tell others about good accounts of follow. Don’t push people to #ff you; just let karma do its work. #amwriting is a good tag for writers, encouraging you to share your achievements and egg each other on. The #amwriting community has its own blog, where you can add your info. If you tweet about books, TV shows, films etc, use hashtags so other people who share your interest can join you in conversation. Use hashtags to promote competitions, giveaways, blog hops etc.
A lot of twitter is writers following other writers, and that’s fine. If you enjoy it for what it is you’ll make friends and share tips; it’s a great way to find out about new review sites or promo opportunities. Treat it as a writers groups. You know, the unproductive kind, with wine and biscuits and gossip.
Tumblr is essentially giant twitter. On twitter you retweet stuff you like, on tumblr you reblog it. It’s especially good for pictures and videos, though you can also share music, quotes, and long blog posts.
Tumblr is a blogging platform, so treat it like an author blog. Themes are good. Tag everything. Link it to your twitter account. Etc. You’re getting the idea now, right?
Flickr, Instagram, etc
Pretty pictures are nice, but make sure you’re sharing stuff where you either hold the copyright or have permission from the copyright user.Link book covers to places people can buy the books – it’s really annoying to click on a thumbnails only to get a larger version with no additional info.
Pinterest, Delicious etc
With Pinterest, same rule about copyright. Bookmark sharing sites come and go, but they’re handy if you like sharing your research with people. You can set up pages for your latest books, tying together cover art, buy links, further reading, research notes, actors who would play your characters in a movie, soundtrack you wrote to, etc. It can be as dynamic or as static as you want it to be. Just keep it legal.
The Rest of the Web
It’s not so much social networking, but places like forums, roleplaying blogs, fanfic archives and so on are great places to promote your works SUBTLY. Unless they’re explicitly allowed, don’t do promo posts. Don’t work your books into conversations. Just put them in your bio, or your signature, or your OOC blog, or whatever space you have that won’t annoy people, and leave them there. If images are allowed, use covers with click-through links.
And that’s it. If people are interested, they’ll click. If they aren’t, all the spam in Spamalot won’t make them, and will probably just get you blocked.
If you haven’t yet, set up an Amazon page using AuthorCentral. Claim your books, write a short blurb about yourself, link your blog and twitter and everything else to it. Try not to obsess over your sales rank. Kindle users can access these pages on their devices, and everyone else can do it online.
It’s also worth setting up an Amazon affiliates account. That way when people click links you’ve placed around the web to your books on Amazon you get a very tiny percentage. Extra money!
Pages on Other Sites
Anywhere that lets you set up an author profile for free, do it. Take control of your internet presence. Retailers and review sites often offer author profiles, though some will charge you to add anything more than the barest basics.
Goodreads, LibraryThing, etc
Bare minimum: claim your author status, add your books (both those you wrote and those you read), link your stuff.
Better: join groups and get chatting. Don’t constantly rec your book. You’ll be noted as spam and potential readers will be turned off you. Hold conversations about things you’re interested in, rec other people’s books, only bring yours up if it’s relevant and someone is specifically asking for recs.
Again, reviews can be dangerous territory for an author. Review books at your own discretion. Star ratings, though are fairly safe.
A good review is an incredible promotional tool. A terrible review is also pretty useful. Even a ‘meh’ review is helpful.
There are two types of review: reviews by the big blogs and magazines that will spike your sales, and the reader reviews that slowly accumulate to increase your visibility.
The former require you to be more proactive. They can impact on whether your book is available in shops, noticed for prizes, and you can put them on the cover. The latter will come slowly but gradually, and can make or break you.
Most good publishers will send your book out to a selection of reviewers they have a good relationship with. These are guys they think will like your book and who’s reviews will help people notice its existence. Print publishing often sense review copies out months in advance of release to give reviewers time to get to your book, so reviews will appear around the release date. ePublishers have shorter lead times, so they’ll send books out as they’re released and you have to be patient.
If there are any review sites you have a good relationship with, contact your publisher about see if (a) they’ve already sent your book to them and (b) whether they mind you doing it. Your contract will tell you how many free copies you’ve got to give away, but often you can negotiate review copies with the publisher on top of this. But ask first!
Don’t chase reader reviews. Don’t ask friends and family to leave them. Don’t down vote negative reviews or bitch about them publicly. Don’t ask friends and family to down vote them, and if you catch them berating the review step in and ask them to stop.
The most polite way to respond to a review is to link it and leave it. Even commenting with a ‘thank you’ is the first step on a slippery slope. The more you interact with reviewers the more you’ll want to say, and that way lies madness and internet vendettas. Google ‘goodreads drama’ for pages and pages of examples. It’s just not worth it. Unless there’s a factual error that significantly impacts the potential sales of your book (for example, it’s identified as m/m rather than m/f, or it’s listed as out of print), just leave it.
There are two approaches to free books: the first is to give away a small number of the book you want to sell and hope it generates good reviews and word of mouth sales. The second is to give away a large number of a book you don’t mind not selling and hope those who read it will pay money for your other books.
Targeted Give Aways
If you don’t have many books these are good. Always check your contract to see how many books you have to offer. If you’re buying books to give them away, it’s not really a free promotional tool any more.
Giveaways on sites like Goodreads and LibraryThing have a fairly low read to review ratio. You’ll have to give away a lot of free books to get significant results, and it’s not always worth it. Remember, you can’t demand good reviews.
Competitions are slightly different. On the one hand, they’re no more likely to yield reviews, but on the other they’re much more likely to attract attention. Band together with other authors for maximum effect and use competitions as an incentive to follow a blog tour or hop.
Okay, so to explain those two: a blog tour is when you post on a bunch of other people’s blogs. A blog hop is when you and a group of other authors take it in turns to post on each other’s blogs. Both are good excuses for a competition.
You can also run competitions on twitter, facebook, etc. These work best if you have an active following. Otherwise you’re just shouting into the void.
If you have a series of books, you may want to consider making the first one temporarily or permanently free in order to promote the rest of the series.
Obviously if you’re with a publisher this is something to discuss together, but if you’re self-published it’s up to you. Kindle Select allows you to do a certain number of free days a month, but you have to sell on Kindle exclusively. Amazon and other retailers are also willing to price-match, so if your book appears for free elsewhere (legitimately – they don’t price match pirates!) they may match that. However, most explicitly state in their ToS that trying to game the system by making it free yourself elsewhere so you can gain a price they wouldn’t otherwise allow you to have is not allowed. Amazon’s ToS is confusing enough on this that people have taken to asking their customer service, which seems to result in a variety of answers. If you do it, bear in mind if someone who thinks it is against the ToS catches you at it you could be booted.
If you do not have a series of books but still want to offer something as a hook, consider a free short story. Some publishers will request these from you, but depending on your contract you can always put one on your website yourself.
To Sum Up
As a bare minimum, put aside an afternoon to do the following:
– Set up a basic website. Hosts like webs, weebly and wix are all free and have drag and drop interfaces to help you create something functional, while sites like blogger and wordpress will help you create one with an integrated blog, if you choose to go that route. Doing this for free may not give you something as pretty or tailored as you’d get if you paid (unless you’re already a web designer!) but the important thing is to keep it simple.
– Use domain registration, such as 1&1 or GoDaddy, to claim your name. Both also offer webhosting.
– Set up an Amazon Author Page
– Set up a Facebook page
– Set up a Goodreads author account and a LibraryThing author account
It doesn’t have to take longer than that, not if you only want to do the bare minimum. Create a website, link stuff back to your website. Make it easy for people to find you and your books. Update only when you have a new book or you’re doing a signing or promotion or something.
If you want to put aside another afternoon, spend it looking for reviewers in your genre that have decent readerships. Check out their submission guidelines. Reread your contracts or the ToS of the sites you’re using to self-publish to make sure you’re not crossing any lines by sending them books. If they have the option, set up author profiles on their sites too.
If you want to put aside an afternoon a week, use it to blog and to chat to people on GR and LT.
If, rather than putting aside a whole afternoon you want to put aside half an hour a day, go social networking, play on Twitter and Facebook and Pinterest and the rest.
Just remember that at some point you’ve got to go all the way back to the top, back to the first and most important thing you can do to promote your work, back to the only thing that really matters: