How to Be More Effective in Promoting Books
How can authors find the best ways to promote books? There’s an adage that wise people learn from the experience of others, while anybody can learn from personal experience.
Experience of others. Some of the most successful authors I follow promote Kindle versions to connect with more readers. Some use price discounts and some offer older titles for free. Indie author and professional book marketer David Gaughran says he had 36,000 downloads for a backlist Kindle title he promoted recently as a freebie on BookBub. Other indie authors I follow use social media posts, blogs, and newsletters to promote Kindle titles.
I believe one key to success in promoting books is to collect data and analyze the stats to learn which promotion methods are more effective.
In this blog post, I discuss how I try to track the effectiveness of my efforts to connect with readers by promoting the Kindle version of a highly-acclaimed book. The title is The Iguana Speaks My Name and you can download the Kindle version FREE from January 16-20 if you click the link in the title. Go for it!
Kirkus Reviews gave the print version a starred review and named it one of the 25 best Indie books of 2012. In 2013, the paperback won a silver medal from the Independent Book Publisher’s Association in the USA. It was the first book project I managed at a small press in San Diego, and I control the rights as the executor of the author’s literary estate.
One of the best ways for me to track effectiveness in promoting books online is to use a link shortener for the link(s) I want people to click. In the example above, I embedded a shortened link from Bit.ly in the title of the book. And I embedded a shortened link to click to see the starred review by Kirkus.
Those two embedded links will track all clicks on those links wherever I promote the book online. When people share my promotion, the embedded links will also track clicks on the shares. And I will get daily stats for total clicks, clicks from each referral source, and the country where each click originated.
That will help me learn which channels produce the most clicks to go to Amazon or see the Kirkus review. If I see that the clicks on links from some channels are higher than other channels, I can learn from that for future promotions.
When I published my first paperback book in 2010, I had enough time and money to try selling it face-to-face with individual buyers. I ordered cartons of 20 books one at a time from the print-on-demand service of Amazon, put them into my vehicle, and hit the road.
No social media. No speaking engagements. No bookstores. Just me and my box of books. I bought a table at one book fair, and I shared the cost of a table at a holiday event for arts and crafts. I sold books from my backpack at a neighborhood street fair one weekend, and I offered my book free as a door prize at a charity event. I took a book wherever I went, even showing it to strangers in restaurants.
During that first year, I managed to sell more than 100 books and eventually got a nice review in the local weekly newspaper written by an author friend who took pity on me. If I remember right, I earned about $5 profit on each sale or a little more than $500 for a year’s effort.
One valuable lesson I learned from trial and error came from sitting at the book fair table for six hours with a stack of my books in front of me. When someone approached the table, I discovered I could increase my chances of a sale by standing up and greeting them with a smile and putting a book in their hands to flip through while I gave them a quick summary of the content.
To help promote the 2016 book Abraham Lincoln and Mexico, which I edited, a friend arranged an event for about 50 people in the Los Angeles area where I was the featured speaker. I drove 2 1/2 hours to get to the 11 a.m. event. After my presentation, the friend and my wife sold 18 copies at the back of the room while I chatted with attendees. I gave the friend $5 for each sale and splurged on a nice meal for my wife and me on the way back to San Diego. And I used the rest of the cash to cover the cost of gas on the roundtrip.
I’m not saying the event was another error on my part. There are a lot of good vibes at book events where authors (and editors) and readers can connect in person. And those 18 people might never have bought the book online.
Many authors love connecting with people in personal appearances small and large. Before the COVID pandemic canceled most gatherings, I attended a couple of events of more than 300 attendees where the author sold close to 40 autographed copies.
Again, time and money are major factors. How much time does it take to arrange personal appearances and travel to and from events? How much money does it cost? Would it be more effective to use the same amount of time and money to promote online book sales?
Personal perspectives: I don’t care about the royalties during my online promotions; I want to reach more readers and collect the data to analyze.
Sometimes, I offer the Kindle versions as freebies, like the Jan. 16-20 promo for The Iguana Speaks My Name. It’s my online method of sticking a book into a reader’s hand, and the reader can use the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon to see the first few pages.
It was easier for me to track effectiveness when I sold books one at a time for my first book. But that was 10 years ago before I moved to mainland Mexico. Now, I use my backlist books to test online promotion channels, and I put all my data into an Excel worksheet to analyze.
I welcome your comments about the best ways to promote books, especially if you have some stats to share. Meanwhile, check out the January 2022 issue of my monthly newsletter that has a discussion and data comparing results of a recent post on social media sites and blogs and newsletters. If you want to see the stats, just send an email to email@example.com.