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10 Book Marketing Mistakes Self-Published Authors Make

Have a book coming out? Don’t start your marketing until you read this list of 10 book marketing mistakes that self-published authors make.


1. You shotgun sales messages and call it marketing.
Too often, self-published or first-time authors release a book with LOUD! and persistent-persistent-persistent announcements all over social media. If you’re selling used cars that might work, but marketing your book is (hopefully) a more subtle endeavor. There will be close to 500,000 new books released this year, all clamoring for attention and sales, so when you shotgun marketing messages about buying your book, you do nothing but add one more fat guy to an already overcrowded elevator – and no one appreciates that. There is a far better way to market and gain sales.

2. Not blogging and then not blogging some more.
Blogging is an overused word these days but the intention is to release quality content about the subject matter in your book. Keep your posts short but write them consistently1 – a blog should be just one thought on paper. They should always answer a question, solve a problem, entertain, or provide value. Blogging will give you something to post via social media (think of the bullets and the gun analogy) draw in an audience, establish you as an expert, build trust, and form literary friendships – all while selling books.

3. Not establishing a niche.
With tens of millions of books flooding the market, it’s more important than ever for an author to understand their ultra-specific niche if they want to sell books. Before you even write your book, figure out what niche it will serve. I don’t mean just a genre, like “Romance” or “Travel Adventure,” but you should know the specific demographic of who will absolutely love and needs your book. Make a list based on age, gender, lifestyle, hobbies, and interests and you’re just getting started defining the niche you want to target. No lie, it’s easier to market a book about left-handed fly-fishing than a romance novel because you know who your demographic is!

4. Not realizing the value proposition.
Do not write a book just because you want to see your name in print or drop that you’re an author at fancy parties (I’ve tried it – people aren’t that impressed.) Your book should add value to the reader’s lives above and beyond what already exists in print.3 Does it fill a need? Solve a problem? Explore a human truth? Tell a story in a unique or fresh way? If not, then you’re just regurgitating what’s already out there, not “adding a line to the eternal conversation.”

5. Setting unrealistic goals.
I get it – you want to be a best seller, sell the movie rights, and end up on the Oprah show. Those are great goals and I’m all for dreaming big, but you might want to focus on jogging a mile before you’re ready to qualify for the Olympics as a sprinter. By setting certain stages of goals – or marketing plateaus – you won’t get burnt out or disappointed when reality comes knocking. I like to set goals of marketing activities executed, people who are exposed to the book (not necessarily pay for it) and “literary friendships” formed instead of raw sales numbers because you can directly control those.

6. You think the book is about you.
Writing a book can be one of the most intimate and deeply personal experiences you’ll ever have. You’re baring your soul for all the world to see but marketing is the exact opposite. When you’re promoting your book the focus should be 100% about the reader and their experience with the topic in the book, not your art and certainly not your ego. It is no longer your story when you release it into the world – it’s a gift you’re giving away.1 This is perhaps the biggest shift of perspective authors as book marketers fail to make, and will make all the difference.

7. Not treating it like business.
Never forget that you are a businessperson trying to market a product, expand your brand, garner sales, and build a following. What you’re trying to accomplish is on a root level the same as Coca Cola, Toyota, or the Oakland A’s (a GREAT case study!) Treat it as such with a focused business plan, analysis of your competition, strategic partnerships, a marketing schedule, and accountability to the results of your plan. It’s just business, so don’t be afraid to look outside the narrow and incestuous world of traditional book publishing and marketing for inspiration.

8. Taking it personally.
You’ll need to grow a thick skin very quickly if you’re going to be in this game, and it takes practices to be emotionally detached but not dispassionate. You should put your heart and soul into writing but then market the book like a cold robot but at first it’s almost impossible not to live and die with every review, every insult of a friend who didn’t buy your book, or every rejection. However, with practice you’ll also be able to train your mind to bounce back immediately and even turn negatives into positives. I’ve written a lot about handling bad reviews and how they’re actually good things!

9. Not getting creative.
Hanging out on Facebook all day does not a book marketing campaign make. (I know – I’ve tried!) There are endless possibilities to gain exposure for your book in creative way, especially with social media these days. Make custom photos, infographics, shoot author videos, conduct giveaways and raffles, do readings, speak in public, contact big shots, and taking advantage of national days and holidays (like Valentine’s Day for romance novels) just to name a few. Make a brainstorming list and get a little crazy!

10. Not having fun!
Guess what? If you don’t have fun while you’re marketing the book, no one else will, either (nor will they buy it.) Excitement is contagious so if you have a fun, positive, reader-first attitude while marketing that will rub off on others and reinvigorate you. Think of your book marketing as a huge party – a celebration of art and life2 – and your job is simply to invite as many people as possible!

Kenneth Gillett is the Principal and Founder of Target Marketing. A full service digital marketing agency in New York City guiding authors, speakers & brands to elevate their influence.

Guest Column : Unite Marketing and Publicity

Five ways these key departments can collaborate to maximize a book’s success

By Lissa Warren

In most publishing houses, marketing and publicity are separate departments. And they should be. Even though each is tasked with book promotion, their methods and responsibilities are actually quite different: Publicity reaches the consumer through the media, and marketing reaches the consumer directly. But just because they’re different, it doesn’t mean the two departments can’t — or shouldn’t — work closely together. In fact, in this ever-changing marketplace, they need to work together like never before. 

Social Media

One area where there’s obvious need for close collaboration is social media. At Da Capo Press, where I work, the marketing department handles Facebook and Twitter. However, every time one of our books gets a great review in a major newspaper, or one of our authors is the subject of a major profile in a national magazine, the publicist sends the link to the marketing manager so that he or she can post and tweet it. And the same goes for links to audio interviews (NPR stations are particularly good about posting them) and video interviews (national network morning shows and most of the national cable shows post them pretty regularly, and most local affiliates are on board now, too). 

Our marketing team also likes to use social media to alert people in advance so that they can tune in to a particular show to see or hear our authors. And they promote online video chats our authors do via platforms such as Shindig, Livestream and Google Hangout, and text chats via Facebook and Twitter that are hosted by women’s magazines and other media outlets with strong online communities. 


Collaboration between marketing and publicity is also a natural when it comes to bookstore events — specifically, getting the word out about them. Our marketing department tweets invites to all of the talks and readings we set up for our authors, be they at bookstores, libraries, museums or festivals. And they post the event details on our Facebook page as well. They also create book cover blow-ups for the stores to use in window displays prior to the events. When they help in these ways, it frees the publicist up to focus on lining up local media interviews for the author while they’re in town — preferably in advance of the event so that the author can plug the event on the air. 

Publicity Collateral

We make a point of sending our marketing department every canned Q&A — a list of 10 or so questions that our authors answer to give a sense of what their book covers — to use as part of their press material. Our marketing department offers the Q&As to grassroots websites of organizations with like interests, along with a brief, free excerpt from the book (usually no more than 1,000 words). 

Advertising Strategy

We do our best to keep our marketing department informed about forthcoming media appearances, so that they can make better decisions about where and when to place ads. No sense advertising a book in a publication that’s already reviewing it, but great to do some newspaper, magazine or website ads timed to a big national radio or national TV hit like NPR’s “Fresh Air,” or C-SPAN’s “Book TV” or Katie Couric ’s show. And of course the more the marketing department knows what media is in the works, the better the chance they can time in-store co-op appropriately. We also work hard to maintain an up-to-date list of review quotes for every book, so that any time our marketing department needs a choice quote for an ad, we can shoot them a two- or three-page Word doc with plenty of excellent options. 

Marketing Collateral

Things also work in the opposite direction. For example, when our marketing department creates a video book trailer, they send us a link so that we can forward it to producers at television shows to give them a sense of what the author would be like on camera, or how they could make the segment visual. When they produce BLADs (basic layout and design) or chapbooks, they order an additional quantity for publicity so that we can forward them to long lead-time magazines in an effort to convince them to save space for coverage. And when our marketing department takes out an ad, it sometimes leads to review copy requests. 

Of course, none of this works without communication. Because of the speed at which so many of these things occur, I’ve found that forced communication at regular intervals — a.k.a. meetings or conference calls — isn’t as effective as daily email correspondence as things happen. I know, we’re in publishing — the last thing we need is more email. But the correspondence I get from our marketing department takes priority, and I like to think the correspondence they get from us takes the same. 

Since our marketing department works closely with our sales department to determine initial print runs as well as reprint quantities, we do our best to keep them current on the media commitments we’ve received for each book — through book-specific email updates that also go to our sales reps, who forward them to the buyers at their accounts in an effort to solicit additional orders. The updates aren’t fancy — cover art, a catchy headline, and a list — but they seem to do the trick. 

So many departments in a publishing house need to work closely together — editorial and production, production and design, marketing and sales, etc. But I think you’d be hard pressed to find any two that are as interdependent and that, together, can make as much of an impact on a book’s success.