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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.

Note to Book Publishers: Turn the Page and Invest in Brand

In the so-called glory days of publishing, before nearly all the major publishing houses were bought up by a handful of corporate parent companies, the editorial and cultural contours of each publisher were distinct and well-defined. Today, however, the only marks that differentiate many book imprints are their names and logos, with some occasional hints at a cultural past or editorial ethos.

The merger of Penguin with Random House last year reduced the “Big Six” publishing conglomerates to the “Big Five”: HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, Hachette and the new Penguin Random House. As author and journalist Boris Kachka wrote in the New York Times, in response to news of the merger, “Consolidation carries costs you won’t find on a price sticker.” Dozens of imprints and sub-imprints exist within each of the Big Five conglomerates; from a branding perspective, many of those imprints are indistinguishable from both their corporate cousins and their external rivals.

Very few publishing brands, in fact, mean much to consumers because publishers traditionally promote their authors, not themselves, as brands. But that approach and perspective needs to change. When a publisher’s brand is indistinct, it diminishes the value that publisher brings to the books it publishes. Therefore, for publishers’ B2B audiences — namely, authors and the agents who represent them, as well as booksellers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and professional book reviewers — the brand needs to become a central part of the discussion.

Failing to emphasize the brand also takes a financial toll on the company. For sought-after authors weighing offers from two or more houses, the weaker the brand, the more advance money it takes to show strength and to convince those authors to come on board. This is particularly costly to publishers in the short-term because it’s harder to recoup hefty advances in today’s unforgiving market. But it’s also costly in the long-term because it perpetuates the practice of overpaying for perceived bestsellers. This, in turn, reduces open spots for “mid-list” titles that might receive moderate advances but prove popular enough to turn a substantial profit.

What can be done? For starters, build a brand by defining or redefining a clear editorial vision, growing new authors into best-selling authors (over one or a number of books) and providing a better home for star authors than competitors do. It’s easier said than done, of course, especially in such a consolidated marketplace, but it can be done, and it creates an advantage no amount of advance money can buy.

The publishing houses that do these things today have been known to win authors for less money than their competitors while producing one hit after another. Farrar, Straus & Giroux is a prime example. FSG is owned by Macmillan but is steadfast in maintaining its own brand. The company is known to pay smaller advances, but many authors find it hard to turn down an FSG offer even if there is more cash on the table from other publishers. That’s because FSG’s brand is synonymous with unwavering editorial standards, an unmatched roster of Nobel Prize, Pulitzer Prize, and National Book Award winners, and contemporary literary megastars like Jonathan Franzen and Jeffrey Eugenides.

High-end literary publishers aren’t the only ones who use their brands to win authors and produce bestsellers. Independent publisher Workman and its design and cookbook imprint, Artisan, are terrific examples of strong brands that embody a focused, results-oriented approach to publishing. Workman, famous for its how-to, humor and gift titles (but not huge advances), produces book after book that sells hundreds of thousands — sometimes millions — of copies, like What To Expect When You’re Expecting and 1,001 Places to See Before You Die. And Artisan, with its meticulous attention to detail and its insight into niche markets, is the publisher of choice for influential chefs and tastemakers whom one would expect to find at larger publishing houses.

An essential part of these publishers’ success is that they’ve communicated what their brands mean — that is, both the tangible benefits (sales, awards, reviews) and the intangible benefits (prestige, editorial spirit, emotional connection). This allows them to acquire new talent for less money than their rivals might spend, and keeps their editorial legacies and artistic missions alive — which further reinforces their brands.

It also sets them up for a future in which publishers could very well start selling books and book-related content directly to consumers, bypassing most booksellers. The struggle over sales terms with Amazon, the slow disappearance of both Barnes & Noble stores and independent bookshops, and the arcane “returns” model (under which booksellers can return unsold stock to publishers) leave publishers, it would seem, with little choice. If this, indeed, is how things play out in the future, the houses with the strongest brands will not only adapt most easily, they will define the new bookselling landscape.