5 Marketing Lessons From a Debut Author
By Author Julee Balko
As if writing, editing, and getting a book published isn’t hard enough! After those are done there remains the most daunting and soul-crushing task of all waiting for you: marketing. (Insert blood-curdling scream here.)
With more authors taking the self-publishing and indie publisher route, marketing is increasingly falling on authors’ shoulders. And since my debut novel, The Things We Keep, launched in late July, I’ve had a front-row seat to the marketing roller coaster. I’d love to share what I’ve learned so you can benefit from my ups and downs.
1. There’s not enough time in the day to be everywhere.
Yes, it’s important to build your social media platform. But, wow, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook. There are so many places for an author to market. And let’s not forget Amazon, Goodreads, and Bookbub. The list of places to advertise and keep growing your audience doesn’t end, even though, last I checked, we still have the same amount of time in each day.
Most of us are operating with little support. I have an indie publisher so my marketing team isn’t much. Mostly me. (And sometimes my hound dog if she’s awake.) I also have a full-time day job as…wait for it…a writer in advertising and marketing. And three kids who need as much love as my novel.
I knew my time spent supporting my book needed to be focused. I picked what I’m most comfortable with (for me, that was Twitter) for my launch event because I have amazing, supportive writer friends on there. Virtual launches are just my style.
Last I checked, we still have the same amount of time in each day.
I had to quickly work on my Instagram profile because I am shy and had been avoiding IG like the plague. But blog tours are a great way to gain exposure, and so I embraced IG and worked on posting content every day to get my numbers up before my blog tour. I pulled out quotes from my book and highlighted great reviews on there, too.
Luckily, I had a lot of content from Twitter – quotes, poems, thoughts – that I could use. So, I just prettied them up using Canva and Crello, which have free versions for designing Instagram posts, and put them on IG.
On Facebook, I joined and participated in lots of online book clubs. That part has been great because these communities really love featuring authors and they have led to even more wonderful opportunities. One book club will tell me about another book club. Sometimes I do a book giveaway, but, mostly, this has all been free exposure for my novel.
I’ve been dipping my toe into Goodreads and Bookbub too. And every time I see writers do a funny thing on TikTok, I smile and think I just don’t have it in me. I’m exhausted. But then I see how a book went viral and I smile and think… I’m still too exhausted! But I’m thinking about it. I wish my hound dog knew how to make videos.
2. You can learn a lot on social media from other writers
One of the most surprising things I’ve learned on social media isn’t about readers, it’s about authors. I started paying attention to other authors months before my book was published.
I began writing down what other writers were doing. Any post that caught my eye or I might want to emulate. A successful giveaway. A cool graphic. A podcast that featured writers. I kept a list any time someone mentioned a Facebook page, IG, or Twitter opportunity.
Then, before my debut novel came out in July, I began reaching out to those same interviewers, bookstagrammers, etc.
I learned about so many simple, easy, and free ways to market my book that I wouldn’t have known otherwise, just by paying attention. I also DM’d writers to ask questions and was always impressed by how willing writers are to help other writers.
3. Followers don't equate to book sales. But it’s a good start.
Some of you might know me as @misplacedcomma2 on Twitter where I have about 18k followers. Any author will tell you followers don’t equate to book sales. But I can tell you the writing community is really supportive and I was very thankful for everyone who bought my novel.
Why did only some followers buy, versus all? Simple. Followers didn’t buy my book. My friends and those I interact with bought my book. Relationships lead to book sales on Twitter. Not just ads and links thrown out.
It’s not about building followers; it’s about building relationships.
Don’t just continually spam your Twitter or IG feed with your book. People stop paying attention. Unless you throw in your dog – I’ve gotten good response with that one.
I did do a blog tour on Instagram and I was able to get additional exposure due to bookstagrammers who gave great reviews and took gorgeous photos of my book. I thought that was an amazing part of the launch experience and I totally recommend it.
4. Reviews are like wrecking balls in your head. But you need them.
Probably one of the hardest aspects for me as a new author was reviews. I didn’t even know my novel was on NetGalley when the reviews started rolling in. They gave me a pit in my stomach, and here’s the funny thing: the reviews were great! I had no reason to have a pit. But it was harder for me than I ever expected to have my writing analyzed, which just seems silly.
I wrote my novel so people would read it, and yet when I had proof people were reading it, I wanted to hide under my covers. Please note: hiding under your covers is totally acceptable and cheaper than therapy. But probably not as effective.
Once I got used to the reviews, I knew I needed to generate more of them. So I traded ARCS (Advanced Reader Copies) with any writer who was also looking for reviews. Bonus: I got to read a lot of great books I never would have known about.
Once your book comes out, this is the time to be shameless with any friends, family, or mailman who reads your novel.
Do not be afraid to ask, beg, and encourage them to leave a review. Every review helps.
And most people don’t think to do it. When I host a book club as a guest author the last thing I always say (besides thank you) is that if they liked my book, they can leave a review on Amazon and Goodreads.
Also, good tip: I know many authors who say don’t read your Goodreads reviews once your book goes live, and I kind of understand that. I’ve seen some pretty vicious reviews on other authors’ pages and I’m very thankful I’ve made it this far without any that have brought me to my knees.
For the most part, I just peek at reviews and look for quotes to pull out to highlight on my IG or Twitter page. Readers’ words can often sell your book better than you can.
5. Don’t be afraid to say yes. But know when it’s time to say no.
Interviews. Podcasts. Giveaways. I basically just say yes to any free opportunity. It can’t hurt. It’s one of the reasons I’m writing this piece. More exposure. Maybe you’re reading this right now and thinking, Hey, I don’t mind this writer. Let me check out her book. See, it was all part of my evil marketing plan.
But it’s also ok to say no to things. I haven’t run a Facebook ad yet. I tried a BookBub ad but it felt like throwing money into the wind. For now, that’s just not something I want to invest in and that’s ok.
Yeah, I see lots of authors talking about how much they spend a month on ads, but I personally can’t devote the time yet. And that’s ok. I’m one person. One author in a sea of other novelists figuring things out one day at a time. And what works for me might be different than what works for you.
Until then, I’ll be hanging out with my dog, marketing when I can, but mainly just enjoying the ride of being a published author.
About The Author
Julee Balko is a freelance writer, newly debut author, and same old mother to three kids and a loyal hound dog. The Things We Keep is her debut novel but she’s working on finishing her second novel and landing a literary agent at the same time.