Suck at marketing? Anti-social media? Budget the size of a postal stamp?

The joy of completing a novel is often short-lived, with barely enough time to fist pump the air before the real work begins: getting your book into the hands of readers.

While we'd all love to be snatched up by a major publisher and see our hardbacks in the window display of Waterstones, for many authors, that dream is a flop. The good news is that in the modern world, one doesn't require agents, publishers and publicists to become a successful author. Strategy and perseverance can go a long way if you're willing to put the work in. There are just as many self-published and indie press authors being discovered as there are under larger publishing houses. Word of mouth is any creative's best friend, so what does that mean for the socially awkward hermit?

A social media presence doesn't have to involve plugging your book a hundred times a day or striking up conversations with strangers in a bid to get noticed. That's not to say connecting with readers and fellow writers isn't beneficial. It's heavily advised to join sites such as Goodreads; Facebook groups; writing forums and other platforms that make you want to shrivel into a ball and die.

*Note to readers: that doesn't mean we hate you! We're simply a bunch of introverts who spend anything from weeks to years cooped up in isolation to hone our craft, thus having to re-tune ourselves to the big wide world.

Even as a published author, I'm still well amid the battlefield; swords clashing to find my throne amongst thrones. Marketing guru, I am not. Bestselling author? Hell, no. I spend most of my time lurking in the shadows, observing and learning; picking out nuggets of information that I can work with most comfortably. Self-promotion is one author's dream and another's nightmare - for me, quite the latter. I'd rather people made up their own minds about how great my writing is ... or isn't. Without an army of fans or followers, how is this achieved? Who's going to believe that I have anything worth reading? I'm going to share the most useful strategy I've come across for generating views, downloads and, hopefully, purchases; but most importantly, loyal fans.

Readers are a crucial piece of the publishing puzzle, and who doesn't love a good ol' bargain? But no matter how great your marketing skills or budget are, if you haven't got the product then you haven't got anything. There are many components to a fantastic novel, and first impressions are everything. A blurb full of typos doesn't bode well for the rest of the book; but an eye-catching cover, polished prose and story that hooks could make all the difference.

Books in KDP Select have the benefit of Kindle Countdown Deals (which can run for up to 7 days in each 90 day enrollment period) and Free Book Promotions (up to 5 days per 90 day enrollment). Which option you choose depends on whether you're more focused on income or exposure. Readers are more likely to snatch up a freebie; the downside is that they may be paying less attention to what they're downloading, thus it sinks to the bottom of an ever-growing 'to-read' pile. When someone splashes their hard-earned cash then, naturally, they're going to be more picky and considerate of what they're purchasing. You could try a free promotion first and, if successful, drop the price in a Kindle Countdown Deal. Any kind of discount is a good start, but with thousands of books discounted every single day, there's a concern of getting lost amongst the crowd.

Most authors will be familiar with advertising sites such as BookBub, Reading Deals, Books Butterfly, etc. These sites send out bargain book alerts in newsletters to email subscribers (and often via their social media channels). It's a great way to advertise something that people are already searching for - no pushiness required. You're not finding readers; they're finding you. There are hundreds of sites to choose from, and a quick Google search will flag up endless lists with conflicting experiences and reviews from authors. With some of them incurring hefty fees, the first thing to look at is free vs paid advertising.

Why choose free? Because it's free! There is no reason why you shouldn't be submitting your deal, and to start you off I've compiled a list at the end of this article. Many of these sites have upgrade options whereby, for a small add-on fee, your book can get feature placements, extra tweets and so on. Books with reviews offer an additional bonus as it builds trust with readers, as well as giving them more information about what they're buying. In fact, having a certain number of ratings may be a requirement for some sites, which sucks for new releases; but it does indicate an organic subscriber list with serious buyers.

As I mentioned, most sites offer 'upgrade' options to boost your promotion. It's amazing how many authors are willing to throw money at priority placements, under the assumption that they're getting a good deal (in comparison to the higher costs of paid sites, which can go right up into the £100's). While I can't advise against this, I would advise caution as to where your budget is best spent. There are several factors to consider for a worthwhile investment:

1. Subscriber list: A site with an audience of 50,000 poses less of a risk than one with 10,000.

2. Genre: If you write romance and only 15% of subscribers sign up for romance alerts, the results may not be satisfactory.
3. Download rate: An average download rate per genre category is a good indication of how well your book may or may not do.         

Example from BookBub

It’s also worth checking out a site’s social media channels to get a better idea of their audience. During my research, I’ve found that some of the less reputable companies (not mentioning any names) are mainly followed by fellow authors and bots, rather than genuine readers. That’s not to say writers don’t read books as well, but when posts get little to no engagement, it’s safe to say that no one’s checking out your book.

Whatever you use to promote your deal, be sure to plan well in advance as timing is everything. Also bear in mind that you can only use 5-7 days out of every KDP Select enrollment period. Some authors prefer to split these up for more consistent sales, but if your book is a new release or not widely known, then a couple of days here and there may not generate the best results. Not everyone checks their emails on a daily basis, and you could miss out on potential sales/downloads. Clustering your discount into a full week gives a better chance of climbing the Amazon rankings and, for maximum exposure, you should be aiming for the top 100 on Kindle – or at the very least, top 100 in your genre categories. Doing this gets the most out of your budget and is a strategy that I, myself, have used in my promotion of The Fear.

Free advertising sites are quick and easy to use as you can stagger them throughout your discount days, thus building up traction. It’s a great way to launch your promotion and, hopefully, start increasing your ranking – lending credibility to your book. Even free downloads will count as sales so it’s a win-win. Mid-range sites such as Reading Deals or BookGorilla (which may incur fees at the lower end of the spectrum) could be more effective when scheduled a couple of days in because readers will see that people are actively downloading your book. Of course, if you have a more generous budget then doing this to kick off your promotion is worth a shot; then go for a higher traffic advertisement midway through. Examples being ENT, Books Butterfly and, of course, BookBub – which is notoriously difficult to get a feature placement but has been known to launch a fair few authors’ careers. I wouldn’t suggest waiting until the end of your discount days for paid ads because there’s no guarantee that readers will spot the deal before it’s over – and this is all about getting a maximum return on that investment!

Free Promotion Amazon US (The Fear)

Free Promotion Amazon UK

Overall Kindle Ranking (Free)

I used Reading Deals for my paid advertisement, and you can see the results above. Prime spot in the US (ghost horror) and #9 UK (horror) - just missing out on the top 100 Free Kindle Store. It's hard to pinpoint how many downloads came from Reading Deals because I was using free promotions at the same time (although there was a huge spike after the Reading Deals ad went live). I'm also published through an indie press, so I was unable to keep track of dates and sales. For my second promotion (99p in Kindle Countdown) I went back to Reading Deals, along with ENT. Although I didn't reach the top 100, it generated approximately 50 sales - less than what I'd hoped for, but using the same promotional venues twice in the space of a few months was a novice mistake. Why would anyone pay for what they'd already got for free? Duh! On the plus side, sales continued for a few weeks after both promotions so The Fear held its place in the Amazon rankings. I didn't make a profit on my investment, but I gained new readers and a bunch of reviews.

Marketing is only part of promotional success; a lot depends upon the marketability of the book itself, how appealing it is to any particular audience and what else happens to be on promotion at the same time as yours. What works for one author won't necessarily work for another, but the tools and resources are available nonetheless. Staying at the top is almost as difficult as reaching it, but any kind of triumph is worth a pat on the back and a sign to keep persevering. Easier said than done when writing isn't your full-time job and you don't have a team of experts doing all of the legwork for you! A lot of authors don't want to restrict their books to Amazon for the benefits of Kindle Unlimited, which is understandable when there are so many other platforms with audiences waiting to be found - but it doesn't have to be forever. 90 day exclusivity is a small price to pay for a potential bestseller, and finding the right home for your book is a case of trial and error. The best piece of advice I've ever heard is to focus your time and energy on writing your next book. If someone likes what they read, it provides an opportunity to check out your other work, resulting in more sales; a wider reach and the gateway to a bigger audience. The best part? It's free!

Don't give up, and authors should feel free to share their own marketing advice and experiences in the comments!   

List of Promotional Sites (not exhaustive and subject to updates)

Reading Deals
The Book Circle
Kindle Book Promos
Frugal Freebies
Ebook Korner Kafe
Awesome Gang
Pretty Hot
Book Bongo
eBooks Habit
Indie Book of the Day
Book Angel
Book Reader Magazine


Ereader News Today
Books Butterfly
Robin Reads
Free Booksy
Bargain Booksy
Buck Books
Book Goodies
Just Kindle Books
Free & Discounted Books
Choosy Bookworm
Book Doggy
The eReader Cafe
Book Cave
The Fussy Librarian
Indie Author News
Digital Book Today
Kindle Nation Daily
Good Kindles
Free Books Hub
I Like eBooks
Planet eBooks
Riffle Select
Whizbuzz Books
Genre Pulse


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