How to Market a Self-Published Book Effectively: Digital Marketing for Authors - EditionGuard

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How to Market a Self-Published Book Effectively: Digital Marketing for Authors


February 5, 2018


There is no secret to marketing a self-published book online.

The real secret is that there is no secret technique to get people to buy your book - because they won’t. If someone does not want to buy a surrealist children’s book with existential overtones, they probably won’t come across some promotional material and be persuaded to.

The most important thing to be aware of when strategizing your marketing efforts is that you are not just trying to get just “people” to buy your book - you need to get your book to the people who already have the inclination to buy a book from your genre in the first place.

Don’t convince the people who will never enjoy your book to buy it. You’ll only hamper the most valuable but vulnerable marketing power you have — your reputation.

You have written a great novel. Put it in front of readers who will love it. Your marketing efforts will be focused on the most promising leads, and your customers are more likely to spread the word about your brand (yes - if you are a self-publishing author, you are a brand too).

In this guide, we reveal exactly how to strategize online marketing efforts for a self-published book.

We tell you how to understand your audience and what influences decisions to buy one book over another, and how to choose the right tactics for the type of buyer you need to target.

A Note on Paid Ads:

We don’t cover paid ads in this post. This is a “bootstrap” type of guide. To find out more about paid ads for self-published authors subscribe to our mailing list for a weekly update on our blog posts.

Find the Most Promising Leads

Your most promising audiences are those already making their way toward buying a publication like yours soon — people with the magical combination of purchase intent and a specific interest in your genre. Think about the decision process these people would go through to find the specific type of books they like to read. Whether it's e- or print- books, this process will likely follow a similar pattern. If they want to buy a book and don’t already have one in mind, they will likely head to the web for answers.

Untitled Diagram

A Decision-Making Flowchart for Online Book Purchases

Visualize the flow of decision-making for the customers primed to buy the type of book you are selling. It will help you to establish where they go for the information that influences their decision to buy one book over another. Create your own flowchart for the reader decision-process. Pay particular attention to the methods by which they may discover a book title and note these down.

Let’s be clear, you do not just want to target a particular “physical” audience or a particular section of society, you also want to focus on the places they hang out and communicate about their interests online, where they go for their most trusted information. With an awareness of your audience’s typical buying processes, you can begin to place authoritative content in the places they will go to find advice on the best books to read for your particular genre or niche.

The spaces you will find your audience are on the results end of Google searches for the “best books similar to” authors they already love, the social media groups sharing the best books in your genre, and the blogs covering the essential books to read this year with similar narratives to yours.

Narrow Down Your Audience

We used “romance novel” as the niche for our hypothetical example in the flowchart above. But the more you understand who your audience is, the more specifically you can target them, and this means less competition. It means less competition for you as a marketer (and yes - if you are a self-published author,  you are a marketer) because a smaller audience produces a lower incentive for large publishers and other audiences with “bigger fish to fry” to target your audience too.

Ask Yourself:

  • Why Did I Write This Book?
  • What Do I Want People to Get From It?
  • What Will Motivate People to Want the Information in My Book?

The more specifically you can narrow down your audience to, say, “romance readers who read other independently published romance/drama novels about being a writer,” the better. It will be easier to find markets you can make the most of, with less competition from other marketers, publishers, and self-publishing authors. The more markets like these that you “collect,” the further your hard work will go.

Create a decision-flow chart, like the one above, for a specific pool of readers and interests. Narrow down the places you will find them. We will stick with “romance” as our genre example for the purpose of this post. Nonetheless, bear in mind that the techniques we suggest are most successful when you target a highly specific, niche audience. After narrowing down your audience as much as possible, you need to plan your approach.

Plan Your Approach

Sketching out a flowchart, like the one above, will enable you to see the finer points in your audience’s decision-making process, at which you could have the most impact. The most influential stages of the purchase path to a novel likely include Google searches, blogs, social media groups and communities. It is at these points that customers begin to narrow their options down to just a few choices.

Target people with a prior interest in books likes yours and it it is less probable they will be disappointed with what’s inside the cover. This means a higher percentage of your reviews will be positive, giving you better chances of being someone’s top pick if they narrow their reading choices down to just a few. (User reviews are one of the biggest factors influencing online purchase decisions.)

Continuing with our example, imagine we have considered various online communities and resources that our audience may use to influence their purchase decisions on books. Out of these, we have established four points of influence that are most relevant to our customers and the particular book we are marketing to them, including:

1. Search Engine Results for Related Keywords

2. Search Engine Results for “Similar Authors to…”

3. Blogs Frequented by Romance Novel Readers

4. Social Media Groups Frequented by Romance Novel Readers

We must now figure out how to target each of these points of influence to gain customers. These points will become the primary gateways of online traffic to our website or the store selling our book. We need to divert some of that traffic towards our book’s landing-page by making it known. But how?

Fill your marketing streams with examples of the specific searches, groups, and fans you that you could use to market your book. We have demonstrated this is a basic way below. But you should note down as many specific points of influence where you could target your audience as possible.

 1. Search Engine Results for Related Keywords

  • Best Romance Novels
  • Best Romance Novels 2018
  • Contemporary Romance Novels

2. Search Engine Results for “Similar Authors to…”

  • Bella Andre
  • Sarah MacLean
  • Julia Quinn

3. Blogs Frequented by Romance Novel Readers

  • All About Romance Blog
  • Fiction Vixen Blog
  • Dear Author Blog

4. Social Media Groups Frequented by Romance Novel Readers

  • Romance Macias (Romance Fan Group)
  • Marketing For Romance Writers (Group)
  • Romance Novels Publicity and Book Club (Group)

You should have the bones of a rudimentary marketing strategy, including the particular audience(s) you are marketing to, the parts of the web they go to research their decisions on book-buying, and a collection of specific instances of these influential spaces that your can use to target your audience.

Now you know precisely where to target your customers, the “how?” part becomes easy. How you target your customers is dictated by how they pick up the information that influences their purchase decisions in the specific areas of the web they pass through.

1. Build a Presence in Searches

Unless you already have an established website, with lots of other sites linking to it, packed full of content to do with your particular niche, you won’t rank in the top ten in organic searches (unless your keyword research is spot on) for relevant keywords quickly enough to market your book anytime soon if you start now.

What you can do though, is target the websites already ranking for various keywords you think your audience will tap into Google. If you can get a mention, a review, contribute a guest post, article, or give an interview on a site that ranks for the keywords your audience might be typing in, there is a good chance you can intrigue some of that traffic enough to point it to where they can buy your book.

Take the example of a single keyword-phrase our romance readers are likely to type as they look for their next read: “Similar Authors to Bella Andre.” Let’s say that Bella Andre is the most similar author to yourself with regard to the book you have just published. What happens when we type this search into Google?


(Source: Author screenshot)

We now need to Place information about our book and ourselves as its author strategically in the places where our most promising leads could be found. This can be done in a variety of ways:

Social/User Review Site Ads

Now - you will not be able to influence social or user review sites such as Goodreads to promote your book unless you use paid ads, which may be something to look into if you are going that route too. Goodreads, as an example, offers a program by which self-published authors can easily create ads on the site. If you don’t have loads of cash, you probably want to spend your ad money somewhere that gives you the flexibility to target your audience more efficiently, as with Google and Facebook. But if you have a pot of money to spend, going through the process to place an ad on there could get you some valuable leads.

Editorial Book Reviews

Skipping to the next-top result from our Google search, we find what we are looking for - a site which we can use to promote our book to the people who will be most likely to buy it. The site, Publisher’s Weekly, does not advertise the opportunity to submit guest articles or contributions, but it does have a page detailing its submission guidelines for book reviews.

Any opportunity you have to submit your book for review by top-ranking sites is promising.

Reviewers are looking for books they can write about, not books they can’t. But they won’t give your book a second look if you make it difficult for them to review. Make the most of review opportunities by following submission guidelines “to the letter.” Editors and reviewers likely don’t have time to read the pile of books on their desk as it is. Make it easy for them to have positive experience reading your novel, by giving them all the information they need.

Book Review Programs

As well as submitting your book for review by all the highest-ranking editorial review sites you find from your research, you could also get your book reviewed through online volunteer programs such as IndieView. Sites like IndieView connect authors to volunteer reviewers on the web. To remain on its list of reviewers, members must never charge for reviews - good value. Additionally, reviewers will often post their reviews to sites such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Shelfari, getting you high exposure at a low cost.

2. Build a Presence on Blogs

Guest posts are one of the best ways to reach your audience and get it engaging with your voice as a writer. If no blogs advertising guest-posting opportunities arise in your Google searches for the keywords you have come up with, add “guest+post” to your keywords. As you can see below, romance+novels+guest+post returns a multiplicity of results for me to sift through and start submitting blog posts or articles to as a guest contributor. Do this for each keyword result and/or popular blog in your industry.

Screen Shot 2018 01 29 at 15.54.53GMT7

(Source: Author screenshot)

When you find a guest post on a relevant site whose audience you think you may be able to gain traction with, look for the guest posting submission guidelines. If they do have guest posting guidelines, use them, and the examples of content previously published on the blog, to write an eloquent and witty article within the word limit on a relevant topic.

If they don’t advertise their guest posting opportunities, you can contact the blog owner with a friendly email and a well-written post that is perfect for their site and ready-to-go. Sites like these are more likely to accept your cold-submissions because they don’t advertise the fact that they post guest contributions, they aren’t so inundated with external posts.

The Topic You Write About Could Be Anything That Will Enable You To:

  • Engage the type of people who read and buy your books and similar books
  • Provide useful information that your audience may search for online, in standard formats, like “the ten best classic romance novels,” or “where to download the best romance e-books”
  • Make use of your expertise - be it your knowledge of how to write a book or the knowledge you have gained researching your topic
  • Positively influence the reader’s perception of reading in general, your genre, or the store through which you sell your books

Guest posts do not serve the function of promoting your book directly. They are not opportunities to simply advertise yourself and your book. Posting submission guidelines often actively prohibit the use of guest posts for obvious product placement and promotions. The purpose of your guest posts is to show off your unique, original writing style, personality, and expertise as you provide your target readers with information to positively improve their life.

Again, the information you give your readers does not have to be anything directly in your book or about yourself, just anything helpful to your readers. If they see you as an authoritative, positive writer, when they reach the end of the post and find your details attached, they may just be intrigued enough to click-through and get some more information about you and your body of work.

What you can promote, is positivity surrounding your industry, your genre, and your passion. This should not be hard to do. In an article about the “ten best classic reads,” promote the joy of reading itself. Promote the love of stories; your love of the written word, or the rise of e-books.

Generate excitement surrounding your particular genre or industry to filter readers through to your products in more relevant and genuine ways than telling them “buy my book.”

Build a Presence on Social Media

Social media marketing is all about the hustle. For many, it is a full-time job. As a self-publishing author, you don’t have the resources to spend all your day on Facebook (in fact, you might spend most of it trying not to check your social media).

But there are some powerful tactics you can use to connect with your readers, other independent authors, to become part of a community where you can promote and share your lovingly crafted work with your friends and fans. There is no one way to build a presence on social media, but we’ve come up with a bunch of ideas to get your engaged and build a presence on social media.

1. Engage Your Audience

If your target audience consists of people who love romance novels, you need to target the groups, the conversations, the fan pages, and the websites where people who are interested in romance novels “hang out.” For every relevant fan page, chat thread, or web page, insert yourself into your audience’s conversations about their mutual interest.

Don’t plug your business, don’t promote yourself, just chat about what you love (romance novels/books/stories/romance movies) with other people who love it. Provide thoughtful and concise answers to questions they have about other books; chat to them about texts they love; debate with them (in a friendly way) which books are the best or the meanings behind them. If you engage with your audience and your community, they will become more likely to take an interest in you as a brand and an individual, rather than simply “someone trying to sell their book on a Facebook group.”

2. Follow/Like/Share

For every person you manage to successfully engage on social media, through original conversations, solutions, or messages of support, follow up with a social “favor.” An offering of good will on social media, in the form of a like, a share, a follow, or a “friend” (depending on the platform) often results in a favor returned. If you “friend” someone in your community you have actually spoken to, it would be impolite for them not to add them back. This is your strength on social media as an author - you are part brand, part solo creative artist. Often the latter helps to counteract any suspicions people may have about a commercial “brand” disingenuously commenting on their Instagram posts.

3. Regularly Post Content

The best way to advertise your writing is to put it in front of your audience’s faces. Some people spend hours every day reading short, digestible articles on social media platforms. It could be anything from “The 10 Weirdest Animals” to “Quotes From Romance Movies to Make You Cringe.” If you write brilliantly, show off your skills by regularly posting witty, relevant, content that your audience will enjoy. Once they click through to your blog, you can tell them about your book and where to buy it.

You don’t have to write all the content you post. Regularly posting 1-2 articles per week to your community written by you is manageable. The rest of the time you can find high-quality third-party content from other authors in the blogosphere and share it. Your community will get great daily content from you, and the other writers whose content you share should be happy to get you some exposure with their online community in return.

4. Network With Similar Authors

It’s all about who you know, they say. Knowing the right people on social media could get you numerous benefits, all the way from a simple returned “like,” to your next book deal, or speaking appearance. Who you know, on social media, is critical for engagement with your audience, because they can see all your interactions and connections. If you situate yourself as an author (or your book as a brand) with other reputable, trusted, and loved similar authors, publishers, and groups, then by association you will take on these qualities in the eyes of your followers too.

5. Design a Great Landing-Page

Writers are often uncomfortable with the sales end of book promotion. But in 2018 a great sales pitch doesn’t have to be about reducing your book to something that it is not to get it sold. If you are self-publishing, wherever you are actually offering your book up for purchase online, you have the freedom to create your own sales pitch.

Whether you use Shopify, Wordpress, Magento, or are selling your book on Amazon, you need to create a unique, detailed, professional landing page with a call-to-action (CTA) (a “buy now” button) to purchase your book with. Display your book in high-quality photos and make sure you have a great cover design that attracts attention; don’t tell your readers what your book is about - tell them what they will take away from reading it, what they will gain from it. Make sure you have a link to your landing page on all your social media pages and in all the emails you send when you begin to have a big enough pool of subscribers on your mailing list.

6. Start a Mailing List

On each social media platform, there are apps and add-ons you can use to get people to sign up for your email list. If you fail to catch it, the traffic coming through to your landing-page will either buy your book or leave. Give them a third option. People might not want to buy now, but if you offer a good incentive for joining your mailing list (say, a free ebook), you can retain those customers and retarget them later. The ones who do buy, keep on your list, and let them know when you start writing your next book…

Use these 6 tactics to market your self-published book on social media for the exposure your story deserves. Actively share useful, positive, quality content and engage your audience through unique encounters. Create a community surrounding your passion and your brand.

If You Didn’t Get the Message…

Marketing your book is not about selling. You shouldn’t be uncomfortable. Marketing your book is about finding the people who will most appreciate it. This has many advantages.

The most trusted marketing medium is word-of-mouth, and this includes review sites and online publications. The better your reputation is among a small following, the more likely it is they will spread the word.

Your marketing efforts will consist of sharing and writing about your passion and talking to similar people who share your interests. Because if you don’t enjoy it, you won’t do it.

You can be honest, and you have control. There’s no hard-selling involved if you market your book to your audience right. Planning and research, and conveying the information your audience need to know about your book honestly, are key. Know your market.

There is no secret, but there is a way to find it - by working hard to reach the readers who will most enjoy your book to tell them your story and make a positive impact in their lives.

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