Friday, July 23, 2021

Sell More Books with a Marketing Mindshift

By Jenna Harte

Part of The Writer's Life Series

JH: Marketing is about more than selling books and sharing new releases. Jenna Harte discusses ways to shift your thinking about marketing and build your readership.

Jenna Harte is a die-hard romantic writing about characters who are passionate about and committed to each other, and frequently getting into trouble. She is the author of the Valentine Mysteries, the first of which, Deadly Valentine, reached the quarter-finals in Amazon’s Breakthrough Novel Award in 2013. She has a contemporary romance series, Southern Heat, and a cozy mystery series, Sophie Parker Coupon Mystery Series

Romance authors can join her free writing community for support, accountability and more at WritewithHarte.

Take it away Jenna...

Jenna Harte

One thing many new authors don’t realize is how much non-writing work goes into building a successful writing career. The reality is that authors, even those with traditional publishing contracts, have to do more than write. In fact, if you visit author groups on social media, the list of tasks you need to do just for marketing looks something like this:
  • Blog
  • Manage a Facebook Page
  • Start a fan group on Facebook Groups
  • Post on Instagram
  • Film TikTok videos
  • Tweet 5 to 10 times a day
  • Build an email list
  • Do email swaps
  • Run Facebook or Amazon ads or both
  • Seek the coveted Bookbub ad
  • Submit to sites that promote free and 99cent books
  • Build an ARC team for reviews
  • Engage in giveaways to build your list
  • Participate in newsletter swaps to build your list
  • Be a guest on other blogs and podcasts
  • Speak at writer and reader events

If you’re a solo authorpreneur, this list of marketing tasks is daunting. Even if it isn’t overwhelming to you, it is time consuming. While all the tasks above can sell books, chances are many of them won’t. Not all strategies work for all authors. Unfortunately, some authors don’t consider this when they’re told they need to Tweet or TikTok.

Before doing any marketing, you need to ask yourself WHY are you doing what you’re doing. Why are you Tweeting and Tiktoking? I know the answer seems obvious; to sell books but how many authors actually track the number of books sold by posting a tweet?

To make things more confusing, it’s difficult to track direct sales from a tweet or video or other marketing strategies. Sure, you can track a click to your sales page, but did that click lead to a sale? You can have 100 clicks and only 10 sales. Which clicks bought?

Despite the challenge of knowing data details, authors continue to work the marketing-gauntlet because that’s what they’re told to do. When asked about how their strategies lead to sales, many admit that they don’t know or don’t see the results, but continue to so it because they have to be “out there” for readers to find.

The problem, of course, is that if your efforts aren’t leading to sales, then it’s just a waste of time.

I’d like to propose a shift in thinking away from making a sale to making a fan as a marketing strategy that can be easier to track and over time creates greater sales, not just on new releases, but on your backlist too.

Consider authors like Stephan King and Nora Roberts. When they release a book, they don’t have to do newsletter swaps or blog posts and many of the other things new and mid-list authors have to do. Why? Because their names alone sell books. That’s not to say these authors don’t market or aren’t on social media, but they’re not having to run themselves ragged on a release because the book is guaranteed to sell based on their name.

I can hear you now, “But Stephan and Nora don’t have to do all that because they are famous and have a fan base. I don’t have a fan base.”

To that I say, “Then build one.”

Here’s where many authors miss the boat on marketing. 

Yes, you want to sell books, but if you focus only on book sales, each release will start 0 with the goal of finding new readers.

However, if your marketing strategies include working to build your fan base, each release has a ready-made audience to buy your book (like King and Roberts). If you study successful authors, both traditional and indie, you’ll see that they spend less effort on time-consuming marketing strategies, and more time building and nurturing their fan base.

So, how do you do that?

Shift your thinking about your marketing.

While your eventual goal is book sales, switch your marketing objectives to be about building a community around you and your books. Each marketing tactic you use should have the objective to building your email list or social following, mingled in with a few direct pitches to buy your book. Essentially, you’re starting a club and inviting people to join in.

(Here’s more with Finding Your Audience Part Three - Create Your Own Community)

Don’t build it (website, profile page, email, etc) and hope people will come.

You can’t set up a Facebook page or email list and expect people to find you. So much author marketing today is centered around the idea that if you post it, readers will come. But in truth, as a new author, you need to go find your readers and invite them back to your place (i.e. to your social accounts or email list). That means going to where your readers hang out and making friends with them. That could be in online groups, through other websites or blogs, on podcasts, etc.

Have an objective for each marketing strategy you employ.

I mentioned this above, but it’s important enough to repeat. Each tweet or email swap or other marketing tactic needs an objective and a way to measure it. When you send a tweet, what results do you want? Is your objective to build your email list? Get your followers engaged and interacting with you? Is it to push a book release (yes, you can have a sales objective)? There are three basic objectives you should strive for; 1) Community building (email list, social following), 2) Community engagement (spending time with your fans, and 3) Traffic (this is sales). Spend more time on community building and engagement to have more success when you market for traffic.

(Here’s more with Creating an Author Business Plan: Our Marketing Plan)

Measure and evaluate the success of all your marketing tactics.

While many authors know to measure success of advertising, they often don’t look at results of other strategies. Did you do an email swap with the goal of increasing your email list? Did it work?

Again, measuring your marketing results can be hard. Using URL shortening and tracking services can help since you can create special URLs for each marketing strategy. If you’re doing an email swap and an ad on a reader blog to build your email list, and see an increase in subscribers, how do you know which promotion led to the results? With tracking URLs for each ad, you can know which effort garnered the most click results.

Even so, you want to try and determine the quality of the click. If you’re ad is generating a lot of click throughs, but no email signups, that tells you something about your offer.

On the other hand, if your marketing isn’t generating results (clicks, signups, etc), then you need to adjust your marketing messages.

The final part of this is paying attention to what people respond too. I’m often proven wrong when I think a marketing tactic will generate a lot of excitement. Sometimes it’s the ho-hum thing I do that garners the biggest engagement. So pay attention to strategies that make your fan base grow and cause them to them buy your book.

(Here’s more with Indie Publishing Paths: What’s Your Master Plan? Part One)

Don’t forget your faithful fans in your quest for new fans.

Years ago, during the long-distance phone wars, I was an MCI customer. At one time, MCI ran a great deal on long distance (this is before unlimited long distance), so I called to ask about it. I was told that deal was only for new customers. So here I was, a loyal customer for years, but I wasn’t valued enough to get a great deal. Yes, you want to always be building your readership, but don’t forget your current reader fans. Make it worth their while to be your fan. Give them free stuff and behind the scenes views. Let them be a part of the process. My fans have helped me choose book covers, name characters, and decide what book to write next.

Deciding Your Marketing Tactics

So, the question is, what should you be spending your time doing? Only you can decide the strategies that work best for you. Here’s what to consider when looking for your reader fans:

1. Who is the most likely reader of your book? Be as specific as possible.

2. Where do they go to learn about and hangout with other readers of that type of book? Are they on Facebook? TikTok? Twitter? Do they attend author takeover events on Facebook? Do they follow certain hashtags on Instagram? What blogs do they read to get book information? What podcasts do they listen to?

3. How can you engage with your ideal reader so that they want to be your friend? Now that you know where they are, you need to go to them and make friends. People don’t like to be sold, so you need to find ways to draw people to you and what you write without saying, “buy my book.”

Remember that you need to do more than just show up and start engaging. You also need to measure if that engagement is working base on your objectives. Are all those followers on TikTok translating to your objectives whether that’s joining your email list or buying books?

When you have an objective and measure it, it becomes easier to decide what’s working and what isn’t. For the things that aren’t working, you have to decide if you need to tweak it or stop it. For example, I wasn’t getting a lot of traction from blogging, even when I tried things like polls, so I quit.

However, my email list wasn’t very responsive either. But I also knew that compared to everything else, my email list was my second most valuable asset behind my books. These people gave me their name and email address because they were interested in me and my books.

I decided I needed to make some changes in how I used the list. I tweaked my approach to email and the results are increased open and click rates, and my unsubscribe requests have dropped.

(Here’s more with How to Get Readers Onto Your Mailing List... And Keep Them!)

As a reader, are there authors you buy from no matter what because you know you love their writing? That is what you’re trying to build with your readers. By building a community around you instead of focusing solely on sales, you have a ready-made fan and buyer base for your books.

About Drawn to Her: Book One of the Southern Heat Series

He doesn't trust her, but he's powerless to resist her. He's...Drawn to Her. Feisty and outspoken, Lexie McKenna will do anything to protect her cantankerous and ailing patient--even if it means going up against his cold and calculating, but sexy and irresistible, grandson. After all, as a nurse, her number one priority is her patient. Drake Carmichael doesn't trust the nurse who's taking care of his grandfather--despite how adorable and compassionate she seems. He refuses to let her get her grips into their hard-earned money.

But as the two square off and begin to battle about what is best for the dying man, Lexie and Drake realize that first impressions are deceiving. Lexie discovers a warm, vulnerable man beneath cold, calculating armor, and Drake finds he's helpless against Lexie's gentle heart and beguiling smile. Once they finally give in to their desires, the battle has only just begin.

As the clash between family and fortune ignites, the love they both crave could burn to ash.

Amazon Barnes & Noble | iTunes Indie Bound | Kobo 


  1. Melissa Menten7/23/2021 11:37 AM

    Thanks for the marketing tips, Jenna! Gives me thought for when I'm ready to try again. BTW, this marketing worked-just bought Drawn to Her on Kindle! ;)

    1. So glad the article gave you some ideas. Thank you so much for buying Drawn to Her! I hope you enjoy it!

  2. This seems to skip over the most difficult step - working out where your readers hang out. How are you meant to know that, especially if it's a different demographic to your own, or you don't live in the area / country you're hoping to sell in, or you can't get out of your home for various reasons. Is there a process to discover this crucial information? I'd love a follow-up article on it. Like you say, you can't find your fans unless you know where they are.

  3. Hi, Finding the market is a whole other topic and you're right, it can be tricky. I have a series that straddles two genres and its been a challenge to find the right target. My best suggestion is to find books similar to yours that are selling well, and then study where those authors are spending time. Are they on social media. Do they have a website or newsletter? Etc. I'll make a note to write something a bit more detailed on that. Thank you!