(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr. Find out more at my newsletter.)
So as promised, every few months I’m going to update my
findings on marketing for indies. Most
of this is oriented towards self-published authors like myself, but a lot of it
should help artists too.
The Core Principle: The Web Of Connections
To promote yourself your various activities, giveaways,
social media, and so on need to connect and reinforce each other. If a new book comes out, promote it on your
website and give away a few copies in your newsletter. If you’re speaking on art, give out bookmarks
with links to your website. Everything
This does make finding what works a bit challenging, so I
take these steps:
- Do what is easy, like cross-posting sales and
stuff among my social media. Hey, it’s
easy. Then I monitor what seems to work.
- Do what seems rational because let’s face it,
this is complicated. Also see if there’s
any useful results that tell you what to do or what not to do.
- Advance my marketing with small experiments to
see what gets results. Usually that
takes a month or two to show, so I tend to do my experiments every month or
every other month.
- Record what I find from above. What do you think this post is?
Over time you’ll find what works for you, what doesn’t, and
how elements interact. It might help to
keep a list like this!
Have A Website
Have a website, period. A website is a place you can send
people to that acts as a “hub” for your marketing efforts. It doesn’t
have to be complex (I’ve got some tips below), it has to be a place that acts
as a hub for finding out more about you. The goal of a website is to have a
one-stop-show for people to come to for information, and leave from to go to
your various portfolios, books, social media, etc.
Follow these steps:
- Get a domain name (networksolutions.com, tierra.net
are recommended). Make sure the name is unique, fits you, and can be
re-purposed if your plans change (FrankDoesArt.com is a bit specific,
but FrankGetsCreative.com is more general).
- Set up a website. Most people I know use www.dreamhost.com
Just start with one page to make it easy – I’ve seen successful authors whose
page is a blurb and a list of books.
- A fast way to do it is buy a domain and redirect
it to one of your social media accounts or a portfolio setup (like Twitter or
LinkedIn). You can build the site later.
- Link to all your books, art, portfolio, and
social media from here.
- This website should be mentioned in your books,
social media, etc.
- Link to all your social media from the website –
LinkedIn, Goodreads, whatever. Well,
whatever is appropriate, like maybe no one wants your photo collection of
antique pots on that photo sharing site.
Other things to add:
- A schedule of speaking engagement.
- Reviews of your books.
- Helpful downloads – like character sheets,
Social media is a troublesome subject. Yes, it can let you
market – or be annoying. Yes it can let you meet people – or it can waste time.
However, done right it’s a great way to connect with people.
Your social media should always link back to your website
and in many cases, your other social media. This helps create a “web”
of connections, so people are able to go to one social media source, find your
others, and of course buy your stuff.
My takes on social media in rough order are:
Twitter: Twitter, for it’s many flaws, has a lot of
use, its simple, and with lists and filtering (and learning when to ignore it)
you can meet authors, promote yourself, and be found. I’d determine what
approach you want to use (from marketing to just goofing off) and do it.
LinkedIn: You should have a LinkedIn profile anyway,
but how much of your “creative” life you want to share or link to
depends on your goals and personal image. I also will say if you use LinkedIn
don’t forget all the great posting and stuff you can do there, and the
Instagram and other photo-sharing sites: Some people
use this to promote their work, others use it as a sort of photoblog. I’m mixed
on it myself.
Facebook keeps having issues, but it helps to have a presence. I’d keep an author
page on it at the very least and see how you engage.
Amazon Author Site:
Set up your Amazon Author Site at Author
Central. This also can be a place to
point your web domain.
By the way, a good way to manage social media in one go is www.Hootsuite.com.
Have A Blog
Blogs are ways to post thoughts, essays, and more, turning
your web presence into a kind of personal magazine/announcement/discussion
board. Most authors use them, though at various rates of usage, from constant
posts to “occasional speaking updates.”
A blog is usually part of your author website, and thus is
another reason to come there – and to go and check out your work and your other
media. Most blog setups can act as your author page as well (which is what I
I use blogs to:
- Give weekly updates on myself.
- Post various essays and thoughts.
- Review or promote interesting things.
- In a few cases, blog posts then became other
books, or I round them up to publish free “compendiums.”
You can set up blogs at the following sites, with various
advantages and limits. Some allow you to use your own domain name, some don’t.
A few techniques:
- You can get a domain and just point it at your
blog or a similar site (like your Tumblr) and save time.
- Some authors and artists do blog tours where
they post across each other’s blogs.
- If you have related social media accounts
(LinkedIn, Tumblr, etc.) consider posting your blog entries to all of them when
appropriate. Just make sure they redirect to your site.
- Set up an RSS feed (or find it’s address in a
standard setup) and put a link on your blog. I also recommend www.feedburner.com
despite it being sort of static by now.
- Mailchimp.com and some other mail
software programs let people subscribe to a blog feed so they get email
updates. You can also load those with helpful extras and information.
An important caveat – if you’re a prolific writer,
you have to find the blogging/writing balance. It’s not an easy call because a
few long blog posts can take as much time to set up as a small fiction piece.
In some cases small books may be like blog posts so you have to ask “write a
book or write a set of blog posts.” I
cover that more later.
Have A Newsletter
A newsletter is the way to engage with readers and keep
people informed, as well as give them cool reviews, interesting updates, and
more. In some ways it’s like a mailed blog, but I separate them as a newsletter
is more focused and like an update, whereas blogs can be more freeform. If you
don’t do a blog, do a newsletter, and if you only have time for one do the
The ruler of newsletters is www.mailchimp.com, which has an
amazing free service and reasonable paid services.
Make sure that your newsletter subscription form(s) are
linked to from as much social media as possible and, of course, your website.
Some newsletter tips:
- Don’t overdo it or underdo it – I do it twice a
month or so.
- Find a “feel” for your newsletter – a
roundup, personal, chatty, serious, etc. Judge what works.
- Include any vital updates about your work. Link
to your blog, new books, cool things.
- Give away “Lead Magnets” – basically
free stuff like samples, an occasional free book copy, downloadable cool stuff,
- Use it to promote other cool things – help folks
- Remember that most newsletter software gives you
all sorts of statistics and data – you can use this to improve reaching people!
Many authors and artists give away cards, bookmarks,
etc. I find these different giveaways
vary in effectiveness, so I’m not sure how well they work for me or you. However, it doesn’t stop me from doing them
as they’re easy, and sometimes expected.
I also figure saturating the world with references to my work helps.
The one challenge is that this costs money, and you may not
want to spend money on business cards, bookmarks, etc. So you want to balance your choices.
Here’s what I try and what I find works:
Business Cards –
These are a must if you’re serious, and the only physical media I can truly say
that about. Business Cards are cheap to
get, easy to give out, and even expected.
Most print shops and office supply stores have quick options.
Bookmarks – This
is popular among the book crowd for obvious reasons. I’m not sure how well they work, but they do
make it easy to set out information, give them away in panels, leave at
interested shops, etc. They can be a bit
pricey depending on the deal you swing,
I’ve seen artists give away small cards with their art and contact information,
sort of a sample/bookmark/business card fusion.
This may be worth trying.
For printed bookmarks and the like I recommend www.clubflyers.com.
I always have business cards with me, keep some bookmarks in
my car, and take bookmarks to any events I speak at.
Promotionals (Mostly Authors)
A great way to get people’s attention is to give out stuff
like free books, extras, samples, and more. With these properly done (and
linked back to other works), its a great way to get attention, meet people, and
of course get sales.
There’s two services I recommend for authors. For
artists you may have to look for other methods.
Prolificworks.com – having both
free and subscription modes, it lets you give away work and join (or create)
promotionals. The paid version lets you tie giveaways into your mailing list as
well. It does get a bit pricey beyond the Free level ($20 to $50 a month), so I
recommend paid tiers for serious authors nly.
www.bookfunnel.com – Is a cheap
($20 a year to start) way to do book giveaways in a variety of formats, and
higher tiers include features like Prolificworks.com. I’m fond of the starter
tier as its a great way to make book giveaways easier (and if you don’t want to
host your giveaways).
To make these work you have to obviously be dedicated to it
and work out strategies. I use them to:
- Give away free stuff and samples to my
- Give away a few copies of new books via Prolificworks.com
- Have promotional giveaways (often samples) that
people can sign up to my newsletter to get.
- I join groups on Prolificworks.com to do team
- I use both – Instafreebie lets me set up easy
giveaways, and Prolificworks gives me all sorts of options.
If you use KDP, there’s a KDP Exclusive you can use for
eBooks. In exchange for making your work exclusive with Amazon, you get some
tools to set up sales and giveaways. It’s
easy for starting authors.
Have A Portfolio
If you’re a visual artist of any kind, have a portfolio. Put
it on your website, use a social media site like Deviantart.com, whatever.
People want to see your work and maybe buy it, so make it easy to do. If you
take commissions, it’s pretty much a way to market yourself.
Non-visual artists like authors may want a portfolio as
well. This would contain:
- Cover art.
- Sample works.
- Free giveaways.
- Summaries of your work (with links to purchase
it). For instance, I have a press website a lot like this.
If you’re doing fiction, you probably already have a series
in mind. If your books are non-fiction, you may want to group them into series,
because various bookselling sites will remind people that “X book is part
of Y” series. If you’re an artist,
this may help as well.
It’s near-free advertisement.
My general finding is that series help get people’s
attention. If they like something, they
check the series. If they like the
series idea but not a specific piece, they may check the rest of the series.
It also shows commitment.
If you’ve got a series, you’ll be around.
I do think it takes time for a series to “take off.” Once it starts getting attention and people
buy other books, then they get more recommendations, more attention, etc.
This part is pretty much only for authors – and for book
For print books,
your usual choices are Amazon and IngramSpark (or IngramSpark via Lulu). Amazon doesn’t charge, the other services do,
but bookstores don’t always like to stock Amazon books as it’s a competitor.
For ebooks, your
- Go with Amazon’s KDP Select, where you only go
through Amazon but get marketing tools like sales. Amazon is the majority of the market, so if
you go Amazon its easier.
- Distribute incredibly widely. This takes time, and you don’t get Amazon’s
marketing tools, but you get the chance to make more sales. Some authors I know find they sell more books
outside of Amazon, but I haven’t figured out any rules or principles to this.
If you go broad here’s my take
- Draft2Digital is the easiest way
to go broad, but only does eBooks. I
also recommend managing your Amazon account separately. Draft2Digital doesn’t have the broadest
range, but it’s free (taking a cut of your sales) and very, very well done.
- Smashwords is also free, but
takes a larger cut and doesn’t have the extras of Draft2Digital. It does get into a few unusual areas of
- Lulu.com will do full service, but
partners with Ingrahm, and there are charges.
- Ingrahm is full service as well,
and charges. It’s probably a better
choice than Lulu these days.
Publish Lots Of Stuff
Like it or not your goal as a creator is to be noticed so
people get ahold of your work and benefit from it. This means that you may need to create lots
of works to get attention – or use work that you aren’t making public to do the
For instance, I realized that a lot of my blog ideas were
better off as books – or could be turned into books. There was far more benefit to turning certain
ideas into small books (or expanding existing work into books) than letting
things sit. Some things just work better
as a book anyway, and I have more works that people can get their hands on.
(Plus, the polishing that goes into a book made them,
honestly, higher quality.)
If you’re an artist it’s probably the same thing, depending
on your market. If you have lots of
different things to sell and buy and do you increase your chance to get more
I’ve used both Google ads and Amazon for books, though it’s
been awhile since I’ve done Google (and I may want to try again). I have done a lot with Ams, or Amazon
AMS lets you set up promotional ads to appear during
searches, and you can set up keywords, target them, and even decide what to pay
for a clickthrough. It’s a pretty
advanced tool, and though it obviously only targets Amazon, that’s a pretty big
market! The challenge is that you have
to figure out the right words, monitor progress (to avoid overspending or
waste), and tweak marketing for each book.
I’ve found it effective, but it takes a lot of work. What I do is update AMS every month or so
with new terms, shut off ones that aren’t working, and try to get an idea of
what works. You can download data from
each ad you set up, and then make a new ad with just the data that worked. You honestly need to start with 100-200
search terms to get it working.
AMS works, but it takes effort – and obviously you pay for
ads even if you don’t sell anything.
It’s a good advanced practice.
More To Come
So these are just what I’m doing now (and what I wrote up,
I’m sure I forgot a few things). I’m always trying different promotional
efforts and other ways to help people find my books.