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 ties together.
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 or www.wix.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, guides, etc.
Have Appropriate Social Media
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 communities.
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: 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 do).
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 newsletter.
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, etc.
- Use it to promote other cool things – help folks out.
- 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,
Mini-pictures – 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.
Giveaways And 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 newsletter subscribers.
- 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 giveaways.
- 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.
Calculated Distribution (Authors)
This part is pretty much only for authors – and for book distribution.
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 choices are:
- 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 distribution.
- 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 same.
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 sold.
Advertising (Mostly for Authors)
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 Marketing Services.
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.