Marketing For Self-Published Authors and Artists (March 2019)

(This column is posted at 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 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:

  1. Get a domain name (, are recommended). Make sure the name is unique, fits you, and can be re-purposed if your plans change ( is a bit specific, but is more general).
  2. Set up a website. Most people I know use or Just start with one page to make it easy – I’ve seen successful authors whose page is a blurb and a list of books.
  3. 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.
  4. Link to all your books, art, portfolio, and social media from here.
  5. This website should be mentioned in your books, social media, etc.
  6. 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.
  • Testimonials.
  • 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

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 despite it being sort of static by now.
  • 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, 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!

Physical Media

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

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. – 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. – Is a cheap ($20 a year to start) way to do book giveaways in a variety of formats, and higher tiers include features like 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
  • Have promotional giveaways (often samples) that people can sign up to my newsletter to get.
  • I join groups on 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, 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.

Do Series

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.
  • 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.

Steven Savage

Why Create?

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

My fellow author Serdar was discussing the importance of art and entertainment over at his blog. This struck me as very important:

“I think any act of creativity can be used by others as escapism, a way to — how did someone else put it? — ignore everyone else’s reality and substitute their own. Most of us do this to some extent or other anyway, so I see little point in wringing hands about it. The smarter thing to do, maybe the only thing that can be done, is create things that are good enough, constructive enough, universally enriching enough, that people will want to make them real — not just for themselves, but for others — in whatever way they can.”

Serdar speaks to the importance that artists can help people realize better worlds, because first they need to be imagined. Once imagined, you can work on making those glorious visions real, and even if you never succeed, you may get far enough to help us all get closer to the dream. Life is, after all, a relay race not a sprint.

Just think of how many of us were inspired by Star Trek to build a better world. However, art is not always about positive experiences, but they always have the chance for being transformative.  As Sam Sykes put it:

Being a fantasy author in this dark era is like being the party bard. You want to make a difference, but the best you can do is inspire someone else to fix it and hope that keeps you from getting eaten.

The role of the artist in the world is the role of the Bard in many fantasy games – the person who enhances and buffs, enriches, and supports. A Bard does that which helps others do things better.

The bard metaphor speaks to me because my works are often supportive works (such as my guides), but also because inspiration takes many forms. A horror story may not create a vision for a better world, but it does give one experiences that can be enriching or thought-provoking. The artist creates not just visions, but explorations, tools, and inspirations – not all of which are or need to be pleasant. But, like the Bards of fantasy games, the artist changes you and enhances you.

Right now you doubtlessly have a book, game, comic, or other thing to make. You may, like many of us, pause to ask if it’s worth it. I would turn it around and ask two things: do you enjoy doing it and will someone get something out of it?

If you enjoy it, go for it. Your enjoyment WILL make the work interesting to people, and if nothing else someone takes pleasure from it and gets a break.

If people can get something out of it, go for it. It will help and enhance others.

You may say “but wait, there’s no reason not to create!”

Yes. Exactly. You got it.

Steven Savage

Book Cover Musings

(This column is posted at and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

As I edit A Bridge To The Quiet Planet (Motto: “Sorcery, Science, Sarcasm”), I’m back to practicing book covers. I’ve been doing more of my fake book covers, with attempts at colorful kitch and e-book pulp action. I’ve realized I want to get better because I’ve got more books coming out – though my “tentpole” books are best with professional art.

I also realized some of my other books desperately need a cover update, so if you start seeing some of my older or smaller stuff look different, you know why. This has led me to get all philosophical about book covers, and you get to read about it.

Actually, this is pretty good stuff if you’re an author.

Royalty Free Art Grows Over Time

CanStockPhoto and Shutterstock are great resources for royalty-free art cheap, but even free sites like Pixabay have good resources – and think how more and more is being made over time. Every artist who joins, every upload of that “thing in the portfolio I haven’t used,” every additional piece, is another resource to be used. Over time, there will be more art available to users.

That would mean that in time it may take more searching but *the perfect piece of cover art will be more likely to be out there over time.* Also this means the perfect piece is just going to run you $8-$15 (as of 2018 numbers). even in my experiments, which use free sites, I’ve been surprised how I could find close or near-perfect art to my vision.

Cover Art Resources Keep Growing

I tend not to use stuff like Canva, etc. that let you build book covers I like the control of learning and of building my own templates. But these resources are out there and there’s more and they’re getting better. It’s going to be easier to make a good book cover over time.

Combine that with the above truth of more and more art being available and it’s going to be easier to have a half-decent cover for your book – at least an ebook.

Cover Art Ages

It’s weird to think how some of my books that looked appropriate for the time look a little aged or just poor right now. I can also see which styles may last versus which may become outdated.

For instance, now the trend of covers for fantasy and sf that are abstract or minimalist or symbolic is kinda wearing thin on me. I miss the covers that looked like they should be posters on your wall.

Also, some trend-jumping is going to be problematic. Remember how many things looked like Twilight Covers? Have those aged well? How many trendy things won’t work a few years down the road?

Cover Art May Matter More

When you see how people can make their own covers, how there’s more resources, and how art ages, I think good book covers matter more and more. At some point the market changes, the competitors ramp up, or your style is outdated.

Maybe authors need to consider swapping out cover art every two years or so. Of course if we do that then the value of art changes and it becomes far more a disposable commodity.

This Changes The Market For Cover Art

At this point I see that the market for cover art is changing and may change more rapidly. This is going to affect artists.

A good piece of cover art can run you $300-$1000 right now. Meanwhile a premade cover like you see at GoOnWrite might be $30-50. Something from CanStock Photo applied to an existing template may cost you $8.00.

If art becomes a variable commodity, the value changes – as is what people will pay for it.

Going Forward

Not sure if I found some massive magical trend (or if I’m seeing something everyone else has seen), but it’s something I’ll be keeping in mind. All we authors have to live with what’s happening – and decide where to invest our time.


– Steve