Indie Pub 101: Marketing the Book
Marketing and Promotion
Many independently published authors will tell you that marketing is the hardest part. They know how to write a book, formatting is something they can learn, but marketing is an art all by itself. How does an author with a good book make sure that book finds its way to readers? The answer is not simple, and taking advice from another author might be misleading for a number of reasons. Maybe they are at a different point in their career, making things work that won’t work for you. Perhaps they are in a slightly different genre and the audiences react to different prompts. Sometimes, the difference is that they aren’t you, and you are a different author.
This guide is meant to help you with the basics, but any good marketing plan will be tailored specifically to your situation. It will be adaptable, scalable, and able to fit whatever budget you decide is right. After all, the best part of independent publishing is your ability to do things your way. That includes marketing! The important part is to keep experimenting until you find something that works.
Section Table of Contents
- Blog Tours
- Keywords and Categories
- Marketing Sites
- Story Origin
- Social Media Ads
- Social Media (Organic)
Setting a budget is one of the most critical parts of marketing. Money can move fast once campaigns are set up, and budgeting is a critical part of making yours a success. Set target spending goals, making sure not to spend more than you can afford to lose. Marketing can be tricky, especially at first, and not every marketing campaign is a success.
It’s best to start small. Many marketing tools allow a very low spend, and something like five dollars a day can teach you how to successfully use the tools, drive increased readership, and give you enough impressions to figure out what works for your book. You can increase the spend once a campaign starts to work, but it’s still important to keep to a budget.
Many successful indie authors establish a brand as part of their marketing. This may sound complicated, but it boils down to who you are and what you write. A good brand can be summed up in a tagline that encapsulates your work as a writer. But how do you get there?
One way is to write down words or phrases that describe you and your writing. Go a little crazy and brainstorm. Once you have some ideas down, pick out the strongest ones—the ones that speak to you most—and work them into an author bio. It’s a work in progress.
You also want to come up with a tagline, something that can quickly communicate to your website visitors what it is that you write and how it’s different from what they might get from another author in your genre. Maybe your specialty is hope, or maybe it’s horror that melts bones. Come up with a short (ten words or fewer) line that conveys your specialty to potential readers.
Back in the Before-Pandemic times, authors (especially big-name ones) would book cross-continental tours, visiting bookstores, libraries, and event halls to give readings and sign books.
Indie authors don’t have those kinds of resources, but we do have another, much cheaper option: the blog tour.
In a nutshell, the blog tour is a virtual book tour running anywhere from a few days to a couple weeks. An author’s book (usually a new release) is shared on a bunch of different blogs to spread awareness of the book, often accompanied by unique content from the author.
The beauty of the blog tour: you can create your own! Spend a bit of time researching various blogs/bloggers who might host your book, then contact them before your launch and send them your book materials. Alternatively, you can hire a blog tour company that specializes in this form of marketing. It will cost you some—figure on $100–250 per tour—but this approach can take a lot of work off your plate.
For a typical blog tour, you need to compile the following materials:
- Press Kit: Book info, series info, blurb, excerpt, buy links, author bio, author links, giveaway items
- Cover: 600 x 900 is pretty standard
- Memes: Usually square graphics that highlight a short quote from the book or a snippet from a good review
- Banners: Create a couple options, including a Facebook banner (849 x 315 dpi)
- Unique Content: Usually a guest post, author interview, or similar that ties into your writing and/or the book
- Author Photo
Once the tour starts, share the blog posts to social media as well as in your newsletter and other promo channels.
Keywords and Categories
One thing that is easy to miss in the shuffle of publishing and promotion is the importance of keywords and categories. These are the tags that you add to your book when you publish that will greatly increase the chances that your book will be found. Depending on where you are publishing, tags could be simple phrases associated with your book or they might be longer, more complex phrases that maximize the chances of the algorithm picking your book for the top of a search. Strategies are different in the various sales channels and change over time, so experimentation and research are a good idea.
Categories often fall into the standard BISAC categories, which are used by many bookstores and libraries. Note that Amazon’s category system is similar to BISAC but changes over time, adding or removing very specific genres. Whatever categories are available, there are two critical points of promotional strategy.
First, make sure your book gets into as many appropriate categories as possible. In Amazon, this means navigating the help system to send a formatted email asking that your book be added to more categories once it is published. Most other sales channels allow you to set the categories when the book is published (Amazon does this too, but the selection is limited).
Second, it is your responsibility to make sure that your book does not appear in any inappropriate categories. Having it in the wrong category is going to get your book shown to the wrong readers. They might read it, but it will do bad things to the algorithm that directs new readers to your work. Plus, the odds of those readers liking your work go way down, which can lead to a crisis of bad reviews.
Many authors find the Amazon-focused tool Publisher Rocket to be valuable because it allows them to sort through keywords and categories in Amazon. The tool enables users to seek out keywords that might work in marketing strategies and test their value. Publisher Rocket can tell you if a keyword combination shows up in a lot of user searches and if a lot of other marketers use those keywords. This is critical information for users trying to set up effective marketing through Amazon.
Publisher Rocket is also great for parsing Amazon’s categories. You can look up any book and get the full list of its categories, which is not available on the book’s product page. It also makes it easy to see the full list of available categories in a format that makes appealing to Amazon for a category change easy.
There are numerous sites dedicated to marketing books in a variety of formats. Most cost money to run any kind of marketing campaign, ranging from a few dollars to hundreds. Therefore, it’s important to put together a strategy when you engage with any of them. Before you fork over the cash (usually via Paypal) think about what your goals are. Are you trying to improve your ranking on a particular sales channel? Testing a paid marketing site to see how well it works for you? Are you trying to simply sell books and see profit? Every time you approach a site, consider your goals, take note of everything you do, and record your results. Even unprofitable campaigns yield valuable information that you can use the next time around.
Most people know BookBub as the daily email where you can find great deals on e-books—and it is that, but it can also be a decent place to place ads for new releases. I’ve had mixed success here; some ads have done really well, and others have only generated a few responses. But it’s a fairly cheap way to get some extra eyeballs on your book on release day.
Snagging a BookBub
First thing to know about BookBub: it’s really hard to move books via the site that are not $0.99. BookBub Deals are almost always set at this price point. Even so, they can be very lucrative, netting you a few thousand dollars for a day or two of sales and rocketing you up in the Amazon charts. But beware: sometimes they work really well, and sometimes they don’t.
Placing an Ad
If you want to place an ad for a new book, you can use BookBub’s handy tool to create one, or, if you are graphic-savvy, make your own. Just be sure to include a catchy tagline (if it includes your book’s main trope, even better), a call-to-action button, and the price. BookBub has some great tips here.
Finally, another way to extend your reach on the BookBub platform is to review other authors’ books there. The reviews are shared with your BookBub followers, and may even inspire those authors to review you.
Fussy Librarian is another marketing site like BookBub, but smaller. It’s also much cheaper. The author selects a genre list to send to, pays a small fee, and selects a date to run the promo. This is always done in conjunction with a sale. On that date, Fussy Librarian sends out an email to their followers, driving readers to the sale (usually a free or $0.99 book).
Goodreads is a place readers go to find books, and therefore Goodreads giveaways may be a useful tool in your marketing toolbox. Unfortunately, Goodreads no longer has a self-serve ads platform, so running it as your main marketing tool is probably not an option.
Liminal Fiction is an online, author-driven directory of speculative fiction books. Authors can list their books and benefit from release and sales announcements in the newsletter.
Newsletters have one advantage over every other marketing tool: you own your list. All other platforms own their audience, but a newsletter contact list is yours. It’s portable between platforms, and it represents a direct relationship between you and your readers. Building the list can be slow, but here are some tools that can help.
Due to legal reasons, and because it’s just so difficult, newsletters should not be sent from your regular email. Instead, you’ll want to use a newsletter provider. Some examples are MailerLite and MailChimp, both of which have a free option until you reach a certain number of subscribers. They can also both integrate with your website or direct sales engine, giving you an easy way to generate new subscribers.
Prolific Works (aka Instafreebie) is a book giveaway platform. It is used mainly for two things: distributing author copies of books and building your email list. The first is straightforward—just upload your book, create a giveaway, and give the recipients the link. The second takes a bit more work.
Building Your Mailing List One Giveaway at a Time
Prolific Works is great for attracting new readers. You can do this in two ways: join an existing giveaway or create your own. For existing giveaways, you can search them out by genre and then submit a book. You can also create your own, varying the topic/genre and then inviting folks on Facebook to join it.
What books should you give away? Keep in mind that your work is worth something. If you give it all away, you devalue it. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to give away short stories or novellas on the platform, though some authors like to give away series starters or novels in the same world as their main series. Choose a few works and cycle through them, varying the mix.
With Prolific Works, you need to pay the $20 monthly minimum to be able to access the emails they collect, so consider if it’s worth it for you. Prolific Works supports direct import to MailChimp and one or two other newsletter programs, if you pay for the privilege.
A note about the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and Prolific Works: The European Union enacted a privacy law several years ago that prohibits adding people to your email list without their express permission—meaning they actually have to actively click “yes” to subscribe, especially if they are getting a giveaway from you. Canada has a similar law. Prolific Works allows you, in some circumstances, to force people to accept being added to your list. We strongly recommend against this. You should always allow people to opt-in to emails.
Bookfunnel’s core offering is their shared book promo. Authors of a similar genre get together and promote their books to their readers in the form of reader magnets. Any reader who wants a book needs to subscribe to the author’s newsletter to get it. It’s a powerful tool for growing lists, but does have some drawbacks. Readers subscribed in this way tend not to be as engaged, and many are simply looking for free books and will never buy the next book in the series. Still, there are readers out there who love finding new authors this way and will definitely engage.
Story Origin is a newer offering, similar in many ways to Bookfunnel. It’s a great place to find newsletter swaps (something Bookfunnel doesn’t do) and promo/bundle giveaway opportunities. Both these tools are great ways to build your newsletter audience. Story Origin also offers authors a platform for building advanced reader copy (ARC) teams and distributing audiobook giveaways.
StoryBundle is a service that bundles books in a single genre, usually 12 to 16 at a time, and then sells them for a flat price. There are two tiers for purchasing a bundle: pay what you want, which gets you some of the books, or a minimum payment (often $15) that gets you the whole set. Bundles run for about a month, and all the authors pitch in to publicize them through their social media and promo channels. When the bundle is over, StoryBundle takes a small cut, the host organization gets one, the chosen charity gets some, and then the rest is divided among the authors in the bundle.
Unlike services like BookBub, there’s no up-front fee for participation in a StoryBundle.
SFWA runs four StoryBundles a year, two fantasy and two sci-fi. These bundles are open to members and nonmembers alike. They typically move 600–800 copies of each book and are a great way to get your work out there (and make a little money in the process). Here are some tips on getting into one.
Social Media Ads
Social media sites are where people hang out online, which can make them very good places to advertise. It’s not quite as good as advertising directly on sites or in newsletters where people are planning to buy books, but it’s very close and can be an effective place to find new readers. Facebook currently has the most powerful tools in this space, but wherever you advertise, there are a few principles that will hold true.
First, targeting is key. Find ways to focus your advertisements not only on fans of your genre, but readers likely to buy in your genre. There are many strategies to accomplish this, but the general idea is that getting the targeting right will significantly lower your costs.
Second, show them something that convinces potential buyers to click. Bonus points for something that doesn’t entice non-buyers to click, especially in ad systems that charge you per click.
Third, experiment, experiment, experiment. The only way to fine-tune your ads on social media is to create structured experiments, changing image, video, text, and other factors to discover what works. What works won’t always be what you think, and the only way to know for sure is to try different combinations until something clicks.
Facebook has a large and complex ad system, but it is a powerful one. Once you have mastered the basics, it is possible to accurately target readers and serve ads that will get an exceptional response.
The majority of your time will be spent in the Ads Manager or Audiences. The Ads Manager allows for very detailed management of every aspect of the ads that you are running. Audiences is a way to build target groupings for your ads based on interest, demographics, and location.
It should be noted that the bulk of advertising in Facebook is done through the business suite. There is also an option to boost posts. This is completely separate from the Ads Dashboard and is likely not an effective way to advertise to a wide audience.
The Facebook Ads Manager
The Ads Manager is your main landing page when you want to review the performance of your ads and make changes. Every ad in Facebook is part of exactly one Ad set. Every Ad set is part of a Campaign. Ad sets can (and should) have multiple Ads. Campaigns can (and should) have multiple Ad sets.
Creating multiple, similar Ads and Ad sets are how you run experiments to discover what works best for your book. This can either be done using Facebook’s structured Tests or by simply duplicating the element you want to test and making variations.
One major concern that anyone using the Ads Manager should be aware of is the way money is being spent. Unlike Amazon ads, Facebook will always spend as much as you tell it to spend—so setting that number correctly is critical. There are two places spending limits can exist. The first is at the Campaign level. A total spending cap will limit the total that all Ads under that campaign will spend during the lifetime of that Campaign. It can also be set as a daily spending limit, which is the recommended method. With that in place, spending will be distributed unevenly across all Ads under that Campaign. The downside of setting a lifetime cap is that there is no warning when this limit is hit.
The second place that spending limits can be set is in each Ad set. Here, a different Daily or Lifetime spending limit can be set. These tend to be more work, since you likely have more Ad sets than Campaigns. Also, when you are testing Ad sets by duplicating them, it’s possible to greatly increase your daily spending.
The Audiences dashboard in the Facebook Business Center is used to create detailed targeting for your ads. These are then used in the Ad set.
At a basic level, audience creation can be fairly simple. Select your target country or region, target readers of authors in your genre, and narrow down to readers of Kindle or e-books. Note that the authors available as targets in Facebook mostly include the most popular traditionally published authors, so the selection is limited. Starting with that simple framework, it should be possible to continue refining and testing your audience until your ads get a good response.
It is possible to create far more advanced audiences using more of the tools in Facebook’s Audience dashboard. Custom audiences can be created that target readers who have interacted with your page, your ads, or even your website if you install a Facebook Pixel. Retargeting these Facebook users is a good way to focus ads during a special promotion or book launch.
What’s more, Lookalike audiences create new audiences who “look like” an existing audience. This can be an audience imported from an email list, configured from the tool described above, or collected using a Facebook Pixel. When you find an audience that works for you, creating and testing Lookalikes can be an excellent way to expand to new readers.
The specifics of audience creation are some of the most complicated and involved aspects of Facebook marketing (the same is true on other platforms), but don’t worry if it seems daunting. After you’ve spent a bit of money, you will be invited to participate in a call with a Facebook advertising expert who will guide you through creating a suitable audience.
The Facebook Ad Library
It’s not cheating to look at what everyone else is doing. There are authors who have been incredibly successful with their Facebook ads—and thanks to Facebook’s Ad Library, it is possible to find what those authors are running. You can’t tell what’s successful, but with a little digging you can see where authors have run several similar ads and then selected the most successful. Ask yourself: What kind of language are they using in the primary text? Are they using image or video? What does that image show? Is there text in it or is it a 3D book cover?
The Facebook Ad Strategy
For independent authors with typically small advertising budgets, maximizing your investment at every step is critical to success on this platform. This section will guide you through some key strategies that will help you do that.
There is only one thing that is absolutely essential to know before you start advertising on Facebook—be prepared to spend money. Artwork alone can set you back a couple of hundred (or more!) per image. You will also need to spend money to run the ads you create, but the good news is that this section will teach you how to monitor your ad performance in almost real time and adjust your budgeting and targeting accordingly.
Part 1 – Determine What Ads Are Working Right Now
Facebook users are fickle and the types of ads that work change frequently. Your job is to figure out what kind of ads are currently effective by studying existing ads and attempting to gauge the results. The Facebook Ad Library, discussed above, is an excellent tool that can be used for this purpose. Find ads similar to what you’re selling (e.g., if your book is a space opera, find ads for space operas) and then track down the book that is being advertised, usually on Amazon, to see how it’s doing.
Indicators that the ad is working, in order:
- A good sales ranking
- A lot of recent reviews (reviews are dated)
- A high total number of reviews
Indicators that an ad is not working (in order):
- Low sales ranking (Amazon sales ranking is real time)
- Low total reviews
- A good number of total reviews but no recent reviews
While there is no guarantee that the ad is what is responsible either way, if a book is doing well, then the odds are that it is being competently marketed and the ad you are viewing is a part of that.
Don’t stop at one or two ads, find as many as you can that seem to be effective and look for common elements. Are they images or videos? Manipulated photos or art work? Ask these and other questions until you find a pattern, and then replicate that pattern for your ad.
Part 2 – Source Artwork
If you’ve already looked at the Facebook Ad Library, then you know that most book ads are images with relatively little text. Facebook encourages this and punishes (in terms of algorithmic performance) ads with too much text. As such, you will need to source compelling images to attract your viewers, or create videos, or both. There are companies you can hire that will create advertising images, or you can find an artist on social media. Fiverr.com is a great source for reasonably priced original digital art and videos. For videos, if you are capable of basic video editing, you can join a content site like Envato Elements, download video clips, and compile your own video ad. The key here is to get good quality artwork but not spend too much per image, especially before you know what types and styles work for your books.
If dealing with an artist, avoid asking for too many, or preferably any, changes to the ad images they provide. Artists hate making changes, and will charge you more money if they think you will ask for them. In fact, telling artists that you will accept their work without changes is a good way to get them to lower their prices. Advertising images just have to be compelling, they do not have to be perfect representations of your story or accurate scenes from your book.
Part 3 – Create the Ad
Ad creation is fairly simple. You either take an image, group of images or videos, and combine them with accompanying text, as opposed to text in the image, unless that’s part of what’s working. Then you link it to a site, presumably your Amazon product detail page. The strategy here is in selecting the audience (i.e., targeting), locations, distribution platforms, and the page to which you are linking.
The details of audience creation are covered earlier in this section [link to anchor text when available], but in terms of strategy, you want to start with a targeted audience based on interests that overlap with the topic of your book. Unless you already have a successful Facebook author page, in which case you may want to start with an audience based on people who visit and like your page.
As far as locations, avoid the temptation to cast your net too far. Stick to tried-and-true, English-speaking markets, such as the US, Canada, and the UK. This is, of course, assuming that your book is in English. Once your ad is live, you can track which specific areas in those countries are performing well and adjust your targeting accordingly.
For what to link to, your product detail page on the platform where you sell best is preferable. The more clicks someone has to make to buy your product, the less likely they are to follow through. For example, linking to your website that contains the link to your books on Amazon may not be the way to go, because it introduces an extra click to make the purchase and an extra site to navigate to find that second button. If you do not sell primarily on any one site, then linking to your website may be preferable.
Part 4 – Configuring Your Ad
When starting out, leave as many options set to automatic as you can, unless you have specific reasons to change them. For example, your ad may or may not do well on Instagram, but you won’t know until you try. So it’s best to let Facebook’s algorithm manage placement (and other options) at first, until you get metrics and can judge where your money is being put to good use and where it isn’t.
One very important decision is how you will be charged. Unless you have specific reasons to change it, it’s best to stick with being charged per impression. It may be tempting to select “per click,” but the issue with that is that Facebook doesn’t care about your ad, only about their own profits. So if your ad isn’t performing as well as Facebook would like, and they only make money when someone clicks, they will stop showing your ad. Otherwise, they are giving you free impressions. The downside of being charged per impression is that Facebook will continue showing your ad even if it’s not doing well. But that is actually a plus! Facebook’s definition of doing well may not always correlate to yours.
The most important decision you can make is your ad’s budget. If you will be monitoring your ads’ performance, as you should be, there is no reason to set a time limit on it. Therefore, the best strategy is to create an ongoing ad, which you can pause and restart as many times as you like, and set a daily budget. You should start with a reasonable budget, nothing too high, because you don’t know how well the ad will perform. The exact amount is up to you, but $10.00 per day is a good minimum. $20 would be better. Remember, the more money Facebook can make from you, the more they will show your ad to their users.
Part 5 – Tracking and Reacting to Your Ad’s Performance
This is the most important aspect of your advertising strategy. The key is to understand that Facebook’s ad metrics are only one data point and not nearly as important as sales metrics from Amazon or wherever you sell your books. If your sales platform cannot provide almost-real-time sales metrics, you will either be making decisions in the dark or your ability to gauge ad performance and react accordingly will be severely compromised, limited by monthly sales reports, for example.
When you start an ad campaign, it will take from a few hours to a few days for you to get back advertising metrics from Facebook, but you may see results in sales metrics right away. Then again, you may not. Facebook’s algorithms can be strange, so it may take them a day or more to get your ad circulating.
Here are some general guidelines for evaluating and reacting to Facebook ad performance:
- Cost-per-click and click-through-rate are two of the most important metrics, particularly when being charged per impression. The lower the cost-per-click, the more effective the ad is in getting people to click on your “shop now”/”learn more” button. For example, if you show the ad to 100 people, Facebook will charge you the same whether 1 person clicks on your button or 100 do. If that charge is $1, and 1 person clicks it, then your cost per click is $1 and your ad is terrible. If 100 people click it, then your cost per click is $0.01, and your ad is amazing.
- Beware of very high ad engagement without a corresponding increase in sales. Facebook neither knows nor cares if the clicks on your ad result in sales. If your audience sees a flashy video and clicks the link, only to discover it leads to a book when they were expecting something more exciting, they probably won’t buy the book. So a super effective ad by Facebook’s standards is not necessarily effective by yours.
- Your number one metric for ad effectiveness is sales. If you sell through Amazon, you have access to nearly real-time sales metrics and will be able to correlate any changes to your advertising. Keep in mind that you can pause ads and see what happens if you want to make sure your ad is responsible for a recent change in sales.
- Whenever you are evaluating an ad’s performance, give it a couple of days to be sure that it has had time to propagate and reach your audience, as Facebook’s advertising algorithms have a mind of their own and don’t alway do exactly what you tell them to do.
- If an ad isn’t performing, don’t be too quick to shut it down. There are a lot of things you can tweak, including target audience, location, platform (Facebook, Instagram, etc.), time of day, and so on.
- The first and most important thing to tweak on a poorly performing ad is the audience.
- Make only one change at a time, so that you can pinpoint which changes had what effect.
- Keep a record of what you learn about the effects of your changes on ad performance—don’t rely on memory.
- In general, avoid editing your audiences unless the changes are very small. It is better to keep your existing audience and make a new one. That way, if the new one doesn’t work out, you can go back to the original. Also, audiences that don’t work well for one book may work very well for another.
- Beware of a Facebook advertising expert’s advice to run “brand awareness” campaigns, or any campaigns that don’t result in people being sent to your product sales page. These campaigns are great for Facebook, but do almost nothing for authors.
Part 6 – Scaling
If an ad isn’t effective, you should change it, one aspect at a time, until it is. If nothing works, you scrap it. But if it’s successful, it’s time to play with scaling. The golden goose of Facebook advertising (and advertising in general) is an ad campaign that scales. The more it scales, the better. Scaling means that the ratio of investments vs. returns stays more or less constant, or at least remains profitable, regardless of how much you spend. So if you spend $10 per day and get $20 back, you will want to gradually increase the investment and see if the returns increase proportionately. An infinitely scalable ad would make you very wealthy very quickly.
For example, say you are spending $10 per day on ads, and getting $20 in royalties according to your sales metrics. You will want to increase your spending immediately to see if the ad scales. In the beginning, it pays to be bold. Up the per day budget to $30 and see what happens. If you get $60 in royalties the following day, increase it to $100 dollars. If your royalties only go up to $80, you know you’ve hit your scaling limit. Dial it back to $40 and see if the $80 royalties are maintained. If not, go up until you get to $80, which is your sales limit for this particular book with this particular ad. You can then play with targeting and other ad settings to see if you can raise that ceiling. As long as you make more than you spend, it’s worth doing. It may even be worth doing if you break even, depending on what your goals are.
If, on the other hand, the daily royalties continue to increase and stay above your daily budget regardless of how much you spend, then you’ve found the golden goose. The sky’s the limit, and you are going to make a lot of money. One important thing to consider: while your income is essentially guaranteed, at least if you’re using Amazon metrics or those of another reputable platform, you typically get paid net 90, which means approximately three months later. Facebook, however, sends you a bill every month. So, you can scale as high as it will let you, even $100,000 per day—but you will get a bill at the end of the month for $3,000,000 dollars. Be sure that you will be able to pay the monthly bill long enough to start getting your royalty checks.
TikTok ads are still undergoing significant changes as the platform grows, but some authors have been successful marketing there. The #booktok hashtag tends to be where to focus promoting your organic or marketed videos.
TikTok Campaign Dashboard
TikTok has a large overall dashboard for ads, but more details can be found in the Campaigns dashboard. The Campaign dashboard closely resembles the Facebook design, with Campaigns, Ad Groups, and Ads having their own tabs. Under each listing, you can find a View Data link to look at the aggregated demographics of each Ad, Ad Group, or Campaign. This is critical for evaluating the demographics of your ad’s targeting.
Creating new ads is fairly straightforward on TikTok. The only tricky part is finding the right text and targeting, which is a constantly changing thing and may require some experimentation. Adding the #booktok tag will help it get to the right users, and new targeting options are being added all the time.
Generating content can be tricky on TikTok. They tell you the ads that see the best results are ads that resemble the kind of videos TikTok users generally see. The best way to understand this is to become a TikTok user and watch videos, particularly under the #booktok hashtag. You can further narrow focus by your genre if needed. If you become good at making them, these kinds of videos can do very well organically without ad support, so it’s important to evaluate your returns on a regular basis. Note that some authors have seen very good returns using only organic reach on TikTok, even without content going viral.
It is also very easy to spend a lot of money without making any difference in sales at all on TikTok. As of the writing of this guide, it is not possible to spend less than $20 per day on ads. Having a well-designed test to run will help, but TikTok is an ad platform that will spend the maximum amount that you tell it to spend.
Social Media (Organic)
Do I Want a Group or a Page?
Most of us have a personal Facebook page. The social media platform is almost essential in business today, whether you’re a doctor, attorney, or writer. But Facebook also offers two other options: Business Pages and Groups. Many authors have a Business Page, but Facebook has ratcheted down exposure for these more and more over time. The primary reason to have one these days is that it allows you to run Facebook ads when you get to 300 likes.
Groups, on the other hand, were made to foster community. They too see less interaction and traffic than they once did, but they are still better than Pages. Consider setting up a Group under your own name ( “John Smith’s Author Fan Club”) or under your series name (“The Red Planet Chronicles”).
What Should I Post?
On your Business page, you should mostly post information specific to your books and writing career. New release announcements, sales, giveaways, book signings, and the like. On your Group and Personal pages, post a lot more personal content. This is good both as a Facebook strategy, in that Facebook will share this material more widely, and as a reader strategy, giving readers a window into your world.
Consider what you want your author brand to be. Are you always hopeful? Romantic? Political? Make a choice whether or not to be upfront with your politics. It might make sense for you to keep your politics to yourself. It’s up to you, and your choices may change and evolve over time.
Facebook is Like Dune
Ever read the book Dune, or see one of the films? Maybe you remember how the giant sandworms would listen for footsteps on the sand and then surface to devour the person making them. As a result, the Fremen learned how to walk irregularly, never creating a pattern that might draw them in. Facebook is like that. Its algorithms search for patterns of action that exceed Facebook’s maximums and then throw the offenders in Facebook Jail, sometimes for a day, sometimes for a week. Not being able to post (or comment, or whatever) can be debilitating, especially if you have a new release you’re trying to promote.
Over time, users have learned how to avoid summoning the worm. Use a timer or timer app for these:
—When messaging multiple people, message no more than five per half hour.
—When messaging to Facebook Business pages, message no more than fifteen per 24 hours.
—When posting to Pages or Groups you don’t own, post no more than five times per half hour. Write five slightly different posts.
Facebook makes it pretty easy to host live events. Many authors take advantage of this by doing live readings. You can do this either on an occasional basis or according to a regular schedule. Either way, fans can leave live comments as you go. If you save the recording on Facebook, people can also watch it later, which is handy for audiences in other time zones.
Instagram content is, by its nature, primarily visual. You can use Instagram to share book covers, but a little of that goes a long way. It is best to use this platform as a way of reinforcing your brand and creating relationships with readers and potential readers. Instagram works best not as a direct marketing tool, but rather as a way to build and reinforce positive impressions with your audience.
It is wise to post very few book covers, and when you do, try to make them fun. For instance, you might pose one of your paperbacks with your cat or with some garden statuary. You will get the most interactions from images that aren’t directly book related: photos of travels, baking, and, yes, your cat. These mostly work to remind would-be readers that you exist and that you’re an interesting person who—hey!—has some great books they might want to read.
Because Facebook owns Instagram, you can set things up so your Instagram posts automatically crosspost to Facebook. This isn’t recommended. It’s best to have original, slightly different content on each social media site. You don’t want to bore people with the same exact thing over and over.
Grow Your Followers
There are a few ways to increase your Twitter follower count without resorting to unethical means.
First off, make sure you include all your social media links (including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others that you use) in all your communications. This includes your email signature, your blog posts, listed on your blog/website, etc.
Second, find other Twitter users with followers similar to your readers and start following them. Author associations are great places for this: RWA for romance, SFWA for speculative fiction, etc.
Follow these users in small batches, maybe 25 at a time. Once you have a few hundred, go back each time you add a batch and remove the same number of folks you are following that you just added, but here’s the key—remove some of the ones who don’t follow you back. This will help your follower-to-following ratio, and keep you below Twitter’s follow caps. At certain points, Twitter will stop you from following anyone else until you gain more followers. This helps you get around those caps.
Third, find a group of readers/writers who do what you do, work or read in your genre or genres. Then make a post on Facebook asking for authors to share their Twitter feeds and for readers to like the ones that interest them (you may wanna ask the Group/Page admin’s permission first). Put your own first, and like all the ones that come after yours.
Use Your Hashtags
Twitter is all about the hashtag—handy keywords for finding the content you like. Follow your favorite authors in your field and note which hashtags they use. Hashtags can also lead you to Twitter communities.
Cat Memes (On-Brand Content vs. Marketing Only)
The 80/20 rule is common advice given by marketing professionals: make 80% of your social media posts about something besides your books and only 20% about selling the books. It makes sense; nobody is going to interact with your social media if it’s nothing but ads. But you can be clever and craft that 80% to reinforce your brand and send subtle messages about your books. For instance, when you travel, post photos that relate to one of your stories. You can also post discussion questions related to your books (e.g., “Which of my fictional locations would you most like to vacation in?”).
And post cats. Always post cats.