As a nonfiction author, you’re in a unique position to learn how to market a book in a way that produces strong results, because this genre tends to align itself very well to the needs of a target audience.
Unlike fiction, which appeals to the desire of people to be entertained, nonfiction mainly appeals to people’s need to tackle and solve a problem.
Since people’s motivation to go away from pain is much stronger than their motivation to go towards pleasure, nonfiction-marketing strategies have the best chance at connecting with its audience because the audience is actively searching for a solution.
In fact, it doesn’t really matter if you’re an unknown author in this genre, provided that your book’s title clearly articulates both the problem your audience is experiencing and your unique solution.
Why? Because an author’s name is immaterial to relieving someone’s pain – your solution, on the other hand is central to it, and that’s why the selection of your book title (plus your cover design) is the first marketing move you need to make.
Create a Marketable Book
For your nonfiction book to really move the needle, it has to connect strongly with your intended audience before they even have a chance to open it and have a look inside.
This connection is established by how your title aligns with the pain or problem you’re trying to solve for your audience, and how your book cover visually supports this connection.
When it comes to your book cover, your to-do list is quite short – hire a professional book designer who specializes in nonfiction. Don’t do this yourself and don’t give it to friends or relatives unless they happen to be professionals in the trade.
Now, when it comes to your book title, the to-do list is much more involved. First, begin by reading my article on the creation of book titles to get a good foundation: How to Come Up With Killer Book Titles for Your Nonfiction Book.
Next, come up with at least 3-5 different title/subtitle combinations (the more the better).
Test Your Book Title
Since your title is not about you but about your readers, you’ll have to run an A-B test with your audience to find the winner. You basically have to identify a group of 10-15 people who’re part of your target audience and who’re willing to help you out.
It’s okay if you know them, but even better if you’re introduced to them by people you have in common. You then meet with each person separately and show them two titles at a time and ask them to choose one of them – this test has to be based on first impressions.
Then you discard the loser and show the winner again but paired up with a new title, and then repeat this process until you have a final winner – that’s going to be your title!
Last but not least, make sure your manuscript is professionally edited and that your book is professionally laid out by people with experience with nonfiction books. Again, don’t do this work yourself or farm it out to friends or relatives.
Get Lots of Social Proof
Your next marketing task is to create a group of advance readers from two sub-groups. The first sub-group needs to be made out of members from your target audience.
The second sub-group needs to be made out of peers, colleagues and other professionals in your industry that you trust.
Have them all read an advance copy of your book and ask them for testimonials plus their permission to use them along with their names and positions. Here are some examples:
Sub-group 1: John XXX, High School Teacher.
Sub-group 2: Dr. Jane YYY, Associate Professor of Psychology at ZZZ University, and if you have connections to published authors: Peter WWW, author of ABC)
Once you have these testimonials, add them to your book in a first page entitled “Advance Praise for <Your Title>.” Start out with the professional and author testimonials and follow them with the audience’s. You want to have between 6 and 10 of these.
Also use these testimonials on any webpage dedicated to promoting your book (e.g. your personal or business website, your Author Central page on Amazon, etc.).
Find Your Audience and Engage with Them Where They Are
Your next marketing task is to find your audience where they are at, both online and offline, and to connect or meet with them. Some of this work you’ll be able to do from home or the office, and for some of it you’ll have to meet them face-to-face where they gather.
Online Meeting Points
Figure out what social media platforms your audience frequents and develop a presence there. For example, if you’re targeting women 40-65 about a health issue, then you’ll need to develop a presence for your book in Pinterest and Facebook.
But if you’re targeting professional women and men looking to solve a business issue, then you’ll have to develop a presence on LinkedIn.
To develop your presence on these platforms, make use of their features to connect and influence, such as writing articles, posting regularly and creating and moderating groups.
Over time, you’ll begin to develop a loyal following who’ll read your regular content and spread the word through re-posting, re-pinning, re-tweeting, linking, sharing, commenting and so on, all signals that these platforms use to expose your messages to even more people.
Offline Meeting Points
Once you have an online strategy, you need to follow it up with an offline one. At the beginning you’ll do this by setting up free public speaking engagements that put you in front of your audience.
Over time, you’ll begin to attract paid speaking offers, but at first you’ll have to volunteer your services, with the knowledge that in most cases you’ll be allowed to sell your book to the attendees after the event.
What places should you target? It depends on the subject matter of your book, but here are some examples of places and organizations that are constantly looking for free speakers:
- Schools Districts
- Parent Advisory Councils
- Parent Groups
- Social Business Organizations (e.g. Rotary International, Kiwanis, Lions, etc.)
- Community Centers
- Non-profit Organizations
- Professional/Trade Associations
In addition to selling books, make sure that you also capture email addresses in exchange for a regular newsletter or regular emails with tips, strategies, and so on.
Build an Email List
Which is the perfect segue for the next marketing technique you need to develop: creating an opt-in email list. This email list will become over time a tremendous marketing asset and a profitable one as well.
The most effective mechanism for creating an opt-in email list (besides in-person public speaking events) is to create an author blog. This is a feature that needs to be added to your website.
You want to blog regularly by targeting the keywords that your audience uses to search Google for solutions. In your blog posts you’ll be providing them with free tips and strategies, mostly from your book, to help them address specific issues.
Perhaps you can go in-depth into one specific topic. Or perhaps, you’ll provide them with a direct answer to their Google query. In all cases, over time you want to become someone they that they know, trust and like.
After a few months of blogging, you’ll begin to get noticed and earn people’s trust as someone who offers the value they’re looking free of charge and without asking for anything in return.
At this stage, you’ll need to enlist the help of a tech person to add an email opt-in form to your blog where you’ll offer something of great value for free in exchange for an email address – for example a short eBook, a white paper, an infographic, etc.
As you collect emails, you’ll begin to develop a personal relationship with your audience by providing value on a regular basis to strengthen your connection. At this point, many of them will begin to order your book simply because you’ve earned their trust, so over time sales will begin to add up.
After a year to a year and a half, you’ll build up your email list into the thousands through blogging and speaking events, and if you announce a follow up book you’ll be able to sell thousands of copies before you do any other marketing activity.
This strategy is used successfully by many indie nonfiction authors who consistently outsell traditionally published books!
Get Amazon Reviews
Next, you need to turn your attention to the largest bookstore in the world: Amazon.
Amazon will become a key player in your marketing strategy, aided by the fact that their marketing approach is mostly algorithmic – no human gatekeepers here.
If you play your cards right, you’ll be able to get lots of Amazon “love,” which will make your book rank higher and be discovered by millions of users.
The Amazon book discovery algorithm is driven by reviews. The more numerous positive reviews your book receives, the more prominently they’ll display it in the search results.
Now a lot of this magic happens in the first 30 days, when your book is brand new to the site and there’s no sales history or data for the algorithm to go by, which is a bit of the chicken and the egg situation.
If you fail to get enough reviews in this early period, there’s a good chance that your book will be relegated to Amazon obscurity – it’ll never rank high enough to be discovered by readers in their searches.
How do you get out of this loop? By creating an early review strategy. Basically, what you need to do is to tap into your network to get a very large group of advanced readers to leave reviews of your book on Amazon.
I’m taking at 20-30 people who’ll write a review of your book over the first 30 days from your book’s appearance on Amazon. If you can get more people to leave reviews, even better yet.
Now, the rules! Amazon’s software has a set of strict rules to ensure that their system is not being gamed, and should any of their early warning systems be triggered, they’ll simply delete the offending reviews.
- Rule 1: To leave a review, a user has to have an account on Amazon and have spent over $50 on any type of merchandise on any valid credit or debit card over the last 12 months. Note that reviewers don’t necessarily need to buy your book on Amazon in order to leave you a review.
- Rule 2: Reviewers can’t mention anywhere in their review that they know the author – every review has to be at arm’s length.
- Rule 3: As an extension of the above rule, family, friends and business associates cannot leave you a review. It’s entirely to up to Amazon’s discretion how they establish their relationship to you. The workaround is to ask them to solicit their friends and business associates for reviews on your behalf.
- Rule 4: Every reviewer has to have a distinct credit or debit card on file. If two people have the same card on Amazon (e.g. spouses) only one can leave a review.
- Rule 5: No two reviewers can share the same mailing address (no reviews allowed from family members or roommates of the reviewer)
- Rule 6: Reviews must be honest (i.e. not overflowing with positive language to the point of cringing).
- Rule 7: If a reviewer does buy your book through Amazon, they cannot leave a review a few minutes later (it’s impossible to read a book that fast!) – always let a couple of days go by.
So, make sure your network of reviewers know these rules and write 100% honest reviews based on their experience reading your book and you’ll ensure that your book reviews aren’t deleted by Amazon’s algorithm.
The rules are there so that you can’t influence the outcome of the reviews – your friends, relatives and associates will likely leave biased reviews even if don’t influence them, at least in the eyes of Amazon.
They do allow authors and publishers to provide reviewers with free advance copies of your book (as long as the relationship remains arm’s length).
Also, make sure that you don’t get 15 reviews coming in on the same day and then nothing the next. Ensure that the reviews are evenly spaced out over the first 30 days.
If you recreate as real a world situation as you possibly can, the Amazon ranking algorithm will leave you alone.
Engage with Earned Media
Finally, an important marketing strategy is to engage with earned media. We’re talking traditional outlets like local print, radio and TV, but also Internet-based media. Here are some examples of both:
Guest Blogging and Podcasting
On the Internet side of things, you want to develop relationships with influencers who have blogs that cater to your audience and who might be interested in your area of expertise.
Most bloggers monetize their sites through advertising revenue, so in order to keep their traffic numbers up they’re always looking for fresh and interesting content that’s relevant to their audiences, just like mainstream media does.
Some of them will want to interview you, and others will be open to you writing a guest article for their blog. In all cases, you’ll have a link from their high traffic site pointing back to your website.
These links will be beneficial on multiple fronts. First of all, they’re a way for their numerous audiences to reach out to you and secondly, those links will make your website go up in the Google rankings, making it more visible via search.
Links from good-quality sites with a lot of organic traffic transfer their “power” to the websites they are linking to – this is an important part of how Google decides what results to show users.
So, the more places that your articles and interviews show up, the better your own website will appear in the organic search results.
As you begin to appear more prominently and more frequently on blogs and podcasts, you’ll be able to begin attracting the attention of mainstream media outlets, which will typically command much higher traffic, both online and offline.
Although the time allotted for interviews by mainstream media sources is reduced (typically under 15 minutes for radio and a couple of minutes maximum for television) they’re ideal places to promote upcoming public events.
For example, if you were able to book yourself in a couple of Barnes & Noble bookstores and a couple of public libraries, then you want to time your media appearances ahead of these events so that you can announce where their audiences will be able to find you next.
Congratulations for making it to the end! I know there’s a lot of information to unpack here, however many first-time nonfiction authors have traveled this path with great success and you can easily become one of them too.
You just want to make sure that you create an action plan that can be managed with your day-to-day responsibilities, and then stick to it.
The worst thing an author can do when they finished their book is to get distracted by shiny objects, and there’re a lot of them in the world of marketing. Just stay focused on the above strategies and you’ll be surprised how well you do.
Best of luck!
Leave me a comment below if you have any questions or a specific need that I can help you address – I operate an author services firm that specializes in helping entrepreneurs, professionals and business owners who want to publish books as a calling card for prospects, to establish their status as an expert or to just to generate additional leads for their businesses.
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Bennett R. Coles is the author of 6 books published through Harper Collins (NY) and Titan Publishing Group (UK). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press and the founder/CEO of Cascadia Author Services, a boutique full-service firm that specializes in premium author services specifically designed for busy professionals. Our end-to-end services include writer coaching, ghostwriting, editing, proofing, cover design, book layout, eBook production, printing, distribution and marketing.