If you’re asking, “How do I promote my self-published book?” the best answer isn’t “Make sure you do A, B, C, D, E, etc. as soon as you publish your book.” The best answer is: “Make sure you do advance planning.”
Most of the time, if you begin your promotional activities right after your book launch, you’re already several months too late.
Unfortunately, this is all too common among new self-published authors. They’re so consumed in the creation of the actual book that they leave the promotion to the very end. The problem is that most of these activities take months to come to fruition.
For example, public speaking event schedules are booked months in advance. So are media interviews. Advance reviewers need plenty of time to read your book and then write a thoughtful review, and so on.
The minute your book is officially published (i.e. the minute it becomes available through book-selling channels such as Amazon, brick-and-mortar book distributors, etc.) a rapid aging process begins.
If your promotional efforts aren’t happening in quick succession, it’ll be nearly impossible to create momentum and buzz for your book. For starters, selling tools like Amazon demand a lot of user interaction in a short amount of time in order to rank books properly.
If the selling signals are few and far-between, the tool has no data to go by and it’ll relegate your book to the “digital basement” of the online bookstore. The same applies to bestselling lists computed by media publications , which are usually based on weekly sales.
So, to keep you from hitting the demoralizing wall of frustration that most self-published nonfiction authors encounter when they don’t plan their book promotion in advance, here’s a formula to create the necessary momentum and buzz right at launch.
Book Launch Minus 6 Months
To have a successful book launch, you need to begin your promotional activities six months in advance.
At the six-month mark you need to begin preparations for the activities that have the longest lead-time: enlisting the help of influencers and public speaking event managers.
Develop Relationships with Influencers
Online influencers are one of the most powerful means for promotion because of the large audiences that they command.
The level of trust by their communities is so high that the mere mention of your book by them can launch it onto bestseller lists. But, because of this they get flooded with requests, most of which go unanswered.
Here’s what you need to do to get noticed: first, look out for those influencers who cater to your target audience and who’d be interested in your subject matter.
Next, and this is the trick to getting on the good side of influencers, use a methodical approach to reach out, such as the one outlined below:
- Join their email lists: this will allow you to learn more about the way they connect with their own communities and you’ll also learn what they like and dislike.
- Comment on their blog posts and on their social media posts. Make every effort to provide good value in your comments so that yours will stand out. Saying “Great post, thanks” is one thing, but saying “Your discussion of XYZ allowed me to have an epiphany: <describe it here>. Now, I really understand the importance of ABC – thanks for your insight!” will take your comment to a whole new level.
- Many influencers request of their followers to ask the questions via commenting (e.g. What topic would you like me to cover next?). Take advantage of this outreach and ask meaningful questions that elevate the discussion. They’ll appreciate it and over time they’ll get to know you.
If you connect with them in an authentic, helpful way, over the months you’ll develop a relationship that will open the doors for you to ask for an endorsement of a review for your upcoming book.
After providing valuable feedback and insightful comments, it’ll be hard for them to decline (naturally, you book has to be well written and well put together!).
Now you can see why this process requires a six-month lead time!
Plan Public Speaking Events
Organizations that hold regular public speaking events plan their line-ups months in advance. Six months seems to be the norm.
As soon as you launch your book, you want to schedule as many public speaking events as you can in quick succession to build momentum.
The reason you want to bunch them together is that in the first several weeks after your launch, you want to generate as many sales, coming from multiple sources, as you can to “prime” the bestseller list algorithms.
Since most of them compute sales on a weekly basis (Amazon does it on an hourly basis!) you need to be able to generate volume sales in a relatively short time frame.
Book Launch Minus 5 Months
At the five-month mark, you need to develop your digital presence and it’s also time to prep your first book order for advance review copies.
Create Your Author Website
Your website will contain your bio, your current and future books, your calendar of events, your blog, a testimonials page, ordering information, your online media kit, and a contact form.
Unless you’ve done this work before, it’s better if you enlist the help of a freelance techie or an IT outfit. Building a website properly requires a lot of specialized knowledge and your disposable time is better spent doing book promotion.
Set Up Social Media Accounts
Next you need to set up the social media accounts that are required to connect with your target audience. Don’t set up accounts on social media sites that your audience doesn’t frequent, no matter how popular they may be.
Social media outreach can be time consuming, and unless you’re connecting directly with your audience, you’ll be wasting a lot of time.
If you’ve heard that certain platforms worked well for another nonfiction author, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’ll work well for your book. Research your target audience carefully and reach out to them only where you’re the most likely to find them.
Print Review Copies of Your Book
In preparation for your outreach to advance reviewers and the media, you have to print an initial book run. Make sure that your book designer is ready at this point to supply you with print-ready files.
For this initial print run, you’ll need to hire a local digital printer because you need to obtain these copies “off the grid.” In other words, you can’t use Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing subsidiary to print them and you can’t use IngramSpark either.
The reason is that once you upload your book to those distributors it’ll become widely available immediately. So to prevent prematurely publishing your book, you’ll have to produce them locally.
In order to have enough pre-publication copies to give out to reviewers and to pitch to media producers for expert interviews, you should print around 100 copies to start with.
The reason you need so many copies is that you need to maximize the number of early book reviews you obtain, and for every two books you hand out to reviewers, you’ll likely get one review back.
Book Launch Minus 4 Months
Do Google Keyword Research
Four months before your book launch, you need to develop the list of search keywords that you’ll be targeting when you begin blogging on your website.
In essence, you’ll need to identify what type of searches members of your target audience perform on search engines related to the types of subjects that your book covers, and then write blog articles that provide the information they’re seeking.
Your goal is to generate valuable content targeted to those searches so that your article appears on the first page of search results, increasing the chances of your audience finding you, your site and your book.
If you’ve never done search-engine keyword research before, you’ll need to enlist the help of a book marketing company or a marketing consultant that specializes in nonfiction books.
Now, it’s time to start writing and publishing articles on your blog. Your goal at this stage is strictly informational – you’re not selling, you’re telling.
For your blog to become a trusted source for your audience, your content can’t be commercial. This will turn your audience off. You’ll monetize your blog later on in a more organic way.
For now, focus on providing value to your readers without asking for something in return. Over time many will buy your book and some will even hire your professional services.
Also, in addition to blogging on your site, you may need to blog on other platforms that your audience likes to frequent.
For instance, if your book caters to a B2B audience, you’ll find that publishing articles on LinkedIn is valuable. Medium is another popular blogging platform that has a number of social features.
Book Launch Minus 3 Months
With three months to go, it’s time to put together your advance review team, reach out to bookstore event managers, and begin your media outreach.
Create Book Review Team
In order to hit the ground running on Amazon, you need to create a book review team that will read your book in advance of publication and then leave positive (hopefully!) reviews on your book page on Amazon.
You’ll need to identify the best candidates, who are members of your target audience and who are connected to you through friends and business associates. Amazon has strict rules for reviewers, so make sure you’re familiar with them.
Note: read my companion post “How to Get Reviews on Amazon For Your Nonfiction Book” to learn these rules.
The idea is to reach out to as many people as possible, with the goal of obtaining between 20 and 40 reviews in the first 30 days after publication. This is the time frame that Amazon’s product ranking algorithm uses to gather sales data.
Also, your reviewers need to leave honest reviews that aren’t influenced in any way by you. Anything that the algorithm perceives to be fabricated will be flagged and automatically deleted.
Plan Bookstore Events
Three months out from publication is also the time to begin reaching out to bookstores to schedule yourself for a workshop, seminar, book-launch event or book-signing event.
Begin by making a list of all the bookstores in a 50 miles radius, large and small, and find out which ones schedule authors for talks or other events – check their websites to see if they have an events calendar.
Connect with their event managers (I recommend doing this in person) and ask to be added to their schedule. You’ll need to leave them a review copy from your stash and also a one-pager with planned public speaking events as well as media interviews booked (see next).
Start Engaging with The Media
Three months out is also the perfect time to begin your earned media outreach. Your first order of business is to add an online media kit to your author website.
This is a webpage that shows the following information:
- A hi-res headshot
- A hi-res image of your book cover
- Your bio
- Your calendar of events
- A list of other media appearances (this will grow over time)
Then, begin reaching out to local media. They love to cover local authors provided that your pitch connects your book with a newsworthy story. You’ll have to leave them with an advance review copy of your book and the link to your media kit.
Book Launch Minus 2 Months
You’re getting close to your book launch! Now it’s the time to set up your email list and all the technology associated with it. Unless you’re a techie at heart, I recommend that you hire a local IT consultant to do this work.
For the most part, this is a one-time effort and you’ll be able to perform the maintenance yourself, or hand it to a personal assistant if you already have one.
Create a Lead Magnet
The first thing you need to do is to create a lead magnet, which is a valuable item that you’ll offer your target audience in exchange for their email address.
This could be access to a newsletter, a white paper you wrote, a short eBook summarizing your book, a valuable infographic, a checklist that’s highly relevant to your audience, and so on.
Set Up an Autoresponder and Start Building Your Email List
Then, your techie will create an opt-in page for your website. This is a popup page that appears between 15 and 30 seconds after a user visits one of your pages (for the most part, one of your blog articles).
This page will offer your lead magnet and ask for an email address where the lead magnet can be sent. This page also informs the user that they’ll receive regular emails, which they can opt to unsubscribe from if they don’t find them useful.
Finally, your IT person will set up an autoresponder system that will automatically capture and store the email addresses that you collect. In this autoresponder you’ll create an initial sequence of engagement emails.
These are going to be the icebreakers that you’ll use develop a relationship with your email list. They must contain highly valuable information.
You’ll be using your autoresponder to send these emails automatically with a chosen frequency. When the sequence ends (say, after the 6th or 7th email) you’ll begin to broadcast regular emails announcing your new blog articles.
Book Launch Minus 1 Month
You’ve done great so far! You’ve taken the time to create a solid foundation for your book launch. Now you’re just a month out and you need to shift your focus to your main distribution channel: Amazon.
Do Amazon Keyword and Category Research
For this part, I recommend that you hire a book marketing service or a freelance marketing consultant with a lot of experiencing promoting books on Amazon.
In order to stand out from the multiplicity of new books that are constantly being added to Amazon, you need to stack the deck in your favor.
You’ll do so in the following two ways:
- By researching the keywords that your target audience types into Amazon when they’re looking for a book like yours, and
- By placing your book in the right category/sub-category.
These two tasks are critical for your book’s sales.
If they’re properly researched and entered correctly into their database, your book will be easily found and you may even be able to land on one of the thousands of nonfiction bestseller lists that Amazon compiles hourly.
If you get this wrong (which is what most new self-published authors do), your book will end up buried deep in Amazon’s catalog, making discovery very difficult, if not impossible.
Create Your Book Description
Enlist your marketing service or consultant to help you come up with a compelling book description for the Amazon bookstore.
If your great book title and great cover will make your book stand out from the crowd of search results, your description will make sure people click on your book and want to learn more.
The key is that you spend a lot of time on this important task and not rush through it. Find the top bestselling books in your category and study the marketing copy in their descriptions.
Learn how they engage their audiences, what hooks they use, what tools of persuasion they use and what buttons they push. Then get together with your marketing consultant and create multiple versions of your book description.
Run it by your advance review team and survey them for their preferred choice, then go with that.
By following the above approach, you’ll be ahead of the vast majority of self-published authors who wait until their book comes out before doing any promotion – which as you now know, is too late.
Plan ahead and you’ll be in the company of the most successful nonfiction authors who leverage their book promotion to great sales and then use it take their businesses and their careers to the next level.
If you enjoyed this article and are in the process of publishing or promoting a nonfiction book, be sure to check out my free nonfiction success guide, drawn from years of experience editing books for bestselling authors (including a New York Times bestseller) and ghostwriting for CEOs and politicians. Simply click here to get instant access.
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 an award-winning author of six books published through Harper Collins (New York) and Titan Publishing Group (London). He is also the publisher at Promontory Press, editor for multiple bestselling authors (including a NY Times bestseller), ghostwriter for CEOs and politicians and the founder 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, marketing, printing and distribution.