Sunday, January 10, 2016

Marketing a Debut Novel: Bring Wine, Waders, and an Iron Will

The launch of When Doves Fly, my debut Historical Fiction/Western, has been a whirlwind, and I’m still a bit dizzy. I discovered that authors, especially indie authors, are no longer just writers. We must wear many hats to ensure success, and my most recent chapeau is that of Book Marketer Extraordinaire. I’m certainly no expert, but I have gained some knowledge, and I’ll explain the different options I've tried and detail my experiences (and mistakes) through a series of posts. I hope it sheds light on the process and makes it a little less overwhelming for those learning how to pimp their wares.

I immersed myself in research about how to sell books. It’s involved a great deal of time, frustration, and strong cocktails. The first thing I learned is there’s little reliable information available for newbie authors. Few authors are willing to let others in on what’s worked for them—or if they are, they write a ten page book, charge $10 for it, and proceed to tell you that you need to invest in a sandwich board and a bell. Take any advice you glean from some random “bestselling” author who “sold” eight million books in a day with a huge block of salt (chances are their rank lasted for 5 minutes on Amazon in an obscure subgenre that contains 5 books, and the "sales" were free downloads.)

Much of the advice bandied about is contradictory; use Facebook, Facebook sucks; offer a giveaway, giveaways don’t work; make your book free, free books are bad. There’s also a lot of downright false information and a good number of people advocating unethical practices contrary to various platforms’ rules, either due to ignorance or lack of integrity. Familiarize yourself with the guidelines for each platform and follow them. Don’t take shortcuts or shoot yourself in the foot by breaking the rules—it’s not worth it. Wading through all of this is exhausting, and it often feels like you’re no further ahead than when you started. But if you educate yourself, you’ll be in a position to take advantage of opportunity.

The second thing I learned is that there’s no magic bullet or formula that will work for every author or book. We must tailor our approaches to genre, audience, platform, budget, time, moon phases, and planetary alignment. A debut author with no backlist will need a different approach than an author with ten books. Marketing plans need to be individualized and flexible. I adapted strategies to meet my needs, and you should do the same. My novel is a debut that straddles genres, and it’s not in a “hot” genre, so I’ve had to find ways around those hurdles. A YA author will typically have more options and need to use different platforms, or an obscure genre will need to target much tighter and be able to focus resources rather than spreading them around. You’ll need to analyze your genre and audience to find the best ways to reach them. Your readers’ habits will determine which strategies work best for your book. So your first task is to figure out who your readers are, where they hang out and look for books, their spending habits, and their underwear sizes. Some of the answers may surprise you.

Then, decide your goal before implementing your marketing plan. Some marketing will focus on long term results, and some is more about short term. One strategy might gain exposure, while another will produce sales. Some tools require more time or money, or both; figure out which resources you have and focus on the methods that utilize those.

In the three months since the launch, I’ve worked on both exposure and sales, and found methods that work and ones that don’t. In short, Amazon ads produced the most sales; Goodreads ads and a giveaway produced good exposure and some reviews. Book bloggers, especially a team of reviewers, are excellent advocates, but finding the right ones is tricky. Enrollment in KindleUnlimited was a good decision; the Kindle Countdown deal, while not as successful as I hoped, did give a good bump in sales. Some promotion sites I used during the Countdown deal had a good ROI (Return On Investment,) some did not. Facebook ads were a miserable failure—but I concede that for certain genres, with a lot of work, they could be successful. However, I don’t believe they offer a good ROI overall. Of course, all of these require a strong presence on social media, and it goes without saying that your success will depend a lot on the quality of your book, cover, and blurb.

Stay tuned over the next month for the nitty gritty and feel free to ask questions.


Find Lauren's book on Amazon:


  1. Excellent post, Lauren, and thank you for sharing this information. Completely agree with you, although I've had limited success with Facebook ads (mostly because they bumped sales on Amazon and tipped Amazon's funky algorthym so Amazon began showing my book to more people in the "you may also like" carosel, which produced a real spike in sales). Going KindleUnlimited with my second book was a good decision from a sales perspective, although I found the stats on average pages read somewhat soul-destroying. I'll look forward to your coming posts on this subject!

    1. Thanks, EJ. It's definitely trial and error, and hard to find the sweet spots. It's really eye-opening, though. :D

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks, Paul. Another coming this week--Hope they'll be helpful.