When you’re about to publish a book or embark on any other new business adventure, you bump into a lot of people selling a lot of different things and services. All of them will look you in the eye (or through the proverbial eye of the internet) and say with all sincerity, “You know, it’s important to invest in your brand.” This is very true. If you come off sloppy and amateurish, your book or product won’t do as well as it could. And sometimes you need people with the expertise to help you in certain areas of your marketing. The problem is that everyone believes that what they’re offering is worth your money: the person who designs blogs, the publicist, the videographer to make your book trailer, the cover designers, the bookmark printers, and then there are the those sketchier people who promise to get your followers on Twitter or a bunch of reviews on Amazon or some positive review for you to plaster on the front of your book. Sketchy or legit, there’s a threshold you can cross–and all those little supposed boosts to your brand can end up costing thousands of dollars. Considering you’re probably earning a 10% to 50% profit from your book, it’ll take quite a while to recoup those costs, especially if you’re a new writer with an unknown name.
In addition to being a writer, I am a fantastic cheapskate. It’s not that I never part with money; it’s that when I part with my money I want it to be for something super amazing for next to nothing. It makes me happy. When you spend those hard-earned writer dollars I want you to expect a similar thing: something amazing for as reasonable a price as possible.
Below you’ll find some suggestions for when to spend a little money and when not to. Since I’m just getting started, I asked a couple more experienced writers for their two cents in areas I was less familiar with (such as advertising). Thanks Caroline Fardig and Ashley Townsend!
- Cover. It just matters. I didn’t think this would be something I spent money on. In my contract I was promised a basic cover, but when I saw what the publisher had for us, it just didn’t make me swoon. My co-writer, Jake, and I decided to find an affordable but awesome designer to make the cover. And now whenever I see it, I smile. I want to share it. And we’ve gotten so much good feedback on it. It makes the book good eye candy for potential fans, but just as important, you really need to have something that you feel good showing off. If you look at your cover and think, “Meh” or “It’ll do,” it probably won’t do. Find a cover that makes your little heart sing. We used Deranged Doctor Design. They were sooo affordable and they have my love forever.
- Blog/Website. You don’t have to spend a lot on this, but here’s my two cents. You should have a website. Whenever people don’t–even if they have a Facebook page or Twitter account or whatever, well, it never looks like they’re really that serious. Name one famous author without a website. Yeah, yeah, they’ve got people to do it for them. Sometimes that’s true. But the fact remains that they have those websites for a reason. And if you want to look legit, you will too. If you’re not into blogging and that sort of thing, that’s fine. Just a simple website with your information about upcoming events and releases is sufficient. If you’re active elsewhere on social media, you can lead your readers to Facebook or Twitter or Instagram. Blogger and WordPress both have free platforms that look pretty good. Square Space and other web hosts have inexpensive options. It’s worth it to look like a professional writer who knows how to use his/her computer in 2016 (and I’m no techy).
- Advertising. To be successful, you need people to read your book, and you need people to like it. You’ve got your circle of friends and they’ve got their circle of friends and, yes, that’s all free. Maybe, if you’re super popular and all your friends love to read and love your genre, that’s enough to get you started. But most of us aren’t that popular, or maybe we have the best friends in the world and they all buy ten copies, but we know they’ll never get around to reading them or telling anyone else about them. We’ve got to find ways to get our books out there. Here are a few inexpensive ideas.
- Giveaways. You shouldn’t give your book away to every single person you know, but some appropriate giving is in order if you want your book to get out into the world. This costs you only a copy of your book. You can do giveaways on Amazon and Goodreads. Or you can host your own giveaway via your blog or social media (check out Rafflecopter for this). Someone gets your book for free, and Amazon/Goodreads ask them to leave a review (though they don’t have to). You end up with someone reading your book in your genre, but more importantly, while the giveaway is going on, you get exposure from someone else advertising your giveaway (and thus your book).
- Other Contests. Besides just giving away a book in exchange for a review, you can host giveaways where you give away a book (or t-shirt or mug or whatever) and ask that in order to be entered people follow you on Twitter, or like your page on Facebook, or share your book with people on Facebook. Or whatever. In other words, you’re using this promotion to give away a free book AND to help yourself build a fan base. Contests and giveaways like this can draw hundreds of followers to your Twitter accounts, blogs, or Facebook author pages. This will lead to future sales.
- Teaser chapters. These can be on your blog or even on Amazon. You offer the public a chapter or two to read for free and hope that they want more.
- Reviews. Don’t be afraid to ask people who read your book to review it. That’s totally free. Also, using sites like Choosy Bookworm to get your book to readers who get it for a great deal and are asked to review it. These are not sites that pay for people to review your book (which is both unethical and could get your kicked off of Amazon). They’re sites that offer your book for cheap or free to readers who agree to read and review your book. Again, they don’t have to review it. But many of them do. This can boost the number of reviews for your book and thus extend its reach.
- A bit of swag. You need some business cards or bookmarks (I personally favor bookmarks). And then–since I love free stuff and contests–I think it’s nice to have a few things to give away at book signings or launch parties (water bottles, a t-shirt, whatever).
If your head is still spinning (mine kind of is) remember that the key to advertising, marketing, and getting your book out there is knowing your personality–what do you love; what makes you happy. If you like contests, then do contests. If you love Facebook, try advertising with them. If you love blogging, then do interviews, host other bloggers, and offer to do guest posts for other writers. If you just want to be with the people, then get a booth at your farmer’s market or call some local schools and do a program. The point is that if you like something, there’s a good chance that your audience and soon-to-be fans will like it too. Successful people might read a book or two on marketing, but they also know how to have fun with their work. When they have fun, other people do too, and that funness (totally a word, right?) creates a community and people who love your book just as much as you do.