One of the largest pieces of my self-publishing plan has been the marketing component – both from a time and a cost perspective.
This was a strategic decision – I didn’t want to put my book up on Amazon and leave it there on the off chance it would be discovered. No. My ultimate goal is to be a full-time author, and I believe that by investing to make my first book as successful as possible, that will lay the groundwork for future books. (There are another three in the pipeline, btw.)
Before we go any deeper, keep in mind that I haven’t done this before. I haven’t successfully marketed a book as a product. I’ve marketed books as part of a wider business strategy, with the goal of driving readers to buy an author’s products or services, but I haven’t marketed the book itself as a product. That means that my plan might not work!
That’s okay, though. I had savings that I had set aside for this campaign, so it’s not taking from money that I need to pay the bills. This means, if I make a loss, it’s just a learning experience.
So, what’s the plan?
My marketing activities fall into four broad areas:
- Content marketing
- Influencer outreach
- Paid promotions
Before we dive into those, though, I think it’s important to distinguish between the different goals of each activity.
The marketing funnel
If you’re not familiar with marketing, you might not know about marketing funnels. The idea is that people are all at different stages when it comes to their relationship with your brand, product or service. They might not even know you exist, they might have heard of you but that’s it, they might be considering working with you/buying something/deepening the relationship, or they might be a customer/user/fan.
Different marketing activities target people at different stages of this funnel, with the objective of getting them to progress from one stage to the next.
This then means that the goals of each activity are different. One activity might be aimed at getting Instagram followers, another might be aimed at getting newsletter subscribers, and another might be aimed at getting sales. The more you move through the funnel, the closer you get to the sale.
Because of this, there are activities I’ve listed below that I don’t expect to translate neatly into book sales. And that’s okay! The important thing is how they work together – if the overall marketing machine is working well, then book sales should increase, even if it’s hard to see the impact of individual activities.
Content marketing refers to any content I create and publish. This includes:
- This blog
- My monthly newsletter (get access when you sign up for the first three chapters of Powerless!)
- My YouTube channel
This content usually focuses on my experience as a writer, including writing vlogs (YouTube); updates on writing progress (Instagram); and articles about writing, publishing and marketing (the blog).
Other than my newsletter, which goes out on the second Wednesday of each month, I don’t have a strict schedule for this content. The reason for this is that it can be very creatively taxing, which means there’s a risk it will drain the energy I want to put towards writing. And, as someone who wants to publish a library of books, that is a higher priority.
On average, though, this is how the schedule has looked over the past few months:
- Blog posts: 1x a month
- Newsletter: 1x a month
- YouTube: 1x every 1-2 months
- Instagram: 2-3 posts a week
The main objective here isn’t to sell books. It also isn’t for people to discover me.
Both of these things might happen – you might pre-order Powerless after reading this blog post (if you do, thank you!), or you might have come across this blog post via Google, having never heard of me before. However, if these things happen, it is a bonus rather than the main objective.
Here, my objectives are:
- Build an audience, separate to the book
- Deepen the relationship with my readers
Building an audience is a long-term goal, and something that will continue long after the launch of Powerless. If the audience across my different channels grows, hopefully some of them will be interested in my books. Then, when I launch the next book (hopefully with a larger audience), it will have a stronger starting point than Powerless. (So I guess content marketing does help with book sales, but I’m expecting the impact to be felt on future books, more so than for the Powerless launch.)
Deepening the relationship with my readers is something I think is important because I’ve experienced this as a reader. I’ve fallen in love with authors, have finished reading their back catalogues, and then have gone searching for more content to consume. When I first started reading Victoria Schwab, I went back and read years of her old blog posts and watched years of her old YouTube videos, because I needed more Schwab while I waited for the next book.
Developing this content now means those readers have something to engage with in the wait between books.
Since audience growth and engagement are the objectives, the areas I’d look at to assess the success of these activities are:
- Blog traffic
- Newsletter subscribers
- YouTube views and subscribers
- Instagram likes and followers
While content marketing sits lower on the funnel (for me, at least), influencer outreach is right at the top of the funnel. It’s a way for me, and my books, to get in front of people who don’t know me.
In this category, I’m including outreach to:
Of course, it wouldn’t make sense to reach out to just any influencer – I don’t think Joe Rogan’s listeners could care less about Powerless and the types of books I want to write.
Instead, I’ve looked for influencers whose audiences have a good crossover with the potential readers of my book – influencers with book-related content, ideally with a young-adult focus.
To compile my list of influencers, I started with Google, searching for things like:
- Best Booktubers
- Best Instagrammers
- Best book blogs
(There were many variations on these searches, with some referring to YA, sci-fi or fantasy, and I also tried finding teen influencers, since I’m writing for that audience.)
I then put everyone in a spreadsheet with the following columns, which meant I had all of the relevant information available at a glance:
- Monthly traffic (for blogs)
- Average views per video (YouTube)
- Average likes per post (Instagram)
- Content focus (genre, age group)
- Type of content (reviews, giveaways, etc.)
- Last post date
- Contact person
- Contact details
I then started filtering. If someone hadn’t updated their page in the last few months, they were off the list (this was particularly an issue with blogs – you wouldn’t believe how many ‘top YA blogs’ lists there are with people whose websites no longer exist, or who haven’t updated since 2018).
I then created a template for reaching out, which covered:
- How I found their page/channel/blog and what I liked about it
- A bit about Powerless, and why I thought it was a match for their audience
- How I thought we could work together (depending on the influencer, this might have been an interview, a review or a giveaway)
Then I started emailing/messaging people!
This activity had less of a schedule than content marketing. I had a few days set aside to send emails/messages, and when it came to them posting the content itself, I’ve asked them to time things around the release of the book to help build momentum
As mentioned earlier, this is a top-of-funnel activity, so the goal is getting discovered by potential new readers.
I also had an objective for my own activity, which was reaching out to at least 150 influencers before the launch. (Done!)
This is a challenging one, because I don’t own the platforms where the content is being shared, so I can’t see detailed analytics, and can’t track interaction from an influencer’s post to a sale of my book.
This means I’ll need to rely on the information that’s publicly available, like likes and comments, as well as how much my own following grows as a result of this work.
You might be scratching your head at this point – aren’t reviews covered under influencer outreach?
Yes and no.
While some of the influencers I reached out to do reviews, in this section I’m referring to websites and platforms focused specifically on either publishing or getting reviews. These include NetGalley and BookSirens, which allow you to share advanced reader copies of the book for reviews, as well as websites like Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus reviews, which publish reviews.
This activity was simply a matter of submitting Powerless to the various platforms, then waiting for the response (unfortunately there’s no way to proactively target reviewers (at least, as far as I’m aware) once you’ve submitted your book).
On Netgalley, I then got an email every time someone left a review and, if they hadn’t already added the review to Goodreads by the time I saw it, I would follow up with them asking them to add the review to the platform. I’ll also be sending another email once Powerless is released, asking if those reviewers can copy their reviews to the book’s listing on Amazon.
For the review sites, it was a waiting game. Kirkus was the only site charging for reviews (the other ones were a case of submitting and hoping for the best), and their review of Powerless came through on May 16th – and they compared it to X-Men and LEIGH BARDUGO!!! 🤯
Because there are a couple of different types of reviews in this section, I have two different objectives.
For galleys, the first goal is the same as for the influencers – to get my book in front of as many people as possible. While there is some overlap with the influencers who might be registered on these platforms, I see them as a way of reaching people who I might not have found in my original search, as well as finding librarians, who are key for the YA audience.
There are thousands of librarians registered on these sites looking for books to add to their libraries’ catalogues. If I can get Powerless in libraries, that would be a huge way to reach new readers.
The next goal is social proof – once someone has written a review, in theory it should be easy for them to copy it to other platforms, like Goodreads and Amazon. So by registering for these services, I can also build my reviews on those platforms, which should encourage more people to read the book.
For review sites like Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus, the goal has nothing to do with book sales. Instead, I’m thinking about my career as an author. If I get a good review on sites like these, it could help build my credibility as an author and could be used when I try querying my next book.
Measuring success is quite difficult in this area, because the world is opaque until you’re inside it. With NetGalley, I can see how many people are seeing and requesting Powerless, though it’s hard to know whether the numbers are good since I don’t know how similar books on the platform are performing. So this is more of an experiment – I’ll see if anything comes out of it and, if so, I might try it again in future.
For the review sites, the measure of success is the number of good reviews… actually, if I’m being honest, I’d consider any good reviews on these sites to be a success. 😅
This final section is advertising – another top-of-funnel strategy to try to reach more readers. The main platforms I was planning to use were:
Though I had to cut Instagram, due to being randomly blocked from advertising.
Advertising can get very expensive if it’s running for a long time, so I always knew I didn’t want to be running ads for a long time. Because of this, I’ve planned everything in the weeks around the launch (the exception is Goodreads Giveaways, where I’ve done a month in the lead up to the launch).
Advertising can be both a top-of-funnel and mid-funnel activity.
At the top of the funnel, it would let new readers know about my book. If they then click on an ad that links to my website, certain platforms (like Instagram) can track that activity, and can then target those people with additional ads.
Unfortunately, the first time I tried to boost a post on Instagram my account was banned from doing ads, and I still haven’t managed to get it unblocked. 😓 So unless something changes in the next couple of weeks, I won’t be able to do any retargeting.
For the other platforms, my objectives for advertising are:
- Get seen by as many people as possible
- Get clicked on by as many people as possible
One of the great things about online advertising is that there’s a lot you can track. Sales are a little bit hard – while you can see sales going up, you can’t see where those sales came from (it’s different if you’re selling from your own website, as you can set up special tracking links for different ads. But when you’re selling on a third-party platform like Amazon, you don’t have the same flexibility).
What you can see is the number of impressions, number of clicks and the cost per click. While not directly trackable from the ads themselves, I’d hope to see a noticeable uptick in book sales during this period.
So the objective is to simply get these numbers as high as possible, and to see which ads get the best results (I can then put more budget behind the more successful ads).
It’s all a gamble
And that’s the overview of my marketing plan for Powerless! It’s all a bit of a gamble – I haven’t marketed a book like this before, and I’m not sure what will work and what won’t.
In any case, I hope Powerless will be the first book of many, so anything I learn from this launch I can apply to future books as well.