This week ROR welcomes Jennifer Willis, an indie author who’ll be talking about marketing: Take it away, Jen …
Watch out for the give-away question at the end of the post
If you’re an indie author, chances are you don’t have a huge budget for marketing your book. As independents, we simply don’t have access to the same resources and advertising departments that traditional publishers have at their disposal. But that doesn’t mean you can’t compete. You may just need to get a little creative about your marketing, and then rely on the power of the internet and social media to fuel your grassroots campaign.
Below are some strategies from my own marketing plan for “Valhalla.” Some of these I’ve already put into play, and others are coming soon. (Word to the wise about indie marketing: No matter how slick your plan is or how successful your strategies turn out to be, it will still always, *always* take longer than you think!)
* Friends & family money-back-guarantee
This idea came from my boyfriend. He suggested that we come up with a list of 100 friends and family members and offer them a money-back-guarantee on the $2.99 “Valhalla” ebook. I laughed and thought this was really cute at first, but then I realized how smart it was. Even if everyone on the list agreed to participate and then ended up hating the book, very few people are going to quibble over $3. As it’s turned out, no one has asked for money back — and if you play your cards right and line up enough people to buy your book within the first 24 hours of its release, you can seriously bump up your sales rank.
NOTE: I’m making about $2 off of every $2.99 book that’s sold. If one of my “friends & family readers” did decide to ask for a refund, I’d lose a dollar on that sale (refunding my $2 in royalties plus another $1 out of my own pocket to make up the difference in sales price). So if you put out a really bad book and everyone wants their money back, you’re looking at a deficit.
This idea comes from indie bands, who used to surreptitiously stuff their CDs into the racks at music stores. If those CDs then sold, the artists made no money off of them — since they’d essentially “donated” the CDs to the stores — but it was a way to get new people listening to their music. So every once in a while, I’ll leave print copies of my first novel, “rhythm,” lying around in strategic locations. I’ve left copies in libraries, in bookstores (where I later went back to confirm that “rhythm” had been put on the store shelves), hotel rooms when I’m traveling, coffee shops and the like. I’ve left copies of “rhythm” all over Ireland when I’ve vacationed there, and my boyfriend took a few copies to Las Vegas on a recent trip. I’ve even left a copy in a Subway restaurant.
I don’t make any money off of these “free range” copies of my book, but you never know who might pick one up and start reading.
Just a like a business card, a bookmark highlighting your new book helps to generate interest. You can distribute these to people you meet at parties, on the bus, at the grocery store or wherever, giving them a physical reminder later to look up your book and maybe even buy a copy.
Also, these bookmarks can be distributed in guerrilla-like fashion — left in books returned to the library, furtively slipped inside books in your genre at the bookstore, left on your seat on the train, etc.
This is one of those strategies I’ve not yet tried yet, but I’ve seen others use this to great effect. I’m looking for a good printing service for my bookmarks — though if you’ve got a higher-end printer at home or come up with a design that isn’t heavy on graphics, there’s no reason you couldn’t print up your own bookmarks and start handing them out right away.
* Talk to people
This may seem like a no-brainer and not terribly creative, because not all writers are shy. But I certainly am, and it can be a challenge for me to strike up a conversation with a stranger or someone I just met — and the pressure of marketing my new book in such a situation can make it even worse.
But if I catch sight of someone who’s using an e-reader, for instance, it’s that much easier — we already have something to talk about. I can simply ask how they like their device, what they do or don’t like to read on it, and then casually — or not so casually — mention I have a new ebook that’s come out. And I can relate my decision to go with e-publishing to what they like most about the device — instant accessibility, saving trees, etc.
Overcoming personal shyness isn’t all that easy, and it helps if you feel truly passionate and excited about your book. When it comes to talking about “Valhalla,” I’ve been surprised to discover myself bursting out of my shell to tell pretty much everyone about it. I’ve joked that maybe I should start wearing a name tag that reads, “Hello! My name is … VALHALLA! Buy it!”
* Blog post exchange
If you’re putting together a blog tour for your book — and really, you should! — one strategy to scoring some screen-time on someone else’s blog is to offer to do a guest post exchange. It’s simple: you write an entry to post on their blog, and they write an entry to post on yours. This cross-promotion gets your name and information about your book in front of the other blog’s readers, while also giving the other blogger access to your readers for a day.
Michelle Rafter’s annual Worcount Blogathon encourages this kind of post-swapping in an effort to help participating bloggers keep their content (and their brains) fresh during the month of blogging every day.
* Stage readings in unusual places
At the grocery store last month, I was surprised to see an author set up just inside the main doors, selling his new book of cartoons, ” Casey and Kyle: So Much For Being On Our Best Behavior!!!” I stopped and talked with Will Robertson about why he was selling his books in a grocery store. He explained that he was going to various grocery and drug stores, setting up his little table and talking to people as they came in — and was selling 100 books a week. (You can read more about this meeting on my blog.)
If there are other indie authors in your area publishing ebooks, consider setting up a joint book reading to promote your work. Since readers can purchase ebooks pretty much anywhere and at any time, you’re not limited to bookstores as venues. You could arrange to do a reading at a local coffee house or bistro, or even stage a guerrilla reading in a public square, street corner or park.
* Book trailer video
Granted, if you have little or no marketing budget, this is probably not going to be a high-end video with lots of special effects. But that’s okay. You can get as silly and as campy as you’d like with this to show your readers that you have a sense of humor — if your book has a humorous bent, all the better.
If your book is more serious in tone and topic, you can go the safer route and stage a Q&A interview with yourself, or perhaps make a mini-documentary to underscore the importance of your topic — and your book — to your potential readers.
If you’re not sure where to post the video of your book trailer once it’s done, have a look at Creative Indie Marketing- Top 15 places to Post Your Videos on the Stardom Bound blog.
Jennifer Willis is an author, essayist, and journalist in Portland, Oregon. In her non-fiction work, she specializes in topics related to sustainability, spirituality/religion, history, and health. Her articles have appeared in The Oregonian, The Christian Science Monitor, Salon.com, The Portland Tribune, The Writer, Ancestry Magazine, Aish.com, Skirt!,InterfaithFamily.com, Vegetarian Times, Spirituality & Health, and other print and online publications at home and across the globe.
In fiction, she focuses on urban fantasy and playful mayhem. Her new ebook, “Valhalla” is available Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Goodreads.
Visit her online at jennifer-willis.com.
Give-away Question: “Without his divine powers, Thor has to go to work like everyone else — but he’s a terrible employee. What do you think Thor’s least favorite job would be?”