Marketing for Authors

Marketing for Authors: 10 steps to new readers

Marketing as an author is vital. Follow our 10-step simple marketing guide to connect with your ideal reader and help them find your book.

Marketing for authors is a daunting task—while two to four million books are published every year, the average person only reads 14. How do you ensure readers are choosing your stories?

The good news is you don’t have to outshine the whole library because you’re not trying to get your novels in front of everyone. You need to get your book in front of your ideal reader.

Give some thought to considering who that is. Many writers will say “my book is for everybody,” but that’s never the case. Consider the age, gender, reading habits, education level, life stage, and other details about someone who your book is perfect for. Hone that image in your mind and seek to market to them.

A library with curving shelves

As book coaches, we’re going to walk you through a simple plan for marketing your books in 10 steps, but before we do that, you need consider what your overarching, specific goal is and how that connects with your ideal reader.

Look at these possible marketing goals you could set:

  • Selling a specific number of books
  • Reaching a certain income level
  • Finding work-life balance
  • Building your backlist
  • Launching a second pen name
  • Gaining new readers
  • Or something else

 

On first glance, you might hope for all of the above, however it stands that you’re going to have to focus in on one or two goals. If you care about a wide readership, perhaps you’re open to pricing your e-books at $0.99 because you understand you’ll enable more people to try your work. Or perhaps you don’t care how many total readers you have, as long as you’re making a good income. You can see how the marketing strategy can be different depending on your goal.

With your ideal reader and top goal in mind, let’s run through the 10 steps that make marketing for authors easier and more realistic.

Rebecaa Author Headshot

Phase 1: Make yourself findable and professional

Step:1 Take an Author Photo

To market your books, you must market yourself, and to market yourself, readers need to be able to find you easily online to connect with you. By using the same clear, professional headshot across all social media platforms, dust jacket covers, and other material, you allow readers to confirm instantly that they’ve found you.

Example: An author has four social media accounts dedicated to her writing. Her Facebook and Instagram use the same photo, but on her TikTok account she has a different haircut and her Threads profile image is of a flower. And she wonders why readers never seem to find her on Threads even though she has a big following on Instagram.

If you can’t afford a professional photographer, get the help of a friend and seek out a neutral or natural backdrop with great lighting. Make sure the image looks crisp when blown up, and easy to recognize when reduced to an icon.

You’ll eventually change your author photo and when you do, try to change it across platforms at the same time.

Step 2: Build an Author Website

Many writers balk at the idea of starting a website. “I don’t have anything published yet,” is the biggest excuse we hear. “What am I going to put on there?” is the next question.

But, you don’t need a backlist to make yourself findable.

Think of a simple website as a calling card. If you are querying literary agents and they Google your name, you want something to show up in the search results. Or if you meet another writer at a bookstore and they want to get in touch afterwards, a website will connect them.

Others will also start to see you differently. 

Example: No one in the author’s family seemed to take her writing seriously. Family members joked not to quit her day job. So, she decided it was time to take herself seriously as a business owner and built a website. Now her aunts subscribe to her blog and even send it to their friends.

Starting simple is fine. You will build upon and change your website over time—perhaps adding a blog or a newsletter, or linking your Instagram to show up-to-date photos. What you must include for now is your name or pen name, a brief author biography and head shot, and a way for people to contact you.

Step 3: Create a Social Media Account

Remember, we’re trying to make you findable, as well professional. An active, writing-focused social media account gives other industry professionals a way to network with you and links you into the news of the day.

Consider where your ideal readers are congregating online, but know that what social media platform you choose to join matters less than choosing one that you enjoy.

Example: An author joined TikTok because he heard that’s where readers are. He doesn’t really like appearing on camera, so he made four videos and then let the account fade. Now when a reader searches for his sub-genre, they find an account with two-year-old videos, making the reader wonder if the author stopped writing.

Use whatever name appears or will appear on your books—your real name or your pen name—and make this account exclusively about books and writing.

Facebook will take about an hour to set up and requires two-seven posts/week to get the most out of the experience. If you’re personally on Facebook, this will be an easy start because you can invite your network to link your new page. However, keep in mind that many younger readers are not on this platform.

An editable sign with #Social on it

Whether you use Threads or X, plan on taking half an hour to set up the account and post multiple times per day. There are huge writing communities on these platforms and tweets are easy to compose, but it can be hard to stand out among the chatter.

Instagram has a similar set up time and works best with daily posts. Your posts will be findable through hashtags, and you can easily reuse your photos on your website or any other accounts. Instagram has been volatile for writers overall, sometimes working well, sometimes feeling quiet.

TikTok is one of the newest to the game and will take about two hours to set up for the first time including following others, building your bio, and learning how to navigate the video editing features. Post at least once/day for best results and keep in mind you could repost your video to Facebook or Instagram reels. It’s easy to expand your network, but your videos must be funny, visually stunning, or informative to go viral.

The email app on someone's phone

Step 4: Start A Newsletter

Newsletters are great because while social media can be deleted, minimized by the algorithm, or the platform’s popularity can fade, you always have a reader’s e-mail address.

You can decide how often you want to send a newsletter—weekly, monthly, or when big news comes out—but give yourself time to learn. As you incorporate the newsletter into the rest of your marketing efforts, you can open new doors to newsletter swaps, reader magnets, giveaways, opportunities for super fans, and more. Remember you can recycle content from the newsletter for your social media accounts a few days after you hit send.

Example: A writer starts a newsletter with only a few subscribers—all her aunts. She writes a short story so that each newsletter subscriber receives the story for free when they sign up. The writer posts about the story on social media and a few co-workers sign up out of curiosity. She hones her distribution system and in a year she runs Facebook ads to people interested in a free short story. As a result, her subscribers jump.

If you’re not sure where to start, subscribe to other authors to learn what’s possible. Then start researching platforms.

Two men shaking hands

Step 5: Networking

The idea with networking is not to meet every potential reader in person, but to build multiple snowballs and set them free.

Networking can take place in person or online, and a good strategy involves both. This two-pronged approach also fulfills you as a person. The online world can get a lot done, but sometimes meeting IRL is more satisfying and moves quicker.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Coffee with other authors, booksellers, and industry partners
  • Newsletter swaps where you feature an author’s book in your newsletter and they do the same for you
  • Blurb another author’s book
  • Arrive at local literary events fifteen minutes early with the intention of introducing yourself to a few folks
  • Get a business card and hand it out like crazy
  • Meet readers at a community book group
  • Participate in local writing conferences
  • E-mail a writer in your region and introduce yourself
 

Example: An author attended a local critique group. It was interesting, but ultimately not the event for him. The evening wasn’t a loss though; he met a writer who offered to get coffee and share what he knows about searching for agents. Four years later, they include each other in the acknowledgement sections of their books. You stayed home, ate a cookie, and met no one.

Phase 2: Connect with your ideal reader

Step 6: Attend Quarterly Live Events

Now that you’ve established yourself as a professional writer and have made yourself findable to readers of your genre, we want to take advantage of that foundation and network. While the online sphere can create so many opportunities, real life events bring a certain kind of joy of their own.

If you don’t have a book out, look for writing groups and other literary events. Be prepared to share one sentence about what you write and ask lots of questions.

Once you have a book released, know that though you can sell more books online, handselling has a higher conversion rate, you get photos and video of the event for social media, you learn more about your readership by talking directly to them, and you get a higher margin handselling if you’re an indie author.

Rebecca with her books at an event

In addition to traditional signings, you can ask to speak to students, look for panel or keynote opportunities, or offer to attend a book club. It might be scary at first reaching out to bookstores or libraries to see if they’ll host you. Remember that these relationships are a rich part of your life as an author.

It takes effort to invest in your supplies (which if you are selling yourself will include print books, tablecloth, sign, way to take payment, newsletter sign-up sheet, etc), but it gets much easier after the first few events. Write a very short pitch for each of your books. You can always talk more if a potential reader is interested. Try out different display techniques, event flow, and price points to build data.

Example: An author prepped for her first book fair. When potential readers approached, she tried to impress them with the history behind her four-book epic. It overwhelmed people, but by the end of the day she learned to say, “My four-book series is like Outlander but set in turn-of-the-century Wisconsin.”

Step 7: Scale Your Social Media

You’ve already started one writerly social media account. Once that feels natural, add a strategic second. Consider how you can cross post your original content. For instance, if you take a photo for your Instagram, add it to your TikTok stories.

You might also be running out of ideas at this time of what to post. Solve that by finding free content calendars online.

Our rule of thumb for content is this: Think about what’s interesting or valuable to your ideal reader. Many authors are tempted to post content that is interesting to other writers, because that’s what they’re interested in. Don’t give into the temptation. Post for readers.

Example: A writer makes use of one bus ride home to search for content ideas and builds a calendar of his posts for the next two weeks. Then, when he goes to post, he doesn’t have to commit effort in the middle of a busy schedule, but just check his plan.

For each post, position every hook so that it connects to the people you imagine are interested in your book.

Step 8: Pay to Play

It’s typical for many self-published authors to spend about 30% of their budget on marketing. Traditional publishers will invest funds into marketing as well which means the marketing needs and investment choices will differ for trade authors. Regardless of their publishing path, many authors find themselves contemplating ads of some kind.

Start with small amounts to test your ad campaign. This will give you valuable data of who is clicking (and not) on your links, as well as acclimate yourself to investing in this way. Experiment and narrow in on best fits over time. Some authors find that advertising directly through Amazon works best, while others will purchase newsletter promos from sites like Written Word Media or BookBub.

Example: An author does an A-B test on Facebook to see which graphic drives more readers to click. Because they feel confident in the results, they retire Ad B and double their ad spend on Ad A.

If you choose this path, dedicate research and time to building your strategy.

Step 9: Retain New Readers

If you’ve done all that work to secure a reader, build in steps to keep them a reader.

Example: A reader found your standalone fantasy book. When they finished reading, they looked you up and easily found your website and social media. They subscribed to your newsletter to get a free story and their second e-mail from you included information about your whole book list. They marked all the titles on GoodReads and will read through your backlist over the next year.

As powerful as social media is, remember to try and capture information about new readers, mainly their e-mail address. Social media accounts come and go, but you will always have access to a curated list of readers if you build one.

BookBub shares that authors with backmatter in their e-books saw a 2.2x higher increase in sales of other books in their series. Backmatter often includes a link directly to purchase the next book. In a paperback, backmatter might include a sample of the next book or information about a forthcoming title.

Build super fans of your general readers by asking them to review your books, send free short stories or epilogues, and provide updates on the next book.

We know word of mouth is a powerful tool in the book world, so give your readers a way to get excited and recommend your work.

A stack of books

Step 10: Write the Next Book

At the end of it all, you are a writer. And it just so happens that writing the next book is the best way to sell more of the first.

If you’d like help getting started with networking, check out our post Network as a New Writer and follow us on Facebook.

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