Michaelene Shares Her Do's and Don'ts
- The most important do—be authentic.
- Give back to the indie community by supporting other authors.
- Be patient. It takes time for your audience to find you. Slow and steady wins the race.
- Don't publish your book before it's ready. By ready, I mean professionally edited and proofread. Even then, don't assume all mistakes have been detected. Read it again out loud. Put it away for a week (yes, a week) and then read it again. I would hate to see a great story receive bad reviews because readers were frustrated by typographical and grammatical errors. (Warning: You can still receive the dreaded one star review even when you've written a stellar story with no errors to be found.)
Once your book is ready and you've entered the world of social media marketing, please do not spam folks on any of the sites. I can guarantee you'll lose potential readers, as well as receiving a host of "unfollow" "unfriend" "get lost" messages.
- Don't give up.
- Don't forget to write the next bestseller!
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Indie Marketing Lessons for Self-Publishers with Michaelene McElroy
The marketing opportunities for indie and self-published authors are endless, but unfortunately many are costly in terms of time and money. I spoke with Michaelene McElroy, IPPY gold medalist for her book The Last Supper Catering Company, about her experience marketing the self-published elastic reality novel. Check out her tips for keeping your marketing cost-effective and targeted.
Find your niche.
Don’t waste your time barking up the wrong tree. So many authors expend their resources sending press releases and copies of their books to well-known publications of limited variety (the New York Times, Oprah’s Book Club, etc.). Rather than adding your book to the flood these publications receive daily, evaluate which specific groups would have the most interest in your book. If you are having trouble identifying who that audience would be, read thriller author Joanna Penn’s advice on the subject here.
Once you have determined your target audience, a little research can lead you to that specific group’s online haunts and hangouts. As Michaelene says, “Define your market and spend your time there, or you may get sucked into the social media marketing black hole. Rumor has it many indie authors have never been heard from again. For example, if you've written a romance novel, don't spin your wheels marketing to readers of gothic horror. Visit blogs and websites that discuss issues and themes covered in your book.” By going after these specific groups, you can reach the very individuals most likely to purchase your book and get higher returns for your efforts.
Learn the ropes of social media marketing, the cheap way.
Intimidated by the cavernous online realms of social media? So was Michaelene. “In the beginning, I was overwhelmed by all the sites everyone said I had to be a part of to be successful,” she says. “For someone like me, the notion that you must be ever present in the social media marketing world to be successful was daunting at best.” Whether you love or hate social media, it remains one of the cheapest ways to promote a book and communicate with fans. How did Michaelene get social media-savvy without breaking the bank? I asked her how (or if) she had incorporated social media into her marketing plans.
“I had to laugh when I read ‘marketing plans,’” she says. “I had no ‘marketing plan.’ Based on a prior experience with an agent (well respected, I might add) for a previous elastic reality novel (unpublished), I knew from the start that I would independently publish The Last Supper Catering Company. With that decision came the responsibility of promoting the book, and for most indie authors that route is the network of social media. I didn't know a hash tag from a skin tag, a URL from a UFO, until I met Melissa Foster, founder of Fostering Success.”
Fostering Success offers relatively low-priced courses on social media marketing for authors hesitant to dive into an online campaign alone. “Through FS, I learned the art of platform building, branding, and how to build a marketing strategy,” Michaelene says. “If you're new to social media, align yourself with knowledgeable folks to help see you through the social media marketing maze.”
If you don’t have the funds to take a social media course, or if you feel comfortable enough to do without but want some fresh ideas, find free advice by locating writing and publishing blogs or communities online. Michaelene shared her experience with such communities, saying, “Through an offshoot of the World Literary Cafe, I met a host of generous indie authors and bloggers dedicated to helping writers promote their work through social media. Search out an online (perhaps FB) group of like-minded indie authors who support each other.”
Start a creative social media campaign.
For indie or self-published authors, time is money. Some spend countless hours mastering social media and posting to their various accounts yet feel they don’t get anywhere with it. Michaelene takes a different approach, saying “I don't spend a significant amount of time in the world of social media—marketing, or otherwise. I live a quiet life in the woods on an island and too much outside chatter overwhelms me. On average, I would say I spend less than an hour a day marketing my own book and the work of other authors.” Yet Michaelene has managed to garner over 1,000 followers on her Twitter account. So how can you maximize the impact of your social media use but minimize your time spent?
To make the most of your time, get creative. You can post less often if your posts are unique and humorous rather than yawn-inducing. To perk up your online presence, pay attention to videos, articles, and images that have gone viral that week and then find ways to incorporate them into a quirky marketing campaign. One such campaign is Loren Weisman’s humorous Pinterest board utilizing online meme trends to promote his book. For tips on harnessing the meme trend to market your book, check out Kathleen Davis’ article on memes here.
Participate in giveaway deals.
This strategy is particularly effective with e-books. A well-timed and effective giveaway deal will entice potential readers to spend the discounted amount on your book, which they may have passed by at full price. The best giveaway deals result in a spike in sales that places your book on a bestseller list, thus generating more interest and greater returns. However, a certain amount of investment is required. Giveaway deals on Goodreads require the author to send copies of their books to the winners, and many authors are discouraged when no reviews surface after a couple months. (For more on Goodreads, read book coach Katherine Mariaca-Sullivan’s article here.)
Other giveaways require the author to pay a fee to include the discounted book in a newsletter or webpage, such as BookBub. For Michaelene, this marketing path was the most successful. She says, “advertising with BookBub has been the best marketing strategy for me so far. I've reached number one in Kindle Literary Fiction and the top 100 in overall Kindle sales when I've used them. I have also found that following a BookBub ad with a World Literary Cafe, ENT, or Bargain Booksy ad a couple of days later, keeps the momentum going. This, in a nutshell, is my marketing plan, and it works for me.”
These different components fuse into a marketing plan that has worked for Michaelene. She says, “after careful consideration, I chose to use a BookBub advertisement every 120 days, offering my book at a reduced rate; smaller advertising venues on occasion, or as a follow-up to the BookBub ad; Twitter three to five times a week; and the occasional blurb on my Facebook page. I recommend that authors new to independent publishing choose a plan that works for them, but, at the same time, one that doesn't interfere with a balanced lifestyle, or their writing.”
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Lauren White recently graduated from the University of Michigan with a degree in History and English. She is serving as assistant editor at Independent Publisher for summer 2013 and hopes to continue her career in publishing in New York City. Please email her at lwhite [at] bookpublishing.com with any questions and comments.