The hard work is done.
You’ve written your book, you’ve made that final round of edits, it’s been proofed by a professional, and you’ve hired a designer to create the perfect ebook cover.
Now, all you have to do is upload your book to Amazon, sit back and wait for the money to roll in.
Oh, how I wish it were that easy.
If you’re a new indie writer, the hardest part of your job often isn’t writing your book, it’s selling it.
I’ve faced this problem too.
Last year I spent months writing A Handbook for the Productive Writer only to find that my book didn’t see very well.
For a while, I thought I was a failure, but it doesn’t do a writer any good to wallow in self-pity.
This year, I’ve spent more time promoting my book by writing guest posts, but several months ago I took one look at my sales and realised I still needed to learn more about marketing for writers from the experts.
Like you, I wanted to figure out exactly what it takes to market and sell copies of a successful book.
So I went out and I asked 19 top writers one simple question:
What’s the biggest challenge facing new writers who want to sell or market their first book and how can they overcome it?
This is what they said.
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Lisa Regan is the author of Finding Claire Fletcher, Aberration, & Hold Still
I would say the biggest challenge facing new writers who want to market or sell their first book is being visible in a very competitive market.
There are so many books out there for readers to choose from these days, especially with indie writers thriving. Your book needs to be well-written, well-edited and have a fabulous cover if you truly want to compete.
You’ll also need to do research to figure out what are the best ways to get your book in front of people.
Blog tours? Signings? Paid ads? Putting your book on sale for a limited time?
There are a ton of ways to market your book these days. Figure out where your book is most likely to be seen by your target audience and try to market there.
K.L. Montgomery is a novelist and the author of the books Fat Girl and Green Castles
I'd say the greatest challenge facing new writers is the saturation of the market with competition.
Identifying and building your audience is difficult because there are so many choices for readers – which is a great thing but also makes it hard for new writers to stand out.
To overcome this challenge, I think it's wise to start building a brand and audience in advance of publication on social media and to network with authors and readers as often as possible both online and in person at both real and virtual events.
Ellie Campbell is a pseudonym for sisters, Pam Burks and Lorraine Campbell, who have co-authored and published five novels
One of the biggest challenges facing new writers is to get their book noticed amongst the millions on offer.
We’ll assume a polished professional product with an eye-catching cover and intriguing blurb.
You’ve picked your highly important keywords, carefully chosen your Amazon categories and you’ve joined authors’ groups, forums, and social media sites.
Keep content interesting, show some personality, rather than just ‘buy my book.’ Have an awesome website and start a mailing list – it’ll pay dividends in future promotions.
And now to plan your launch – a cover reveal could spark interest, a paid book tour would guarantee your presence on a number of websites.
Months before your release date, contact bloggers and reviewers who cover your genre, offering them review copies, interviews or guest posts, timed to appear on launch week.
Be polite, personalise your letter and focus on what makes you and your book different.
Try spreading publicity over several days – Amazon takes notice of sales that appear consistent rather than a single spike.
And keep promoting.
Try Rafflecopter Giveaways, Goodreads events.
Use sites such as Indieview that put authors in touch with would-be reviewers. Without enough high-rating reviews you’ll find it hard to advertise on paid promotion sites such as Bookbub, which can shoot a novel up the charts.
Lastly remember the power of ‘free’.
It might seem counterproductive but a well-publicised free promotion can bring you thousands of readers – i.e. potential reviewers – as well as a follow-on increase in sales.
Writing a novel these days is only half the story.
It’s the amount of time, effort and possibly even money that you’re willing to put into promotion that will determine your success or dismal disappearance into the Amazon void.
Sean Platt is a published author, and founder of the Sterling & Stone Story Studio, and most importantly – DAD.
Discoverability is the biggest challenge a new author faces, by far. The key – and this is something few writers want to hear – is patience.
It isn’t easy to wait it out, but for most authors it’s best to start publishing prepared for a publishing life.
Many writers see publishing their book as a finish line, but really it’s a starting point.
Take the time to write a few books and enter the market with a small catalogue and it will be easier to stand out amid the sea of (constantly growing) competition.
Jasinda Wilder is a New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal and international bestselling author
The biggest challenge, especially for new writers—but also for all writers no matter how many books written—is visibility.
There are so many books out there, so many being published every single day. How do you get seen?
How do you make any progress?
There is no easy answer, unfortunately. There is no magic pill or trick or technique.
You just have to write the best damn book you can, put it out there, and write the next one. Don’t waste time or money on elaborate marketing campaigns for your first book.
Spend that time writing a second and a third and a fourth. The best advice I can give is that when push comes to shove, the best marketing you can do is to publish the next book.
If you have five really good books out, then you can think about doing a sale and a big social media push, because then the reader will buy the first one, and hopefully the second, and third, and fourth, and that’s where visibility and income starts building—keep in mind I just picked five out of the air.
At least two, preferably three.
Rachel Abbott is a number one best-selling crime-fiction author
The biggest challenge is without a doubt making people aware that your book exists.
In marketing terms, there are four phases to making a sale: awareness; interest; desire; action.
For the new writer, the only way to start is with AWARENESS.
People need to know that your book is out there, and they need to keep bumping into it wherever they go.
I have heard that a book cover has to be seen seven times before a reader will recognise it, and that’s what you’re trying to achieve.
The interest will follow – but that’s a whole other story. To raise awareness, it’s important to think of as many places as possible where you might get your book seen.
Use your book cover in the signature on your email – every email. Until you are reasonably well known, use it as your Twitter avatar, and make sure you tweet regularly with an image of the book cover.
The same for Facebook.
There are Facebook book clubs where members are often allowed to post their news, or you might decide to fund a Facebook advert where you only pay when people click through to your buying page.
Write polite emails to bloggers offering them a free copy of the book in return for a review or an interview – but make sure that you always send them a copy of the cover.
People will tell you that reviews on blogs don’t sell books.
Maybe not – but they will raise awareness.
Honorée Corder is the best-selling author of more than a dozen books including Vision to Reality: How Short-term Massive Action Equals Long Term Maximum Results
The biggest challenge facing new writers who want to sell or market their first book is having a list of followers.
New writers must build a list from day one. Having a list allows you to build your audience and promote your book before it’s published.
You can market your book to your list in advance – having them read and review it before publishing. It’s amazing having them promote your book with you as well!
This is where I get my best feedback before publishing and writing new books. Even the best in the business seek to learn how to market their books better, faster, and smarter.
They want to know how to increase their mailing lists and number of readers – which ultimately means making more money.
In Prosperity for Writers I share “Practical Practices of Prosperous Writers” and number four is: Prosperous writers market like they mean it.
Make a commitment to study marketing even as you study your craft of writing.
It’s up to you where to educate yourself for your own success. Building a list is your first step to marketing your book like a best-seller.
Sandi Lynn is a New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal best-selling author
I think the biggest challenge facing new writers today is the trying to get readers to know who you are.
Marketing your first book and trying to get people to take notice of you and your work is very hard and can be just as time-consuming as writing your book.
Social media plays a huge, if not the only role in today’s book marketing world. The best way to get yourself out there is to connect with people who can help you promote your work.
Make connections with other authors. Join every social media site you can think of and really talk yourself and your work up. Make connections with bloggers and ask them if they would like to read your book before it releases.
Word of mouth is the best way to get noticed. If one person loves your work, they will tell others and so on. Join reading groups on Goodreads and Facebook.
Be as active as you can on social media by posting teasers and doing cover reveals before the book releases.
Make yourself known before you hit publish and most importantly, engage with people who show interest. Communication with readers is the key to getting yourself out there.
Lucy V. Hay
Lucy V. Hay is a script editor and the author of the Decision Book Series
A lot of writers wanting to sell and market their books think standing out in a sea of book spam online is their biggest problem. The reality is, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Writers need to find and engage their audience (both online AND off), as well as offer a strong voice readers can trust: everyone likes CERTAINTY.
Someone might try your book for curiosity’s sake, but they’re far more likely to buy it if someone they like or trust can recommend it, or they like or trust YOU.
It’s far easier to sell your book to someone who is a fan of your blog, and/or social media output for example, or if they’ve seen you at an event or networking evening and liked what you had to say.
From there, it is much easier to sell more books, courses and so on to someone who has already bought and liked one product from you.
To be clear, this doesn’t mean getting everywhere like germs and selling your ass off; that just isolates your potential readership.
Rather, you need to identify who your target readers are and ENGAGE them: one fan will become two, which will become four, eight, sixteen and so on … It’s far better to have a small, highly engaged platform on this basis.
Pick your cliché: a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush; from small acorns great oaks grow – but it’s true!
Tamsyn Bester is a self-published writer and the author of books like Blurred Lines and The Line Between
I would say the biggest challenge facing new writers today would be originality, and to write a book that hasn’t been done a thousand times before.
It also comes down to having the financial resources to write a good book that in turn becomes marketable.
The best way (in my opinion) to overcome this is to not only take the time to write a good debut, but to also make use of every free platform to market your book until you have the necessary resources to use services like online advertising.
Competition in the industry is tougher than what it was two years ago, so if any writer wishes to make a living from their work, setting yourself apart from the rest of the crowd is always your first step.
Charles Harris is an international award-winning writer-director, a highly respected script consultant and co-founder of the first screenwriters’ workshop in the world
How many publishers and agents have you sent your manuscript to?
A few, a lot, every single one? There are only two sins in writing – boring people and giving up too soon.
Assuming you’re not boring (you’ve had professional feedback, haven’t you?) then the biggest challenge is keeping going. It’s an essential part of what I call your Mental Game.
For my debut novel The Breaking of Liam Glass, out April 2016, I made a spreadsheet of every single publisher in the country. I selected six a week, based on the books they already had on their list.
When possible I made contact by phone. Even if I couldn’t, I always approached them by name. I hate rejection, but I decided to play a trick on my unconscious and I celebrated every rejection as it came in.
I cheered and whooped and strangely it started to become fun. After six months, I received offers from three different publishers and was able to choose the one I liked the best.
Start making that spreadsheet.
Jennifer Foehner Wells
Jennifer Foehner Wells is a SciFi Novelist and the author of Fluency
The biggest challenge facing a newly published author is this: most authors have no marketing experience.
A significant number are introverted and naturally shy away from self-promotion. That’s a problem. If you can’t get eyeballs on your book, no one is going to read it.
Overcoming that natural predisposition to put one’s head in the sand is the key to success. Being flexible and being willing to experiment with a lot of different avenues is the best approach.
No one path is going to work for all books.
Building a large social media platform was one of the keys to my success, but if you try that, first you have to choose the right one for your book (for me, it was Twitter).
If you choose to use social media, you’ll need to be creative and not indulge in spamming tactics, which most people simply tune out.
There are other ways to find those eyeballs, of course. Judicious use of more traditional advertising can also increase sales as well.
Start slow and experiment—build on successes, keep your ear to the authorial water cooler (only listen to people who are successful now—success tales that date two or more years in the past are all but meaningless now) and keep researching.
Very few books are an overnight success. Here are some other things to try:
- Offer ARCs to groups of people that are likely to enjoy your book—in exchange for an honest review (good or bad, you need reviews to sell books). Search out target groups of people that are likely to enjoy it.
- I don’t believe in building buzz before a book is released. I feel that those efforts are wasted—a reader clicks and is disappointed when they find the book isn’t even for sale and with the modern short attention span, a book can easily be forgotten. Save that time and energy for a book that’s ready for sale, the hype for clicks that lead to purchases.
- Capitalise on some aspect of your book that is unique and find a way to market around it. My author friend Toby Downton is a perfect example of this—he has created games/puzzles/clues based on his novel, Solarversia, which generated a TON of interest. In just a single month, he’s got sixty-six reviews on his debut release. Insanely smart!
- Never underestimate the power of mind-blowingly awesome cover art. I advise you to take risks, believe in your product, and invest in yourself.
- Above all, persist. Persistence got that novel done. Now use it to get some eyeballs on it. Good luck!
Adopting the right mindset
Dr. John Yeoman author and founder of Writer’s Village, former newspaper editor and PR consultant and self-publishing business person
The biggest challenge that new authors face is not, as we might expect, the fear that their story might be rejected. Most writers are street-wise.
They know that their newbie effort is unlikely to win a prize or contract. Their terror – and it's real – is that they will be condemned as a person.
Serious writers put their souls into their stories. To despise their work is to trample on their soul.
The only remedy is experience. Persistent authors try to grow a hard shell and to regard their stories as ‘products' distinct from themselves.
But rejection still hurts. It goes with the territory.
How do I know this?
I've judged more than 6000 entries in the Writers' Village short story contest and critiqued nearly as many assignments from my students.
Their plea is always: please be gentle, not on my story, but on me.
(Editor’s note: I’m a subscriber of John’s Story PenPal, and it’s a great way to get brilliant ideas for your fiction and helpful feedback about your work)
Michaelbrent Collings is an internationally bestselling novelist, a #1 bestseller in the U.S., and has been one of Amazon’s top-selling horror writers for years
Most new writers have a mindset that goes something like: “Finish the book. Get published. Make money.”
The reality is more like: “Finish book. Try to shop it. Fail repeatedly. Realise the first book actually kind of sucks (or sucks a lot). Write another book.
After a million words or so, start to get a handle on this ‘writing’ thing.
Shop some more.
Think constantly about quitting. Start finding a few readers – though not enough to survive on. Make a sale or two. Make a few more fans in an agonisingly slow process.
Market the crap out of yourself. Start to find more readers. Market, write, find, market, write, find, ad infinitum.”
The process takes years for most people – talk to Dean Koontz, who worked full-time at writing for ten years while his wife supported them before he finally found an audience.
Talk to Stephen King, who had no success and actually threw out his novel Carrie before his wife rescued it from the trash (literally).
Talk to any of a thousand “major” writers.
The thing that most people miss when they want writing as a job:
IT’S. A. JOB.
It’s work. That’s not a bad thing. But it’s the real thing, and not the fairytale.
Susan Kaye Quinn
Susan Kaye Quinn is the author of the bestselling young adult SF Mindjack Trilogy
The biggest challenge for newly-published writers is to not get lost in the marketing frenzy and to remember to write the next book.
In fact, they should have a plan that extends far beyond that first book – the first is just the beginning of their career, and no matter how badly or how well it sells, without a plan for follow-on works, you’re not going to move forward with your career.
Plans can always be changed, of course, but have one to begin with.
David Morrell is a New York Times Best-selling author of books like the Rambo series, Inspector of the Dead and many more
The biggest challenge facing new writers today is that it’s not enough to be determined, disciplined, capable author.
It’s now necessary to become an expert in internet marketing, and that takes a big chunk out of the writing day.
That applies to indie authors as well as traditionally published authors.
In the big houses, authors are expected to do a lot of the heavy lifting. Things didn’t used to be this way.
The worst part of this new normal is that some authors think like marketers first and choose topics that they know they can promote in contrast with the authentic way to do this, which is to write the book we were meant to write and only then figure out how to sell it.
Kerry Wilkinson is an Amazon UK No.1 bestselling author of books like Down Among the Dead Men
I think the biggest challenge is probably the sheer number of other new writers in the same position.
The Kindle store has gone from about 600,000 books total in 2011 to more than three million. 270,000 were published in the last three months!
The best way to overcome that is either to
a) Kill all the other writers (not recommended),
b) Make sure your book stands out from the others.
That could be because of the cover, or the blurb; the title or the concept; or a combination of many other things.
It's hard to identify what that might be because the moment somebody comes up with something innovative, other people will jump on the same bandwagon.
Guy Windsor is a swordsman, writer, and entrepreneur
I think the biggest challenge facing most writers after their first book is ready to sell is lack of discipline.
They need to answer the question: “why the hell would anyone buy this book?”
Answering that will tell them who would buy it and why. Then they need to find those people and let them know that the book is ready and right for them.
But everybody already knows that. The idea is easy, the execution is hard. It requires new writers to do all sorts of things that make them uncomfortable.
Deliberately leaving your comfort zone requires discipline: the ability to put long term goals ahead of short term comfort.
Discipline can be learned, and developed like any other skill.
Start small: do something you don’t want to do but you know will do you no harm. Cold showers are a simple example. And do it every day, whether you want to or not.
Get good at doing things you find uncomfortable. Then apply that discipline to actually making and following a proper marketing plan.
Tara Lazar is a best-selling children’s book author of books like The Monstore
The challenges are many–shrinking shelf space, more books published than ever and limited marketing budgets.
The best way to overcome them has always been to write the best book you possibly can. Too many writers are in a rush to get published. I know, I was one of them.
Once I decided to pursue this lifelong goal, it couldn't happen fast enough. But a stellar book sells itself–and it takes time to write, revise and refine.
Beyond that, be flexible with your editor and publisher and be a delight to work with.
Make friends. Be generous. Put yourself out there. Success will find you. It just takes a lot of time, patience, and perseverance.
Marketing Like a Master
Now you know what it takes to market and sell copies of a book like a professional.
For me, the biggest takeaway from this roundup post is that successful writers have more than one book on the market.
They take the time to write several books, and it’s only then that they start to find new readers, make money from their books and achieve real success.
Successful writers (particularly successful self-published writers without the marketing muscle of a publishing house behind them) do the work and play the long-game.
They commit to writing meaningful works that their readers love.
That’s a way of working that we can all write towards.
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