If you want to sell books, you need to market them. But that doesn’t just mean advertising. As an author, you are a creative person, so why not use that creativity in your marketing? Below are some creative marketing ideas to serve as inspiration.
April Fools’ Day
Robin once created a joke book. It was announced on the first of April, clearly marked as a joke.
The book was available as a short PDF, which included links to some of their other books and a sign-up link to their mailing list. It got more comments than their normal releases, all of which seemed to appreciate the joke. It even got a five-star review on Goodreads.
Trick or Treat
For Halloween, why not set up a “trick or treat” themed promotion. Set up promotional links on your website. Set up most of them so that they go to a page with a treat. This could be a discount code for one of your books, a short story, or an exclusive preview of an upcoming release.
The remaining links go to a page with a trick. This doesn’t need to be anything more than an image indicating that they’re out of luck this time.
Running a competition can be a useful marketing boost. Robin’s most recent competition was titled “Reconnaissance Mission” because that fit their genre (military history). Five pages on their website had a vehicle silhouette. Clicking on it opened a preview of an upcoming article, and earned the user one entry into a prize draw.
The competition entry form had a checkbox that people could tick to join Robin’s mailing list, and they gained new subscribers that way. The structure of the competition encouraged people to spend time on the website, to earn more prize draw entries. Hopefully, some of those people became regular visitors.
Obviously, you’ll probably need to use a different title. You could just call it a treasure hunt, but a title that fits the genre is a nice touch.
This will require some coding or a WordPress plugin. The idea is simple. Set up the calendar to offer something different on each day of December up to the 24th.
Some days could have discount codes for books, others could have interesting facts, short stories, previews, etc. Having a different offer each day will encourage people to return to the site. As well as the sales, this could lead to mailing list subscribers and regular visitors to your website.
Our authors’ books are available as ebooks, and as paperbacks using print on demand technology. Both technologies mean the books will never go out of print, unless the author specifically wants them to.
With print on demand, books are printed and bound as they are needed. There is no need for a large up-front investment to pay for a print run, and no need to store hundreds of books. But there is a less obvious advantage which I’d like to discuss here.
When a book is always available, it can benefit from unexpected interest in a way that isn’t possible otherwise. If something creates interest in your book, anyone that wants a copy will be able to buy it if it’s available as an ebook or print on demand.
Where demand comes from
You might be able to drive interest yourself. In an episode of the AskALLi podcast, Orna Ross talked about promoting one of her older books to coincide with the centenary of an event in the book. This is likely to be a potential marketing hook for historical fiction and non-fiction authors, but there are possibilities for other authors too.
Perhaps someone else will cause a flurry of interest. It’s well known in publishing circles that a celebrity endorsement of a book can drive book sales. The Oprah Effect, named after Oprah Winfrey because her book club always generated a lot of interest and sales. Other celebrities also have book clubs. Reese Witherspoon has one with the stated goal of elevating female voices. The Richard and Judy book club is big in the UK, and Emma Watson has a feminist book club.
Book clubs aren’t the only things that can cause sudden interest in a book. In 2020, a podcast released audio readings of a book titled The Cauldron, written under the pseudonym Zeno. It had been published in 1966 and was out of print. Demand from podcast listeners pushed the price of second-hand copies up from a few pounds to over £100. Had the book been available as an ebook or print on demand, the listeners would have been able to buy copies at a sensible price. The publisher and author would have received their usual share of the sale, too. Second-hand sales at hugely inflated prices benefit the seller, but no-one else.
Sometimes it won’t be obvious what caused the interest. In 2021, libraries in the Philippines suddenly bought lots of ebook copies of Jen’s children’s book. We couldn’t find out what had caused this burst of sales. But it was available via the libraries’ supplier, so Jen was able to benefit, even without knowing where the interest came from.
This is the less obvious, and rarely discussed, advantage of print on demand and ebooks. If something provokes interest in your book, or with non-fiction, your book’s subject, readers can find and buy your book immediately, and at a sensible price. You get your standard royalty from those sales. Everybody wins.
“Metadata” is a term that sounds technical, which may be why it confuses a lot of authors. Back in 2020, Jane Friedman asked her Twitter followers, “When people talk about “metadata” in book publishing, do you know what they’re referring to?“. Half of the respondents definitely knew, or were reasonably sure that they knew. Half of them did not know what the word meant.
You may have heard the definition that metadata is information about data, which is still too technical to be useful. So here is a simpler definition, focused on books: the metadata of a book is everything about the book that is not the content of the book itself.
The following are examples of a book’s metadata:
Number in series
Note that the book’s content is not in the list. Some items (genre and description, for instance) give some indication of the content, but the content itself is not metadata.
Metadata describes your book. It is the information a potential reader needs in order to decide whether to buy the book. If you want to sell books, it’s very important. The good news is, it’s not a complex topic, and if you have published a book, you’ve dealt with metadata, even if you didn’t realise it.
When you are uploading a new book, or updating an existing one, there will be fields for the items listed above, and more. Make sure that you fill in as much information as possible, and do so accurately.
Why metadata matters
When a user searches Amazon for “Romance books”, Amazon’s search algorithm uses the metadata of all the books in its database to work out which ones are romance books, and should therefore be shown in the search results. The title or subtitle may include words that indicate the book is a romance. Or there may be words and phrases like “happy ever after” in the keyword fields.
Accurate metadata is important, because the user searching for “Romance books” doesn’t want a book that isn’t a romance. If a military history book has a title, subtitle, and keywords that suggest it’s a romance book, it will show up in that user’s search. But the user will either ignore it, or buy it and leave a scathing review. Worse still, readers that would enjoy the book will never find it because it won’t show up in their searches.
It’s not only important for computer algorithms. If your book is stocked by a library or book shop, they’ll use the metadata to decide which shelf to put it on. You don’t want your contemporary romance book on the thriller shelf, because the romance readers won’t look there, and so they won’t find it. Any thriller readers that find it and read it will be disappointed. They might tell their friends that it’s rubbish, or leave a bad review on Goodreads.
Put simply, good metadata gets your book in front of people that will enjoy it. Bad metadata gets your book in front of people that will hate it.
It’s the International Day Of Disabled Persons, so here’s a short list of easy ways to make your web pages and social media posts more accessible.
When writing hashtags, use BumpyCase (also known as CamelCase). It’s better for screen readers and is less ambiguous (note the difference between #CarEbook and #CareBook)
On web pages, use headings to communicate the organisation of the page, not to make the text bigger. If you want bigger text, just adjust the font size. Again, this helps screen readers and accessibility tools. It also helps with SEO.
Use clear link text on web pages. The text in the link should describe what it links to, even if read out of context. Avoid link text like “click here”, that doesn’t indicate what is being linked to.
Always set alt text (“alternative text”) for images. In the alt text field, describe the image as well as you can. If you’re not sure what would be useful, remember that any alt text is better than nothing. If you forget to add alt text when adding images to Twitter, the Alt Or Not browser extension can help.
Use a website theme that has good contrast between text and background. Light grey text on a white background is much more difficult to read than black text on a white background.
This is a guest post written by Henry Hyde, who designs many of our clients’ covers.
Why use a professional cover designer – it’s expensive, right?
It’s an investment that can make the difference between the book you worked so hard to write either being a best-seller, or sinking without a trace.
Just go take a look at a popular online bookshop which is where, let’s face it, the vast majority of both physical books and ebooks are sold nowadays.
Search for something in any major category. Romance novels, perhaps, or fantasy, or self-help, or cookery, or… You get the idea.
You’ll learn a couple of things from this exercise.
Firstly, that your book jacket needs to grab the viewer’s attention when it’s the size of a postage stamp. Intricate, fiddly designs with hard-to-read titles and subtitles just don’t work.
Secondly, how long did it take you to either click on one of those little covers to find out more, or decide that none of them took your fancy? Ten seconds? Five? One? Less than that?
Actually, the answer is likely to be around 0.5 to 2 seconds. Book jacket design is a brutal business, and if the potential reader doesn’t like the cover in the first instant they see it, it doesn’t matter if you’re the greatest literary genius on the planet, your book will never get a second chance.
Thirdly, did you notice something about all those best-sellers that came up on the first couple of pages of results?
That’s right: they all looked somehow familiar, in fact similar in style to one another. That is not a mistake – it’s deliberate. People choose books that they think will be similar to the ones they have already read and liked and the front cover design is the biggest clue they’ll get to reassure them that they will like this book because it resembles that book by their favourite author.
Most new authors are convinced that their cover design needs to be utterly unique.
It needs to look like the best-sellers in their category. Not an outright, copyright-infringing facsimile, of course, but close enough in style to resonate with the viewer.
And finally, when you look at all those book jackets on Amazon, say, it’s easy to tell which ones are professionally designed, as opposed to having been put together by an amateur. The quality of the overall image or illustration, and particularly the choice and placement of typefaces (unless deliberate irony is intended, which can easily backfire) are tell-tale signs. For example, you may have a few dozen or, let’s be generous, a couple of hundred fonts on your PC.
I have more than 100,000, collected over 30 years of designing, and I have accounts with font foundries to access even more if I need them. In fact, understanding the subtleties of typography, and the meanings that different fonts convey to the viewer’s subconscious, is a major skill that every pro designer calls upon on a daily basis.
Now, a real-life example of an idea that a client sent to me, and the cover they actually ended up with following consultation with me.
Which of these do you think will stand a chance on Amazon?
The idea supplied by the client was all about him – it even featured his own hands and the corporate colour of the company he worked for. Sure, he and a tiny number of his colleagues might have understood the visual pun – but his potential audience in the wider world? I think not! What I was able to create for him was a striking cover that sits well in the self-help genre and that instantly conveys the type of content the reader should expect, dealing with the complexity of the human mind.
Fortunately, the client readily agreed!
To sum up, your cover designer is your friend and ally, helping your book to stand a chance of getting noticed amongst a blizzard of competing books. They use their professional experience to make you look like a professional too. Ego should play no part in creating an effective cover design: it’s all about what’s best for the book, and giving it the best possible chance as it begins its journey from your hands out into the wider world.
Henry Hyde has been a professional graphic designer since 1991. He specialises in book and magazine design, corporate identity and branding. He also has a keen interest in typography and photography. Having self-published his own books for more than a decade, he is able to offer sound advice on self-publishing and online marketing.
DriveThruFiction is a small site, and most indie authors don’t bother with it. But it has some very useful features, and if you’re willing to put in a little time and effort, you have the opportunity to be a big fish in a small pond. For Robin, DriveThruFiction and their sister sites are bigger than Kobo, Apple, Nook, or Google Play.
DriveThruFiction is just one of several sites under the OneBookShelf banner. Robin has been publishing and selling on OneBookShelf since 2011, primarily on Wargame Vault. When uploading, it’s just a few tick boxes to publish to any others that are relevant, so most of Robin’s books are also on DriveThruRPG and DriveThruFiction.
DriveThruFiction grew out of DriveThruRPG, which started before ebooks and ereaders were popular, and they originally focused on PDFs. Nowadays, they support mobi and ePub as well as PDF and a variety of other formats, including MP3, so you can even sell audio books there.
To get started, set up a publisher account. Once set up, you can add your books. Drive ThruFiction offer print on demand (hardback and paperback) as well as electronic formats. The print on demand option uses Lightning Source, Ingram Spark’s sister company, to handle the actual printing, but unlike Ingram Spark, there’s no setup fee.
Print & ebook bundling
If a book is available in print and ebook, you can set an add-on cost which is the amount charged for the ebook when bought with the print book. This can be zero, so that a customer that buys the print book gets the ebook for free. Or it can be a discounted price for the ebook.
DriveThruFiction offers an affiliate scheme, with links that are simple to set up. If someone buys within fifteen days of following your affiliate link you get up to 5% of the purchase price. Our Local Links WordPress plugin can automatically add your affiliate code to DriveThruFiction links on your website.
You can split the royalties of individual titles, so that a fixed percentage goes to someone else. This was originally intended to allow automatic compensation of illustrators, but Robin has used it to split the royalties on a co-authored book.
Pay what you want
DriveThruFiction offers a “pay what you want” pricing option. This allows customers to get the title for free (or at cost for print on demand titles), or to pay whatever they wish. This can be a useful alternative to permafree.
Tracking where sales come from
DriveThruFiction uses “source codes” to track where sales come from. By adding a parameter to the end of a link, eg “?src=website” you can monitor how many sales came from that link. Our Local Links WordPress plugin can automatically add a source code to DriveThruFiction links on your website.
Let’s be honest, many authors dislike the idea of marketing, but without marketing, books don’t sell. Fortunately, DriveThruFiction have a range of tools that will help. Most of them require expenditure of “Publisher Promotion Points” (PPP). It is possible to buy PPP, but they’re deliberately expensive to discourage buying. Every publisher is given ten PPP every month, plus an extra one for every $10 of sales they made the previous month.
The cost of promotions are variable, depending on how many publishers are already using the option. The more publishers that are using a given feature, the higher the cost in PPP to use it. If you can’t afford a particular promotion, it’s worth checking again the next day as the cost might have gone down.
There is built-in support for bundling several titles. Just create a bundle and add titles. Set a bundle price for each title, and the bundle price will be the total of them. Alternatively, you can set a price for the bundle, and each book’s bundle price will be set accordingly.
It’s equally simple to set up a multi-author bundle. Just set a password for the bundle, then give that password to the other authors. They will then be able to add their books to the bundle. When the bundle sells, each book’s author gets their royalty based on the book’s bundle price.
Email your readers
You can’t get the email addresses of your readers, but you can email them via the website. These emails may not contain links to outside sites, but they can contain links to your other books on DriveThruFiction. Readers can opt out of receiving these emails, and you can see a report showing how many emails will be sent before sending it.
DriveThruFiction has a simple interface to create discount links. The discount can be any amount, including 100%. You can limit the discounts to a certain number of downloads, or give them an expiration date.
DriveThruFiction runs site-wide promotions periodically. You may opt in to all of these sales, or only those that offer a discount of 40% or less. In addition, you can optionally specify that only titles over a certain age are included, so that new releases aren’t discounted this way.
DriveThruFiction offers two types of advertising. Banner ads are the type of short, wide advert that were a common sight on websites some years ago. Featured messages are a small thumbnail of the book’s cover, with text to the left.
Both types can be displayed on the home page or the book’s category page. Not surprisingly, the PPP cost of home page placement is usually much higher.
Deal of the day
Every day, one title is the deal of the day, and you can submit your titles for inclusion. Titles are chosen at random, but those that aren’t chosen are kept in the list, so you’ll get chosen sooner or later.
Robin has found this to be the most effective use of their PPP, especially when combined with discount links and emailing readers. When they get a Deal of the Day, they use the “Email your readers” functionality to email everyone that has bought their other books but not this one. They include a link to the book’s page and tell them the discounted price.
A week or two after the deal, Robin emails everyone that has bought the deal book, with links to related books, sometimes including a discount link.
Every author should have a website. Some think that a Facebook page or an Amazon page is a viable alternative. Both are certainly useful and worth having, but they should complement an author website, not replace it.
The reason can be expressed in a single word: Control. You have no control over your Facebook page or Amazon page. Facebook and Amazon control how they look and can advertise competing books on your page. They can even remove your access or take the page down at any time, with no right to appeal.
A website, by contrast, is owned and controlled by you. If you decide that you don’t like the hosting company, you can move it elsewhere. No-one else can advertise their books on your site. You can choose the domain that you want to use. You can choose how it looks. If you use WordPress (which we use and recommend) you can easily change how it looks whenever you wish. Most WordPress themes are responsive, which means that they adapt well to different screen sizes. A lot of web browsing is done on mobile devices these days, so this is an important consideration.
Get a domain that is tied to your name if you can. Your name with a .com at the end is ideal if you can get it. If you can’t get your name, try adding something like “author” or “books” to the end. For authors based in the UK, a .co.uk or .uk is a good alternative. Robin’s pen name is Russell Phillips, and his website is at RussellPhillips.uk.
A web address like that is professional and gives a good first impression. You can set up an email address for the domain. This keeps your book-related emails separate and gives a better impression than a GMail or Yahoo address. If you prefer, have emails forwarded to your webmail. Always set your mailing list’s “From” address to be your domain address, not GMail, Yahoo, or whatever. Doing this will help your emails to avoid the spam folder.
Flexibility and selling direct
Having your own website gives you a great deal of flexibility. It should always have all the details of your books, with buy links. Beyond that though, you can include whatever features you wish. Some people blog, some have a podcast. We strongly recommend including a mailing list sign-up form, and some people use pop-ups too.
Websites can also host content that will be of interest to your readers. Including information for book clubs might help it get chosen by a club. If you are willing to do author talks, make sure that is clear on your site, along with information about how to book you.
You can sell books and/or ebooks directly, giving you another revenue stream. Many readers prefer to buy all their books from a single store such as Amazon or Kobo, but some will value the opportunity to buy direct from the author. You can set everything up yourself using a WordPress plugin like WooCommerce, or use a company like Payhip which simplifies matters. Either way, the money from any sales will be paid to you immediately, not sixty or ninety days later as is typical with other vendors. You can create discount vouchers to help promote direct sales, or sell a new release from your website before releasing it on the other vendors.
I recently organised a multi-author sale. Several authors (including myself) agreed to reduce the price of one or more of their ebooks to $0.99/£0.99 for a week. I created a page on my website listing the books with links to where they could be bought. Everyone agreed to promote the sale to their newsletter or pay towards a Facebook advertising campaign. So far so good.
I got an unpleasant surprise on the eve of the sale, when I went to reduce the price of one of my books to the required $0.99/£0.99. Amazon wouldn’t let me reduce the price to less than $1.99/£1.25. These minimum prices have been in place since at least 2017, but they don’t get talked about very much, so they’re easy to miss.
The book that I was trying to reduce the price on contains a lot of images, and the file size is about 7MB, much larger than the typical ebook. Kindle books of between 3MB and 10MB have a minimum price of $1.99, even on the 35% royalty option. Kindle books larger than 10MB have a minimum price of $2.99 on the 35% royalty option.
Most ebooks won’t be affected by this, but books with large numbers of images and ebook box sets might be. If you’re planning to run a sale, check the minimum price for your book before you publicise the sale price. In my case, I was able to work around the issue. Since I have multiple books published, I was able to simply put a different book in the sale, one with a file size small enough to allow me to reduce the price as required. This neatly illustrates one of the advantages of having multiple books published — greater flexibility.
Draft2Digital’s Reading Lists allow you to create curated collections of books. You can showcase your own books, or create a list of recommended books in a genre or around a subject. Reading Lists use Universal Book Links (UBLs), so refer to my UBL article if you don’t know how to create them.
Create a Reading List
Log in to your Books2Read account. Hover over the “Link Tools” link at the top-right of the screen, then click “Reading Lists”. To create a new list, click on the “Make a New Reading List” button.
Enter details on the left of the screen. To the right is a preview. Under the “Details” header, you will need to add a name. You can optionally add a tagline. Then open the “Choose Header Image” section. You can choose an image from the drop-down list, or upload your own. Optionally, choose a colour overlay to add, click the bar to choose the colour’s opacity.
Add search terms and BISAC classifications in their sections. These will help the list’s discoverability.
The advanced options allow you to force clicks to a single store, bypassing the book’s UBL page. This is useful when compiling a list of books enrolled in KDP Select, since the books will only be available on Amazon.
You can set a custom link, one that is easier to remember or read out on a podcast.
Add Carousels and Books
When the list details are all filled in, click the “Add Books” button. Carousels are used to organise books in lists. If you have multiple series for instance, you could have a carousel for each series.
The new page has fields for the carousel name and description. Both can be left empty if preferred.
After entering these, click the green box labelled “Click to add books.” This will bring up a search box, which will search your UBLs. You can add multiple books at a time. Select the books you want to add, then click “Add selected books”.
To remove books, click the dustbin icon, select the books to remove, and click “Remove selected books”. To add more books, click the plus icon. Re-order the book covers by dragging and dropping.
To add a new carousel, click “Add carousel” at the bottom of the page. Add books to the new carousel in the same way as the first one. Click “Manage carousels” at the bottom of the page to remove or re-order the carousels.
Using the Reading List
When you’re happy with the layout, click the “Save and continue” button at the top. The last page shows the reading list’s link, and a “Copy link” button, which will copy the link to your clipboard. It also has buttons to share the link to Facebook or Twitter.
If you have multiple series, a reading list is a useful way of showcasing all of them on a single page, with a carousel for each series.
Another option is to list related books or a list of recommended books. I have a Cold War reading list, which includes several of my own books and books by other authors. Because universal book links support affiliate links, you can earn affiliate commission even when a reader buys another author’s book.
Every now and then, Amazon discounts one of my paper books. Sometimes the discount is so steep that the price is less than author copies cost me. This can happen to any indie author, and it can be disconcerting, but there’s no need to worry. Here are some ways you can take advantage of the situation.
First, it’s important to note that you will be paid the normal amount for every copy sold, regardless of the price the customer pays. In this article, I’ll use an example book that has a printing cost of $5, with a normal list price of $10, and a royalty of $1.
Option 1: Tell People
If you were running a sale, you’d tell people about it, so do the same in this situation. The only difference is that it’s not something you planned. It’s still a bargain, though, so email your mailing list and post on social media. Even your fans that already own a copy or prefer ebooks might want to buy a copy to give as a present.
In this option, your readers get a bargain, and you get your standard royalty ($1 in the example book) from every sale, but the lower price could lead to more sales.
There’s no way to predict how long such a discount will last. Make sure you make that clear — you don’t want your readers to think that you’ve lured them into a bait & switch.
Option 2: Buy Some Yourself
Sometimes Amazon drops the price to less than the cost of author copies, in which case you can get a double benefit by buying copies yourself. Not only do you get copies at a reduced price, you also get your usual royalty.
Taking the above example, if the price has been reduced to $4, you can buy it for a dollar less than the usual price of $5. This is a bargain in and of itself, but you also get a dollar in royalties, making the effective price just $3.
If you have a way to sell them, or use them as prizes, this is a great opportunity to get them at a lower price than usual.