If, like me, you self-published your first novel during the pandemic, you might be wondering how on earth to go about promoting it. With bookshops – and indeed most places – still shut due to lockdown, it may not feel like the ideal time to be attracting new readers to your book. Thankfully, there are still avenues available for those of us who want to continue selling books after the heady times of release day (1. you can read about my release day here, and 2. no, I don’t think writers should feel embarrassed about the fact they actually want people to buy their novels). So here are a few ideas based on my own (limited) experience of promoting a novel in the times of Covid.
If you have any other tips, I’d love to hear about them in the comments. Do let me know!
BLOGS AND SOCIAL MEDIA
It probably goes without saying that blogs, author websites and social media are all good ways to let people know about your publication. Even small (but hopefully engaged) readerships like mine are a useful place to tell people about your book. It’s worth setting up a blog or website in advance of publishing to allow time to find an audience who enjoy your style of writing. You can also encourage readers to join your mailing list, giving them the opportunity to keep up to date with your bookish news and special offers. I set up mine for free through Mailchimp (if you’re interested in my very occasional newsletters you can sign up at the bottom of this blog).
BOOK BLOGGERS, GUEST POSTS AND LOCAL MEDIA
As well as using your own blog to promote your book, writing for other sites can also be beneficial in terms of reaching new and potential readers. Some websites welcome content from writers in a similar genre – for example, I recently wrote for FarNorth.scot on storytelling traditions of the Highlands, and how these related to my book. Book blogging contacts might also agree to provide an honest review of your book in exchange for a free copy (I sent copies of my book to a few blogging friends I’ve had for years now). Personally, I prefer to approach people I have a genuine connection with – as a blogger myself, it’s unusual for me to agree to a request that comes completely out of the blue. Do bear in mind that if you plan to offer someone a review copy of your book, you should make that offer without any expectation of a glowing write up.
It’s also worth contacting local newspapers, radio stations or other media outlets to see if they will carry some content on your exciting new release!
GIVEAWAYS AND AMAZON REVIEWS
In the weeks following my book’s release, I did a couple of giveaways on Instagram and Facebook. Although these didn’t result in an actual increase in book sales, they did create a little bit of buzz around the book, and felt like a nice thing to do (which is always good). I also encouraged people who had bought my book to leave a review on Amazon – interestingly, I recently discovered that it’s possible to review a book on Amazon even if the book was purchased elsewhere. This was a useful piece of information for me, as most of my sales have been made directly, or via a local stockist (the latter prior to the latest closure of non essential retail in the UK).
Reviews are important because Amazon uses review numbers as part of its decision-making process on whether to suggest books to potential readers – a bit like the algorithms on social media. And as a neat segue out of this section – if you’ve read Castles of Steel and Thunder, and haven’t left a review yet, please consider doing so (by navigating to the ‘write a customer review’ tab towards the bottom of this link).
AMAZON CATEGORIES AND KDP SELECT
On the subject of Amazon, if your book is for sale there, it’s worth checking it sits in an appropriate range of categories. Some of the categories on Amazon are massive, so try exploring some of the more niche ones to give your book the best chance of a good rating, and the possibility of being seen. It’s also advisable to revisit your categories from time to time (Amazon seem to have a habit of dropping certain categories, leading to your book falling into strange realms – my book, a sweet tale of myth and legend recently ended up in the horror section which could lead to mismanaged reader expectations. At the same time, the age range was wrong, implying the book was suitable for toddlers who also happened to be fans of blood-curdling slash-fests. Not quite the audience I had in mind.)
I’ve also recently enrolled my eBook in KDP Select, which offers a range of marketing tools such as limited-time offers and free book deals – but also means the eBook version of your book remains exclusive to Amazon for 90 day rolling periods. At this point, I’ve yet to see any increase in sales as a result of switching (but at the same time I haven’t used any of the tools available just yet.) I know some authors dislike the idea of exclusivity on their eBook, but as a first time author it’s unlikely I’ll find the wherewithal to publish more widely in the next three months or so. Depending on your own particular situation, it may – or may not – be worth considering.
As an aside, look out for a trial of some of those limited-time offers on the eBook of Castles and Steel and Thunder soon!
LIBRARIES, BOOK FESTIVALS, BOOK CLUBS AND BOOK SUBSCRIPTION BOXES
Prior to the latest Scottish lockdown, my local library was invaluable in supporting with my book release. They ran promotional material, allowed me to run a Covid-safe book signing on the premises, and even acted as a collection point for purchased copies of my book. If you are lucky enough to live near such a wonderful resource, try getting in touch to assess whether they can help you with your book launch (restrictions of course permitting). Just remember to give back when they are looking for writers to help with events or ventures in the future. (I also made a modest donation to the library, and gifted them several copies of my book to give out on loan).
Book Festivals are another good way to publicise your book, and although restrictions have obviously hampered in-person events, many festivals are proceeding with online events this year. Next month, I’ll be appearing as part of the line-up for the third John O’ Groats Book Festival (look out for more information on social media soon). Try investigating whether similar events are running in your area (or elsewhere – the beauty of online events is the ability to connect from anywhere). I’m also looking forward to joining up to some of the John O’ Groat Festival events as an audience member – most writers are avid readers too!
Book Clubs are another excellent resource in the promotion of your novel, if you are able to connect with any (try looking up #bookclub posts on Instagram). The offer of appearing at a Zoom meeting to discuss your book may be appealing to groups who are currently connecting virtually – I’ve already had one book group approach me about covering my novel (if you are a book group with an interest in YA fantasy/folklore, please feel free to get in touch.) Another growing trend on the #bookstagram front is the growing number of book subscription services – books sent out with a selection of complementary goodies for a monthly subscription fee. Again, if you are offering such a service, and need new book ideas, please feel free to drop me a line.
*As a side note, there aren’t many of these schemes operating from the Highlands, so this might also be a good business opportunity for someone seeking to set up a Far North book box service. I’d be delighted to see a box filled with local offerings from Caithness – and I know many local authors would love to get involved!*
So that concludes my round up of ideas to get you started on promoting your self-published book in a pandemic – do let me know in the comments if it’s been helpful.
And now that the Scottish Government has announced the re-opening of non essential retail from the 26th April, I’m off to write a few emails asking some nice bookstores to consider stocking copies my book….
Find out more about Castles of Steel and Thunder and buy the book here.
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These are some great tips and one day I think I will follow in your footsteps. It’s been a difficult time, but I think you are doing amazing. And you have such a great book to promote. xxx
Thanks so much Susan, and I can’t wait to hear about your book when the time comes! x