Q: I’ve decided to self-publish my book on Amazon. How can I get readers to actually buy copies?
A: Although it’s vital to first write a professional-quality book on a topic people want to read, certain marketing strategies make for a successful self-published launch.
It helps to remember: most writers are not marketing professionals–they spend their free time WRITING–so give yourself grace when navigating the inner-workings of unfamiliar industries such as marketing, PR, and publishing.
Below are hard-won lessons I’ve learned from working with clients who self-published to successful sales, versus those who struggled.
But first, the most important tip: do things in the right order!
Most writers do things backwards: they release a title before taking the time to build an audience, and then try to figure out how promote it. For debut writers who self-publish, this can be the kiss of book-sales-death. (And, if you publish a title that sits for ages with few sales, it gets steadily penalized by the algorithm.)
Just as it takes patience to learn how to write, and patience to make it through many drafts of a manuscript, it takes patience to build your brand as an author, to promote a product: your book.
Writers who select the self-publishing route out of impatience should recognize that time saved querying agents or perfecting prose will still end up being spent on platform-building and marketing tasks in order to have any shot at selling books. The good news is, it gets easier for each subsequent release once you gain clarity around your topic, connect with your target audience, and establish your brand.
Take these steps, in this order, to increase sales of your self-published book:
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Clearly identify the TOPIC of your book as you draft your manuscript. Understand ALL sales as a debut author will be made as a result of your book’s TOPIC: not your bio, not your prose style, not the story itself. If you become well-known, readers may then buy everything you’ve ever written; until then, they tend to purchase only topics of interest.
Clarity of topic is as necessary for novels and memoir as for nonfiction. (Literary writers are especially in need of tying their work to a topic, as readers rarely buy style or theme, although they appreciate it after they’ve purchased a book.)
What larger topic could you tie your story to? A topic might = The Battle of the Little Bighorn / Past Lives / Trains / School Shootings / How to Write a Bestseller / Any Geographic Locale or Era or Scandal or Individual or Trend or Social Issue or Health Issue / S&M / Unsolved Mysteries / etc. (Want to know how many potential buyers might exist for any topic? Look for the number of Facebooks groups and members of each on it. Look to see if books on the topic have shot to bestseller status in the past. Do a quick Google analysis to see how many people have searched for that topic in the past year.)
Your topic is what you will become a featured expert on. It’s what you will either blog about, guest post about, make short videos about, run a group around, speak on podcasts or to interviewers or groups regarding. (Your book will get mentioned, and linked to for sales. But you will mostly be asked to address your topic.)
Next, spend one-two years building a community around your topic to market to. You can do this concurrently as you write your book. You may already have the makings of a community if you are affiliated with a particular issue. (But if you don’t have either a regular newsletter, updated blog, optimized YouTube or TikTok following, or run a Facebook group, or have someplace you speak/teach/write regularly, to whom will you market your new book?)
It can be overwhelming for anyone to believe they have to have a presence on all of these platforms or utilize all such outlets. Doing so would also spread your energy much too thin. You only need to commit to a single outlet and build one engaged community for a launch. But it may take time to find where your community lives, and the time to find out is well before you launch your book.
HOW WILL THEY KNOW?
Plan a launch campaign that begins six to nine months prior to your book’s release date. This is when you get your community excited to buy. During this time, you assemble your team, guest post, speak on podcasts, tease with excerpts via whichever platform you favor, gather reviews, and prepare author pages.
Your launch campaign is how you secure pre-orders. (Ensure you get as many pre-orders as possible, which get counted toward first-week sales. First-week sales determine your book’s ranking on lists.)
Launch-campaign countdown lists are everywhere on the internet. Download a few and work backwards to determine how much time you will need to prepare for yours.
WHERE DO I FIT IN?
Categorize your book strategically on Amazon to ensure you rank as highly as possible. Some authors become best-sellers due to wise categorization alone.
DROP IT LIKE IT’S HOT
Utilize Amazon promos, run giveaways, and consider listing your book at a “launch price” of .99 cents rather than its standard list price to boost first-week sales. Have media and fans you’ve coordinated with feature your book, not just on the day it gets released, but throughout the entire first week, if possible. If a local bookstore is willing to stock copies, host (and stream) a live launch party to celebrate you, your book, and your readers.
Self-publishing remains a valid route with merits for many authors, but just because you decide not to go with a traditional publisher does not mean you get to avoid thinking like a traditional publisher when it comes time to market. They have departments of professionals to do this work. You have you. Note that traditional publishers’ typical timelines from signing an author (with a completed manuscript) to the book’s release can run from eighteen to twenty-four months, so accept that it may take you just as long to launch as a solo act. And that’s OK. ✨
an Arizona-based editor who turns ideas into art. Need to get your book publication-ready?