Having worked in publishing for the past two decades, I've seen how profoundly this business has changed. Back in the good ol' days, writers used to focus solely on writing their books, and then the publisher would take over the book marketing and selling. Ah, yes, those were the days when writers simply wrote.
The digital world of publishing has altered everything about this industry.
When it comes to being an author, it is about so much more than writing books.
"You're building a career, not just selling books." That's how literary agents Laura Zats and Erik Hane sum it up in one of their recent episodes (June 18, 2019) of Print Run, one of my favorite podcasts about writing and the book publishing industry.
According to Laura and Erik, writing careers don't just happen around selling books anymore.
Authors today are running their own businesses. In addition to writing and marketing their books, authors today are editing, teaching, writing essays, contracting for serial work, collaborating with other writers and more.
That's not all. Readers in today's world want to get to know authors up close. They want to know about writers' lives outside of books and their writing processes. Readers want contact and connection with their favorite authors.
When it comes to book release day, authors need to have a handle on online and social media strategies for book marketing.
That's why I reached out to seven authors I know in person and/or have followed online for years to glean their tips and tricks.
Meet the authors
These authors write for a range of audiences, from adults and teens to middle schoolers and young children. They are all published with mainstream houses and I consider them to be book marketing rock stars.
Read on to learn more about their marketing tips.
7 book marketing tips from successful authors
Here are some the book marketing tips these authors have learned over the years:
- You need a website.
- Embrace social media.
- Be yourself online.
- Take readers on a virtual book tour.
- Present online giveaways.
- Stay in touch with email newsletters.
- Connect with independent bookstores.
Let’s get started!
1. You need a website
"I've been the proud owner of a GoDaddy domain for 10-plus years," says Bree Barton, an author who describes herself as "Wordy. Nerdy. A little absurdy." Her stunning website features her 2018 debut trilogy, “Heart of Thorns,” and its forthcoming sequel, “Tears of Frost.”
When you land on Bree's site, you immediately get a sense of her style and her sense of humor. You grasp her brand within minutes, and you also learn more about her writing career in addition to books.
Yes, a website is a must-have for every author. Every author website needs:
- A bio
- A headshot
- Links to buy your book
- Book reviews and blurbs
- Schedule of appearances
- A contact page
- Links to social media
Related: 12 things every author website needs
2. Embrace social media
"I love social media," says Julie Buxbaum, the New York Times best-selling author of “Tell Me Three Things,” “What to Say Next” and her latest, “Hope and other Punchlines.”
"I love Instagram, Twitter and Facebook as a way to get the word out about my books, but it's also an organic way to feel connected to the writing and reading communities."
Instagram seems to be a favorite book marketing tool for successful authors.
"Personally, I’ve found Instagram to be one of the most effective tools in helping to spread the word," says Kelly deVos, author of “Fat Girl on a Plane” (named one of the “50 Best Summer Reads of All Time” by Reader’s Digest magazine) and the forthcoming “Day Zero.”
Instagram is also a way to be "an active and engaged member of the writing community," Kelly adds. "Some of my best marketing opportunities have come from writers who, over the years, have become valued friends. If you can, join writing organizations, like the Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI) for example, go to conferences, or attend book talks and signings in your area."
"If you love a book, give it a shout out on your social media."
Bree, who writes from Los Angeles, says that Instagram also allows her a way to connect and collaborate with other authors. "I get to feature other artists making and doing cool things in the world. I've also really enjoyed using Insta stories to post candid, authentic content, everything from hikes with my silly dog to my ongoing journey through depression.”
3. Be yourself online
"I think being active on social media when I'm not trying to sell a book helps" when it comes to getting the word out about her novels, adds Julie Buxbaum a Los Angeles-based writer who describes herself on Twitter as having a "resting ask me for directions face."
"So, when I do have to do that uncomfortable self-promo, people understand that's only a small percentage of the content I'm providing."
Julie recently announced the deal for her newest novel, “The Side Door,” about a college admissions scandal, forthcoming in 2020.
"Be online frequently, but not only to promote your books," agrees Saadia Faruqi, author of the children's series “Yasmin” and a forthcoming (2021) nonfiction collective biography to celebrate Muslim visionaries.
"Connect with readers, librarians, booksellers and other authors, and share their content with a big heart."
4. Take readers on a virtual book tour
Unless you're a best-selling author with a publicity department behind you, you probably won't be taking off on an international book tour with the champagne pouring.
That's why your website can take readers with you on a personal book tour.
"Leading up to my debut, I tried to share bits and pieces of my writing process and my book — and a little more info about ‘Actual Person Me’ vs. ‘Author Me’," says Mae Respicio, author of “The House That Lou Built,” which received the APALA (Asian Pacific American Library Association) 2019 Honor Award in Children’s Literature.
"I think it's a great way to get readers excited about your book, and helps make the idea of an 'author' less abstract because you're getting to know the real live person behind the book."
5. Present online giveaways
K.A. Reynolds, author of the 2018 fantasy novel “The Land of Yesterday,” hosts giveaways online as if readers were in person to win.
"Running giveaways on social media are my most productive, successful and favorite marketing tool, which is perfect for me, as I REALLY love giving fun things away," says K.A., who was born and raised in Winnipeg, Canada, and now lives in "the wilds of Maine."
"This not only grows my followers but gets my book and cover before as many eyes as possible, which is the best one can hope for when trying to sell books," says K.A. "This also drives people to pre-order, to add your book on Goodreads, and read the blurb/s while they’re there — all of which drives people to tell other people about your book!"
For K.A.’s novel “The Spinner of Dreams,” she gave away bookmarks, stickers, pins and mailable postcards featuring select book art from the interior of the book.
"Who doesn’t love book swag?"
"Bookmarks are also a great talking point when it comes to connecting with your local indies and libraries. Take a stack in. Give them to the librarian and bookseller to hand out to readers. This gets your name and book out, too."
6. Stay in touch with email newsletters
"I try to send a newsletter out at least once per quarter with information about what I’m reading and working on," says Kelly, who lives in who lives in Gilbert, Arizona, and is a GoDaddy customer.
"I’ve used GoDaddy in the past in my marketing career and have always been really impressed by their technical support. For writers, I know GoDaddy has been working hard to do great things with WordPress, which is what I use for my author website," Kelly says.
Newsletters are a great way to promote your work without spending a lot of money.
"As soon as you can, start attracting newsletter subscribers so you can target promotion without spending money on ads," says Mary Ann Marlowe, romance author of “Some Kind of Magic,” “A Crazy Kind of Love,” and “Dating by the Book,” who writes from central Virginia. "You can do this even before you have a book out by including content such as writing advice, book reviews, or giveaways, such as an eBook of a friend’s novel or a small gift certificate."
Bree puts a lot of time and energy into her creative newsletters. "Those monthly letters have created a forum for some of the writing I'm most proud of. So don't let anyone tell you what you should or shouldn't be doing to promote your book. Be honest, be real, and do the stuff that sets your soul on fire."
Using a mix of email marketing and social media is also a great way to get the word out about your books.
"I do have newsletters that people can sign up for on my website," says Saadia, who writes from Houston, Texas, has been featured in Oprah magazine. She describes herself as a "Pakistani American author, essayist and interfaith activist."
"But my premier ways of getting news out about my upcoming books are Twitter and Instagram," Saadia says. "I love these two platforms and am very active on both of them. They allow me to be creative in promoting my work and also connecting with my readers."
A newsletter can also include where readers might purchase your book.
7. Connect with independent bookstores
"I will say that I'm a huge supporter of independent bookstores," says Mae, who's based in the San Francisco Bay Area. "They're all about relationship building — with authors and with readers. I love that, and I try to support indies whenever I can. In fact my local indie has a link where you can buy my books directly from them; this allows me to personalize the book before it's shipped out. How cool is that?"
Supporting small businesses is important to these authors.
"I'm thrilled if readers purchase my books anywhere (or take them out of the library)," says Julie. "But I particularly love when people support their local independent bookstores.
Bonus tips and advice
When I asked writers for their best advice to a debut author who's getting ready to spread the word about her forthcoming book, I loved all the answers.
"Before your debut comes out it's easy to stress, thinking, 'I need to do All The Things,' but for most people (myself included) that's not realistic," says Mae, whose second novel “Any Day With You” is forthcoming in May 2020. "My best advice is do what feels right or enjoyable for you and the rest... give yourself permission to skip!"
Some authors did skip some advice and were better for it.
"My advice is to find the path that feels truest to you," adds Bree.
"I was told that as a debut author—especially a young adult author—I had to be on Twitter. I was on it for about two years and it just about killed me. Twitter felt like a daily (and devastating) punch to my soul,” Bree says. “I deactivated in 2017 and I've never looked back. Later that year, I made my first Instagram account, and it's been an infinitely better match for the kind of aesthetic content I love to post: fan art by my amazing readers, cover art by my amazing cover designer, and my own pictures in nine-tile groups. IG feels collaborative in a way that excites me."
Editor’s note: Looking for marketing tools to grow your fanbase? GoDaddy has a variety of marketing tools to help you — from SEO to email marketing, we have you covered.