Her Debut Novel Just Turned 1. Which Marketing Tactics Worked?

It’s a good idea for any type of book marketing outreach to have a plan.

Even better idea when you’re just a single author, and not a major corporation – time and budget are both so much more precious…and the results so much more personal.

The start of a new year is a good time to pause and assess before forging on ahead.

Let’s take a hard look at what I’ve done with my first year as a published author, considering what’s worked, what hasn’t and where to go from here.

Looking back at 2016

It’s been a heck of a year. On the most basic level, for me as an author, it’s been a very successful one.

I got published!

And by a traditional publisher!

And then that novel — the first I’ve ever written — won Florida Writers Association’s top honor as Book of the Year. Pardon me if my pride is showing for a moment.

Beyond that, I attended my first author event, participated in my first panel, had my first radio interview, presented to my first writers groups — there were a lot of author-ly firsts involved.

Along with that, I had to figure out my author brand and establish a presence for my pen name—and then grow it! That includes a website, social media, e-newsletter, event signage and other support materials.

Just getting through it all has been an intense, hands-on crash course in book marketing.

Key to this experience, I believe, is that I said yes to as much as possible, tried a ton of different things, learned as much as I could through experiments and watching others and took swift action based on those lessons.

What worked?

The good news is, a lot of my efforts to grow my platform worked really well. They didn’t all work perfectly at the start, but with some experimentation, I was able to learn how to get the most from them.

These successes include:

  • Reader events. This has been the best way to sell books consistently, even if it’s often  just five-to-ten books per event day. Beyond that, I always get to talk to readers, build up name recognition and get a lot of new subscribers to my email list, which introduces them to my writing with a free novella.
  • Networking. And by networking I mean, very simply, talking to the people around me at these reader events—not just readers, but the other authors. This has let to a number of additional opportunities.
  • Awards. The award I won in October has been a wonderful impetus for new promotional opportunities, like talking to writers groups, and has built more credibility for the quality of my writing in general—major for a small press author!
  • Facebook ads. This is the primary way I expand my reach to new readers online right now, helping my list to grow from 21 followers at its start last February to over 800 today. The best hook has proven to be a free novella offer.
  • E-newsletter. Despite the rapid growth, engagement has remained high for my newsletter, and unsubscribes low. I believe this has to do with focusing on keeping content short, fun, and valuable to my science fiction/fantasy reader base.
  • Focusing on alternate metrics of success. Being a debut novelist is never easy, but this is especially true for indie and small press authors. Using my book as a tool for platform-building instead of a product for sales, I’ve been able to make valuable progress on markers of more long-term success, like email subscribers and speaking opportunities.

What didn’t work?

You have to be willing to fail sometimes with your marketing in order to learn more about what works and what doesn’t. I definitely had my share of those in 2016, but I feel good about the lessons I’ve taken from those failures.

These included:

  • Online sales. Post-launch, sales for my book slowly dwindled to almost nothing. Heartbreaking! I quickly learned to invest time elsewhere (events) to make sales.
  • Email automation funnel. I created an email automation series, with the goal of delivering my free novella to new readers and turning those readers into novel sales. It hasn’t worked so far.
  • Being a single-novel author. With just one novel, you either draw a reader in, or you don’t. And your opportunities for discoverability are much smaller than those of an author with, say, 20 books.
  • Getting reviews. Despite several indicators that readers enjoy my writing, reviews have been slow to accumulate, even with a direct ask in my email automation.

What’s next?

Looking ahead into 2017, there is a lot I can do to run with these lessons learned in 2016.

I’ve got some big plans ahead…in fact, I expect the hardest thing about this will be simply to pace myself, and not become overwhelmed.

My action plan includes:

  • One event a month. I’ve become more discriminating about what events I invest in, and what kind of readership those events draw.
  • Refine email automation. I am in the process of researching and re-crafting my email automation series from scratch, restructuring each email’s message and timing to better optimize reader relationships, book sales and reviews.
  • Writing faster. To reduce the hardships of being a single-book author, I’m going to stop being one. The second book in my series is already with my editor, and I’m going to get at least two more novels out this year, one in the series, another totally separate.
  • Street team. I’m going to develop a street team this year to get more reviews for each book, extend my online marketing outreach and foster a stronger connection with my most enthusiastic readers.

It’s tough being a debut author, especially when you’re indie or small press. It also comes with a very steep learning curve.

But don’t let the challenges discourage you. No effort is wasted if you learn from it and continuously apply those lessons to what you do next.

We can’t all be the prodigy who lucks out and becomes the first-time bestseller. But we can all adapt and iterate and grow with every new effort and grow that readership over time.

Do this over and over again, and you’re sure to continually reach new heights of success. Happy 2017, writers, and best wishes for success this coming year.

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