Selling your book (or books) can be as challenging, or even more challenging, than writing. For an academic, sales is often secondary to the simple act of publishing. But that does not mean an scholar or student shouldn’t aim to make some sales. Sales are essential to the distribution of your information.
There are a number of specific things you can do as a self-published and independent author to promote your work, but there is never a guarantee any of these will result in sales. So many factors go into selling a book, and transitioning initial sales into regular sales, that laying out a definitive plan is almost impossible. The concentration you write in, the style you write with, the people you know, the time you have to spend on marketing, the appetite of readers, the price you set, the design of your cover…the list could go on and on.
Your marketing strategy will have to be unique to you, your goals, and your work. What Glasstree can offer are some best practices and ideas about the ways others have found success in marketing their books. Remember, any suggestion here should be taken as broad suggestions based on past experience.
That said, let’s think about marketing in three phases:
- Planning – developing a plan based on your book, your goals, and your audience
- Acting – following through on the plan
- Maintaining – retaining readers through consistent efforts after the initial release of your work
If you’re an educator, scholar, or student, and you’ve written a book (or multiple books) you plan to self-publish, the marketing aspect may not be something you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. But if you hope to sell copies and earn some income from those sales, you’ll want to start with a plan. Most marketing experts would suggest making this plan well in advance of publishing, but because this is self-publishing, you don’t need to commit to that model. At least not at first.
No matter where you are in the publishing process, if you want to get your book in the hands of readers, you need a plan. The first step in developing a marketing plan is learning. I encourage you to get out there and read as many books and guides on in depth marketing strategies as you can. To keep things simple for today, here is the basic outline I suggest:
- Identify your goals
- Identify your market
- Identify your book’s position in the market
Any of these points can be considered at any stage of the writing and publishing process. Earlier is better to be sure, but if you’ve already published your book and want to increase sales and reach more readers, there is still plenty of time to implement a marketing plan.
The first step is identifying the market you’ll be targeting with your promotion efforts. You need to know who will read your book and the kinds of books they like to read. For an academic author, this is generally pretty simple, as you’ll have those readers in mind all along. If you’re a mathematician, you know your biggest market will be other mathematicians and students of mathematics. Identifying your market will be the easiest part of your marketing plan.
With a good sense of who you’ll be reaching, you next want to think about how you’ll reach them. Do you have an email list? A professional or personal website you can use? Social Media? Word of mouth? The method of contact will inform the structure of your plan, as each of the above forums demand different levels of engagement to reach. Again, as an academic you have a leg up in this area, as you will likely have a few additional means of contact, such as school libraries and bookstores, student mailing lists, and research partners who can help spread the word about your publication.
The best way to get your marketing plan started is to create a timeline. Just like setting daily writing goals, a time line allows you to break down the big and complicated task of marketing your book into smaller, achievable individual goals. I really like developing a timeline to keep myself on task with my writing, and the same mentality can be applied to your marketing plan. Here’s a very broad idea of what a pre-release marketing timeline might look like:
Pick a release date at least 12 weeks out.
10-12 weeks – Contact bloggers and reviewers; determine how the book’s release page will look on your author website; contact any local bookstores you plan to use for signings; contact your institution to determine if the book will be placed in their academic library; begin peer reviewing (if necessary) and adjust any timeline plans based on the expected peer review time.
8-10 weeks – Draft all release material (press release, email, blog announcement); create a social media schedule and outline ideas for social media posts; plan giveaways; post initial social media teasers; reach out to academics and institutions that may wish to use your material for their curriculum.
6-8 weeks – Continue teasing on social media; review teaser materials (cover image, blurb, first chapter); publish press release; check in with bloggers and reviewers.
4-6 weeks – Launch giveaways (social media contest, Goodreads giveaway, etc.); ramp up social media teasing; verify in person engagements; announce any online appearances (podcast, webinar, Youtube author interview, etc.); schedule speaking events at academic institutions.
2-4 weeks – Release final teaser (first chapter, excerpt, cover, etc.); update author website with new book information, reviews; announce any winners for giveaways; send email announcement.
0-2 weeks – Begin final social media push; send reminders about any signing engagements; check in with any straggling reviewers.
This timeline is very rough, and includes only some of the strategies you might employ. But it should give a sense of the magnitude self-promoting encompasses.
Who are you trying to reach with your book? Unless you’re writing entirely for your own enjoyment, your audience should be a consideration from the very beginning of the process. When you first sit down and begin researching or writing, you’ll need to have your readers in mind. This will be crucial in making informed choices about how you write and structure your book. The same is true for marketing.
If you’ve written a text book about American History, your market will be very different than if you’ve written a monograph dissecting the impact of industrialization on Pacific Island nations. That might seem like common sense, but it is important to have this on your mind. The strategy you employ to promote your book will be tailored and focused around your intended readers. You want your book to be read, yes? Then you’ll want to think about who those readers are, what they expect, what they look for in a book, and what they avoid.
All of this can seem obtuse. How do you know what your potential readers expect? How do you know what they avoid? The best way to learn is to seek out and subscribe to as many publishing industry newsletter and market research websites as you can. Grab as much as you can, and get familiar with what it is readers are buying.
A great place to start is the Author Earnings blog, an independent source for a range of publishing industry statistics and data. Another great resource for learning more about what is trending in the publishing world is Publishers Weekly. I strongly encourage any author interested in promoting their book to sign up for PW’s newsletters.
However you go about doing it, the first crucial step in your marketing plan will be learning who your audience is (or will be) and what books they prefer.
You’ve written a book. Don’t let the magnitude and importance of that escape you in the arduous process of marketing your work. Take a minute and look through the book you’ve written. Define for yourself the field of study. What parts of academia will benefit most from your work? Think books you’ve read similar to your own. Then ask some friends, colleagues, and reviewers to share their thoughts. What books do they imagine on the shelf next to yours? What genre would they put your book into? Who do they think will benefit from the knowledge you’ve committed to the page?
Take all this information, compile it, and use it to define the position of your book in your field of study. Because you’re writing for academia, you’ll want to carefully consider who will read your book, who will benefit the most from your knowledge, and focus your efforts on that specific group.
The list of fields and sub-fields can be overwhelming, but by selecting your position thoughtfully, you’ll be better prepared to begin the marketing process once the book is published and released to the world.
Essentially, you want a sense of what need or role your book will play in the marketplace. Is it a manual with specific information that will apply to a niche of professionals in need of that information? Is it a scientific treatise applicable to researchers and teachers?
Your position in the market will be informed by the field of study your book fits into, as well as the reader base you have available. If you’ve got a long mailing list, or your part of a big academic community, you’ll have some potential customers before the book is even published.
The last piece to understanding your book’s market position is to understand your reader. Again, this will probably be tied very closely to your field of study, but they are not the same thing. I suggest create a “reader persona” as an exercise to better understand your readers. Imagine what this persona reads, how they surf the web, and the online journey that would bring them from their starting point to your book. Taking time to consider this reader persona can provide insights and ideas about how to reach readers and where to place any paid advertising you might purchase.
Don’t let the fact that determining your market position is often steeped in guess work deter you. Even if you have to reevaluate and adjust your definition of position as time goes by, the key is that you are thinking in terms of fields of study, reader personas, and the customer path your potential readers will take to find your work.
Marketing your work is a long term, ever changing challenge. One you’ll have to engage in if you plan to self-publish and sell on your own. But don’t let the challenge daunt you. As an academic author, you are an authority in your area of expertise, and you have valuable knowledge to share with your peers, and the world!
Treat marketing your book the same way you would treat any academic endeavor: plan, research, set reasonable goals, and stay on schedule. And because you’ve opted to publish independently, you’ll have the control you need to adapt to changing markets, along with the low cost of print on demand distribution to keep your budget under control.