Five Marketing Models
for Self-Publishing Success
Finding a publicity plan that works for you
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There’s no shortage of marketing and publicity services that promise to help self-published authors secure media attention and book reviews and increase sales. For the unschooled, however, it’s hard to know whom to hire, how much to
invest, and what type of marketing and publicity will make a
Furthermore, companies that offer self-publishing services—
knowing that there’s more demand than ever for such help—
will offer package plans that, in the end, may have little or no
effect on sales. (I’m thinking primarily of broad advertising in
mass market outlets, paid reviews, and social media campaigns
that are never seen by the target readership.)
Authors who try to buy attention or publicity would often do
better to focus on the bigger picture of building marketing
momentum effectively and meaningfully over a span of months—
even years. In my experience, there are five strategic models that
lead to effective marketing and publicity campaigns for books.
1. Reach Out Directly to an Established Audience
This is the easiest (no-brainer) model: authors who already have
a direct line to readers can execute an engagement strategy to
ensure that they make the right number of impressions, at the
right time, to maximize sales. People already well-known in
their fields—or who have a backlist history and, therefore, readership—and people who have name recognition (celebrities!)
are well-situated to succeed.
That’s why author-marketing guides often emphasize how to
establish or increase direct reach to readers—via email news
letters, social media, and advertising. Such efforts can fail unless
the author has a body of work to draw upon and act as a lure. For
this reason, first-time authors have the most difficulty improving
their reach. This seems to belabor the obvious point, but because
it is the most prevalent strategy out there, I see a lot of frustrated
authors trying to “find their readers” with a single book (or no
book!), without success. That brings us to the next model.
2. Always Be Producing
The more books you have out there, the easier the marketing
game is. That’s because you have more options for giving things
away for free, putting other things on discount, and bundling
books together—or making them part of a multiauthor bundle.
This principle applies to any creative pursuit. The more work
you put out, the more people will discover you. For example,
bestselling novelist Bella Andre has said that her sales really
started to skyrocket after she released the fifth book in her series.
You’ll find the same story repeated across many authors’ careers;
overnight successes are rare. However, some authors lack the
patience to see their work build a readership over time, or they
have only one book in them. This is of course problematic from
a marketing perspective.
3. Produce Across Multiple Mediums or Channels
Authors skilled in multimedia have an advantage over those
who release only e-books or print books. Reader discovery
increases when you can produce audiobooks, illustrated editions, podcasts, serialization (even if just at Wattpad), You Tube
videos, and so on. However, such efforts require a level of professional execution to be taken seriously and to have a positive
effect. With his multimedia project Into the Nanten, author Jay
Swanson is an example of someone doing it right.
4. Know the Right People or Start Meeting Authors with Pull
If you don’t have direct reach to readers, the next best thing is
knowing someone who does. Having connections with influencers who are willing to mention or recommend your work to
the appropriate readers is powerful. This isn’t necessarily about
securing blurbs (although those are nice, too), but more about a
personal introduction from a known name—as well as about
offering influencers a reason to feature you. (Sometimes authors
have no idea who the influencers are in their categories or genres;
tools such as Followerwonk and BuzzSumo can help you find out.)
If you’re not lucky enough to count such influencers among
your friends, ask yourself if there are other authors or organizations you could collaborate with. For example, Facebook groups
can help connect authors working in the same in genres.
5. Right Concept at the Right Time for a Specific Market
Last year, Publishers Weekly featured Victorine E. Lieske, a successful self-published author who argued that her success isn’t
related to specific marketing tasks—resonating with specific
readers is about publishing the right book at the right time at
the right price.
Before pub day, every author must consider his or her marketing model. What approach builds on the assets you already
have, or complements your strengths and is feasible for the
readers you currently reach? Think about the big picture before
you spend a lot of time, money, and energy on marketing tactics
or onetime efforts that will not contribute to a sustained, long-term strategy. ;
Jane Friedman teaches digital media and publishing at the University
of Virginia and is the former publisher of Writer’s Digest.