book tour,  books,  the writing life

Marketing Fiction is a Crap-Shoot #writerslife #amwriting

I occasionally have to post an article for my tribe (i.e. writers), and this blog entry is one of those articles.

For writers who have been at this game awhile, you know that when it comes to marketing fiction, it really is a crap-shoot. The sheer number of authors seeking attention from readers is astounding, and it’s impossible for all the readers to pay attention to all the authors. Making money by selling books for a living is tough, because finding an audience for fiction is tough.

Non-fiction is a different story. It’s much easier to target your audience and market your work directly to them. With fiction, it’s not nearly as simple unless you’re writing something so niche, that you know where your readers are hanging out. For those writing more generalized fiction, marketing is a crap-shoot. I’ve done a lot of research here. Attended a few classes. I’ve even hired book tour companies and book marketing specialists.

From what I have learned since 2005 about what works with marketing fiction – here’s what I’ve discovered.

  1. Paying for book tours is usually a waste of money. You can try one if it’s affordable, but don’t expect a huge return from it. Sure, get your name out there and get visible, but find other ways to do it. Like writing articles for magazines or webzines. Trading articles or interviews on fellow writer or reader blogs, or writing a really cool blog.
  2. Press releases don’t work for genre or general fiction. Not even if you have an angle. Unless your book is relevant to current affairs or a local city or history, the chances of your city paper or news stations giving two craps is slim to none. Now if you live in a small town, that might be different. They’re likely searching for good news like yours.
  3. Bookbub really does work IF you can get a Bookbub. That’s the luck of the draw. I only made back what I put in. So it was like free advertising for “exposure”. On the upside, people who like your book will go on to read others. Only use the first in a series with 3-4 books already out for a BookBub. You’ll get more out of it.
  4. When doing marketing material, print up general bookmarks that advertise your brand. Not just a single book. Also, get marketing materials readers will actually use. Bookmarks are good, and pens have worked really well for me. I’ve tried mugs, t-shirts, bags, pins, and postcards, and those seemed to have less effect. Though my street team liked the water bottles I got them. Save the big freebies for giveaways or gifts to your street team.
  5. When hiring a book marketing firm, find out what they’re going to do. If all they’re doing is calling people and sending press releases, and trying to get you reviews – you could do that yourself for far less money. Of course you have to invest time, and if you don’t have time and you have money, go ahead and hire it out. However, my experience hiring a book marketing firm was that it wasn’t worth it, and I was still the one doing all the selling.
  6. Make yourself accessible to your readers and talk about things other than your books. People will read more from you if you tell them about your (insert hobby or interest here), interact with them, and LIKE stuff on their social media. This works better than all the marketing campaigns in the world.
  7. Create cool ads with pictures to post on your pages, websites, and social media. Posts with pictures always grab attention and get more likes. I don’t know why this is, but it works. Just make sure they’re YOUR pictures or that you’ve properly paid for them. Start that B Roll on your camera right now. 🙂
  8. If you can find reader groups who don’t mind author advertising, post your book advertisements there! But follow the rules, don’t SPAM the list, forum, group, board etc, and participate in the discussions about favorite books etc… If a reader’s group doesn’t want authors or their advertising there, respect that and move on. Some readers need a safe space where no authors are allowed, and that’s okay. Let them have it.
  9. Start a mailing list. Put links to that mailing list on the main page of your website. Some will tell you to also add that link to the front and back of your books. Also, offer freebies to get people to sign up. This eliminates the algorithms of social media sites so that ALL of the readers who are interested in your work are getting notifications of new releases. Not just a few of them. Don’t SPAM your mailing list. The general rule is keep it to one email a month, or every quarter, or whatnot.  Instafreebie is good for getting subscribers, HOWEVER – I’ve only managed to get around100 subscribers per free book, per campaign. Some authors report more (well into the thousands).  At least I didn’t pay for either, because for me, it wasn’t worth $20 a month. Especially since 10-20 of those 100 people unsubscribed at the first opportunity. When you do the math, that’s approx .25 cents per subscriber. And if 20 of those people unsubscribe – you just flushed $5.
  10. Some marketing firms out there know new authors are anxious and desperate and will use that to charge you a ton of money for stuff you could easily do yourself for free. The investment of time is worth it if your spouse isn’t making six figures so you can sit at home and spend thousands for marketing that likely won’t pay for itself in the long run.
  11. Getting a bestseller is 10 parts talent, 10 parts being visible/accessible, and 80 percent being in the right place at the right time (i.e. luck).
  12. Reviews don’t always translate to stellar book sales. So don’t get too wrapped up in trying to get them.
  13. The mailing list 10K is hard to reach. But with time and persistence you can build that list. I’m convinced most authors lie about the size of their list because they’re embarrassed by their small numbers. So don’t let the big numbers of some authors intimidate you. Even if you only have 50-100 people – that’s 50-100 people who support you and your work. My main list is over a few thousand, but if you broke it down by pen-name, my smallest list has about 250 on it. And that’s after a about a year’s work! So never be embarrassed by your list size. It will grow with time and with each campaign.
  14. Freebies! Readers love freebies and if they love your work – they will buy more of it. Freebies give them a way to try your work out without any risk other than time.  So give a freebie to get them to sign up to your newsletter list, or give them a freebie just because. They don’t have to be full novels. Novellas are a good freebie size. Mini-guides for non-fiction.
  15. Book signings are fun, but I’ve known many bestselling Amazon authors who don’t do public appearances. I do them on occasion just to socialize with readers. What often happens is only writers show up, and only readers who aren’t shy are willing to see what you have to offer. Sometimes you’ll sell a few copies, sometimes none. For the most part – fun for socializing, not good for selling books. And this may also depend on the size of your audience. But for those of us who are mid-list or below — meh. I’m trying Denver Comic Con this year, so we’ll see if a huge convention where a lot of readers attend makes a difference.
  16. No one has a 100% surefire way to effectively market a book because there are too many factors. Not even the professionals who charge you to market your book. No two books are the same.
  17. Writing awards are over-rated and writers put way too much emphasis on them. They cost you money and time, and in the end they only stroke your ego and make you feel validated and good about yourself. While this isn’t a bad thing, writing awards never seem to translate to book sales. On top of that, readers don’t seem to care about them, either.

And that’s about it. What is your marketing advice?

Steph is an award winning and bestselling author of thrilling steamy and paranormal romances, dark urban fantasy, occult horror-thrillers, cozy mysteries, contemporary romance, sword and sorcery fantasy, and books about the esoteric and Daemonolatry. A Daemonolatress and forever a resident of Smelt Isle, she is happily married and cat-mom to three pampered house cats. Her muse is a demanding sadistic Dom who often keeps her up into the wee hours of the morning. You can contact her at

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