Why do we start with building your audience and not dive right into publishing and making money? Because if you think you’ll worry about promotion once the book is launched, you’ll be way behind the game.
If you don’t build a buzz, grow your mailing list, and get people excited about your self-published book before it’s out, you may be in for not-so-great launch sales.
This is because people don’t tend to buy things they haven’t heard of or don’t know they want. Some studies (on the topic of effective frequency) have stated that someone needs to see/read/hear about something seven times before they trust it enough to click the buy button.
So you need to start telling people about your book, what the premise is, and why they should be excited about it well before it’s even finished.
You need a mailing list for your self-published book
While we aren’t big on absolutes or rules, this is an absolute: mailing lists make or break self-published books. It’s not your website, it’s not social media, it’s not the fact that your book is on Amazon (with the other 48 million books). It’s your mailing list that’s going to make the biggest difference.
Email is best way to convert people who are interested in your writing into book buyers.
Social converts (converting means getting someone to take action, like clicking a link) at < 1%. So every time you tweet or post a status update with a link, only 1% of people are going to click it (on average).
Email, on the other hand, converts at around 5% on average. But if you use your list correctly (we’ll get into that), it can easily convert around 40–50% (both our lists convert at that).
Chris Brogan (best-selling author, all around awesome guy) gets 70% of his business from his mailing list. Nathan Barry (author, course builder, teacher) used to make $200–300k a year by focusing on promoting his books and courses to his mailing list.
According to the McKinsey Global Institute in 2013, we spend about 28% of our workdays in our email inboxes. That’s more time and attention than we give to any single website, social media platform, or possibly even to our spouses (oops). And while social is great, when the platform owners change their algorithms, you lose even more viewership. The email algorithm doesn’t change.
Mailing lists are the best place to get people interested in your self-published book, remind them about the book, and use them as the catalyst to drive the initial volley of book sales.
How do you build a mailing list for your self-published book?
There are tons of “experts” out there that will tell you about freebies, optimum times and days to send emails, the number of graphics, and how big to make the BUY buttons.
As writers, mailing lists let us do what we do best, which is write. Here’s how you build a mailing list without resorting to being a sleazy marketer or constant self-promoter:
Good content – write emails that people are excited to read. This means telling stories, sharing valuable information and giving insight into your work. This is different than a 100% promotional mailing list, because not many people want to give you permission to sell at them each week.
Value – what value are you giving to your audience? The more value you provide to them, the more likely they’ll be to return the favour and buy your non-fiction book. This means writing some content or resources, for free, to share.
Focus – as an author, your website needs to focus on your mailing list as the main action you want visitors to take. Above buying self-published books (they do that from the list), above commenting on your blog, or even following you on Twitter. The list leads to everything else, so get them on your list first.
Promotion – do people know you have a mailing list? Put it in your email signature, add it to your SM profiles, link to it from every guest post, and make it the clearest and main action item on your website.
Consistency – show your subscribers how important your list is by communicating with them regularly, probably once a week. This gets them used to receiving email from you and if your emails are valuable enough, they anticipate future emails.
Incentive – you’re asking someone to share their inbox with you, which is sacred. Why do they want to sign up for your list? Adding “sign up for my free newsletter” to your website doesn’t offer any value or incentive. Neither does a hastily made freebie PDF that isn’t valuable. How you package something your potential audience wants into an easy-to-digest format to give them?
Remember, it’s not the size of your list, it’s the quality of the peeps on it.
A list of 1,000 energized people ready to buy your next product is far more valuable than a list of 10,000 who rarely open emails and can’t remember why they signed up in the first place.
What do you share with your book-related list?
Once someone is subscribed, what are you going to share with them each week? It may seem daunting at first, but this is really where you engage and delight folks before, or even after, your book is out.
Excerpts – you’re writing a self-published book, so share snippets or excerpts from it with them. Let them know they’re the first people to read something, to make them feel like you’re sharing something special with them. Some authors think that sharing content from their book for free will take sales away, but this is never the case. The more you share with your audience to show them what’s in the book, the more likely they’ll be to buy it when it’s out.
Polls/surveys – figure out what your audience is interested in, what motivates them, or what they value by asking them. It doesn’t need to be a big survey on a separate site, it can be a single question at the end of each email. This puts your finger on the pulse of the fokls interested in what you’re writing.
Case studies/research – in writing your book, have you come across some interesting, shocking, or valuable research? Share it! Once your self-published book is out, if readers benefit from reading your book, write your own case studies about their story and how your book helped them.
All access pass – people on your list are curious or interested in you and your book, so give them the juicy details about your process, your struggles, and progress updates. Let them see into the behind-the-scenes writing of your book.
There are a lot of email providers for your newsletter. We suggest MailChimp, since it’s easy to use and run by nice people. We’ve included a list setup walk-through video in the resources.
To give you some idea of what I share with my list, here’s how I do it. My list is called “The Sunday Dispatches” and I send out a story-based email every single Sunday, no exceptions. I have no freebie, as the incentive is to read all of my articles before they appear on my site or in other publications. There’s a secret incentive though, so when someone signs up, they get an offer to download all of my previous books at 50% off. I end every email with a question and reply (even though I get ~100 a week). This gives me great insight into my subscribers, and I really enjoy connecting with them, too.
My email list is not nearly as focused as Paul’s is, and I’ve actually been stealing some ideas from him on how to get more organized and focused. I used to have four separate email lists that didn’t serve any real purposes. I recently combined my lists and set a focus of “advice and thoughts for entrepreneurs.” Now I write a weekly email that always fits under that idea. I might think of a great email about the NBA Draft, but that’s not what my subscribers are signing up for. I’m still figuring out a content schedule and strategy for my emails, and I’m totally okay with that. My email list is, like my self-published book was, an iterative process.
How to set up a coming soon page for your upcoming self-published book
Once you’ve set up your mailing list, the best next step you can take is to set up a coming soon page for your upcoming book that has a sign-up form on it. This is where you can start driving traffic to give some information about the book, the release date, and why they should sign up for your mailing list.
What are the common elements of a good coming soon non-fiction book page?
- Book title + graphic
- Short synopsis of the book
- Where (and when) it’ll be for sale (your site, Amazon, etc.)
- What format it’ll be in (digital, print, audio)
- Testimonials/blurbs from other peeps
- Author bio and photo
Your coming soon page can simply be a page on your existing site or a brand new page using a service like unbounce or LaunchRock or strikingly or LeadPages.
Creating a sales page for your non-fiction book
Your sales page should be 100% focused on your book. That means no massive sidebars with links to other parts of your site if you can help it, no blog post comments at the bottom, nothing but book information and purchasing buttons.
What goes on a sales page for a non-fiction book?
Here are the basics:
- Your book’s title
- A brief and clear synopsis of your book and what it’s about
- How and where to buy it and for what price
- The cover design
- A few book blurbs
- A great and relevant author bio
A note about the cover design—it seems to be a trend with digital-only self-published books to show the digital book cover as a physical book. It may seem like a good idea, but it’s a mixed metaphor and leads your audience to be confused about what they’re getting when they buy it. There may be some examples of big-time authors who do this and still sell books, but that’s because their audience would buy anything from them. We recommend avoiding this design decision.
If you’ve never written copy for a sales page before, use the same steps you took while writing your actual book.
- Come up with ideas
- Focus on the “why”
- Write a first draft (that will suck)
- Iterate and edit
- Get feedback from others
- Launch it!
You may end up tweaking your sales page copy over time. This is okay! Just like your book might end up having an edition or three over time, it’s important to tweak and change things as you learn about your audience and what motivates them to make a purchase.
How to become a self-publishing bestseller on Amazon
We 100% believe that building your audience and promoting your non-fiction book to that audience will give you the best chance of becoming a bestseller on Amazon. That being said, there are a few things that will help you with organic discoverability in Amazon’s search.
Before we go a step further we should point out why the steps below are critical to your potential (but not guaranteed) success on Amazon.
Between paperback, hardcover, and Kindle, there are over 48,000,000 books in Amazon’s library. To beat the competition, you need to do a little work to stand out!
Step 1: Keywords and key phrases
Amazon allows you to add seven keywords to your book as meta data. These are the words that your potential readers would type into Amazon’s search to find your self-published book. But it’s not just single words that are important, readers tend to type phrases when searching for their next book to purchase.
You can use any combination of words or phrases, they must simply be separated by commas when you add them to your book listing.
Put yourself in your reader’s shoes and think about what words or phrases they would search to find your book.
As an example, I searched a few keywords and phrases related to marketing. Very quickly I found the same book (Growth Hacker Marketing, by Ryan Holiday) coming up on the first page of Amazon’s search results. Here are the phrases I searched:
- Marketing book (#1 out of 337,833)
- Online marketing
- The future of online marketing
- Digital marketing
- Online advertising
- Growth marketing
One thing to make sure to note: If your book is a paperback book, you’re going to want to search the main Amazon.com search. If your book is a Kindle book, you’re going to watch make sure you go into the Kindle section.
For your book, it’s time to starting using that imagination of yours:
- What keywords or phrases come to mind?
- Ask a few friends or beta readers to do the same thing
- Ask your editor to do the same thing
Make a spreadsheet of all these keywords or phrases and see which ones keep coming up over and over again. You want to think about the most common phrases your future reader might use to discover your book and buy it!
Bonus Tip: Once you have your keywords/phrases and you’re entering them in your book’s metadata in Amazon, don’t worry about the order. The order in which you enter them in does not matter!
Step 2: Product Description for your book
You can write the fanciest product description for your book, but if the words you use in that description aren’t relevant to what folks are searching for, Amazon isn’t going to care.
In the example of Ryan Holiday’s book, you can see he peppered in a few keywords and phrases in his description:
A Primer on the Future of PR, Marketing and Advertising
A new generation of megabrands like Facebook, Dropbox, Airbnb, and Twitter haven’t spent a dime on traditional marketing. No press releases, no TV commercials, no billboards. Instead, they rely on a new strategy—growth hacking—to reach many more people despite modest marketing budgets. Growth hackers have thrown out the old playbook and replaced it with tools that are testable, trackable, and scalable. They believe that products and businesses should be modified repeatedly until they’re primed to generate explosive reactions.
Bestselling author Ryan Holiday, the acclaimed marketing guru for American Apparel and many bestselling authors and multiplatinum musicians, explains the new rules and provides valuable examples and case studies for aspiring growth hackers. Whether you work for a tiny start-up or a Fortune 500 giant, if you’re responsible for building awareness and buzz for a product or service, this is your road map.
When writing your product description you can either use some fancy HTML code to highlight the keywords and phrases that matter to your potential reader, or, you can use an Amazon Book Description Generator tool (http://authormarketingclub.com/members/demo-amazon-description-generator/).
Helpful tip: Amazon gives you 4,000 spaces in your description. While your reader not need to read that much, utilize as many of the extra words and phrases as possible to help with your Amazon search results efforts.
Step 3: Selecting The Right Book Categories
This is a big one! If you’re writing a book on line marketing, there’s no reason to put your book in a category about kittens. Or kittens who love to knit. Or kittens who love to knit while doing marketing (unless your book is specifically about that subject, the more power to you).
The Book Industry Standards & Communications (BISAC) categories were not dreamed up by Amazon. It’s a universal system for organizing book titles in primary and secondary book categories.
If you hop on over to Amazon Books (Kindle or Paperback), you’ll notice in the left column a list of words and after those words are numbers. The words are the categories and the numbers are the amount of books in that category.
Example for the search term “marketing”:
- 337,833 total results
- Category: Web Marketing (11,145)
- Category: Marketing (60,626)
- Category: Business & Money (121,394)
- Category: Small Business & Entrepreneurship (13,414)
Amazon has helpful documentation on picking the right categories for your book (https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=A200PDGPEIQX41).
You get two category choices, so make sure you pick the most relevant ones! Again, it might be helpful to make a list and ask your friends, your editor, etc, what categories they would choose for your book.
Once you’ve chosen your two categories, make sure to go back into your Product Description and add the category keywords or phrases in your description.
Bonus Step 4: Amazon’s KDP Select Program
One way to get a great bump in sales and ranking on Amazon is to use Amazon’s KDP Select program. A few things to consider with the 5-day free program:
- It’s great for jumpstarting book “sales” in the eyes of Amazon.
- If you have more than one book on Amazon you’ll usually see a bump in sales of your other titles.
- You will miss out on some initial sales revenue in the beginning.
- You can do 5-day free in KDP Select later on, it’s not limited to the launch of your new book.