The Truth About Marketing as an Indie Author

Marketing is a necessary evil if you want people to read your novel. Writing, editing, polishing, and publishing are just the tip of the iceberg, and one thing many authors won’t go into is the struggle you’ll likely face when it comes to marketing. So, what is the truth about marketing?

The truth about marketing as an indie author is that it’s expensive, difficult to navigate, and needs to begin before you publish your book. For an indie author to be successful in this saturated market, you need an online presence, including social media and the ever-elusive mailing list.

If you’re new to the Indie world, keep reading for some hard truths and a few tips and tricks for marketing your novel.

Marketing Doesn’t Just Mean Buying Ads

You just spent weeks months, and maybe even years writing your first (or fifteenth!) novel. It’s polished and perfect, the cover is amazing, and the hard copies look stellar.

So, you put it up for sale, be it on Amazon’s KDP or with another Indie platform like IngramSpark.

Now you wait, right? It’s only a matter of time before the sales start rolling in and you can become a full-time author!

Sorry, but that’s not likely to happen.

If you want people to buy and read your book, you need them to know it exists. And the only way to do that is through marketing and advertising.

Some of the best marketing options for authors include:

  • Facebook Ads are a popular choice because they offer a terrific targeted audience tool.
  • Instagram ads will put your posts in front of new people to help you reach a wider audience. 
  • ReedsyDiscovery puts your book in front of reviewers who will also leave ratings on Amazon.
  • BookBub sends out daily offers and recommendations to millions of readers.

For more on how to advertise your novel, check out my post 14 Ways to Market Your Novel.

The Market Is So Saturated, You Need To Find a Way To Stand Out

Since 2017, the number of self-published books per year has risen by more than 28% with more than a million new books being published every year in the US alone.

That’s a lot of competition.

You can plug money into Facebook Ads and pay for spots on recommendations lists, but the truth is, you need to find a way to set yourself apart from the others.

Is your book a fantasy about a young girl and her struggle against the regime? How is that different from the Hunger Games or the Red Queen?

Did you write a steamy love story with BDSM and a dangerously thrilling billionaire playboy? We all know that tune - it’s been played a lot in recent years.

So, how do you stand out as an author?

Make the Cover Pop

One way to make your book more appealing is to have a professional cover done. And I mean something spectacular.

There are plenty of artists and designers out there, be it on Etsy, Upwork, Fiver, or even Facebook, and going this route will ensure you get something unique.

Spend the money and you won’t regret it.

Create a Book Trailer

One way I found new followers was to spend some time making book trailers. It’s not that difficult either.

I just found some stock footage and pieced together a short video trailer, just like you would see for a new movie.

Stock footage can be found for free at sites such as Shutterstock and Pexels.

Here’s the trailer for my adult fantasy novel, Lightborn:

Here’s the trailer for my thriller, An Easy Target:

Expand Your Social Media Presence

Social media is a powerful tool, and between BookTok and Booksagram, there are millions of readers just waiting for you to find them.

The best way to get in front of these people is to post content, daily!

Remember though, it should be informative, not just ads for your work. Cycle between book reviews, writing tips, funny quotes, and information about your work. It will make you more credible and authentic.

Also, video content, like what you see on TikTok is super popular right now, so practice talking to your phone.

Even Traditionally Published Authors Need an Active Following

If you were to be picked up by a top publishing house for your novel tomorrow, they would have the money and clout to advertise your book, getting it in front of (potentially) millions of people overnight.

But did you know they’re now looking for authors with an established presence?

So, not only do you need to write a killer story, but you also need to be your own publicist- gaining readers and followers - just to be considered by a traditional publisher.

This is because they need to know they’re investing in something that will bring them plenty of profits. And taking on unknown authors is always a risk.

But, if you have a following already, they see that as a level of success that they can bank on.

Online Ads and Marketing Is Expensive

When you first start out, the chances of your book selling hundreds of copies in the first few months are low.

Unless it’s a sequel to an already successful book, how will the readers know it exists?

That’s where ads come in. Unfortunately, you’re not likely to see results right away, which means spending a lot of money for very little profit.

For example, if you wanted to participate in BookBub’s “New Releases” promotion, it would cost:

  • Psychological Thrillers - $950.00
  • Crime Fiction - $920.00
  • Contemporary Romance - $620.00
  • Fantasy - $460.00
  • Teen and Young Adult - $110.00

You can find the rest of their list in the Partner Dashboard when you sign up as an author. You’ll also see that their Psychological Thrillers section has 1,330,000+ subscribers and their lowest list is still more than 200,000 strong.

Is it worth it? Maybe. That’s a lot of people who would be seeing your ads. But that cost is very high, in my opinion.

Online Ads Take a Lot of Trial and Error

Along with being expensive, it can take a lot of work to find the right wording and imagery to use with your ads.

For example, I put out two ads at once, using the same wording, but in one I had the book cover, and in the other, I had a photo of a scene from my book.

To my surprise, the latter did the best in terms of click-through rates and sales.

Does that mean my cover is bad? No, it just means that people were more drawn to the image of a man holding an orb of colorful energy. Go figure.

When it comes to your ads, it’s best to start small. Keep the budget low and run a couple of ads a week. Then, run a different couple of ads the following week. At the end of the month, look at what worked and what didn’t and tailor your future ads so they’re more successful.

Gaining Followers Isn’t As Easy as Influencers Make It Seem

In order to be successful with your online presence, you need followers. To gain followers, you need content - and lots of it.

But even then, the algorithms are seemingly random.

I’ve seen authors blow up on TikTok overnight from one silly video, where others are putting out content every day and have fewer followers.

Be Careful With Instagram

The same goes for Instagram. Unless you’re active on the app, Instagram won’t push your page, but if you’re too active, they could flag you for inappropriate conduct- and getting your profile back is a total nightmare!

Instagram wants you to “like” and comment on other people’s profiles. They want you to scroll and follow people and be engaged. But, if you do it too much, they will shut you down without any notice.

It happened to a friend and he lost a profile with almost a thousand followers for his new business. He wasn’t following and unfollowing people all day or trying to sell anything. His profile was full of fun content - none of it was him “selling” as the business wasn’t even active yet.

But Instagram shut him down and he never got the account back. He even lost the handle and can’t use it again.

So, when you’re trying to gain followers, be cautious.

Don’t Pay For Reviews

Another thing to note is that there are a lot of Bookstagram people who will come to you and ask if you want a book review.

I can’t stress this enough - don’t do it!

I’ve looked into them and even paid a couple out of curiosity. Boy, was I let down.

I paid for two reviews from two different accounts. One was very generic and only got 20-30 likes on her page.

The second copied my blurb and wrote one sentence at the bottom. That was it!

After that, I just politely decline if I get asked, explaining that I don’t pay for reviews. One reviewer didn’t take it so well.

Though I was polite, explaining that I don’t pay for reviews as a rule (I didn’t say anything about the quality I’d received in the past or the fact I could see his posts only ever got around 12 likes), he became very rude, asking me why I charged people for my novel.

As though a 50-word “review” on Instagram is the same as a 98,000-word book!

If you’re considering paying for reviews on Instagram, do this first:

  1. Go to their profile and check out how many followers they have.
  2. Go to the most recent posts and see how many likes they have.
  3. Scroll down and check out how many people commented on the post. 

I’m willing to bet they have tens of thousands of followers, but probably only 10-50 likes. And the comments are few and far between - if there are any at all.

This practice suggests to me that the followers are bought and paid for, or working on a “like-for-like” basis. That means they will like something and comment, but expect the same in return.

Trust me, this won’t get your book sold!

You Need To Pick One or Two Avenues and Stick With Them

If you want your marketing to be successful, you need to pick a couple of strategies and stick with them.

Of course, that means trying a few out to see what works. That means plugging money into Facebook, Amazon, BoobBub, or Book Funnel. You’ll probably need to spend a few hundred dollars just to get a feel for it - as I said before, this stuff is expensive.

But, once you do get a feel for it and start to see some results, you can really focus in on what’s making you money.

If you got on TikTok and you managed to get yourself hundreds of followers in a week, way to go! Keep at it and be sure to plug your book wherever feels natural.

If you found that Facebook Ads got you a hundred clicks and as many sales, maybe that’s best for your work.

The key is not to do too much at once, because it will become overwhelming - both mentally and financially!