A Checklist for Marketing Your E-Book

Knowing how to effectively market your e-book can be a challenge if you don’t have any formal education or professional experience in sales and marketing. Plus, these days, the default strategy seems to be “I’ll use social media.” But that’s not a strategy, it’s a tool.

When I teach the basics of marketing communication to e-media majors, we start by discussing the marketing mix, also known as the 4 Ps. Some say this model is outdated, but it’s still a useful way to begin a discussion about marketing a product.

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This is not an exhaustive list of all the possible facets of the 4Ps, but it helps give you an idea of what comprises each.

Aside from having a quality e-book (Product), probably the most talked about factors for selling an e-book are:

  1. List price (Price)
  2. Cover art (Product, but in some ways also Promotion, since it’s a critical element of many promotional materials and sales pages)

There are a host of other factors that you ought to consider as well. Here’s a basic checklist.

PRODUCT

  • Does your e-book have the same features or attributes as competitors in your genre/category? Consider story structure, chapter conventions, word count, illustrations, etc.
  • Are there features you could add to make your e-book more marketable?
  • Is it possible to launch with a series that will help with branding and repeat customers?
  • Are you offering your e-book in the formats your audience most favors? Should you invest in additional formats to maximize sales?
  • Does your e-book compete well against similar titles in terms of quality? Consider cover quality, formatting quality, editing quality, etc.

PLACE

  • Is it easy for readers to buy your book at their favored online retailer or for their favored device? Consider if it’s wise to limit the places your e-book is sold for your own convenience or savings. If you limit its availability for marketing reasons, then ensure you’re maximizing promotion or visibility through your primary distribution channel. For instance, if your goal is to push all sales through Amazon to get a higher ranking, make sure you’re maximizing all of Amazon’s tools and know how the ranking system works! See link below to Carolyn McCray’s series on Amazon marketing.

PRICE

  • Have you chosen the right price for your reputation or brand that makes sense in your market? Most DIY authors are using the 99 cent and $2.99 price points in order to maximize earnings as well as opportunities for promotion (since higher volume gets you on bestseller & popular lists).
  • Lower price points can communicate something different than higher price points. The higher the price, usually the higher perceived quality or greater expectation of quality or valuable information. Traditional publishers or bestselling authors can often charge more (at least for now) because they’re known quantities.
  • Can you take advantage of discounts as a promotional tool?

PROMOTION

Coming up with marketing and promotion strategies is primarily a creative act and should naturally arise from your work’s subject matter or themes, your own network of relationships, and your strengths in using particular media. I can’t possibly offer a comprehensive or customized list of ideas here, but consider the following.

  • Start with a selling strategy: How will you distinguish your book from others? What is your key selling point or hook? What will appeal to your audience?
  • Develop a marketing plan by listing all the concrete channels you have available to you for marketing: e-mail addresses, your website/blog, your e-mail newsletter, social networks, online communities, organization/business affiliations, important relationships with influencers, teaching or speaking opportunities, and any other ways you touch potential readers. Create a timeline of action steps or tactics for each channel.
  • Have you taken full advantage of your book’s Amazon page as well as your Amazon Author page? Have you written the most compelling copy possible? Have you optimized your book for search/discovery on Amazon? See this series of articles by Carolyn McCray at Digital Book World.
  • Have you researched book bloggers who might review your book? Here’s one list of reviewers.
  • Have you considered a blog tour, where you visit blogs that serve your target audience? Can your book be easily excerpted and offered up as guest post content on specific blogs?
  • Does your book’s subject matter (or does your self-publishing approach) have a newsy angle that would merit coverage? Can you pitch articles to specific sites or media outlets that tie into your book’s themes or release? (For example, John Warner wrote a personal essay for The Millions that ties into his traditionally published novel.)
  • Advertising is not recommended for authors without experience in researching target markets, writing good copy, and measuring impact. If you don’t know the acronym CTR or know about “conversion,” then you’re not ready to advertise online.

A final word of advice

If your book is not selling as well as you would’ve thought, given your existing reach to your audience, then look at each one of the 4Ps, and decide where your weakness might lie. Then develop a strategy to strengthen your position, and a way to measure your effectiveness. The only way you can improve over time is to analyze what works and what doesn’t work.

Anecdotally speaking, I often see the most weakness in authors’ key selling points; some people have a hard time getting past “Buy my book!” You’ll have to be more imaginative than that to catch a stranger’s attention!

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About Jane Friedman

Jane Friedman has more than 15 years of experience in the book and magazine publishing industry, with expertise in digital media and the future of authorship. She speaks around the world at events such as BookExpo America, Frankfurt Book Fair, and Digital Book World, and has keynoted writing conferences such as The Muse & The Marketplace. She currently teaches digital media and publishing at the University of Virginia. Find out more.

Comments

  1. says

    Great & helpful guidelines — which I have printed and will be keeping on hand as I decide how (and whether) to proceed with self publishing! Thank you!

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  2. Vaughn Roycroft says

    It’s great to see eBook marketing from the perspective of the good ole 4 P’s, the building blocks I learned in my undergrad marketing courses (I won’t admit how long ago). They definitely hold up. As always, Jane, you cut through the clutter, get to the heart, and make it seem doable. Also as always, great links! Thanks for the ongoing zen-like simplicity. ;-)

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  3. says

    Ms Friedman (I know. Terribly, terribly formal. But my mother told me never to use first names without permission :-) )

    Thanks indeed for this! If I were being shamelessly self-serving, I’d say something about how it will help a lot, with my ‘A Comedy of Terrors’ coming out from MuseItUp Publishing in July 2012. But that really would be shameless, so I’d better not say it.

    Oops (blushes) :-).

    I find it interesting to note that, in my no doubt lackwit view (and I confess to being one of those who indeed doesn’t have any formal education or professional experience in sales and marketing), the four Ps can only be best exploited by those self-publishing. Those e-publishing through an, um, e-Publisher (for instance, picked purely at, um, not-random, MuseItUp Publishing say :-P) have less control over some of them. For instance:

    PRODUCT:
    Formats are generally under the Publisher’s control
    Feature addition would certainly require Publisher approval
    Cover quality – Covers are generally under the control of the Publisher’s art department
    Editing – self publishers can choose their own editors (which may be a good or bad thing). Those with an e-Publisher will work with the e-Publisher’s editors. Shallow graves in the Nevada desert resulting from that process are nothing to do with me. I wasn’t there. Wherever ‘there’ was :-P.

    PLACE
    Distribution channels and methods are likely managed and controlled by the Publisher

    PRICE
    Price and discounts will almost certainly be at the sole discretion of the Publisher

    PROMOTION:
    Here, I think, the self-published and those published through an e-Publisher are in much the same boat. Though I’d go further and suggest these days (unless you’re your Publisher’s Big Name tent-pole release of the season), even mainstream published authors can be in a similar position.

    Promotion, a black art in itself, is the place just about all authors find themselves. And they find themselves doing it in a crowded customer space, with everybody trying to come up with the a new and different ‘magic bullet’ approach. And even if you’re a fantasy writer, magic bullets are hard to find :-).

    If I were bold enough to suggest anything at all (and even if I do, I’m an Idiot, and you should probably ignore me :-P) I’d suggest many writers may think their book is the product. But even for established authors, and much more for those less so, the writer is potentially more of the product. People may, or may not, buy a book. But they commit to, they become long term reading associates with, a person. The writer. So as much as marketing the written words, the way that marketing is done should reflect the writer’s style and personality and give a window into (my apology for the rather confused rays of light in the mixed metaphor :-P) the writer as an individual.

    Oh – and I won’t say ‘buy my book’. Especially as it won’t be out until July… :-).

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  4. says

    Love this! It can be scary to think about being an entrepreneurial author, but it’s important to think like a business when you’re putting your work out yourself. And I loved the last line — “some people have a hard time getting past ‘Buy my book!'” I think articles like this will definitely help with that.

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  5. says

    Seriously, someone should make T-shirts that say “Social media is a tool, not a strategy.” It’s amazing how many writers I encounter whose marketing and publicity plan consists solely of “I’ll tell people about it on social media!” But social media is just a vehicle for a message, so you still need to know what your message is.

    Smart stuff as always, Jane.

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  6. says

    Awesome post, Jane. It’s not enough to toss your book out on digital booksellers — I mean, you can if you don’t care about the sales — but it sure helps to have a thoughtful marketing plan. Thanks for putting this together.

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  7. says

    Thanks for noting that social media is a tool and not a strategy in and of itself. I have personal Facebook and Twitter accounts. I could use them to advertise my (hypothetical future) book, but that would only reach the people I know in real life. It’s not an effective strategy for wider success. This checklist, though, is a very useful tool that I’m sure many of us will use. Thanks!

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  8. says

    Jane,
    Thanks so much. I really love your blog as well as WU. You’ve really pulled it all together in this post. I will save this for future reference.

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  9. says

    great advice about marketing a book. it really help me. thank you so much. can you tell me how to select ebook pricing ? sometimes i face a hesitation about it.

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  10. says

    @Steve – If you’re an unknown novelist, the current trend is to price at 99 cents or $2.99. If you’re writing information-based nonfiction, then your price should be within the range of competing title prices.

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  11. says

    Thank you, Jane, for some excellent tips on promoting one’s e-book. I will be published by an e-book publisher, so as someone noted before me, I will only have control of a part of the entire process. I will be given the opportunity to add my “2 cents”, if you will, but the ultimate decision concerning a large part of it will be out of my hands. I guess I enter the picture when it comes to the social media part – FB, Twitter, my website and blog – but what I’m reading about in a lot of blogs such as these is that I still will have to find places to promote my book on my own. That seems like a daunting endeavor for a debut author. Solid tips will be the key to my success in that area. I still feel “not ready”.
    Patti

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  12. says

    Jane this is a really well structured way to look at making your ebook a success which is what is needed when you are unsure about how to proceed.

    Just because it is old does not make it redundant.

    speak soon, igor Griffiths

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  13. says

    Excellent post! Thank you, Jane for sharing so many valuable resources and spot-on advice. As much as everyone warns about “over pitching” in the land of social media, the antidote hasn’t always been an easy thing to figure-out or otherwise navigate. Your sharp and steady suggestions feel like a gift!

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  14. says

    That is a great article…Thanks Jane. As my weekly roundup looked at marketing books…this is a very timely article.
    A question that has the children’s writing community scratching their heads is the marketing of ebooks. As a midgrade author… how do we grab the attention of the gatekeeper because our audience doesn’t buy their own books…There are lots of ideas in your article to help with this discussion.
    Thanks again
    Maureen
    New Zealand

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  15. says

    Thanks for this common sense reminder. For me, promotion is the stickiest wicket. I feel like I’m not doing enough, but I don’t want to make a pestilence of myself, either.

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  16. says

    Hi Jane,

    Wonderful post! Informative and well-written with many useful suggestions.

    I think the 4Ps model can apply to traditionally published books also, not just selling e-books. In today’s market, authors need to put on their business hats to sell their books. Writing a good (or great) book is step one and step two is developing a marketing strategy. Even if an author is not actively engaged in or developing their marketing strategy (i.e. they have a PR or sales rep on their side), awareness of the four P’s is essential. I think Product and Place, in particular, need to be considered during the writing process. Makes for a stronger book if you know who your audience is and what you are trying to tell (and sell) them.

    Would you agree that publishers and agents are expecting more marketing savvy from authors? The days of the hermit author are long gone…

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  17. says

    @Danielle – Absolutely, these are great principles for any kind of product or service you might be trying to sell, not just e-books.

    And it’s true that publishers expect more these days. Nonfiction authors in particular need to have a platform and marketing reach in place before they can get published.

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  18. says

    Thanks for the Promotion section which I found really useful. This is a great step-up to get me started in my planning process for my book. I’m planning on launching next March, and know it’ll be here sooner than I want it to be!

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