by Amanda J. Clay
One of the toughest things independent authors face when starting out is the hard reality of marketing their book. You might have written the next Hunger Games, but if no one ever hears about it, you’ll fade into the dark hole of books never to be seen again.
I’ve mentioned before that you will absolutely need to set aside some money for marketing if you want to be successful. How much definitely varies depending on your personal budget. Some successful indie authors spend six figures a year on ads. But even for newbies, I usually recommend at least $10 a day for one month for paid advertising.
Now while paid ads are effective and nearly always necessary, they aren’t the ONLY way to effectively market your book. Many authors are wildly successful with grassroots campaigns.
If you’re not familiar with the term, grassroots marketing, sometimes known as guerilla marketing in business, starts from the ground up. Instead of launching a message you hope will appeal to many people, you target your efforts to a small group and hope the group will spread your message to a much larger audience. In the book world, this means channels such as your newsletter, reader groups, social media following, and in-person events.
While this kind of outreach is usually free to very low cost, it’s time consuming. You have to build your newsletter and social media from scratch, you have to get out and make connections with readers at events and conferences. You have to craft personal and meaningful messages that draw people in. You have to shamelessly promote yourself.
I admit at first I had a tough time with grassroots. It was tough for me to “sell” myself on such a personal level. I much preferred the anonymity of an Amazon ad that simply threw my book out there to a targeted paid audience where I didn’t have to interact. But I’m getting over it. Because with enough effort and when done right, grassroots efforts can be crazy effective.
Let’s break down some of the top ways to reach readers on a smaller scale.
Your newsletter is going to be one of the most powerful tools in your author arsenal and it should be one of the first things you start building, even if you’re still writing your book. Why is it so important? Unlike your Facebook friends or Amazon page followers, with a newsletter you actually have direct access to your subscribers. You have their EMAIL. You can reach them directly any time and a third party (like Facebook or Amazon) can’t take their information away from you.
BUT! With that great power comes great responsibility. Once you have those precious emails in your possession, do NOT abuse it. Don’t SPAM. Don’t sell it or trade it to other authors. Only send meaningful communication.
Now obviously I can’t cover all the details of becoming a newsletter genius in this small blog post, but here are the basic things to think about in getting started:
1- Pick a mailing list provider. Some to consider are MailerLite, Mailchimp, and Constant Contact. Most of them will have a free option for up to 2,000 subscribers or so (after that you can expect to pay $20-$100 a month as your subscriber list grows). I personally use MailerLite.
2- Design your templates and draft an “onboarding sequence.” Your email provider will likely have a simple built-in set of templates to get you started. You’ll want a series of meaningful emails to introduce yourself and your books to your new readers. Something like, “welcome to my list, here’s who I am and what I write. Here’s what you can expect me to send you and how often” (e.g., new release emails only, weekly titillating tales of my life, monthly exclusive content). Be honest about what you plan to send them and do your best to stick to that.
3- Add subscribers! When you’re first starting out, the easiest way to add new subscribers to your list is to participate in a group promotion. They are cheap ($25-$50) and will connect you with readers who are interested in the EXACT thing you write. My personal favorite is BooksSweeps. They run various promotions all year that target specific readers such as romantic suspense, hard-boiled detective, or book club fiction. In exchange for a free book or story, readers happily sign up for your list. https://www.booksweeps.com/
You can also promote newsletter signups in the backmatter of your book, on your social media, and on your website. Entice new readers to join by offering a free story or other exclusive content.
A fantastic book to read all about newsletters is Newsletter Ninja by Tammi L. Labrecque.
Social media is definitely important to successful grassroots campaigns. But it can be overwhelming to get traction and a giant time suck. My first advice here is to pick one or maybe two platforms to focus on and that’s it. If you try to do all the things everywhere, you’ll never have time to write the dang book.
Factors to consider are A) which platform do you actually enjoy spending time on and B) Where are your readers? If you write YA, Facebook might not be the best platform. Or, if you’re targeting male-driven Sci-Fi, maybe don’t focus all your efforts on Pinterest. This is where some market research comes into play. On the flip, if you absolutely hate a certain platform, you probably won’t be successful in fully utilizing it.
Once you’ve selected your platform of choice, craft frequent and meaningful content that’s both relevant to the type of book you write and gives your followers a curated look into your personal life. I say “curated” because you have control over how much or how little you want to share. Just because you’re on Instagram doesn’t mean you have to fill your feed with shots of your kids and home life. However, I would avoid posting nothing but book promotion too. I don’t know about you but I think that’s pretty boring, even coming from an author I love. Readers love to catch a glimpse of you as the author, whether it’s a cool nature shot from your hike or an old house that inspires you. Follow me on Instagram to see how I use it!
Reader groups take time to grow but can really be worth the effort. Most of the time they are through Facebook, but you can get creative with other platforms too. It’s essentially an online group of people who love your books and want to spend time talking about them. My author friends who are really successful at this have massive groups that carry on conversations about their books all the time. They review, they promote, they share. It’s a fantastic way to engage with your readers in real time. As opposed to sending out your newsletters which can feel one-sided, it tends to be a far more interactive conversation.
If you’re the extroverted type, in-person events are a great way to meet your readers face-to-face and connect with your local community. Many times these events are free or inexpensive to attend. Attend a reader-focused book fair, host a joint signing at your local bookstore, or attend a genre-specific event like ComicCon. You won’t be reaching readers on a mass scale, but every time you interact with a potential reader in a positive way it encourages them to tell their friends about that super cool author they met. You’d be surprised how excited readers are to meet a real-live author in the flesh. When I do these events sometimes I bring a printed and bound short-story or novella to pass out.
These are just some of the ways grassroots efforts can help your book get traction without spending a small fortune. Many of the books that have suddenly gone “viral” do so because of grassroots efforts.
So even if you’re still writing that first book, start thinking about building your reader community. Start a newsletter and send them short stories or tidbits from your work in progress. Find your social media platform and start crafting your brand. Attend a reader event (or an author conference) and start interacting, even just get to the practice or see how the more seasoned authors are doing it.
If you have any questions about grassroots, never hesitate to reach out!
Amanda J. Clay is the Amazon best-selling author of gripping romantic thrillers and suspense with unforgettable characters. A Northern California native, she currently lives in Nashville, TN.
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