Once upon a time, marketing books was a key function of publishers. Now, though, most authors, whether traditionally or independently published, are expected to invest time and money into marketing and promoting their books. With over 2.2 million books published a year, the competition to garner attention for any specific title is intense. And, let’s be honest, we want our books noticed, so investing time and money wisely is the first step in marketing success.
One of the gifts of the author community is the ability to learn from one another. I recently had the opportunity to compare marketing experiences with fellow authors from Author Talk Network. Among these authors, you’ll find authors of NYT and USA Today bestsellers, award winners, podcast hosts, plugged in leaders of writing communities, and more! Below, we share our market savvy and experience.
How much does your publisher contribute to marketing your book(s)?
“When it comes to publishing, I have been traditionally, independently, and hybrid published. Every author I know today, even if they are best sellers, does the bulk of the marketing “lift.” –Grace Sammon, Director of Author Talk Network
“For my debut novel, The Exit Strategy, I published with a small publisher (The Wild Rose Press). As with most small publishers, the marketing relies on me, the author. My publisher offers paid opportunities (making the book available on Netgalley, for example). But it’s still up to the author to drive for reviews, organize promotions, and generate demand for the book.” –Lainey Cameron, podcast host of Best of Women’s Fiction
“I’m with a small press, so I don’t get a lot of free marketing, but currently they pay part of the cost of a BookBub Featured Deal (which is a fabulous opportunity).”
–Barbara Conrey, USA Today Bestselling author
“My publisher, Black Rose Writing, is extremely collaborative. Most of the time we share the cost of the promotions he suggests, at his publisher’s discount. None are forced upon me, though I do go by his expertise as to what brings the best ROI. There are some times that my publisher picks up the cost on his own. Anything I find on my own, such as a blog tour, I pay for myself.” –Linda Rosen, author of The Disharmony of Silence
“I’ve been fortunate and grateful to have a lot of support behind my books. That said, two of the four novels launched during big transitions within the attached publishing houses. This isn’t uncommon. Teams are always changing, growing, shrinking, evolving … so it’s kind of a miracle when all the stars align and everything falls perfectly into place, as it did with my debut novel, Into the Free.
–Julie Cantrell, NYT and USA Today bestselling author
“I used a hybrid publisher and marketing was 100% my responsibility. I ended up hiring a publicist to run a national campaign, and then I coordinated my efforts with theirs. It was great to be able to utilize their contacts and learn from their experience, but it was also expensive.”
–Mary Helen Sheriff, CEO of Bookish Road Trip
What have you learned not to do as a book marketer that you’d like to pass on to other authors?
“This is a great question because the thing I learned most not to do is the very thing that launched so much success — being active on social media. What took time, and I mean over a year, was to find balance and to become more strategic in where and how I want to invest my time across platforms. Do not get pulled into the social media abyss, do go waist-deep.”
“Don’t make it all about you and your book. Readers want to interact with a real-life human they can relate to. A person who explains their inspiration and is an avid reader themselves, not a self-centered book promotion machine. And the book world is a community. If you spend time only talking about yourself, you aren’t building up others in that community. Seek first to help others.”
“Be very wary of any company that contacts you and offers some type of promotion. If you can’t help but be intrigued, first vet the organizations by asking for reviews from authors you trust and researching any performance records you can obtain. This is where learning from experienced authors (like those at Author Talk Network) can benefit new authors.”
There are many scammers looking for your “business” as well as many who appear to be fabulous though are not. Do your homework. Research the marketer. It helps to be part of an organization where you can check with other authors on the book marketer’s reputation and get suggestions for those that are worth your while and money. Women Fiction Writers of America and the Women’s National Book Association are two I suggest. Also the Author’s Guild. Networking with other authors is always beneficial when questioning a book marketer.”
“I think the key is to not let stress take the wheel. We can work hard, plan strategically, and build a solid team of supportive readers, but in the end, we really have to step back and trust that the story will find the right people in the right way at the right time. So much of this journey is about the fates. That said, don’t be afraid to reach out to book clubs, libraries, and independent booksellers. They love story as much as you do. They’re always looking for their next great read.”
“Marketing your book is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time to build platforms and communities, find readers, and make sales. Patience and time management are keys to success.”
–Mary Helen Sheriff
What book marketing areas have captured most of your time?
“There are several, some more rewarding than others, some more productive than others. The first is developing campaigns and media. Canva is an amazing tool for brand development and developing an ad campaign. This part of marketing is immensely time consuming and is, often, a deep rabbit hole. Developing community takes time. It is largely the reading and writing communities that carry an author’s success. Being the Director of Author Talk Network and Director of Membership for Bookish Road Trip are hugely demanding but they establish credibility and community, both essential for success.”
–Grace Sammon, author of The Eves
“I invested time in social media, in particular generating reviews by reaching out and collaborating with the bookstagram community. I paid for a ‘tour’ which organized several bookstagrammers to review my novel before launch.
I also took part in online Facebook readers’ groups and events, and invested in paid promotion newsletters around the time of my online sale price. I also reached out to podcasts–both to talk about my book and started my own podcast for readers, The Best of Women’s Fiction.
Last, I invested in submitting the novel to awards, which paid off when it won twelve in total! This didn’t sell books at all, but I believe it set me up as a credible author, for future releases.”
–Lainey Cameron, author of The Exit Strategy
“I spend a fair amount of time on social media promoting other authors and also myself. I also engage with readers in numerous Facebook book club groups, which promotes goodwill and helps readers become aware of me both as an author and a person. I’ve found that the best marketing of your book is you. If readers like you as a person, they want to read your books, and they want to like them.”
–Barbara Conrey, author of Nowhere Near Goodbye
“Facebook and Instagram take up most of my promotion time. Reviewing books on Goodreads and BookBub takes up a little time too but is worthwhile to reach new readers and gain followers. Advertising and other methods are taken care of by my publisher.”
–Linda Rosen, author of Sisters of the Vine
“Launches can be crazy-busy for authors, with requests coming from all angles. While that’s a POSITIVE thing, and one we never take for granted, it can be a lot to juggle. We not only write articles and reply to bloggers, we also offer social media content, press releases, interviews, and giveaways, not to mention online and in-person book events, book club meetings, the works. I think we all dream of the era when authors could write, turn it over to a trusted editor, take a quick book tour, and then get back to writing. That’s just not how the industry works anymore.”
–Julie Cantrell, author of Perennials
“Running Bookish Road Trip is my most time consuming marketing venture. Over time, I’ve found other incredible authors to share leadership roles in this community. This helps us expand our reach and protects our time too.”
–Mary Helen Sheriff, author of Boop and Eve’s Road Trip
Did you set a budget for yourself before you began book marketing and approximately how much did you commit to it?
“No. I did not set a budget and, in truth, do not think I could have anticipated the needs. This gets at the heart of marketing though. What is your goal? How will you know if you have met with success? And, do you have resources to apply to the sales and marketing of your book? You are going to need a budget for marketing. I found my book trailer and book tours were my best promotional items. You will also want to invest in signage, “book swag,” lights and microphones for interviews, and possibly a publicist. You also need to consider the cost of giveaways and postage among other items.”
–Grace Sammon, podcast host of The Storytellers
“I didn’t have enough data to know exactly how much I needed to spend in advance, but I have been careful not to fall for the many “pay for review” or “pay for exposure” opportunities that hit my inbox daily.
I normally recommend smaller publisher authors spend some money (set a budget) for “visibility” and put a tight limit on that, but focus more of your precious dollars on opportunities that also offer social proof and endorsement (getting the book into review platforms, giving books to bookstagrammers who will write reviews, for example).
Authors get hit up frequently by people offering “pay for exposure” or to pay reviews on their social media accounts. This is almost never worth it.”
–Lainey Cameron, twelve time award-winning author
“I didn’t set a figure in stone, but I’ve mentally kept tabs on what I’ve spent where and calculated my (ROI) return on investment. Because I’m with a small press and don’t have the reach that authors published with the big five have, my goal was to break even, and I’ve more than done that. I’ve heard it said that first books (generally) don’t make much money, and that it sometimes takes until the third book to see a profit. Whether that’s true or not, I don’t know. For me, I’m happy with what I’ve achieved so far.”
–Barbara Conrey, host of Bookish Road Trip’s Book Club
“I did not since I had no idea what it all entailed. Once with my publisher, I thought I had a better idea and started with $500.00 only to find out that wasn’t nearly enough. As time went on the budget grew and now I don’t actually have a budget, I go by what seems beneficial and cost effective at the time it’s offered.”
–Linda Rosen, editor of Wanderlust
“I’ve never had much of a marketing budget. But many of my author friends do set aside at least 25% of their advance for marketing expenses (sometimes their entire advance plus extra). I was never in that financial position, so I tend to grind it out the old-fashioned way—grassroots efforts with a kind network of friends, writers, and readers to help spread the word. I always try to return the favor tenfold, and I do believe it takes a village to launch a book.”
–Julie Cantrell, author of Into the Free and other novels
“Between my publicist and other miscellaneous expenses, I spent about $20,000 on marketing my book because I wanted national exposure and my publisher wasn’t investing in marketing. As a result, my book appeared in Parade, Travel and Leisure, Buzzfeed, Deep South Magazine, and more.”
–Mary Helen Sheriff, author marketing coach
What do you wish you’d known about book marketing before your book(s) was published?
“I wish two things, that I had developed a strategy for this aspect of the work and that I had developed the social media skills and networks of readers and authors I have now. The rest would have been a lot easier and, quite frankly, more fun with fellow travelers.“
–Grace Sammon gracesammon.net
“It’s a long game. We might wish for our first novel to rocket out the gate, but the reality is it takes time to build credibility and readership. Think about what you can sustain over multiple books versus it being a one and done.”
–Lainey Cameron laineycameron.com
“Even though I was told that publishing is a business, it really didn’t hit home until after my first book was released.”
–Barbara Conrey barbaraconreyauthor.com
“How much time it would take.”
–Linda Rosen linda-rosen.com
“Everything about my publishing journey has been learned by trial and error. I don’t mind that approach. I’m constantly learning new things and acquiring new skills. I just do the best I can to work hard, be kind, and elevate others. I don’t really approach anything in life as “marketing.” Instead, I see it as an opportunity to meet new people, connect with them on a personal level, build new relationships, and celebrate the power of story. I call that a good thing.”
–Julie Cantrell juliecantrell.com
“I wish I had built relationships with authors who have similar readerships, readers of my genre, and book influencers before my launch. It takes time to build a community and there is a real advantage of doing so well in advance of a book’s release.”
–Mary Helen Sheriff maryhelensheriff.com
Happily Ever After
While each of us has and shares a unique perspective on book marketing, some common themes come to the surface. Though the exact nature of the role might vary, authors play a significant role in marketing their books. These marketing efforts take time and money. And finally, marketing is more successful and enjoyable when done within communities. In fact, the authors included in this article are all part of the Author Talk Network community.
Author Talk Network is the brainchild of Grace Sammon. Creativity, collaboration, and an urge to communicate has resulted in a unique alliance of nineteen authors (five of whom are quoted above). The authors are available individually, or as a panel, for library programs, book clubs, school groups, or clubs and as guests on your show or blog. Explore more here. There’s a lot to talk about!
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About Mary Helen Sheriff:
Mary Helen Sheriff is the author of the award-winning southern women’s fiction, Boop and Eve’s Road Trip. She serves as an Author Marketing Coach and the CEO of Bookish Road Trip. After 14 years teaching elementary school, middle school, college, and professionals, Mary has taken a break from the classroom to focus on writing. She has an MFA from Hollins University, an MA from Old Dominion University, and a BA from UVA. She lives in Henrico County, Virginia with her two children, two cats, and one husband. For more information, check out her website at maryhelensheriff.com.