How to Market a Book: 6 Steps From a Full-Time Author

While some of us may have known even as children that, “I want to be a writer when I grow up,” few of us probably tacked on, “and a marketer and businessperson and entrepreneur.” And so it’s little wonder that when we do grow up (or not, as per Neil Gaiman), we may be a tad disillusioned to discover that not only do we need to learn how to write a book, we also need to learn how to market a book.

How to market a book has never been the focus of this site. When asked, I have often told people that I in no way consider myself a marketing expert. Instead, I point them to those who have been my own most insightful teachers, including Joanna Penn and David Gaughran. However, in hearing myself say that in an interview not long ago, I realized how disingenuous that statement is. I’ve been successfully marketing my books for sixteen years with over half a million sold, so I guess I must know more than I think I do!

I was particularly pleased to receive the following from reader Brenda Holiday, requesting this post:

If you’re open to requests, I would LOVE to learn about your marketing strategies, if you’d ever care to teach them. They’re engaging and exciting to me as a writer. I want to learn how to do this with my own projects.

Honestly, that was one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received! That is exactly how I’ve always wanted my marketing to be perceived—as an offering in itself rather than an ask.

Today, I’m going to take a stab at sharing my personal ethos and process for how to market a book, not just in hopes that a specific tip might prove helpful, but because it can be so grounding to understand the big-picture process from another writer for whom marketing is not second nature.

My Personal Ethos Around How to Market a Book

Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success by K.M. Weiland

Outlining Your Novel (Amazon affiliate link)

In pondering why I still feel so unqualified to speak about marketing, I think it’s because while I’m a planner and an outliner when it comes to writing, I’m actually much more of an intuitive pantser when it comes to marketing. I just throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks. In the early years, I threw everything I could think of at the wall, and it took me literally a decade to start applying the 80-20 rule and figuring out where my efforts were actually paying off.

I may write another post soon about why I think marketing and business is often so hard for writers (here’s one from a few years ago). One reason, I think, is that many people share my personal hang-up about not wanting marketing to feel intrusive. My own ethos about how to market a book is always evolving as I work through my own blind spots and programming around earning money and promoting, etc. However, it has always been founded on one simple rule:

Give more than you ask.

I put out a ton of free content. Over the years, I’ve realized that in many ways, the free stuff is where my heart’s at. I love giving content away. When I was going through a difficult period a few years ago, questioning my identity as a writer, the one thing that never wavered was my commitment to this site. I didn’t miss a week, even though it wasn’t directly profiting me in any way.

This site has always been the foundation of my business as a writer. I do it because I love it, but I also do it because it is what makes it possible to sell enough books to make a living. Even though everything on the site is free (unless you buy a book, of course), I still count the site as my main income generator. This is for two reasons:

  1. It draws in potential future customers.
  2. It generates trust in me and my content, so that when I am ready to sell something, people want to purchase.

That’s half my marketing already done even before I start planning a book launch.

The second part of my personal marketing ethos is:

Always be watching and learning.

I’m not a trend-setter or even a trend-studier. But I do pay close attention to what works for me in other people’s marketing. This is how I hack story theory as well: in interacting with other authors’ content, I notice my own responses and ask, “Why?”

  • Did this email get me to buy? Why?
  • Did I delete this email without even opening it? Why?
  • Did this email make me mad, so that I unsubscribed? Why?
  • Did this email get to me to buy, but now I feel kind of icky about it? Why?
  • Did I buy this book or product, but then feel like it wasn’t worth my money or didn’t meet my expectations? Why?

My golden rule is:

Never use a marketing tactic you wouldn’t appreciate when the roles are switched and you’re the consumer.

6 Ways to Successfully Market a Book

Marketing, as I see it, is a conversation. First, you have to draw people into the conversation (aka, get them to notice you); but then you have to sustain the conversation. By the very nature of conversing, especially over a lengthy period of time, you form relationships. Therefore, the marketing itself becomes part of the relationship.

And relationships are highly individualistic. The relationship I have with the people who buy my books is not the same relationship other writers will have with their audiences. It’s important to note that although we can all learn from other writers and marketers, what works for us will inevitably be as highly personalized as our stories.

With that in mind, here are the six cornerstones of my business as a writer. These are, in my estimation, what have allowed me to be a successful writer and to earn a comfortable living from the sales of my books and other related products for the last sixteen years.

1. Free Content

Again, for me, it all starts here. The vast majority of my weekly effort is put into the free content I produce. I pour my heart into this blog, the related podcast (see the bottom of the post), and the weekly Q&A videos. In part, I do it because I know it creates a platform from which I can market salable items. But I also do it because I love it. And I think this is the key to sustainable marketing: you have to find a platform that aligns with your values, your personality, and your passion.

Free content has the obvious benefit of being a no-risk offer for potential customers. They don’t have to do anything, not even offer up their email address, in order to benefit from what you are offering. Most fiction authors can’t give away content at the same level as non-fiction authors do, so you will have to hunt around for the model that works best for you. Often, giving away one or two of your books is a great start. I’ve been following successful romance authors lately, and these ladies know how to market a book. They’re constantly giving away free books and cross-promoting on each other’s mailing lists as a way of pulling in new devotees.

From a business perspective, that brings us to the most important point of free content. Even though the content is free with no strings, the ultimate goal is to incentivize readers to sign up for your mailing list. At some level, this is simply because it means they’ll return to your content again and again, allowing you to start building that relationship. More pertinently, it means you can now market to them directly and specifically when it comes time for a book launch.

Products I Use:

2. Mailing List

The mailing list is where all the good stuff happens in marketing. Although pulling in new leads through SEO and advertising is an ongoing and important process, the true marketing happens in the mailing list. Curating a solid list isn’t just about collecting as many email addresses as possible. It’s about collecting emails from people who actually want to read your emails.

Some people might question why it’s worth it to give away quality free content that you could totally charge for. This is why. If the people in your mailing list trust that every time they open an email from you, they’re going to get something satisfying, then two things happen:

  1. They’re much more likely to actually open your marketing emails.
  2. They’re much more likely to trust that what you’re selling will be just as worthwhile as what you’ve been giving them for free all along.

If you’re running a blog, like this one, you can just send updates of new posts. Many writers these days draw people to their mailing lists through offerings of free books, then share their regular free content (whether book excerpts, BTS pix, personal letters, etc.) directly to the list rather than on a website. Perfecting your mailing list will be an individual pursuit for every writer, but it should be at the top of your list when it’s time to think about how to market a book. If you’re interested, you can sign up for my mailing list here.

Products I Use:

3. Launches

For a writer, book launches are like the Super Bowl. This is where the marketing ramps up.

I’m a lot more low-key with my launches than I used to be. Everything has fallen into a sort of dependable rhythm. I focus on a launch week, in which I announce the book. I have always had fun offering a prize giveaway during launches. This isn’t necessary and most writers don’t take this route anymore, but I run prize giveaways during launch weeks for several reasons:

  1. Again, it makes the whole promo less of an “ask” and more of a “give.”
  2. It creates a party atmosphere that ramps excitement (mine anyway!) for the launch.
  3. It generates added incentive for people to share about the launch on social media.

During the launch, I try to post something about the new book every day on social media, and I will often send out one or two emails throughout the week, including a giveaway reminder toward the end. I don’t want to send so many that people are annoyed or stop opening the emails thinking they’re just more of the same. But I do want to give the new product as much exposure as possible.

By some reckonings, people sometimes need to see a product as many as seven times before it starts to cut through the rest of the Internet noise and grab their attention. This is why I will usually start mentioning the book’s upcoming release a few weeks before it actually comes out, perhaps with a cover reveal or other fun tidbit.

If I feel the topic is unusual or that my audience may not immediately resonate with it, I will spend some extra time writing about it. I will create copy that discusses the details of the book and why readers will find it entertaining or useful. In keeping with my view of my relationship with my audience as a “conversation,” I also like to share personal details—such as why I wrote this book and why the topic is important and meaningful to me.

I will then follow up in subsequent weeks by planning blog posts around the book’s topic, so I can continue mentioning it or highlighting its cover in a low-key way for several months.

Products I Use:

4. Passive Marketing

Although book launches are a big deal, the bulk of most successful authors’ book sales come throughout the year as the result of passive marketing. Because my focus is on creating free content, most of my passive marketing efforts go into quietly highlighting my books in various ways.

For example, you have probably noticed that whenever one of my writing books is topical in a blog post, I will always include an image of its cover. I don’t generally go out of my way to mention it or draw attention to it, but it is there, as a resource, for people who want more information than what I’m providing in the post.

I also set up an automated set of “welcome” emails to my mailing list, which include links to my books and even a discounted coupon.

When a new book comes out, I will go through the backlog of posts and add the cover to any pertinent post. This way, if someone randomly finds one of my posts through a web search, they will not only have access to the free content but also exposure to my paid content.

5. Periodic Sales

Most of my active marketing effort goes into the launches for new books and products. However, I will also occasionally do periodic sales throughout the year. The only two major sales I actually plan ahead are for Memorial Day and Black Friday. Apart from setting up the discount or coupon, the prep is usually pretty straightforward—preparing just an email or two, depending on the sale’s duration. However, because these sales apply only to books and products sold through my personal store (versus a retailer such as Amazon), these sales are often as intense as book launches. I plan whole days around them, so I am present to respond to email queries and troubleshooting.

Occasionally, I will also participate in sales with partners. This might either be a sale of my own product on another venue (such as the full-cast audio dramatization of my gaslamp fantasy Wayfarer) or a collaborative sale in which multiple authors mark down their books and mutually promote.

Other sales are more random, such as the occasional one-day $.99 e-book discount on Amazon. I will often run at least one of these a few months after a book launch in order to encourage Amazon sales with the potential to garner a “Verified Review” status from anyone willing to leave a rating or a review for the book.

Products I Use:

6. Social Media

I have maintained a presence on all of the major social media networks for most of my career. Although I believe social media was helpful in the beginning for driving initial traffic to my site, I don’t currently feel I get a ton of leads from social media. I’ve considered dropping them altogether, but in light of the fact that they don’t require much time or effort, I’ve continued. These days, I give most of my attention to Instagram, just because I enjoy it the most. It’s easy enough to cross-promote from there on Facebook and X. Pinterest is a surprisingly big driver of traffic for me, so I always create a pinnable image to put at the top of each post.

I’m not too impulsive when it comes to social media. I set up routine posts, schedule them at the beginning of the week, and let them run. Once again, I try to focus on offering as much, if not more, free content than I do “asks.” I create various posts with excerpts from my weekly blog content, BTS from my own life (which are always the most popular), and one weekly “ad” that mentions one of my books or products.

Products I Use

  • Graphic Design Creation: Canva
  • Social Media Scheduling: Buffer

***

Marketing is an incredibly vast topic, not least because it is ever-evolving as the tech changes so rapidly. It is not a natural landing spot for most writers, but it is essential for anyone who wants to get their books out there. Particularly if you seek to make a living from your writing, you will have to treat the business aspect as a business.

Start by studying what other successful writers are doing and particularly what marketing tactics resonate with you as a customer. Then get in touch with your values around marketing. What kind of marketing feels good? What are tactics and techniques that feel sustainable? Not all of them will be fun or easy. You will likely feel resistance. But as you grow as a marketer, you will get more in touch with which approaches light you up. Ultimately, marketing is really just passionately talking about something you want to share with others. Yes, you want (and deserve) to be paid for your gifts, but what you are offering is your gift to the world. That’s always going to be worth marketing.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! What has been your greatest breakthrough in learning how to market a book? Tell me in the comments!

Click the “Play” button to Listen to Audio Version (or subscribe to the Helping Writers Become Authors podcast in Apple Podcast or Amazon Music).

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. Thank you for this post. Marketing is the worst part of writing, for me. I feel I can’t get on with the real work because of promoting things I’ve already written.
    The worst thing, though, is guilt that I’m not delivering the next part of series because of the time spent in marketing.
    I like the idea of giving away stuff in your newsletter. My list hasn’t grown from 35 people for years, in spite of a free and exclusive short story to encourage them to sign up.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s definitely a juggling act. I’ve had to revise my expectations for how much I’m able to create as the years have passed, since the more products I have on offer, the more time I have to put into maintaining and marketing them.

    • Hey V.M.! Have you tried BookFunnel? You can join with other writers in your genre or subgenre to give out free books in exchange for signing up to your newsletters. Some people will unsubscribe (maybe because they just wanted free books), but you stand a good chance of signing up people interested in the types of books you write. You can also participate in sales promos with other writers that write books similar to yours.

      I’ve only participated in two NL promos and have gone from 31 members for several years to over 300 stable, engaged users with a 70 percent average open rate. It’s not fantastic, but it’s huge for me.

  2. This was a timely post for me. The idea of marketing has always been a hangup for me. I have no interest in joining social media, but all the sources I read say you need a social media presence. I hardly, if ever, find book recommendations on social media, which I’m sure contributes to my disinterest; social media has no impact in my own reading and search for books, so how would I make it work for my own writing? Finding content to consistently blog about might not be easy at first, but I probably would get better at that with practice.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      To be successful at marketing, I do believe you have to go into into it with certain willingness to explore and experiment. Resistance and a rigid mindset don’t offer much wiggle room for figuring things out. However, I also believe it’s important to be creative in marketing and to find what feels natural for you use as a marketer because it’s also what you enjoy and respond to as a consumer.

  3. Thank you for this! Last night I stopped using the social media platform I’ve used for eight years. I simply don’t like it anymore, and find myself struggling to find a new love. I’ve tried Instagram in the past, but didn’t know what to do there. I’ll follow you and see what you’re doing.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      So far, Insta has been the most enjoyable platform I’ve ever used, and I think this is mostly because I enjoy it *as* a user, rather than just a marketer. This allows me to discover and enjoy what other people are doing and learn from them, so I can incorporate what feels good into my own social media communications.

      • I’ve never really used it much except to look at animal photos. I’m following you and will check out what others are doing too. You’re so wonderful!

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          I recommend just following whoever strikes your fancy personally and learning what keeps you engaged.

  4. Thank you K.M. Weiland for this post on marketing. I like your candid and human side presentation of the business aspect of what we like to do.

    Keep up your fantastic contribution to the writers’ world.

  5. This is so encouraging. I find I purchase the most books from podcasts (Joanna Penn’s the most!) so am pitching them. I’m building a list of authors to hopefully cross-promote with. I have not been great at blogging because I feel I need to be writing the next book! I love the “giving.” My Christmas newsletter is all giving (an uplifting video, a short story and a doodle, drawn exclusively for that newsletter). I am very annoyed with newsletters that are pushy this time of year! Blessed holidays!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I love the giving too! But it’s also important for us to know that what we’re offering is valuable. Readers *want* what we’re offering (if they’re the right readers), and writers deserve a fair exchange. Ironically, many of us can be uncomfortable asking for that fair exchange.

  6. For me, my biggest breakthrough was reframing marketing as being on the same spectrum as writing. If I’m just writing for myself (a personal journal) then marketing doesn’t matter. But if my goal is to connect with someone else, how I reach that person both informs the writing itself (make it worth their time) and how I try to get them to start reading in the first place.

    The best marketing is word of mouth from readers, and that depends on large part on the actual writing.

  7. nick nichols says

    Thank you SO very much for this! “Give more than you ask.” This resonates, as well as the notion of simply putting your work out there so that potential readers can see first what they will be getting. Thanks again.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I find it much less exhausting to frame marketing around giving rather than around trying to get something back. I want it to be a mutual exchange between myself and readers. I want them to be just as happy with what they get as I am with what I get. But, by the same token, it’s important for us to recognize the value of our work and our right to receive just compensation.

  8. Bryon Richards says

    A really thoughtful post. There is a reason why I open you emails. I have subscribed to other writers, bloggers, etc…You among a very few have kept my interest because you don’t bother me all the time asking for something or trying to tease me and then “ah ha” YOU MUST BUY NOW. Even though I have bought your Outlining book but it was because as you said: I trust you now. (And the book is great by the way!)

    And there is a connection to your readers. In your post and videos you come across as someone I can meet in a coffee shop and just share ideas and not preach anything. The writing process is a personal one and you don’t profess to know one way or another what works for another person, just what works for you.

    And in that way, you have become authentic. A word I must admit that gets thrown around way to much for things that really are not. (And you reply to your readers!)

    Thanks again as always. I always learn something new.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Authenticity has been a journey for me–and continues to be. Honestly, marketing has been a tremendous part of my own self-discovery and growth journey. I’ve had to work through lots of resistance points and recognize lots of things about myself that I would have preferred to leave in the shadows. It continues to be an edge! Finding that balance between being willing to stand up for and behind my work without pushing too far into a paradigm that is focused more on profit than value—it’s a tricky one for any of us to walk!

      Thanks for the kind words, BTW. Great to hear you’re enjoying Outlining Your Novel!

  9. I’m trying something very different, and I can’t say I’ve figured out all the details, or even that what I’m doing right now is very good, but I do believe I’ll there – at least in terms of quality if not financial success. Over the years, I’ve written quite a few short stories and that’s what I prefer to write. So, the idea I had was to marry these stories with pictures, narrate them and turning them into youtube videos. I’ll mention I’m using MidJourney for the pictures, which I don’t like, but I can’t draw and I’m not in a place where I could bring in artists. I just opened my channel (Frenchie Frier’s Story Land) last week, and I’m committed to following up on this for at least two years, releasing a new story every other week, and I have some ideas for shorts. Ultimately, I think this could lead to me selling story collections if the channel gains traction.
    I have enough of a business background to know this probably won’t work, but I’m enjoying the variety of the process. I’m figuring out/learning new things all the time, and I love that.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Strategy is important, but so is just doing what feels fun. You never know where following your gut will lead you.

  10. Jennifer Tooker says

    Timely indeed! Thank you so much for this post and all of your posts. I find you to be extraordinarily genuine and appreciate it so very much! Marketing is my bane, as is making money–it’s just so messy. I’d rather trade shells or river stones. [smile] But the real world and real need beckons and I have finally decided it’s time to learn how to market my writing. So, thank you for reading my mind and once again feeding me with such wondersfully scrumptious information to nudge my reluctant passion (oxymoronic???)

    Cheers to all!!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Working with our money stories is an important part of marketing, and it’s almost never talked about. Almost all of us carry limiting stories or motives that can block us from creating the opportunities that would be most beneficial and in alignment for us. One thing that has helped me is recognizing that money isn’t “real”; it’s a symbolic stand-in for the larger energetic exchange. We *are* in essence still trading in shells (or trading stories for food, as the case may be), except that now $ stands in as a the temporary holding place before we decide what we want to trade it in for.

  11. Thank you for sharing these tips. Marketing seems like madness until it’s broken down into steps, with explanations and starter links. This is most helpful. I like looking at what works for me on other people’s marketing. And I’ve certainly taken advantage of the many free gifts you’ve offered! Thank you!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Glad it was helpful! These days, I think anyone wanting to make writing a profession would be well-served to seek out a business or marketing degree. A large part of the reason writers are often so overwhelmed by the marketing side of things is that a) we don’t enter what is essentially a high-skill arena with any skills and b) we fail to recognize that writing full-time is a business and has to be run as such.

  12. As someone who knows nothing about marketing, but is eager to learn, I loved this post. It’s one of the only reasons I’ve considered self publishing. Then again, my book’s not ready yet, but once it is, I’ll definitely be referencing this again.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Marketing is a major concern whether you choose to publish traditionally or independently. Either way, you have to find a groove that feels good for you and is sustainable over the long haul. Glad the post was helpful!

  13. Ralph Bullis says

    Great podcast. This gets down to the nuts and bolts of being a successful writer…how to make a living.

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