How to Publish an Indie Book, Part 6 of 6: Successfully Promote Your Book

Joshua Fields Millburn
Posted on August 19, 2013

Celebrate Good Times…Come On!

Congratulations. If you’ve followed the steps outlined in Parts 1–5—if you’ve written and edited and designed a cover for and formatted and then published your own Book—well then you are now an Independently Published Author. Bravo!

Take a moment to think about what that means. Look around: how many people do you know who’ve published a Book? Five? Fewer than five? If you’re like most people, there’s a good chance you’re the only person you know who has actually published a Book—fewer still’ve published a Book that has gone through the same rigorous quality control as your Book.

This is something you can be proud of. Your Book has the ability to be an asset for the rest of your life. Nothing can take that from you—not a lost job or a family emergency or tough economic times. Your Book is your Book forever, an asset for life.

So now what are you going to do with that asset? That’s a whole ‘nother story.

Well, ideally you’ll sell it to people who are interested in reading it. Duh! But how do you find those people? How do you connect with an audience? How do you let the world know about your creation? How do you successfully promote your Book?

Before for we chat about growing an audience, let’s talk about the misconceptions we seem to have regarding this thing called Going Viral. Basically, I want you to strive for something else…

Skip the Virus, ahem, the Viral

Everyone wants it—the overnight success, the secret formula, the magic pill. The path of least resistance is endemic in our current culture. We all want to Go Viral.

But have we at any point stopped the pursuit of Viral for a moment and asked ourselves why? Is there a reason we try to create the viral video, the over-shared blog post, the retweeted tweet? Or are we all just Pavlov’s dogs, drooling on command for a morsel of attention?

Maybe I’m allergic to the magic pill, but my own overnight success didn’t happen, ahem, overnight. As far as I can tell, I’ve never had anything Go Viral. Viral content itself is but a well-crafted soundbite, which is, by definition, devoid of substance; soundbites have immediate appeal, but lack staying power.

Perhaps my story simply isn’t soundbitish enough, but I’ve never Gone Viral. Not once. Hell, I don’t think I’ve ever written anything with even 1,000 Facebook Likes.

And yet, I don’t want—or need—to.

Going Viral will undoubtedly send a shedload of people your way—clicks and views and tweets. But is it the kind of traffic you want? Are they an engaged audience? Are they going to stick around? Or is Going Viral more like throwing a party with an open bar? Of course people will make an appearance, but what will keep them there when the free booze has dried up?

There is, however, an alternative. Instead of Going Viral, I focus on one thing: Adding Value. These two words regularly pop their beautiful little heads into my daily conversations. Habitually, before every tweet, every blog post, every Book I write, I ask myself, Am I Adding Value? Am I contributing in a meaningful way?

Adding Value is the only way to gain long-term buy-in, and it’s one of the few ways to build trust. When people trust you, they are eager to share your message with the people they love. Contribution is a basic human instinct; we are intrinsically wired to share value with others. Viral or no, trust is the best way to spread your message. Without it, the exit is just a click away.

Paths to Reach Your Audience by Building a Platform

As far as I can tell, there are at least five paths to build an Audience by Adding Value:

1. Blogging. Blogging is one of the best (if not the best) ways to build an audience. Colin and Ryan and I wouldn’t be here preaching from the soapbox today if it wasn’t for Exile Lifestyle and The Minimalists, respectively. That’s because blogging allows you to own and control your own work, to direct people to your creations, and to share your ruminations with folks all over the world.

We recommend some of the blog themes available from the folks at Spyr Media.

Must-read articles: How to Start a Successful Blog Today and Who the Hell Reads Your Blog Anyway?

2. Social Media. Social media can be intimidating. You’ve got Facebook and Twitter and Google+ and Pinterest and Instagram and Tumblr and Vine and YouTube and Flickr and Goodreads, and those are just the platforms I use. (There are others that I’ve never tried out like, say, Path, Snapchat, Bebo, et al., but that doesn’t mean that you have to ignore them.) Figuring out which platform(s) work best for you is the ticket. For me, Twitter works best; it is the social network I find the most value in, and thus it is the network I use most frequently.

I understand, however, that different people find value in different networks (for different reasons). If you’re a photographer, then likely Flickr or Instagram’ll work best; if you’re writing Young Adult Fiction, then Tumblr might be ideal because of its large share of teens; if you’re connecting with bloggers and techies and the like, then maybe your time is best spent on G+; if recipes or products where images reign suprime are your thing, then Pinterest is worth a shot; if videos are your forte  then Vine or YouTube is your jam; and if your audience is more traditional, then maybe a Facebook Fan Page is right up your alley.

The reason Twitter works best for me, though, is 3-fold: 1) Twitter allows me to Add Value to other people in a succinct way via a) short quotable (tweetable!) ruminations like this one and this one, b) sharing interesting things I’m currently reading, watching, or listening to, like this and this and this, respectively, and c) occasionally, but not too often, sharing my own links (N.B. a good rule of thumb here is that for every one (c) shared, you should share at least nine (a)’s and/or (b)’s; the fatal flaw I’ve noticed is always the folks who just do (c) with very little, if any, (a) or (b), which is an unforgivable sin and is tantamount to public masturbation (v.s. Going Viral); 2) because I’m limited to 140 characters, brevity is key; Twitter has helped me attenuate my writing in a more effectual way, and 3) I use Twitter as a sort of curation system; my Twitter feed feed is full of a) news, and b) interesting people. Unlike Facebook, I follow only people whose words/links/tweets add value to my life. And because that changes from time to time, my Twitter stream is ever-changing. I like to think that Facebook is great for connecting with people I went to highschool with, while Twitter is great for connecting with people I wish I went to highschool with. 

My advice (if you’re not already regularly using social media): Start today. Like right now. Seriously. Pick one platform and get good at it. Eventually, you can add other platforms, but don’t take on too much at once. Get good at one thing before moving on. Discover what Adds Value and do that.

My advice (if you are already using social media but want to use it more effectively): Basically, see above. The advice isn’t really different. Focus on getting good at one platform; freeze the others in the meantime and focus on only one for now.

Need help growing your Facebook Fan Page? Visit our Studio.

Additional reading: Feel Free to Unsubscribe, Unfollow. Additional viewing: Joshua Becker’s How to Use Twitter to Grow Your Platform. Additional perspective: Simplify Internet.

3. Events. We all have the ability to sit on our side of the screen and network via blogs and social media, which is great, but we all also live in the real world, and in the real world business still happens face to face. You can connect with someone on, say, Twitter (N.B. I met Colin on Twitter; in fact I’ve met nearly all my best friends because of the Internet), but the real lasting connections tend to come from face-to-face interaction. Hence, once you’ve connected on the Internet, it’s important to find ways to connect in person, which means attending conferences you might not want to attend (SXSW, BEA, WDS, Blog World, etc.), joining groups or clubs, and going out of your way to spend time with people who share similar values and beliefs.

4. Exchanging Value. Pay it forward. When you Add Value to other people’s lives it’s important to do so without a specific agenda. Remember, it’s not a direct exchange; it’s not quid pro quo. From some people you will gain more value than you’ll ever be able to repay (be thankful); likewise, you should seek to Add Value to as many lives as possible (be generous), expecting nothing in return. The nice thing about this is that it always works out in your favor—the more you give, the more you get. Call it karma or destiny or cause and effect, or call it whatever you want; whatever you call it, it works.

Additional reading: Paying It Way Forward

5. Be Shareworthy. Whatever you do, whatever platforms or vehicles or avenues or other silly metaphors you use to reach an audience, make sure that you create things that’re Shareworthy. I don’t know about you, but when something Adds Value to my life, the first thing I do is share it with people I care about. Ergo, if you Add Value, your message will spread.

These five paths, if done correctly, will allow you to build an audience over time. Sure it will take time, but doesn’t everything worth having take time?

As you build your audience, though, you’d be remiss if you didn’t also attempt to promote your Book at the same time. Let’s look at 10 tactics to help your Book reach new people…

Tactics to Help Your Book Reach New People

1. Loss Leaders. If you have more than one Book, this is a great strategy. That is, price one book low (say $1) as an introduction to your body of work. If the person who spends a buck on your Book loves it, then his or her propensity to purchase another (higher-priced) Book increases significantly. This happens with Colin’s, Ryan’s, and my Books all the time. Someone discovers our work via the blog and then takes a chance on one of our lower-priced Books. If they love it, they often buy several more titles from our body of work. A word of warning: even though your loss-leader Book is inexpensive, it still has to be great; otherwise why would they pick up another one of your titles.

2. Pricing. Similar to #1 above, you can play around with pricing to see what works best for you. It’s important to not undervalue your work while, at the same time, being cognizant of your marketplace. No sane person charges $37 for an eBook these days. So do your research; find out how much similar Books are selling for and then price yours accordingly. Remember, you can always adjust, up or down, accordingly. Related reading: Death of the Marketing Penny.

3. Free. There are two reasons why I sometimes make one of my Books free: 1) as an extreme version of loss-leading (v.s. #1), and 2) when I’m looking for another way for my work to spread (i.e., sometimes you create something you’re so passionate about, something you’re so happy with, something you believe will add so much value to other people’s lives, that you feel compelled to give it away for free—you simply want to get it in as many hands as possible because you know it will Add Value). Either way, making your Book free breaks down the cost barrier, which is often the biggest hurdle for consumers. You have to be careful, though, because pricing your book at $0 can devalue its worth in some people’s minds, and of course the money you’ll earn from every free Book sold is $0 (unless of course your loss-leader strategy directs people to purchase your other Books). Related Reading: What Is the Real Price of Free?

4. Reviews. You want readers to review your Book once they’ve read it. This is especially helpful on sites like Amazon and Goodreads, for two reasons: 1) it allows readers to congregate around your work in a meaningful way, showing appreciation for Books in which they find value, and 2) the more reviews you get, the more it helps you get noticed (by readers who read reviews and by Amazon et al.’s algorithm). Hence, it’s OK to ask readers (via your blog or social media) to leave a review. Just make sure you ask nicely. And don’t be pushy. And don’t ask too often; once’ll do. Also, no logrolling: don’t ask people to leave a five star review; ask them to leave an honest review.

5. Blog Reviews and Guest Posts. At Asymmetrical we have a list of blogs with whom we regularly communicate. Often, those blogs are willing to review or share our books with their audience. Likewise, you should make your own list of blogs and websites with similar values and audiences (audiences you hope to reach). Ask them if they’d be willing to review your book on their blog (or do a guest post if that makes more sense). Remember, though, make sure you Add Value first. You shouldn’t just email someone and say “Hey, do this for me!” without first finding ways to Add Value to their lives. That’d be tacky.

6. Local Media. Your local print, radio, and television outlets (as well as local blogs) love to feature feel-good pieces about local authors. Your new book is a great opportunity to get scads of local press coverage. Whenever we publish a new book, we reach out to all the editors and produces at the local newspaper, the local alt. presses, the local radio stations, and a few local news networks in a effort to create a local buzz around our new release. When done correctly, these efforts payoff immensely. When contacting these outlets, keep it short with just the most pertinent information: author bio, book synopsis, book cover. Make it known that you’re local, too. That’s important. Furthermore, it’s easier to approach media outlets if you have a special event—e.g., a book signing—scheduled at a local bookstore (such an event adds legitimacy and gives the media a reason to cover your story).

7. Tour. Touring is a fun way to meet readers, but you don’t have to have a huge audience to conduct a book tour. And you don’t have to tour all over the country either. Hell, your tour can consist of one or two stores if you’d like. Again, events like this will give the local media reasons to feature you and your work. They also create a sense of urgency. Check out our special tour podcast here, where we elaborate on our own touring experiences: Asymmetrical Podcast — Episode 1.

8. Speaking. Are there nearby events that pertain to your book at which you can speak? Universities, libraries, and clubs welcome authors with open arms as long as your Book’s topic is congruent with theirs.

9. Indie Bookstores. Besides the local media, guess who else loves local authors: local Indie Bookstores. Before you become a local celeberty via the local media scene, make sure you’ve connected with all the Indie Bookstores in your city, as well as nearby cities. Fostering these relationships will go a long way.

10. Hand-Selling. Hand-selling is a catch-all term for DIY selling. We at Asymmetrical often call it out-of-the-trunk selling. Anytime we have any type of event—a speaking gig, a conference, a tour, a group we meet with—we make sure we have a box of Books with us ready to sell. That way, when people ask you about your Book, which they will, you’ll be ready. Oh, and good news: You don’t have to take only cash either. Square allows you to swipe credit cards via your smartphone or tablet.

That’s all for now. Once again, congratulations on making it this far. You’re awesome. We’d love to know if you have any questions or comments.

About This Series

Over the course of six essays and six podcasts, Colin Wright and I want to show you, based on our own experience as successful Independent Authors, how to publish an Indie Book (hence the title). This series includes six parts (listed below).

Each essay also contains a short podcast in which we expound on the contents of the essay, using our own personal experience and opinions as a beacon to guide the conversation.

We welcome your feedback and questions in the comments below, which we’ll use to append our teachings herein.

Podcast: Successfully Promote Your Book

Now let’s listen to Colin’s and my podcast about promoting your Book:


Move on to other segments in the series:

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(Photo by Megan Jae Riggs)