Today I got my hands on an Advanced Review Copy of the 5th Wave. The interesting thing about it was the blurb on the back cover, which listed out its $750,000 marketing campaign.
In this article I want to deconstruct the steps to a major, bestselling marketing campaign and teach you how to have the same amount of reach for under $1000.
The thing to keep in mind, is that this huge, expensive campaign works for traditionally published books, but is also old-school marketing. You may need to spend the same amount of money to do the exact same things (doubtful) but you can spend far less money and have equal reach, with smarter choices.
I also made a video talking about all this stuff, if you prefer listening rather than reading… it’s a long post (3500 words). If you like to read, just skip down and continue.
PRO TIP: none of your marketing is going to work without a beautiful front cover, so before you spend any money on marketing, get real, professional feedback (you can email me if you want) and make sure the cover is good enough – if not, spend all your money on a nice cover. Nothing else is going to work otherwise.
This is the cover for the 5th Wave.
National author tour
This one can be scrapped. Why spend all that money on hotels and flights? Being there in person to market your books doesn’t make any sense: if this is your first book, nobody cares who you are. It’s important to connect with readers and build relationships, but how much of that actually happens at a book signing? You can be more approachable online, for free. Events are rarely a good use of funds, unless it’s a huge event with READERS of your genre (not just other authors).
What to do instead: Get a virtual assistant to post your book on every single Craigslist, in all the major cities of the USA. Post it on Reddit and LinkedIn. Hire someone on Fiverr.com to print out a flyer/postcard and put it in bookstores in major cities around the USA.
Massive deluxe gallery distribution
This is great, if you have an awesome cover, and can afford amazing quality print. If you go this route, you might want to splurge on fancy printing effects, you can get them done with Clay’s printing. But it’s probably easier to put your files up on Createspace, and order one copy and get it sent directly to a reviewer (the drawback of this is that you can’t include a personal note or introduction).
The clever thing they did for 5th Wave is to put on the back, $750,000 Marketing Campaign. They could have added a description or reviews: stuff that usually goes on the back cover. Instead, they wanted early reviewers to know that this book was a big deal, it was going to be a big thing, so readers would feel more confident in reading and supporting it. Reviewers get hundreds of books: why should they open YOUR book? Money talks. I may actually experiment with this on a future book, by putting $250,000 marketing campaign on the back before sending it out to reviewers (this trick works whether or not you actually spend that much money: it’s positioning).
What to do instead: I don’t usually send out a lot of review copies. But these days, you don’t need to go for the BIG famous reviewers. Think smaller. Go for the small book review sites with less traffic. Their review on Amazon is as important as the big league people. If you’re not writing literary fiction, all readers care about is the number of reviews, not who is reviewing them. Instead of sending out hundreds of real galley copies, send out thousands of free PDFs or ebooks. It costs you NOTHING. To find reviewers, just go to the Amazon page of the top 10 bestselling books in your genre more similar to yours. Many of the reviews will have a website link. Get their email and say, “I saw you reviewed this other book… I wrote a similar book about xxx, can I send you a free review copy, or ebook/PDF?”
Always offer a real book, in my experience at least half the people will prefer a digital version anyway. And when they write back, you can always say “Unfortunately I just ran out of print review copies, here’s the ebook/PDF”.
Plan to email at least 100 people to get about 20%. If you aren’t getting at least a 20% response, then it’s your book cover design, or website design, or the actual writing, that is killing you.
Extensive Early Consumer and Trade Buzz Campaign
This basically means, they are pre-marketing to the target readers. It might include stuff like advertising in places where the readers hang out. This one is a little tricky, since it’s YA – you have to know where teens are spending their time and how they are interacting with real and digital media.
The nice thing is, you can reach the same readers for free with a little creativity. In my case, I plan to build up a big email list of target readers before I even start my book launch, by doing a giveaway with prizes that will only appeal to them. That way, I’m attracting my ideal audience with the right kind of bait.
Picture mainstream traditional book marketing like fishing with dynamite. They are tossing in live fuses and they are going to kill everything in the water – even though only a small portion of those people will actually be the target consumers. It’s expensive and wasteful. A step up would be spear-fishing: targeting a very specific type of reader and putting your content in front of them only (by advertising in specific magazines or websites, for example).
But I recommend you use a pole and bait. If you want salmon, use bait that attracts salmon. In the online world, you can put out 10,000 lines instantly and start getting clicks. With targeted Facebook ads, you can appeal directly to your readers – but you’re still spear fishing.
What to do instead: Use bait. Attract your readers with cool, funny, interesting content, or just do a giveaway that appeals to them. I wrote more about that today in this article. Sure it would be nice to spend 50K for advertising in a major trade journal or magazine, but you can get the same amount of reach by emailing 100 genre-specific blogs and asking them to share your book (as long as you have a great book, great cover, and interesting email).
Major National Media Campaign focusing on commercial, literary and sci-fi media
This one confuses me: the 5th Wave is a pretty decent book, but it’s YA pulp. It’s not literary. It’s not a masterpiece of writing. A “Media Campaign” just means trying to get the book in front of the right media. The funny thing is, this kind of book marketing often focuses on the attempt, not the results. For example, maybe they mail the book off to 100 media channels, but only 2 pick them up. That’s a big success. Did they get on the news? On TV? The Radio? Doubtful – because publishing a new book is not news. The Media wants STORIES, not “a new book.”
Pitching your book to media is a waste of time.
What to do instead: make sure you find your interesting story, your NEWS. If you aren’t already doing something exceptional, you should be. For example, take a look at my launch plan for Shearwater: instead of book marketing, I’m donating $1000 to save mermaids. Instead of “Buy my book” I’m saying, “Save the Oceans.”
That makes the project more interesting, easier to share, but it’s still not really NEWS. If I wanted it to be news, I’d have to move to Florida and spend a year saving Manatee. Your book isn’t news. You have to DO something, and something remarkable. If you do something remarkable, a cheap press release may get you all the mainstream media you need.
Major National consumer advertising, including print, television, radio, movie theater, and online
Online advertising is much cheaper than any of these forms of advertising, and you can reach more people. But advertising has limits. Me personally, I’m focusing on getting just one retweet from Taylor Swift. If I can pull that off, I’ll probably sell more books than if I’d spent $100K on advertising. To make that happen, you have to find a way to make it about other people, to make it a cause of movement, or to do something novel or funny.
What to do instead: forget mainstream advertising. See if you can get 100 blogs in your genre to share your book. See if you can get 100 authors in your genre to share your book. It means you need to spend a few hours researching and writing emails, but it’s free. If you want to get real media, pitch yourself to a local paper or news (sometimes they’ll do “local interest” stories, especially if the topic is interesting).
Media is great, if you can get it, but find a way to pitch them a story instead of paying for advertising. Advertising online is more effective, and you can track the results: spend $20 on Facebook ads, see what worked and what went wrong, tweak and spend another $20. Keep doing that until you can advertise $20 and make $50 in book sales, then simply scale up.
Customize your advertising to your readers: I can target all 15-25 year olds who love Twilight AND mermaids, and make my ad read, “It’s like Twilight, with Mermaids.” Those readers will see the ad and it will speak directly to them.
Extensive online promotion
I don’t know if they even know what this means, it could be anything. But I’ll take it to mean this: putting your content in front of the right readers online. Firstly, you need to know exactly who they are and where they hang out. Then you need to put your content in front of them, which is basically “content marketing.” But don’t pay for it.
Paid promotion rarely works. Instead, find a bunch of blogs where your readers are, and pitch them a guest post: not something promotional or talking about your book, something else that’s tangentially related. For example, I could write a dozen articles about mermaids based on the historical research I’ve done. I could write about how mermaids are the perfect societal filter for discussing oceanic conservation. I could discuss why mermaids are suddenly more popular right now than ever before. I could review and compare 5 bestselling mermaid romance books.
I’d post them on big blogs about YA literature. I could get onto Quora and ask / answer questions like “Are mermaids real?” or “What superpowers do mermaids have?” or “Would you want to be a mermaid?” I want to start discussion points and conversation. I want to start arguments and debates: I want to create the platform where mermaid fans come to talk about themselves.
What to do instead: don’t pay for “online promotion.” Think of ways to use your knowledge to create interesting content or discussions. Sometimes a simple question on Quora or even a funny infographic might work better than something that takes more time.
Put your content up on a lot of different sites where your readers actually are. Don’t think of it as book promotion: think of it as giving away free content that the host blog will use to get more traffic and the readers will love. If done well, your byline/link at the bottom will be enough to move more books.
Integrated Social Media Outreach
This basically means that they’ll open up a Twitter, Facebook, maybe instagram or pinterest account and match the branding, and connect everything together. You can do all that yourself.
How to use social media is a longer discussion, but in short:
- Make lots of cool articles and post them on all your accounts
- Use a lot of pictures/images with all your posts
- Ask a lot of question and focus on engagement
- Post short thoughts or sentences
- Share really interesting relates stuff, such as genre-related news, thoughts about movies or books in your genre, etc.
- Use all the hashtags and keywords your readers like to use. Jump on related trends if you can and their relevant. Comment on relevant stuff.
- Follow everybody in your genre who has a big following, like other authors, or reviewers. Like and share and retweet and comment/reply to their stuff. Make yourself known. Be helpful. If they keep seeing you support them and add value, they might follow you back, and they might share your stuff in return (if it’s good enough and looks professional.
What to do instead: Don’t use social media to promote your book! That’s not what it’s there for. If this surprises you, go here and download Book Marketing is Dead (Free Book). Use social media to interact and make relationships by sharing relevant content that people like. It’s OK to talk about your book 10% of the time. The rest of the time you need to be finding and sharing other people’s content.
Launch Consumer Website
This one is kind of silly: you could spend a lot of money on a beautiful author website, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Read this post to find out why. With author websites you basically have two choices:
1. a “landing page” that does something. So you somehow drive all the traffic (in this case, 750K in advertising is sending people to the landing page) and the landing page sells the book or gets people to sign up for news. That can be effective, but you have to drive all the traffic.
2. a blog, with articles. This is a long term strategy, where you post lots of keyword rich articles (shoot for 100 in the first few months). Articles can be 500 to 1000 words, and can take 15 minutes to an hour to write. If you do 2 a day, you’ll have 120 in 2 months.
The nice thing about blogs is that, done properly, they will bring in new traffic every day FOREVER. Which is really, the ideal marketing. Most authors have no idea how to use a blog, so they don’t post often or don’t write things that get traffic. Even if you just post 100 book reviews of books in your genre, you’ll be doing much better than most authors. Give your target readers something to read. You want them to show up on your website, read some content, get distracted by the amazing optin offer on your sidebar, click to find out more about your book, read an excerpt, and then buy the book or sign up to your email list.
Having a blog and getting traffic is the world’s best book marketing: but it’s a long term strategy. If you know you don’t want to blog, set up a great landing page instead that just sells the book and collects emails. Check out www.booklaunch.io for the ‘landing page’ style site. Though I recommend using WordPress.
What to do instead. Set up a WordPress site, with a few pages, and ALSO add a landing page for your book. I’ve put a whole bunch of videos and tutorials on www.authoridentity.com; and you can check out my fiction blog at www.urbanepics.com.
The reason I choose to go minimal and simple, is because it’s easier for most authors to pull off without screwing up; the site will load faster, and it’s easier to read the content – since I focus on a content approach by having lots of articles, rather than just a landing page, I keep my sites very clean and simple.
They chose to focus on two really huge events and go all out. That can totally work. It’s expensive, but should be under $2000 for a booth plus extras, even for 2015/16. If you want to do it, you need amazing printed materials and a super book cover design. However, before you splurge, I would put your book on Amazon or at least send out early copies to lots of reviews and test feedback.
If you can’t get regular readers to LIKE your book and enjoy reading it enough to get back to you or leave a review, a big event is going to be a waste of time and money. Test first. Make sure you book is good enough and that the target audience enjoys it. You can do this on the cheap, for example, by putting up a review copy or sample (first 4 chapters?) on a landing page, then using targeted Facebook ads only for people who liked ComicCon.
You can just say “special pre-launch book sample for ComicCon fans” and then ask them to read and leave feedback on your website. If you can’t get THOSE readers to enjoy your sample and leave a positive comment, ComicCon is going to be a waste.
Also… big splurge events like that will work much better if you have more content. I would never do it for one book. But I may do it in a few years, when I have 10 novels to lay out on a table.
What to do instead: before going all out, test small and cheap. Make sure the right readers enjoy your book. Make sure your cover is attractive and appealing to the right readers. If you can drive targeted ads and people are buying and commenting/liking/sharing the book – in other worlds, if it’s already successful, something big like ComicCon might be smart.
However… I’d probably rather just spend $1000 on targeted Facebook ads to reach the same audience. Unless I had drool-worthy, beautifully produced books that people really had to see in person. And then I’d probably also hire actors to dress up as the protagonist from each book, and invest in amazing costumes… so they could walk around and people would say “Who are you?” and they could hand out a flier or something and say, “What, you’ve never heard of it? Seriously? It’s amazing.”
Major promotion and deluxe gallery distribution at all national school and library conferences.
This one is pretty cool: for young adult readers, focusing on school and libraries would be a big win. I’ll probably do something like that later, when I have more books. But still…. 750K? I don’t think so. Most conference cost a few hundred bucks. And instead of attending, you can just pay to be included in their email newsletter or conference brochure. But before I did that, I’d email 100 influential YA book bloggers and see if I can get them to review the book on Amazon. If I can’t get a bunch of real reviews of the book on Amazon, more promotion isn’t going to help.
Getting into libraries would mean bulk sales, which are sweet: if you wanted to do this you should probably publish with IngramSpark and set a very hefty discount price (65%) but again, libraries aren’t going to order the book just because you put it in front of them. You need some high level, credible reviews first, and beautiful design, and a powerful author story, and young adults have to ACTUALLY LIKE YOUR BOOK.
What to do instead. See if you can donate a few copies to your local high school and middle school. Tell them you’re a local author looking for feedback. Offer a small prize or something. See if they’ll put 5 of your books near the front counter with a special offer, like a $10 amazon card in exchange for an honest, thoughtful review.
Get real feedback from real kids. If they like it, try and do the same thing with some parents. Start a book club for young adult parents. You can totally pay for a review or advertisement from librarything or bigger websites, but make sure you are getting the right kind of feedback first. Spend $10 before you spend $1000 bucks. I’ll do more research on reaching YA audiences soon and post it on this site.
12-copy floor display
A 12-copy floor display is basically a book rack for displaying your books at events. They cost about $50. Not a big deal.
What to do instead: Just use a table. And like I said, events are rarely a good use of money.
When you send out your proof books, see how you can make your book or project sound more credible and important. You need to get people to take it seriously, to think “Wow this must be a big deal, I think I’ll open it and read a little.” You can do that by putting something like “$750,000 marketing campaign” on the back… however you shouldn’t spend that much.
Old school book marketing is really expensive, which is why if you’re competing with big publishers using old school media, you’ll run out of money before you make a dent. So don’t do it.
There are far better ways to market your books for far less money. It may take a little time and creativity, but with effort and perseverence, by self-publishing you can out-maneuver mainstream, big budget publishers.
HOWEVER: the best marketing in the world can’t help a mediocre book that’s poorly designed that doesn’t have an audience. If your marketing is not seeing the results you want, it might not be a problem with the marketing: you may just need to write another book, for a specific group of readers, and focus on providing them the reading experience they desire.