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The Slap-Your-Head-Simple Secret for Selling More Books

Remember the wannabe-summer-blockbuster Battleship?

If you’re drawing a blank, I’m not surprised.

Released all the way back in May, the movie is based on the classic board game, which is fun, but not quite deep enough to plot even a summer movie.

So, they added Liam Neeson (who I hope just needed the money), the Nordic-looking vampire from True Blood, singer/celebrity Rihanna and…aliens. Yes, aliens.

Think there’s no way that movie could possibly be good? You’re right. It currently stands at a 33% on Rotten Tomatoes. And some of those positive reviews “praised” it only for not being as bad as expected.

As a result, Battleship made back only 30% of its production budget. A genuine flop.

For a big movie studio, that’s a disappointment, but not the end of the world.

As an author, however, making only 30 cents for every dollar spent could prevent you from ever publishing again.

Unfortunately, book flops are common. An oft-cited statistic is that 80% of published books (indie or traditional) sell fewer than 100 copies.

Wait! Don’t think I’m trying to pop your awesome indie balloon!

What if I told you that I know the reason for those flops? And, even better, I know what to do to make sure it doesn’t happen to you. It’s a secret so simple that (I promise) you’ll do a *headdesk* when you read it.

The Flopping Problem

Before we get to that simple solution, let’s discuss the problem. It’s rooted in the traditional publishing process, which probably looks pretty familiar:

  1. Write your book.
  2. Revise and edit.
  3. Publish.
  4. Market. Cry at lagging sales.

Even taking out my cheeky “cry” comment, do you see the problem with the above? To compare, check out this alternative process:

  1. Write your book. Build your fanbase.
  2. Revise and edit. Build your fanbase.
  3. Publish. Sell bookoo books.
  4. Keep building your fanbase. Repeat.

In process number two, you have a built-in fanbase ready to buy your book when it’s released! Which rocks, right?

Have you guessed the secret?

The Simple Secret for Selling More Books

Begin marketing before you release your book.

I told you it was simple! That single rule combats the number one problem I see among indie authors: the separation of the writing process from the marketing process.

It’s a huge shame! The writing process is the perfect time to begin building both momentum and your fanbase!

  • Think it’ll take forever? Wrong! Seriously, you can build your crazy-dedicated fanbase in an hour or two a week.
  • What if I don’t finish my book? Don’t let it happen! Getting fans onboard gives you motivation to complete your novel. Folks are waiting!
  • I don’t want to give away the farm! You won’t — you’ll get valuable feedback from the readers who will buy your book.

Anticipation is your ally.

I’m not going to lie, the Olympics have me totally obsessed — did you SEE the hoopla with that poor South Korean fencer? Seriously, though, why are they such a big deal? They only come around once every four years. There’s 3-years-and-50-weeks of buildup (and anticipation) for that one event!

Your book release is your Opening Ceremony, your very own epic event: work to make it that special!

So, how do you go about building the momentum for your epic book release?

1. Start building a fanbase at least 6 months before your book is released.

Yeah, six months might seem like a long time. Trust me, though, the more time you give yourself to build up your fanbase, the better. This also gives you plenty of time to revise, edit and polish your work!

“But I already released my book!”

If you sold less than 100 copies, pretend like you didn’t. I’m serious! If you don’t want to go the revisionist-history route, release a second edition 6 months down the road with some sort of added bonus. That could be:

  • A chapter from your next book
  • A short story from another character’s POV
  • A bonus prologue or epilogue
  • Added reviews and praise

Think of this re-release as your book going back in the Disney vault. You know how you want to buy Robin Hood as soon as they put the blasted thing back in the vault? This principle of scarcity is another one of your allies.

Now that you’ve planned that release (or re-release) date, use the principles of reader-centered book marketing to build up your fanbase.

If you’re thinking that 6 months is a long time to keep readers interested, I’m right there with you. Here’s how you do it:

2. Release exclusive content leading up to your launch.

To communicate with your fans, create a mailing list and give your signup form a prominent spot on your website. When folks sign up, send them a free sample chapter, short story or other (valuable) freebie.

The key? Make your freebie something quick and awesome. Don’t send them a 200-page tome from your backlist! Showcase your awesomeness through something quick to read that makes them decide they want to hear more from you.

Now that you’ve got folks on your list, plan to send out a weekly or bi-weekly email with (key point alert!) something of value.

Our attention is so divided nowadays that as soon as your reader stops receiving value from your emails, they unsubscribe. But, don’t freak out about making each email epic. Providing value doesn’t have to be complicated! You could:

  • Discuss a recent blog post in more detail
  • Promote a friend’s book
  • Share an exclusive excerpt
  • Spotlight a character with a detailed profile
  • Ask a discussion question

Basically what I’m saying is don’t endlessly spam/annoyingly promote. One tip to make things easier: write your updates like you’re writing an email to a friend. Jazz up your readers: get them excited about your book, the characters and the release!

3. Begin gathering reviews at least 3 months before your book is released.

Shannon has a great post on the do’s and do-not’s of requesting book reviews, but, in addition to those tips, think of how your fanbase can help out.

A few months before releasing your book, offer up 25 free copies of your book (via an electronic advanced reading copy) in exchange for reviews.

Encourage readers to follow through by offering a reward: this could be chosen at random or for the best review (it’s up to you). Something like an Amazon gift card, a signed paperback copy or a specially-packaged limited edition (more on that later) all work well.

4. Take preorders and make preordering rewarding!

A month before your release, begin taking preorders. Make preordering an awesome deal for your fans!

Your goal with preorders isn’t to make a ton of money — you will be rewarded in other ways. A successful preorder builds up excitement for the official release while encouraging your early-adopters to read the book, leave reviews and spread the word.

A few ideas on creating a special preorder:

Even this preorder release should be an event! It’s like a dry run for the REAL release, so don’t be afraid to go all out.

5. Release the heck out of your book.

Warning: the week of your release will make you want to cry — out of both exhaustion and relief! You’ve (finally) made it, but your work isn’t over. To escape that 80% trap, finish strong!

Be everywhere your readers are! Show them why they should be your fan — don’t tell (kind of like writing, right?)! In every interview, guest post, Q&A and whatever else, share something new and valuable. Make being a part of your fanbase exciting and exclusive!

Talk Back!

What do you think? Is building up your fanbase before releasing your book a great idea or huge mistake? How did you make your book release an event? Are you a part of the 20% Did you actually pay money to see Battleship? Let me know in the comments!

  • I already taken the first step. The main goal with my blog is to build a fanbase that I will sell my product (my blood-sweat-tears novel) to once it’s time.

    But first, I need to write my book. Once I regain that momentum, I’ll set up the mailing list and work on crafting enough content for the day my book has a release date.

    • That sounds great @ChihuahuaZero:disqus! While I’m a huge fan of building up your fanbase while writing, I totally understand how it can also be a distraction. As long as you give ample time between finishing your novel and the actual release, you’ll be just fine!

  • Awesome post as usual guys! I think I really did slap my head LOL These are some great tips I’ll definitely be implementing and sharing.

    I’ve also started building my fan base though my blog, although as I’ve learned those readers aren’t necessarily the same as my target readers for my books. So I’m focusing on gearing more of my posts for those actual target readers. I’m just hoping that doesn’t alienate the readers I already have (and who expect posts on writing).

    What do you guys think? Any advice?

    • That’s definitely a pickle, Yesenia. What I’d advise is a balance — have some posts that would appeal to both groups, but don’t be afraid to gear most toward one or the other. Your dedicated target fans won’t mind the diversions, and the rest will continue to enjoy the writing posts!

    • Thanks for the tips! I’ll try that :)

  • ahpellett.blogspot.com

    Enjoyed your post. Got some good tips. Especially liked “Release exclusive content leading up to release”.

    • Thank you — seeing your comment made me realize how redundant that tip sounded…went back and changed it to “launch” 😉

  • Fantastic post, as ever. Totally agree with marketing beforehand. Funny thing is, after I’d finished my book, I was on the verge of doing no marketing until launch! So glad I’ve seen the light and done some research. Now, I’ve got a growing fan base, and a few followers really getting behind me!

    • Thanks, Ryan. I know I’ve said this a ton, but I’m a huge fan of the way you’re going about building your fanbase. You’re a great example for other authors!

  • This is a great post with tons of good ideas! Thanks!

  • Kristy K. James

    I really love these tips…and the other articles I’ve been reading on this site. Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge! I do have one question though. Is that 80% trap based on paperback or digital copies? (or a combination of both?)

    • Thank you so much, Kristy! I believe that figure is just for traditionally published books. I’m not sure if there are updated numbers taking into account all pubbed books — if self-pub and ebooks were included, however, I think the figure would be higher! Will research and post back if I can find anything :-)

  • Meli

    This is really good. I love all these tips and they’re even easy to understand. The language makes me feel as if you’re speaking directly to me. Great article!

    • Thank you, Meli! Where are you in the publishing process?

    • Meli

      I’m just starting the writing process actually. I’m still figuring my story out. Thanks for asking. :)

  • Hmm…nice. Saved this in Evernote to read as soon as I finish writing the book!

  • LC

    You make it sound so simple. “Build your fan base.” But how exactly? I’ve carved a fair amount of time out of my real writing to build a blog, and I’m lucky to get two or three hits a week. I just finally cracked thirty Twitter followers after seven months (I doubt many of them will want my novel, though). Interviews? Guest posts? Seriously? That doesn’t happen until you’re already a social-media star. Sorry, you’re going to have to come up with a lot more specific, real-world, actionable advice before you hear my forehead hit my desk.

  • LC

    BTW: Battleship fell flat on its face despite a nine-figure publicity budget. There probably wasn’t a single person in the industrialized world who didn’t know Battleship had been made into a movie. It was just a crappy movie. I’m not certain that reinforces the point you’re making here.
    A better example would be Tell No One, a terrific little thriller from France based on a Harlan Coben novel. It made a whole $6.1 million in its U.S. release (about what The Dark Knight Rises grosses in ninety minutes) because there was virtually no promotion and it was impossible to find. *That* makes your point.

    • Hi again LC! Thanks so much for your input and example. I actually read and enjoyed Tell No One, myself, but had no idea it was made into a movie! What a shame. Definitely a good example of ick promotion ruining chances of success!

  • Elise Deauxnim

    Hi there, Toni! I loved your post, and I’m planning on using this to publish my first novel. However, I’m not planning to be an indie author, so should I try to build a fan base before or after I get an agent?