It’s a truism that you must spend money to make money, although a lot of people substitute skill and effort for money. It’s been my experience that if you need skill, effort, and money to successfully market any product, and a reduction of any of those is commensurate with a larger investment in the others.

I’m a marketing dunce. I freely admit that, despite having worked in the marketing department of an architectural and engineering firm, despite having worked on email campaigns for a credit company, and despite currently working for a marketing firm.

Marketing is not my forte.

Marketing is a complex subject. Entire academic degree programs are geared toward this very topic, indicating just how vast and complicated marketing is.

Regardless of what you’re trying to sell, marketing is indispensable. If you want to sell your services or products, then you have to engage in marketing. The tactics may differ … somewhat … but if you don’t promote what you’re selling, then it won’t sell.

Authors who think their books need nothing more than to be published are doomed to disappointment. Every part of book production pertains to marketing.

  • The cover is the book’s most important marketing piece. This is what grabs the potential reader’s eye and hints as to what the book is about. Take a tour of your local bookstore or review various book categories on Amazon. You’ll find that each major genre has its down distinct look. If your book’s cover deviates from that look, then your risk it failing to appeal to your target audience.
  • The back cover blurb (aka the book description) is the book’s second most important marketing piece. Many authors attempt to summarize the story in their cover blurbs, which is not the blurb’s purpose. This is copywriting, not content writing. The aim of copywriting is to sell, and the cover blurb’s purpose is to sell the book. A well-written (and well-edited) blurb convinces the potential reader into a buyer. A poorly written (or poorly edited) blurb discourages the potential reader.
  • Page layout directly affects the reader’s experience with the story. Page layout or page design entails more than filling the empty page with words. Several factors affect the reader’s experience: margins, leading (or line spacing), kerning, font, etc. For instance, a difficult-to-read font will frustrate readers. That distasteful experience overwhelms any enjoyment to be found from the story. By the way, I offer book design as a service.
  • Editing also pertains to marketing, but not in an obvious fashion because good editing is invisible. It doesn’t intrude. Oftentimes, readers don’t preview the story before making the decision to buy the book. However, a poorly edited story makes a bad impression, and readers will remark upon that poor impression when they leave reviews warning future potential readers about the lack of quality. It’s also likely that a disappointed reader won’t purchase another book from that author because the author has already shown the reader that he or she can’t or won’t invest in the book’s quality. I have yet to figure out how to calculate the value of lost sales when there’s no way of knowing how many sales one has lost. Yes, I offer sentence-level editing as a service.

In addition to the marketing aspects involved in creating a book, there’s the marketing required to build public awareness of the book. Authors have a variety of means by which to publicize their work and build demand for it.

  • Advertisements. Generally paid, advertisements appear in print and on social media. You might see a paid (or “sponsored”) advertisement in any social media platform, electronic news feed, or on websites. Less often will you see a book advertised in magazines or on billboards or other printed media unless you’re a “Big Name Author” or major celebrity.
  • Social Media Posts. In written and/or video format, authors post about their books in the social media platforms they or their audience frequent. They attempt to entice platform influencers to do the same: a plug from a major celebrity or influencer will spike interest and demand from their fans.
  • Blog Posts. Many authors maintain blogs. It’s a common, expected activity authors engage in. This, of course, usually means authors also have entire web pages or even websites dedicated to their books. Authors with more than a handful of books published often have author-oriented websites with specific pages focused on individual books. Authors may also register for or participate in blog swaps whereby cooperating groups of authors promote each others’ books as a service to the group. I participated in one for two years. I found the ROI disappointing.
  • Podcasts. Of the gazillions of podcasts aired, some welcome interviews with authors. Many require the author pay for the privilege of the interview. The podcast appeals as less of a “buy my book” request and more of a brand-building opportunity. The benefit is the author can share the podcast link via social media and the podcaster or publicist will share the podcast among their fans and followers. I’ve enjoyed the podcasts in which I have participated, although I couldn’t attest to their efficacy in marketing. Here’s my latest podcast.
  • On-site appearances. Most conventions, festivals, arts and craft shows, book fairs, and other such events invite a variety of vendors and will accept authors as vendors. Prices for vendor registration range from zero to hundreds of dollars. An unknown or little known author starting out may best view participation in these events as marketing opportunities to build brand recognition rather than as venues for earning profits. I participate in several events each year, having learned through trial and error which kinds of event tend to have the best ROI. I’ve found that book- or author-oriented events don’t work particularly well for me.

The most difficult part of marketing is developing a strategic marketing plan that will be effective and knowing how to implement it. All marketing requires sustained effort because marketing is not a once-and-done activity. Sustained effort requires adjustment because you will encounter roadblocks, and find some things don’t work as well as anticipated and some might work better than anticipated. For instance, I outsource digital marketing. I know my limits when it comes to creating social media advertisements. However, I take charge of podcasts, blogs (like this one), and other activities.

Regardless of what you do and the intensity and skill of that effort—whether you outsource your marketing to paid professionals, do it all yourself, or engage in some combination of hired and personal effort—you must do it if you want your books to sell. Over 1 million titles are published each year. The book you publish gets lost among the crowd without something to make it stand out from the competition.