With the start of a new year, we often seek out new ideas and innovative ways to market books and elevate our titles. If only there was a magic bullet to bestseller.
The fact is, selling books is hard work. Occasionally a debut author will hit a bestseller list and enjoy an increase in visibility and sales, but that’s the exception, not the norm.
Fewer than 0.05% of all books sold (about 4 million annually) will enjoy time on the New York Times Best Seller list. And yes, “the list” does drive sales. FOMO (fear of missing out) is a huge driver in our culture—plus, who doesn’t love a new discovery? But even with the benefit of bestseller status, sales still peter out pretty quickly for new authors. Conversely, bestseller lists don’t necessarily help well-known authors—if you love Steven King or Danielle Steel, you’re going to buy their new book regardless of its place on any list.
In my experience, the best way to sell your first book is through your third book. Why? Because, by the time an author’s third book is released, they have had time to build their brand and nurture a following. Their platform. Book marketing is a long-tail journey of building an author’s platform, and that platform is held up by three pillars.
The Three Pillars of Book Marketing Success: Audience, Content, and Loyalty
Knowing your audience allows you to create content that builds loyalty. And having loyal readers is the only way to make it in the publishing world. This is why successful book marketers don’t really sell books; they sell authors.
Book marketing is a science, but it’s not in the selling; it’s how you position and brand your authors.
What Is Author Branding?
Author branding is about reputation—a combination of authority, online visibility, and personal style. It’s the thing that makes an author known. A well-branded author is memorable and trustworthy.
When I think of authors I love and trust, I realize that I trust them because they meet my expectations. They deliver on their promise to meet my needs with new content. And remember this: Content doesn’t necessarily have to be a new book; it could be anecdotes that they share on social, a podcast they host, short stories, or even a humorous blog. Content comes in many forms. As readers, we want more of it. And the more we get, the more loyal we become—so long as that content continues to meet our expectations, which brings me back to those three pillars: audience, content, and loyalty.
Know your audience. Know what they want. Deliver the goods.
Tips for Building an Author Brand
Below are five things you can do to stop selling books and start selling authors.
1. Brand Style Guides
Brand style guides include a color palette (three to five colors), a set of pleasing fonts (no more than three), and a logo or wordmark that identifies the author in a consistent way. Established styles guide how an author’s brand is visually presented to the world. Professional brand visuals are more trustworthy. Plus, consistent visuals help fans easily identify new content and emotionally connect with that brand. Here’s the truth: Visuals hit us on a subconscious, if not primal, level. Color has the power to affect our moods and set the tone for how we feel. Serif fonts like Times New Roman and Garamond instill a sense of authority and trust. Images tell a story and draw people into your message subliminally. Visuals matter. Big time. By employing a method to your visual madness, you will control your brand story before your audience reads even one word of your content. Talk about powerful.
2. The Author Bio
A well-written bio is a critical piece of an author’s brand. It’s often a reader’s first introduction to that author. It needs to be clear about who the author is and why the reader should care. While a bio is certainly about the author, it’s really about meeting the needs of its intended audience. I recommend creating several versions of the author bio so when a book club invitation comes or a podcast host wants an interview, you’re ready at a moment's notice. You never know when an opportunity for visibility will present itself. Be prepared. Create several versions of varying lengths and tones: a short version for the book jacket, a professional 80-word media bio, a 120-word professional speaker bio, and a more personal bio for the author’s website. Every bio version needs a call to action that tells readers how to get more of that author.
3. The Author Website
A website is the surest way to control the narrative of an author’s story. It’s where you connect with fans and keep them coming back for more. I recommend that authors review their websites at least once every three months. Is it current? Does it encourage engagement from fans? Is it getting the expected engagement, or is something missing? Is the message still in line with the author’s goals? Does it include the author’s latest work and awards or honors? And most importantly, does it have a call to action that tell readers what to do next?
4. A Powerful Call to Action
Offering a giveaway at the back of an author’s book (also known as a reader magnet) is a great way to drive readers to the website and build a mailing list. A separate newsletter opt-in for website visitors is a great way to keep potential readers interested and connected. Without that maintained connection, the brand will never grow. Plus, giving something of value to readers is the best way to instill trust and loyalty. In fact, the more an author gives away, the more readers want.
5. Online Visibility
Continued visibility is paramount to an author’s success, which is why that third book sells the first book. The more visibility an author gets, the more readers want to know about that author. Staying connected allows the brand and the platform to strengthen and grow. Ultimately, visibility is the result of valuable content. Remember the pillars? Audience. Content. Loyalty. There are many ways to gain visibility: appearing on podcasts, guest blogging, and landing local news coverage; a fully fleshed out Author Central page or Goodreads profile; active social accounts where readers can engage with the author; published articles, essays, opinion pieces, and short stories. Visibility drives traffic to an author’s website but only if there’s a link that leads readers back to the site. Always connect the dots. Include a call to action at every interaction, follow your style guides, and keep every aspect of the brand (message, bio, headshot, website, etc.) fresh and up to date.
A successful brand builds over time; unlike a book, it’s never finished. There is no end to brand-building. It’s constantly evolving, growing, and pivoting with the needs of its readers. A highly visible author is an author who stays connected and pays attention to engagement. Readers will tell you what they want. It’s up to you to listen. And deliver.