This is the first installment of a three-part series on how indie authors can market their books whatever their budget. Here we offer tips for those working with a small budget of about $200.
Book marketing can be a challenging—and very expensive—task for most indie authors. After spending months working on a novel or work of nonfiction, for no pay or advance, many authors find they have little money for buying up targeted ads, hiring a publicist, or giving author websites all the bells and whistles. So what are cash-strapped authors' options for book marketing on the cheap?
Build a Website
Even authors who make a habit of digging under couch cushions for spare change can afford and should invest in a professional website. Author websites remain the foundation of marketing campaigns, and the central place where curious readers should be directed to learn about books, events, and promotions. And while author websites are vital, they don't need to cost much.
Hosting a basic website through a service like WordPress will cost $18 to register a domain and $13 per year to maintain it after that. Creating and hosting the site on WordPress ranges from no charge for a basic free site to $8 wordpress.com/pricing/ per month for a premium template that allows for additional audio, video, etc. There are tutorials available on YouTube to help authors learn how to get the most out of available templates. From these baseline options, authors may find it worthwhile to make a few additional investments.
“You can get a premium theme that is mobile friendly and SEO optimized for around $86, which will help discoverability,” says Joanna Penn, author of How to Market a Book, who writes about book marketing at TheCreativePenn.com. She adds that she recently redesigned her own website and is “definitely a fan of off-the-shelf design than can be upgraded over time.”
Those looking for a wider selection of options and higher level of design quality can consider services such as Squarespace. The company offers some beautiful templates, ideal for authors who want to make visuals central to their sites. But the basic Personal package will set you back $12 a month—more than some authors might feel comfortable spending.
Whether authors opt for basic or more advanced options, the key is to have a site with eye-catching information about books (and where they can be purchased), news and events, and contact details. And none of this needs to put a deep dent in self-publishers’ pocketbooks.
Get Social and Discoverable
With a professional website in place, the next essential step is letting readers know about your books. This is easier and cheaper than ever thanks to the wealth of social-media and book-discovery platforms available to authors, most of which are free.
“Choose one or two social-media platforms where your audience is and start an account,” advises Jan Bear, author of Target Marketing for Authors. “Get to know people, have conversations. Begin by being supportive before your book is out, and then when your book is ready, if it's good, your friends will help you promote it.”
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Pinterest all have their advantages and all cost nothing. So authors can easily create accounts from which they can connect with other book enthusiasts and fans of specific genres.
Authors will also want to get on book-specific social platforms, particularly Goodreads, as well as LibraryThing. These are great places to connect directly with book clubs or interest groups, to connect with influential voices in these communities, and to run giveaways and other promotions. Besides the time it takes to update these profiles and to research whom to target, an author does not have to spend a dime to use these platforms as effective marketing tools.
And finally, authors should pitch their titles to book bloggers and writers who review self-published books for free.
Authors can also get some cheap, effective marketing by using their writing skills to help draw attention to books. This begins with blogging (or creating video, audio, or other engaging content) regularly, ensuring that it is engaging, shareable, and gives visitors a reason to check back. Authors can get the most from these posts by sharing them on their social media sites and syndicating them on Goodreads and elsewhere.
But writers don’t have to stay only on their own blogs. A useful and free marketing tool is offering guest posts to other book blogs or submitting articles at outlets read by relevant audiences.
“You get introduced to new readers, the readers get introduced to a new writer, and the host blogger gets a break,” Bear says of guest blogging. She adds that authors can extend this idea with a “blog book tour” when books are first released, in which they “schedule guest posts with relevant bloggers over a period of time—say, a week—and list the stops" on their websites.
Bear adds that of course there is another way authors can use their writing to help promote new books, and all their previous works: get to work on the next book.
Note: this article was originally published in June 2017 and was updated on July 15, 2019.