Zee Book Marketing Blog

A number of years ago, before I started working with authors, I landed a position at a marketing company that worked mostly with local businesses.

Basically, my job was writing and editing marketing copy for plumbers and plastic surgeons, etc.

(No, I will not share it with you 😀 )

Considering my limited (read: zero) plumbing experience, I had to rely on Google to find what I needed.

And let me say… it was hard. There was almost no information out there. No vibrant community of plumbers sharing hard-earned truths.

Which is why, looking back, I can really appreciate the warmth and generosity of the publishing community today — and I’m excited to share the insights of more than 15 authors and professionals from across the publishing landscape (along with some of my own) to help prepare you for the wacky world of book marketing in 2017.

Here we go. . .

1) Expanded Author Collaborations:

Between our own multi-author giveaways, the work being done by InstaFreebie, and numerous others, the power of group and cross-promotions to help authors achieve specific marketing goals has become especially clear, priming them to become one of the hot topics of 2017.

The premise is simple enough: by leveraging the reach and influence of like-minded authors, you can increase discoverability and grow your online following with significantly less effort than it would take to do so on your own.

Some examples you might have seen include multi-author promotions, newsletter swaps, and social media takeovers.

For me, what’s exciting is that I think we’re just at the precipice of what can be done when authors combine forces, and I expect we’ll see the development of a number of new and unique initiatives over the course of the year, and beyond.

As a result, and perhaps more so than in recent years, authors may actually need to manage the excitement (yes, really) of participating in new promotional opportunities with the rigors of writing and adhering to their publication schedules.

2) Personalized Email Marketing: 

Every author has their die-hard fans, the ones who’ll open almost every newsletter they send no matter what. But with more and more authors growing their email lists, it seems inevitable that authors will need to work harder moving forward to avoid getting lost in their readers’ inbox.

To that end, as the year goes on, I expect more and more authors to place emphasis on learning from their subscribers and using the information gathered to develop a more personalized newsletter strategy.

This is, for instance, where surveys come in — using a simple survey tool like Google Forms (free) or Jotform (paid), you can learn a lot about your readers. You might discover, for instance, that you have a large group of readers who only want to hear when you have a new release. Or maybe some want to hear more about your creative process, and wish you’d provide recommendations of other books in your genre too.

Once you have that information, you can look for common threads and craft an email strategy that aligns with what you’ve learned. Instead of guessing (or hyperventilating about it), you’ll be able to give your readers what they want — and engagement should improve as a result.

3) Improved Direct Sales Channels:

Whenever I talk to hybrid or self-pub authors about direct sales, first they get excited, and then I almost always hear some variation of: “I’d love to do it, but it’s too hard.”

While e-commerce sites like Gumroad and Selz have made it a lot easier for authors to bypass traditional online retailers and sell direct-to-consumer, everyone seems to hit the same roadblock:

Too many readers simply can’t (or don’t care to) figure out how to transfer files to their reading devices.

Readers want their one-click Amazon magic, and authors want to spend time writing, not teaching readers how to sideload their ebooks or (worse) sending out refunds.

Could we see a more intuitive approach to direct ebook sales emerge this year? A system that more closely approximates the simplicity of what the e-commerce giants can offer? Here’s to hoping we do.

Thoughts from the Writing Community

Authors should pay special attention to one-on-one relationships with their readers. As Dean Wesley Smith pointed out recently, we often lose ourselves looking at sales. Instead we need to be thinking, “Hey, a person just bought my book!” Caring about the end user is hugely important. Obviously, great content is key, but direct engagement builds loyalty, and I feel 2017 is the year of reader loyalty to author brands.

Get personal with your interactions. Pay attention to their comments. CARE. Quality is much more important than quantity. That’s never been more important than now, and this directly correlates with the ways we engage with readers. While we cast a wide net via social media, readers seem to be more engaged in the intimate space of their email inboxes. Without the noise and distraction of a million other voices in social media, a reader’s inbox is your direct conduit to a person, and in turn, a sale.

J.T. Ellison

NY Times Bestselling Thriller Author

Two things I’m talking a lot about now are how an individual author can represent herself as a professional and how she can apply her creativity to marketing efforts. Too many authors show up in their pajamas when their audience would rather see them in a little black dress. Creating an online persona can be a lot like creating a character, and the sharper and more quickly identifiable you can make your “author self” online, the more likely your social efforts will be effective.

I encourage clients to think about their promotional efforts more like editorial products rather than marketing materials. When writers think about newsletters or social posts as an extension of their craft, they can use their creativity to hook readers. I would love to see authors use more serial stories, flash fiction, and thoughtful short creative non-fiction pieces at the heart of their outreach to readers. Other industries are using storytelling (aka “Content Marketing”) to sell all kinds of products. How would that look for authors?

Julie Trelstad

Book Marketing Consultant & former Director of Digital Rights, Writers House Literary Agency

Here’s what I think we can expect in 2017:

1. Massive rise in audiobook listening / sales because of Amazon Echo (Alexa) and Google Home, which make it very easy to listen around your house – it has already become a fixture at our place and Alexa was a massive Amazon seller this year. I am getting more audio sorted ASAP following on from that, and more audio distribution options which means I won’t be going exclusive with ACX.

2. Premium print will become a much bigger thing as POD becomes more versatile – so think about hardbacks, special editions and other collector type items for the real fans — while ebooks continue to be the main income source for indies.

3. More machine-learned / applied AI tools for discoverability and creation of written word products – this will help with the huge amounts of content. An exciting year ahead!

Joanna Penn

NY Times Bestselling Author & Founder, The Creative Penn

In 2017, authors will need to be more vigilant than ever in preparing their marketing early and augmenting often – there are new key influencers, important brands, and inventive social platforms constantly being brought to market.

To stay on top of the latest and greatest, I highly suggest creating an RSS feed or using a reader like Flipboard to import and read all the industry news that the marketers for your books are reading – Mashable, TechCrunch, the Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads blogs, and Social Media Examiner (which also comes in the form of a fantastic podcast), are some examples. That way you are informed and in control of your marketing and your publisher and book sales will thank you.

Elina Vaysbeyn

Senior Marketing Manager, Dutton, Penguin Random House

Authors need to pay close attention to branding themselves, so they are not only selling their books, but themselves as a whole. Branding can include everything from a font, to a slogan, to a logo, to a consistency in overall series look. By being attentive to your readers and aware of the importance of name recognition, authors can market their books and products much the same way as traditional publishing houses have been building authors for decades.

Kim Killion

Owner, The Killion Group, Inc.

Book marketing is not what it used to be. For many authors who self-publish, their success is their responsibility. In 2017 we expect author collaboration will continue to be the primary way for authors to succeed. Instafreebie is a platform for customer success because we believe in the phrase: “You share and we share.” Simply, we help authors who help each other. Building a brand and a following is challenging to do alone. But if authors work together on promotions, they are both likely to be more successful.

Ashley Durrer

Director of Business Development, InstaFreebie

As social media platforms and their algorithms continue to shift, email lists are going to grow increasingly important. While you don’t own your Twitter or Facebook followers and you can’t always guarantee they see your content, an email list belongs to you and no matter when you send, that email is guaranteed to be delivered to their inbox. Authors should definitely add “Grow a quality email list” to their list of 2017 resolutions.

Dana Kaye

Owner, Kaye Publicity

My best advice for 2017 is to work smarter, not harder. It may feel as if you’re on a writing treadmill, forced to release something new every thirty days or so… But don’t worry if you’re not the 5-10K-a-day sort of author. You can still be successful writing just a book or two a year. How?

Make sure you’re growing your own mailing list—and engaging with your readers on a regular basis. Don’t let them forget you exist (but don’t spam them—or annoy them—either). Readers like engaging with authors. And what they seem to enjoy most is authors with big personalities. So find your author persona and work it! I’ve seen authors do this in many different ways, from the inimitable Chuck Tingle to the sassy Jordan Silver. Take the best parts of you—the parts that others tend to be drawn to—and amplify them by ten. Turn up the volume. Be bold. Do and say the things that will make them remember you, in your newsletter and on social media. Just make sure you’re doing it from a genuine place.

Also, remember that no author is an island. Find other authors who write things similar to you and work out a way to cross-promote and cross-pollinate on a regular basis. Trust me, even if you’re the most prolific author in the world, you can’t turn out books fast enough to keep up with readers. Cross-promoting keeps readers on your side. They’ll start looking to you for recommendations and it will help keep their interest while you’re writing your next novel. And if you find you really click with another author, you can always consider an author partnership… two authors can writer faster than one!

Selena Kitt

NY Times Bestselling Romance Author & Founder, Excessica Publishing

Your number one marketing tool is your next book. Nothing sells the books like the books. I would encourage authors everywhere to keep their eye on their books at all times, even when a million other things are vying for your attention. Nothing will build your following or your career faster than writing page-turning books that readers want more of.

Marie Force

NY Times & USA Today Bestselling Romance Author

For 2017, I predict three main things to continue to happen:

Price promotion will remain a key player in book sales. No one wants to give their hard work away for cheap, or for free, but the market is flooded with books that are both. If you’re launching a second or third book in the series, you’re going to need to consider dropping the price of book one, then scheduling advertising (think BookBub or ENT, but smaller sites as well) around it to feed hundreds (hopefully thousands) of new readers into your series. It’s a short-term loss, long-term gain. You can also do this with a single title, and outside of a launch.

Video helps authors and readers connect on a personal level. With Facebook Live and other streaming opportunities making an appearance, authors have a unique opportunity to put themselves literally in front of their readers. A book isn’t just words on paper, but so much more and the author can convey that through video and having conversations with their readers about why they wrote the book, about the characters, their inspiration, and anything that makes the book more real. Plan out a few Facebook live events (Q&A sessions on a launch day are a fun event that helps bring hype around a new launch) and take the video plunge if you haven’t already.

Authors need to find readers on non-Amazon channels. We all love Amazon, but in order to hit big bestseller lists you need so many sales on non-Amazon channels, think Barnes & Noble and iBooks. So many of our clients come to us asking how they can grow their readership on those channels, and I’ll be honest, it can be tough. Start building that readership now. Start paying attention to your newsletter and who is clicking on the buy links for non-Amazon channels. If your current readers seem super Amazon-focused, it’s time to branch out find those non-Amazon readers. Every author needs them.

Samantha Williams

President, Aurora Publicity

I’d suggest working with other authors on promotions. Group promos are not only a great way to expose your work to new readers for little cost, but they can also be the most fun. And if promotion is fun, you’re much more likely to do more of it!

Gemma Halliday

NY Times Bestselling Mystery Author & Founder, Gemma Halliday Publishing

Amazon is still the 800 pound gorilla in the cage in 2017. They are the #1 seller and promoter of your books. If the Amazon algorithm does not see movement of a product (page views, purchases), then the product is not promoted on the “Gold line” (Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought).

Over at Digital Book Today, here’s what I’ve found when authors promote their books:

  • The $0.99 book (reg. or sale price) is not dead. In most cases, this pricing is still an effective tool for marketing the book, series, or author.
  • Marketing of a book priced at $0.00 (free) either for a limited time or perma free is still an effective marketing tool for authors in many situations. As authors have done for many years, promoting book #1 in a series at $0.00 can increase the sales of the later books in a series.
  • Marketing a book only on one book site is not a marketing plan (BookBub might be an exception to this rule). No matter the price point of a book the author is promoting, the book needs exposure from a select group of sites to gain traction on Amazon.

Here’s what I wouldn’t recommend in 2017:

  • Publishing a book on Amazon, doing nothing else, and expecting to have great sales.
  • Publishing a book with a “homemade” looking or poor cover and expecting to have great sales.
  • Publishing a book and expecting a flood of reviews.
  • An author with only one book dropping their price and expecting a flood of sales (of course with a couple of exceptions).
Anthony Wessel

Founder, Digital Book Today

I think authors—especially in the romance genre—need to know that they will be expected to take a larger role than before in helping to promote their books. Most publishers will assign you a publicist and have some strategies in mind for how to get the word out, but they expect that authors will be active on social media and doing what they can to also spread the word, especially in a market where traditionally published authors are competing with indie authors whose books may be lower-priced.

There’s a lot of product out there for readers to choose from. Knowing which area of social media to focus on can be challenging. We know that building a mailing list is one of the most effective ways to get readers to buy your book, and obviously, being active on various social media platforms will help draw readers to your website and then to your mailing list. I don’t think there’s a set formula for which aspect of social media is best to concentrate on, but engaging personally with your readers online, and with other authors who can help share your book (as you will share theirs) is a great way to start.

Beth Miller

Junior Literary Agent, Writers House Literary Agency

The industry changes very fast. Keep up with it by reading, listening to podcasts, learning the new ways the major players (like Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) work. Find out more about how advertising works on these platforms to be able to compete. But don’t be that person who says, “I don’t have to market” or “All I want to do is write.” That’s dinosaur thinking. That’s what we all wish, but wishes don’t make goals happen.

I also see a lot of new start-up businesses, from authors incorporating to service-oriented businesses, filling needs publishers used to provide, along with more technological advancements that make indie publishing easier. The future holds awesome opportunity, and where there are potholes there will be entrepreneurs who will figure out how to fill in those holes through service and technology. One thing I hope to see this year is the cost of audio production come down. It’s still too high for the average author.

Angela Breidenbach

President, Christian Authors Network

For 2017, I’m excited about the new reader platform, Litsy. It’s similar to Instagram, but every post is linked to a book. Post types include quotes, blurbs, and reviews, and users can keep track of books with tags: “to read,” “reading,” and “have read.” A “Litfluence” score encourages users to participate. I like the book-centric approach and the ability to find readers who enjoy the type of fiction I write.

Sara Rosett

Author, The Efficient Writer: Productivity Hacks for the Writing Life

Visual identity is vital for authors—and will be increasingly important in 2017 as Facebook prioritizes video and image-based posts, Instagram continues to grow in popularity, and your mailing list multiplies after successful BookSweeps promotions. Authors can’t always control covers, but they can always control their visual identity.

At a minimum, a great branding package will include a style guide with specific colors and typefaces to keep a consistent story across platforms. (Did you get that last part? Branding is all about telling a story. You’re already a pro at that!) Ultimately, it starts with you: you are your author brand.

You don’t have to be a professional graphic designer to make sure your identity taps into the emotions of your readers—there are so many tools (many free) you can work with to create a cohesive visual identity. But if you need help, many designers and marketing professionals offer evaluation services.

Alexandra Haughton

Author and Owner, Romanced by the Cover

Every writer wants to sell books and join the ranks of those authors who are making it (in our opinion). This doesn’t happen without work and you can’t farm it out. For 2017, I think having an action plan is as important as ever. The plan should be centered around something concrete, like a Ryan Zee promotion, the launch of a new book, or the re-launch of an old one.

However, you must be ready to put your plan into action as soon as you can, and you need to make sure it fits within your budget. Once you’ve settled on a strategy you’re comfortable with, and know the places where you plan to promote, get everything ready in advance: your newsletter, your excerpts, your social media posts, etc. The best marketing plan is to actually have one.

Shirley Hailstock

Award-Winning Author & Past President of the Romance Writers Association

What are your expectations for 2017? Share your thoughts below!

14 Comments

  1. Tara West
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    Thanks so much for publishing this article, Ryan, and thanks to the authors for their insight. 🙂

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    • Ryan Zee
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      Thanks, Tara!

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  2. Bill Wenham
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    At 85 years old, my expectations for 2017 tend to be somewhat limited. My hope, however, is to see 2018, etc, etc, etc.

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  3. Bill Wenham
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    My previous comment was meant to be a joke, Ryan, since I hadn’t read the article. Now that I’ve read it, I appreciate what each contributor has offered. A lot of times, an auhor’s work is referred to as ‘the Book’ and may be true of the majority, but I personally found Anthony Wessel’s advice to put, or if possible, keep, the first book in a series on free. I have a 24 book detective series on Kindle and will try to do as he suggests. I haven’t checked this out but I believe that Kindle does not allow continuous free promotion of one book. If they do, then I will most certainly do it.Thank you so much for the article and to the ladies and the gentleman who wrote for it. Bill Wenham.

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  4. Joan Wolf
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    I have never before had a marketing plan. If I implemented the (very smart) suggestions Ryan was kind enough to send me, I would never get a book written at all. So here it is – my marketing plan is Ryan and Bookbub. Both have been very helpful and have taken up very little of my time. I recommend both.

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  5. Marsha A. Moore
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    Great article with lots of insightful ideas! Thank you, Ryan.

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    • Ryan Zee
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      Thanks, Marsha!

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  6. Amy Corwin
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    Thanks for the article. Lots of food for thought. I’ve had marketing plans, though don’t have the “stick-to-it-ness” that I really need to be successful. But articles like this one get me going again and give me the energy to do what I need to do re: marketing.

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  7. Gail Ingis
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    Ryan, your article is fabulous. No matter, I needed time to digest your article, but I still need an assistant to implement. Marketing is a full time job. Even the assistants are overwhelmed. It is possible to grow readers and listeners through marketing efforts like social media, blog posts, use of insta-freeby and others, and see good results in Amazon numbers, but when do you write? Are you available to implement? Thoughts?

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  8. Cathryn Cade
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    Ryan,

    Great article, thank you so much. Happy to say I’m doing some of the promo ideas mentioned, but not all … 2017 for me will be focused on the writing, the subscribers and the promo.

    One thing I’m excited about for 2017 is the increased automation abilities of newsletter providers (I’m with MailerLite). I will be using surveys to stream readers in increasingly divergent paths.

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  9. Lynnette Austin
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    So many great ideas here, Ryan, to help each and every one of us become more successful in this writing business. I really appreciate the time you and the contributors put into the article. Thank you.

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  10. Vicki Lewis Thompson
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    Thanks for this, Ryan! It’s heartening to hear that email lists are still viable promo tools and exciting to find out about new avenues like Litsy. Very informative article with great contributors!

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  11. Elizabeth Musser
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    Thank you so much, Ryan, for this excellent and timely advice. Even though at times the task of marketing seems overwhelming, the way you have outlined the main things for 2017 is so helpful. And I appreciate your taking the time to interview the authors and publishers. I am putting some of this advice into practice ASAP with the launch of my new novel. Merci!

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  12. Robin Bayne
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    Great insight, thanks for sharing.

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