What all authors can learn from book marketing case studies

I’ve trained myself not to read the comments that appear below articles online. I rarely learn anything new, and more often than not, they’re negative.

Whether it’s The Wall Street Journal, HuffPost, USA Today, or lesser-known sites, the article feedback rarely makes me smile. It’s often depressing, in fact, as strangers argue with each other about something neither side knows much about.

But when an author friend mentioned the comments on one of the Goodreads book marketing case studies that I shared in the Build Book Buzz book marketing group on Facebook, I broke my own rule.

I read the comments.

Good news/bad news

There’s good news and bad news.

The good news? The first few comments are positive. Yay!

The bad news? There’s a lot of whining. A lot of it.

The case study is about the role Goodreads played in making The Silent Patient a best-seller this year.

It’s a very good book. (I read it.) If there’s a formula for psychological thrillers that readers love, this book uses it. So there’s that, right from the beginning.

Of course the publisher’s staff knew this book could take off with the right support.

The right support

It’s that “support” that commenters seem to take issue with. In general, the negative feedback includes one (or all) of these messages:

  1. Oh, sure, if I had a traditional publisher with a lot of money to market my book, I could have this success. But I’m self-published, so I don’t.
  2. If my Rolodex included famous, successful authors who could blurb my book, it might be a best-seller, too. But I don’t know any incredibly popular authors.
  3. Indie authors just can’t replicate this, so the system is rigged against us. We’re screwed.
  4. Why doesn’t Goodreads share case studies about successful self-published authors? Now that’s something we can learn from!

Let’s look at each of these points.

A different perspective

Complaint 1: Big money

Most authors — even those who have written excellent books published by big name publishers — don’t have this kind of financial support. To get this kind of marketing budget, you need to write a book with best-seller potential, get an agent, shop it around, and hope that a publisher sees the potential. Even then, there are no guarantees of anything.

This can mean making a choice between writing what the book-buying audience wants to read and writing what you are moved to write.

If you want a publisher that will start hyping your book a year before it’s published, study the books that are getting this treatment. Figure out the story success formula. Then write a fantastic book that follows the formula.

Complaint 2: Famous blurbers

This is true. Most writers don’t have famous author connections. But what connections do you have? Who can you ask to blurb your book?

For lesser-known authors, the fact that anybody says nice things about your book is better than nobody saying nice things.

Mine your network. Take action. (If you don’t know how, my affordable training program will walk you through the process.)

Complaint 3: It’s rigged against us

No, it isn’t.

Look at what goes into a top-quality traditionally published book and replicate it. Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, a book that sells well usually includes:

  • Excellent content
  • A whiz-bang cover that’s appropriate for the category or genre
  • Professional editing
  • Professional proofreading

This is how the system works. The content comes from you, but the rest is available to every author. Whether you take advantage of it or not is up to you.

This was in place long before self-publishing was an option. There’s no reason to change it. Readers want good books; this is what’s required to publish good books.

Complaint 4: Goodreads should share indie author case studies

Goodreads doesn’t owe anybody anything.

Goodreads is a business that exists to make money. It does this by providing a service to readers, not authors.

To help do that, the company provides a platform that all authors and publishers can use for free. Publishers have the money required for the add-on services that Goodreads offers, so of course the company is going to cater to them.

Lots of us would enjoy reading about indie author success stories on Goodreads. Maybe we’ll see a few in the future. But that’s a decision the company will make based on what’s best for its business, not on what authors think the company should provide.

(In the meantime, read the success stories on this site, including “How one indie author made $74,000 in 16 months and quit her day job (and what you can learn from her),” “Memoir author’s book marketing success story,” and “How to sell out at a book signing without being a celebrity.”)

Goodreads has to provide what readers want while making it possible for publishers and authors to help provide that, too.

Focus on what you can learn

At the end of the case study, the writer summarizes what others can learn from what Celadon Books did to market The Silent Patient. You’ve seen it here on this blog before — start early, give away a lot of advance review/reader copies (ARCs), be creative.

There’s no reason why an indie author can’t do all of this.

I took another lesson from this, though: Librarians are your friends. The first phase of this campaign involved giving ARCs to librarians and booksellers.

Does your work as an author include connecting with and learning from librarians? You might be surprised at what they can teach you about book packaging and positioning as well as what readers want.

There’s no question that indie authors don’t have the resources of big publishers. But sell enough books on your own to attract a publisher’s attention, and that might change.

What has been your most successful book marketing tactic? Please tell us in a comment.

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  1. My very modest successes were (1) hyping a book before publication, even though I have learned that I didn’t start early enough or thoroughly enough, and (2) building relationships with booksellers and librarians. You’re right, Sandra, they do know their business and are usually willing to share. Of course, none of this would have been possible without Build Book Buzz, and no, that wasn’t meant as flattery.
    Apropos of learning from others, why not study success stories? They happen for reasons that we can all emulate to some extent. CEOs, redhot designers, best-selling anybodies — they know stuff.
    Thanks for asking~~

    1. Thanks, Karen! (And your check is in the mail!)

      For your next book, start early by engaging readers in the process — recruit beta readers, ask people to vote on cover options, get their feedback on character names or book settings, etc. Help them become attached to your writing in a way that’s genuine for both them and you, so they can become your advocates when the book is published.

      I suspect that building relationships with booksellers and librarians comes easily for you, and that you’re very good at hand-selling your books.

      Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and validating this idea that we can all learn from the successes of others!


    1. Sophia, I’d encourage you to see book promotion more clearly. You’re not tooting your own horn. You are sharing information about your book, not talking about yourself. You wrote your book for a reason — to entertain, enlighten, educate, or even offer hope. You can’t help people with your message — whether you write fiction or nonfiction — if they don’t know about your book. Don’t you owe it to the people you wrote the book for to help them discover it?


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