Expert Thoughts

Attention Authors: The Tech Tool That Really Makes Books into Bestsellers

Why social media (and almost everything else) doesn't sell books. You'll be surprised at what actually works.

screen shot 2014 02 13 at 12 23 46 pm Attention Authors: The Tech Tool That Really Makes Books into BestsellersGary Vaynerchuk is lying to you.

He, and many like him, like to make lofty promises that if authors would just spend enough time on social media then they’ll sell tens of thousands of books.

Unfortunately, this is a lie. Social media doesn’t sell books.

Your blog won’t either because people aren’t reading it. Even your fans. RSS is dead – the nerds use it but not the general population. So you have to rely on people remembering to show up twice a month when you post something new, which isn’t going to happen.

Here’s a few more things that don’t sell books:

  • Commenting on blogs
  • Podcasting
  • Making YouTube videos
  • Posting in forums
  • Starting a Facebook page

So what works? What can you use to reliably and predictably sell books?

An email list.

That’s right, that old marketing tool from the 90s is still alive and kicking. It will also outperform your social media, podcast and blog combined by at least a factor of five.

This isn’t another anecdotal post with no real numbers to back it up. I’ve worked with over 100 authors and launched multiple #1 New York Times best selling books. Most of the books I work with get basically no traditional media coverage so all of the promotion has to come from the author’s own fan base.

In fact, last year I launched a book for an author who had two interesting marketing assets:

  • A twitter following of over 200,000
  • An email list of over 50,000

I wanted to see which would sell more books, so I ran a test. I promoted the book on the Twitter feed and then promoted the book to the email list and then tracked the sales separately. Here’s what I found: For every one book I could sell via Twitter, I could sell six via the email list. That means someone that signs up for the author’s email list is 24 times more likely to purchase a book than someone that follows the author on Twitter.

This isn’t an outlier. I’ve repeatedly tested the effectiveness of blogs, social media, podcasts, forums, webinars, speaking and pretty much any other way of promoting a book, and nothing works as well or as consistently as an email list.

If you are an author, your #1 marketing goal should be to build your email list.

Everything you do should funnel people to your email list. Everything.

  • When you speak, put a slide in your presentation inviting people to sign up for your email list.
  • When you write something on a blog, link to a page inviting people to join your email list.
  • When you post stuff on your Facebook page, invite people to join your email list.
  • When you publish your book, make sure there are links in the content to your website where people can sign up for your email list.
  • When you launch your website, make sure you’re inviting visitors to signup for your email list (more on this shortly). Not buy a book. Not read your blog post. Not, for god sakes, following you on Twitter.

My hope for you is that you won’t just be a someone that wrote a book once. Instead, you’ll be an author that successfully writes and publishes multiple books because you know, before you pen the first word, you have thousands of fans on an email list ready to buy.

If you want to get your author platform moving and start building your email list, here’s the steps to take.

1. Sign up for an email marketing service. I once met an author that was literally copy and pasting email addresses into Outlook every time he wanted to send an email to his fans. Don’t do this. Besides breaking the law, it’s extremely inefficient. The service I recommend is MailChimp. It’s free for up to 2000 subscribers and has great features and support.

2. Learn how to use it. MailChimp has a ton of great resources to learn the best ways to take advantage their platform. Yes, it will take time to learn but remember, this is your #1 marketing tool. Take the time to learn how to do it right.

3. Use a normal email template. Don’t get fancy with the emails you send out. Keep them simple. Graphics don’t work well. They scream “marketing” when people open it. Use a simple text template that is optimized for mobile. You want it to look like an email from a friend, not a marketing department. Click here to download the one we use and click here to learn how to upload it to your MailChimp account.

4. Send out a lot of emails. I send at least one a week. I know authors that send several emails every week. The bare minimum is once a month. You want to stay connected and top-of-mind so make sure your fans regularly hear from you.

5. Make your email sign up hard to resist. The #1 goal of your website should be to get people on your email list. Make your sign up front-and-center. Use contrasting colors to make it stand out. Put it at the top of the page, don’t bury it in the sidebar. Use a popup. Make it really hard for people that come to your site to not sign up for your email list.

6. Send out autoresponders when people sign up. With a tool like MailChimp, you can set emails to automatically get sent to anyone that signs up for your email list. Make sure promote your books and everything else you do as soon as people sign up. You can see how they work by signing up for my email list too.

Once you have all of this in place, you’re ready to get started. You’ve got a great service for email marketing. You’ve got your website setup to turn visitors into email subscribers. You’ve got a great template for sending out email. And you’ve made sure that everyone that signs up for your email list gets a couple emails promoting your book.

Do you see how all of this works together? You now know:

  1. Anything you do to promote your work – interviews, guest posts, speaking, blogging, podcasting, etc – should lead people back to your website.
  2. Since your websites #1 goal is to get people on your email list, those people coming in from your promotion are going to sign up.
  3. Once they’re subscribed to your list, they will automatically get a series of emails promoting your books and other products/services.
  4. Now you have direct access to their inbox for everything you want to promote in the future.

If you create this kind of system and make building your email list your #1 marketing goal, you will be building a platform that will not only sell your current book, but support your writing for your entire career.

Tim Grahl, founder of Out:think, where he helps authors connect with readers and sell more books. Tim is also the author of Your First 1000 Copies: The Step-by-Step Guide to Marketing Your Book.

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