In the process of getting our book ready, we've been starting to learn about the marketing aspects of self-publishing. Sure, writing a book is hard. But getting people to actually read your book - that seems even harder. 

So we thought how better to learn than to ask someone who's already completed the process?

To start with, I contacted Katie Cross, author of Ms. Mabel's School for Girls. I'm reading her first book, and it's a beautifully written book about a girl in a mysterious school for witches. Her second book in the series, Antebellum Awakening, is coming out in October.

I'd originally checked out her Amazon page because she's writing in the same genre as we are (the creepy witch school genre). It looked like she had a seriously impressive number of positive Amazon reviews. Obviously, she'd gotten the word out well.

She was extremely helpful and detailed in her responses. As it turned out, a lot of work went into getting the word out:

What did you do to prepare before the book was launched?

Okay, so I did a lot. I think it will be best served for your purposes if I just make a list here. That will be easier for you to reference later. (I also have an extensive blog post with another more detailed list of exactly what I did. I can give you that link if you want it.)

Wrote an awesome book. (I’m biased, of course ;)

  1. Started following and supporting YA book blogs 9 months before my book release. (This is very important. Book bloggers are more likely to read and support those who support them, as any of us would. But keep it sincere :)
  2. Did a giveaway with non-expensive swag that applied to my book. My mother in law made bookmarks out of ribbon and attached old skeleton keys I found for $1 at the craft store, for example. I also did “potion bottles” filled with spices and a big, antique-looking skeleton key because my book has witches and is set in a medieval time period.
  3. As part of the giveaway, I offered “entries” for people sharing MMSFG on social media. I also offered entries if they bought the book, if they reviewed it (within four days) and if they liked the FB page.
  4. Made professional, high quality photos of my giveaway swag (and my book promo stuff) for Pinterest. I also made it so they were easy to access. Those pictures exploded across Pinterest on release weekend. I was amazed.
  5. Gave out advanced copies to trusted friends. (Relatives are okay too, but they are biased, so keep that in mind.) And I’d give out advanced copies to friends of trusted friends if they agreed to read and write an honest review.
  6. Set up the book on Goodreads and did a giveaway that ends the day before the release. (If it’s going during the release, people may not buy your book just in case they win it.)
  7. Set up a FB page where I could interact with fans and garner some likes during the release.
  8. Set up an official website with a subscription option (Very important! If people like your book, then they’ll sign up for updates when the next book releases, and you’ve got an instant release group).
  9. I let people know that I was going to use the hashtag #missmabels to discuss my book, and if they used twitter, asked them to do the same.
  10. I partnered with Candace at candacesbookblog a couple weeks before the release. We put together a post announcing the release of my book. For a very fair price (less than $50, I believe) she sent it out to her army of book bloggers, who posted it throughout the whole release weekend. I think I got almost 25-30 blogs posting about my book coming out because of this. (NOTE: I did NOT pay for reviews. They didn’t review, just posted.)
  11. Emailed book bloggers like crazy to see if they would read it. This is tricky. I’d say for every ten requests sent, I probably got 1 response. Maybe. They’re busy people. I’ve found it best to garner book bloggers from other book bloggers that I know and trust. A lot of my best blogger contacts have come through Candace, who I’ve followed for well over a year now. 

How did you figure out how to budget for a cover, editing and other costs?

That is something I’m still playing with today. For my second book, I’ve actually budgeted out in advance so I can reserve money from royalties for the new books release. Because I already have a team, I know what to expect price wise. It really just came with time, and experimenting through the first book. I’ve hired and fired editors and other people along the way.

I’ve been really lucky to find awesome editors/cover designers with great pricing (message me if you want referrals). I would say, however, that nothing can compensate for a bomb cover, and a thorough editor.

I’m also never angry with myself for paying for editing. No, never.

How long did it take to get your first 10 reviews (from strangers)?

As far as organic reviews from people I’m not at all affiliated with, I’d say about 2 months. I’m 5 months out from my book release now and almost exclusively seeing organic readers pouring in. I see a lot of organic reviewers on Goodreads, but less on Amazon. B&N & iTunes rarely have reviews.

What was the trajectory of sales (for example, did it start off slow and then pick up, or was there are larger burst at the start?)

I had a large burst at the start. I sold almost 300 copies release weekend, which blew my expectations out of the water. Now, however, it ebbs and flows. I’ll see spikes from 6 sales in one day, to no sales the next. On average, I sell at least 1-2 books per day. Barnes and Noble released an article about witches where they highlighted my book (I didn’t even know they were going to) and I sold almost 50 copies in a few days from B&N. So little things pop up to change it, but really it’s an even keel.

What were your strategies for getting reviews on blogs or on Amazon?

For me, it’s all about book bloggers.

I have a great link that has a list of YA book bloggers (let me know if you want it) that I started sending out queries to a week after the book release. Not many responded, but I just kept sending them. Some of the blogs I really liked, so I follow and stay active on now. I was lucky to get one big book blogger to take my book (I met her through Candace) and from her I’ve gotten several other book bloggers to do my book without me even realizing it because of the review she posted

Supporting book bloggers doesn’t have to be a time suck, either. Just commenting or liking or stopping by every now and then can go a long way to maintaining a relationship. Candace and I interact most on FB now.

Did you do any sales, free promotional periods, or giveaways after the book was released?

I haven’t done any sales or free promotional periods yet because I want to find a strategy that I feel would be very successful before I try. I’m wary about free days, to be honest. While it can work to get the book out there, I’m not convinced that it helps sales overall. I’m not saying it doesn’t work. I’m just saying that I haven’t tried it yet.

I plan on doing BookBub when I have at least three books to offer. Then I feel that the money it costs would be better served for the ‘trickle down’ effect. I’ve heard good things about BookGorilla. I also looked into BookDaily, but was not impressed with their required monthly rate or the reviews from that. Another one I’ve heard good and ‘meh’ things about is Story Cartel.

Did you buy any advertising?

I paid $15 for a FB ad, but don’t really feel that it helped during the release. I’m trying out a google ad with the next book to see how that goes, but I’m not really even sure how to track that. So, no. I feel the best advertising is just by being a friend, and having a strong, interesting presence on social media.

Was social media helpful?

Extremely so. It was the engine behind my whole release. An author that I’d recommend you read if you want to learn how to build an engaging social media presence is Kristen Lamb. Her book “Authors in a Digital World,” and her blog, have helped me come to terms with the need to use social media. I used to loathe it. Now I look forward to the fan interaction.

Overall, what was the most successful strategy you employed?

To be honest, I employed many strategies. I don’t know that I could peg any of them down to being the most successful except for just being a friend. Supporting other authors, bloggers, readers, people on FB, etc. The more interaction that I give on social media that is UNRELATED to my book (because I refuse to spam) the more I get back. 

In the end, people sell books. Not FB. Not giveaways. Not Amazon. People sell books, period.

What would you have done differently – was anything a waste of time or money?

I can’t think of anything that I would do differently, actually, and felt like it all paid off over time.

How hard was it to figure out how much time to put into marketing versus actually writing your next book? Do you think you got the balance about right?

This is something that changes daily for me. Right now I’m putting more marketing time in than usual because I’m prepping for another book launch. I’d say that most of my time is spent writing (or I would hope it is) and about 2 hours (ish) a day I spend marketing in some way. That includes following blogs, updating my own blog, answering emails, interacting on FB, Pinterest, Twitter, etc. I’m blessed to be doing writing full time for right now, so I’m able to invest more time in it.

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