In his final article in a five-part series on self-publishing, author and digital publishing specialist Nik Peachey talks about the best ways to market your e-book.
If the previous stages in your journey to getting your e-book written, funded, and online were difficult, then this part might seem impossible. Selling my e-book was the most challenging part of the process.
Why is selling an e-book so challenging?
There are a number of reasons. First, there is habit. Most of us have grown up with physical books, and teachers particularly find it hard to change those habits. Many of us have strong attachments to the smell, feel and flexibility of paper.
Expectations of quality regarding self-published e-books are also quite low. Many people feel they aren’t produced to the same standard as a book from a recognised publisher, so they are reluctant to buy, especially if you are a relatively unknown author.
Electronic payments can still be intimidating for some people, and having to put their credit card details into an unfamiliar site can be an obstacle. Added to this, there are still many places around the world where people just don’t have the financial opportunity or hard currency to make international electronic payments.
Promoting your book poses another problem. If there is one thing that publishers still do well and are prepared to invest in, it’s marketing, so you are also competing with established publishing houses. Publishers have marketing budgets, and in many cases a huge staff and international distribution network, not to mention a reputation built up over many years.
There is also the perception, especially among teachers, that digital is or should be free and constantly available. Bloggers like myself, many of the English language teaching (ELT) publishing houses, and organisations like the British Council may have contributed to this perception, by making so much free content available online.
How do you decide on the price of your e-book?
I’ve always felt that part of the problem with e-books, and why established publishers have failed to have much success with them, is the price point. This is usually around the same, or even higher, than a paper book. Publishers are reluctant to undercut their existing paper-based products. Paper has been very kind to publishers over the years, so pricing a digital copy well below a paper copy would put them in competition with themselves.
However, the cost of producing and distributing digital products is vastly less than that of paper. There are no printing costs, no physical material costs such as paper and ink, and you don’t have to fly heavy boxes of books all over the world. This means you can price your e-book at a fraction of the cost of a paper book.
At first, I set the price of my e-book on digital video at £4.99. This made it about 20 per cent of the price of a similar paper-based book. Later, I thought that if I dropped the price to £1, I would be able to sell far more copies, and make my book affordable to even more people. But to my surprise, the lower price didn’t have any impact on the number of sales, so I set the price back to £4.99.
What I took from this is that price isn’t really the key factor involved in selling a book. If someone sees value in a book, they will pay a reasonable price for it.
How and where should you publicise your e-book?
The obvious place to get started is your social networks on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or wherever you have built them. The bigger your network, the greater potential you have to make a sale.
In many ways, building your network should be the first thing you do, before even writing the book. It takes time and work to build a useful, engaged network, but don’t over-estimate its value. It’s easy to build a large network by giving away content from your blog, and sharing and curating content. People may love your materials when they are free, but convincing someone to take out their credit card and buy your materials is very different.
Here’s a reality check. From my own calculations, I estimate that I can make one sale per 1,000 followers. So to sell 100 books, you’ll need to have a following of around 100,000 people. And that figure isn’t 100 books each month. That’s 100 copies of any one product in total.
What do you do if you want to sell more copies?
You will have to work hard for the rest of your sales. There are a number of ways to do this, even without a budget, but they take time.
Here are 11 things I’ve tried:
1. Create a website
Most of the platforms you use to sell your e-book will provide you with some sort of homepage or storefront. However, if you are selling your e-book on multiple platforms, that can make promoting the book difficult.
It’s better to create your own website. You can use this as a central place for other kinds of activity, like blogs, information about conferences, and links to mailing lists or newsletters that you create. All of these extra activities will improve the search engine ranking of your site, attract more visitors, and build up your profile and reputation.
2. Video advertisements
Video is a very strong medium of communication. Social media, and Facebook in particular, loves video, so having a short video advertisement about your e-book will create more of a buzz and get you boosted through various social media channels. I created my own adverts using video screen capture software, then added text and a soundtrack that I created using Apple’s free Garageband software. This is an example of a video that I created for my most recent e-book.
It’s better to create the video with text titles and a simple soundtrack rather than a voice-over explainer, as many videos watched on social media are played with the sound off. Also, be sure to keep the length of the video to no more than one minute, and if possible, 30 seconds. Anything longer is wasted and probably won’t be seen.
Running free webinars for your target market for the book can also be useful. These can help people understand how to use the book and what value it can bring to them. It’s also a good idea to give discounts or a few free books to attract people to come to the webinars, but make sure you don't give them away until the end of the webinar.
4. Conference presentations
Conference presentations tell people about your book, and are a good place to sell a few extra copies. But make sure that your presentation or workshop is worthwhile for those who don’t want to buy the book too. People can be very turned off by presentations that turn out to be a sales pitch. Even though they may not have paid to come to your session, they have committed their time, and they should get something of value for that.
5. Write for other blogs
Writing articles related to the topic of your e-book for other blogs or online journals builds your reputation as a writer, and points people towards your work. As with other activities though, don’t make these long advertisements for your book. Make sure you are giving people something of value, and hope that they follow links to your profile or book through the article.
6. Free copies to influencers
Giving away copies of your book to people who are influential within your field also helps to create a buzz around it. Focus on people who can use or tell other people about your book. Other great people to share your book with are bloggers, writers, conference speakers, or people who run teacher training courses and might want to include your book in their syllabus.
7. Free copies in exchange for reviews
You can offer free copies to potential reviewers through your social media channels. But don’t expect a review from everyone you give a book to. Many people think that writing a review in exchange for a free book is a great deal, but once they have the book, their motivation to produce a good, thorough review tends to fizzle out.
Winning an award for your book can be pretty challenging, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying. Even getting shortlisted for an award can help to boost people’s confidence in your products and your ability as a writer, and so lead to greater sales.
9. Sales and special offers
All of the above methods are fine, and are things that you should do. But they are also hard work for very limited returns on your time. The things that I have found that tend to work particularly well are different forms of limited time offers. These are offered through the Payhip platform that I use for the PDF versions of my books.
Through the platform, I can create discount codes. I choose the percentage of discounts, and how long or how many purchases of each book the code is valid for, and then I share these codes via social media.
Creating sales and discounts that have a finite time or number boosts the perceived value and urgency to use the code. This helps to overcome the perception that digital content is constantly available.
10. Social discounts
Through the Payhip platform, I can also set up special 'social discounts'. These allow the buyer to get the book for a reduced price, once they share a link to it through their social media network. This can be a great way to reach your customers' networks, and build a wider market for your products. Again, you can limit the time that these social discounts are available, which encourages the customer to do it now, rather than forget to do it later.
11. Affiliate links
Building up a network of affiliates (companies and websites that you have a relationship with) is a really useful way to boost your search engine ranking. It can increase the number of links to your product, and as a result, sales.
Through the Payhip platform, I can give affiliate websites a unique link that tracks any sale of a book back to them, so that they have a share of the income. This is a great way for bloggers or reviewers to potentially generate some income for their work, by selling your products.
Remember, these are sales that probably wouldn’t happen without your affiliate’s help. So be sure to offer your affiliates a good percentage of the sale, to make it worth their time.
How do you ensure that people don’t get fed up with you trying to sell to them?
If you are constantly trying to sell to your social media network, you will soon find that your network will start to shrink rather than grow, and your sales will shrink too. The best way to avoid this is by offering value and variety.
Vary the way you promote your books as much as possible. Share links to articles, blog posts you have written, and your video ads. Share a good variety of images and media about the book. Even better, promote a variety of products, rather than just one book.
You should also vary the platforms you use. Here are some of mine:
- I have a blog where I publish unique content for teachers, and where I can drop in ads for my e-books. The content shows potential customers the quality of my writing, which gives them confidence in the products.
- I also have a Facebook page where I share links to articles and resources that may be of interest to my customers. Of course, I can also drop the occasional ad for my books into the feed.
- LinkedIn is a great place to share links to interesting content and ads for your products. An extra advantage is that there is a higher expectation that links will be more commercial, as LinkedIn is a more professionally oriented platform.
- I also curate useful links to resources through to Scoop.it, a content curation service, and drop in the occasional link to one of my e-books.
- I produce a twice-monthly free e-newsletter, using the free Tinyletter service. Most of the content I share is links to useful articles and tools for my readers, but I do add an offer or promotion for one of my e-books into each edition.
Don't forget about value. You can offer your network a valuable service by mixing your own work with links to other useful content. This way, you will promote your e-book and establish authority and credibility at the same time.
Is paid advertising worth it?
I’ve tried paying for ads on both LinkedIn and Facebook. On LinkedIn, I was given a free voucher for $50 of marketing, so I thought I’d give it a try. To use the voucher, I had to create a LinkedIn Business page, which was quite quick. The system works a little like Google Ads, in that you have to bid for marketing space: you set a time, audience, and budget that you are willing to pay.
As far as I know, I didn’t get any direct sales from my $50 voucher. It may be that LinkedIn marketing works better for other types of books, or perhaps there is a financial threshold you have to reach before this becomes successful, but for me it didn’t work at all.
I also advertised through Facebook for a while. This is much cheaper to do, but again, you can’t do it through your personal profile. You have to set up a business-related page, and then you are offered the option to ‘boost’ your posts through your network.
Many people don’t realise that when you post something to a Facebook page or to your profile, only a small percentage of the people following the page actually see that post. Facebook shows your post to the people who are most engaged with what you do (liking or commenting on your posts). Only if they respond to your post will it be shown to other people within your network.
Boosting posts is a way of encouraging Facebook to push your content to more of your network, and if you choose, the network of the people who follow you (friends of friends). The best thing about Facebook advertising is that it’s very low-cost, and so very low-risk. You can boost a post for the day for as little as £2.
If you decide to do this, make sure that your post includes a link to your product, an image, and if possible a video clip. Facebook likes video, so a post with video is more likely to generate responses and help get your post pushed to more people. I have had some success with these kinds of ads, but bigger success might come with a larger investment in advertising, and I don’t have the budget for that at the moment.
Do people expect free content? How do you deal with this?
Yes, and I do give away a lot of copies of my work. Usually, I give away free copies of small pieces of work, such as lesson plans, or chapters of books. Doing this builds my customer base and creates confidence in my products. With luck, people who like the free products will come back and buy something.
Given how much content is free, what will be the future of publishing?
This is a challenge, particularly for digital publishing. In the short term, I think you just have to make sure that your digital products have extra value, beyond what people can find elsewhere online. Even if it’s just the convenience of having everything they need in one place in a book, rather than scattered around lots of different websites, that can help save people's time. After all, time is one of our most valuable commodities.
I have thought about other models for financing my books that would let me give them away for free. In a way, a crowd-funding model could help to do that. I’ve also considered generating the money through advertising. After all, free products reach a far greater market, so the potential to generate revenue through ads is much bigger that way.
Sites like Patreon help artists crowd-source patronage from a large group of people, who commit to donating a small amount of money to support the work. It's an old historical model, but it may be the way forward.
As a writer, I would much prefer a model that let me give away my work for free. In the end, I want the maximum number of people to read my work, and 'free' can certainly do that. The challenge, though, is to be able to achieve that, and still pay the bills.
Nik Peachey is a freelance teacher trainer, materials writer, blogger and consultant specialising in digital publishing and the development of digital resources for teachers, available on his website. He has been involved in English language teaching since 1992 and has worked all over the world as a teacher, trainer and project manager.
Applications for next year's awards open in September 2017.