In this article, we discuss how self-published authors can market unpublished books — specifically, how you can market in-progress book projects that haven’t been completed or published yet.
To be clear, we’re not talking about pre-sales: we’re talking about spreading word about a book and gathering a following for it, potentially even before you’ve written a single word.
Even if you’re not currently using Leanpub as a platform for any of your self-published book projects, we hope some of this advice may be useful to you!
Step One: Establishing a Presence for Your Book on the Web
The first thing you need to do to get attention for any new book project is to set up a page on the web where people can go to learn about what you’re planning to do, and where they can sign up to an email list so they can be notified when you do eventually publish the book.
In our view, this is such an important part of the process, we’ve built our platform so that the moment you start a new book project on Leanpub, even for a book you haven’t started writing yet, we provide you with a nice-looking landing page for your book.
In addition to providing all the features you’d expect, like the ability to upload a cover image, and an “About the Book” section where you can describe your book project to potential readers, you can also display a YouTube video, and show biographical information and a picture of yourself to readers, which comes automatically from your Leanpub author profile page.
You can link your author profile page to Instagram, Twitter, GitHub, and LinkedIn, and from your book landing page, people can even use our “Email the Author(s)” feature, so they can contact you with questions about your project.
In what you might call “creator” marketing, the kind that self-published book authors and other creators do on their own behalf, establishing a connection with your audience is incredibly important, and sometimes delightful!
This is especially so if people feel like they have made some kind of contribution to the project, by doing things like signing up early, encouraging you as you write, or even influencing your project in some way, like making a chapter suggestion. And this is doubly-especially-so if they receive some personal acknowledgment of your genuine thanks in return for their support.
These book landing page features are all designed to accomplish the most important thing you’re trying to do with this page: convert people to becoming what we call “Interested Readers”, by convincing them to use the form prominently displayed at the top of the page, where they can sign up to be notified when your book is first published.
Here’s what that form looks like to people who visit an unpublished book’s landing page on Leanpub:
On that form, you’ll note that we make it optional for people to share their email address with you.
That way, people who don’t want to share their email address with you, can still sign up to be privately notified when you publish the first version of your book.
(Many Leanpub books are published as works in progress, or chapter by chapter, which is why you’ll find we often talk about publishing a “first version” or a “new version” of a book. For more information about this particular self-publishing process, please go here.)
And of course, anyone who does opt in to share their email address with you, can be added to your author newsletter if you already have one, or some other contact list. (But please note that if people do choose to do this, you are not permitted to sell their email address or share it with anyone else, just to be clear!).
As we mentioned above, it’s important to note that this is not a “pre-order”, a concept that is becoming more and more popular with authors, publishers, booksellers, and readers alike. Someone who signs up to be notified when you first publish your book doesn’t have to enter any credit card information to make a payment, or commit to making a payment in the future. They just enter their email address and optionally indicate how much they’d be willing to pay for the book. That’s it.
You’ll want to put a fair amount of work into ensuring everything displayed on your book landing page is of high quality, and reflects your public persona (or your brand, if you prefer). People do judge books by their covers, and this is especially so if you’re self-publishing. Producing a high-quality cover image, a well-chosen title, and (especially in the case of a book!) a well-written “About the Book” section and biography is key to converting people to being “Interested Readers”.
Most self-publishing platforms offer something similar to this kind of web landing page, so this setup advice may work for you even if you don’t choose to use Leanpub for your book (although we can’t help but note that no one else does this with quite the same combination of features and simplicity that we offer).
Step Two: Getting Attention
A lot of people (not just authors!) don’t like to use the word “marketing” for pretty understandable reasons: it sounds like something marketers do, not something authors do, and its generic nature abstracts away from the particular nature of any product, so that basically the only meaning left in the word is about money.
“Marketing” is also a very specific field; what you’ll be doing is probably going to be more ad hoc and personal, which makes using the term in this context actually a bit misleading. So, going forward we’re going to talk more informally about “getting attention” instead.
In comparison to getting attention for a published book, there are of course a number of things you can’t do with an unpublished book. You can’t get on a bestseller list; you can’t give away review copies; and you can’t do discount sales.
(However, it’s important to note you actually can do a public reading of work you’ve written, but have yet to publish.)
If you’re new to self-publishing, it’s easy to get bogged down by the immensity of the challenge of building an audience. That’s why we recommend doing things in stages, so you only have to learn one set of things at a time.
The process for getting attention for an unpublished book set out below is based on the progress of your writing, and your presumably growing audience, and familiarity with various tools and techniques.
The First Stage of Getting Attention: Use Your Current Profiles and Apps to Point People to Your Book Landing Page
Once you’ve got the web page for your book set up, you can start pointing people to it. This is good news!
You don’t need to think at this stage about Facebook ad buys or figuring out any algorithms or anything like that. Getting attention is kind of like writing, for people who write the way many authors do: just do something to get started, however small, and soon you’ll find the words flowing.
So, begin with things you’re familiar with. Add a link to the book to your email signature, and to your online profiles and bios. This can be as simple as just adding the title and a link, or something a bit more prominent, like “Author of the forthcoming book Something Something”.
Next, use your online profiles to announce the project, and — this is very important! — actually ask people to sign up to be notified when the book is first published.
So, on Twitter you might do something like:
“So excited to announce I’m working a new book! Check it out here [link] and sign up to be notified when it’s published”.
The Second Stage of Getting Attention: Do Something Every Day
Getting attention is a never-ending process, so it’s important to make a part of your everyday routine.
Doing something every day to bring attention to your unpublished book not only gets you into a productive pattern of activity, it also means you’re steadily advancing your project, learning new things, and broadening your network.
This can be as simple as, say, setting up a new social media account for yourself or for your book; tweeting or otherwise posting about your project; or writing a blog post on a subject related to your unpublished book.
Equally as important as these “direct” efforts at getting attention are the “indirect” things you can do. Replying thoughtfully to tweets or posts by other people whom you don’t know, but whose writing you respect, is a good way to slowly build your name recognition and respectability.
If you’re writing a nonfiction book, contacting journalists who write on your area of expertise can also be a really good idea, but be careful to, at the very least, follow these important rules:
- Only contact a journalist if you’ve just read a piece they’ve recently published, and which you will mention in the first sentence of your message
- Only contact a journalist with get-to-the-point messages that contain an opinion or some information you genuinely think they will find interesting
- It’s ok to go on a bit, but only if you know exactly what point you’re trying to make in each paragraph
- Treat the message like any other serious piece of writing: work on a few drafts, and write it like you would if you knew it were going to be published
- When you contact a journalist, keep in mind that what you’re trying to do is provide them with information that is actually useful to them, and something you genuinely want them to write about, whether or not they quote you or mention you, or even reply to you
- Do not use a template or send the same message to more than one journalist; each message should be unique to the journalist you’re writing to, and specific to the issue at hand
Here’s an example of an email Len wrote to a journalist, that was eventually published in the letters section of a major publication:
The basic principle here is that you should always be reaching out to people, and always be giving them something of positive value to them: genuine praise, thanks, encouragement, insights, and entertainment.
Finally, there is a psychological benefit to doing something every day. It just feels good to do something, anything — especially if you’re procrastinating on your writing, or just having a fun day and you don’t want to feel guilty about not working on your book.
[This is part one of a series of articles on marketing an unpublished book. If you’re looking for more articles like this one, please follow us on Twitter @leanpub. You can also find a version of this article here.]