Book Promotions That Work

Indie authors know how difficult it can be to market books! Fortunately, we have access to pros who can guide us. I’m pleased to share this article about book promotion basics for self-published authors, written by Shannon O’Neil of The Publishing team at Duolit.

Every author I meet has one question. It’s often disguised by different language and inflection, but it all comes down to the same thing: You want to know how to sell books.

It’s a fair question. You’ve worked hard to write a book, invested some money into production, and now you want to know how you can find fans and make sales. But just as important as knowing what *does* work, you need to know what *doesn’t* work.

So I’m here to share a little bit of both and in turn, answer that one, burning question.

Who Needs Books?

photo by nate bolt


1. KDP Select
Joining KDP Select is the biggest no-brainer promotion for any indie. It’s an absolute must for any book series, but it works for stand-alone titles, too.

But just joining the program doesn’t guarantee you off-the-charts results (the kind you’ve undoubtedly heard of from other author friends). You have to plan out your promotional days just like you’d plan a proper book launch.

Patience, time, and a few strategic investments in paid ads during your promo days (start with Facebook and BookBub) will set your sales on fire.

2. Mailing Lists
Mailing lists are the new social media. Where it used to be easy to communicate with your fanbase via Facebook and Twitter, now the social media sites are so congested your messages get lost in the mix.

To keep your fans hooked and informed of all your latest book news, you’ve got to have a mailing list. It’s easy (and free) to set-up through MailChimp, but the key is coming up with a great incentive for people to join the list. An exclusive excerpt, short story, or alternate POV chapter are all great ways to entice fans to let you in their inbox.

Your list will become your exclusive inner circle of crazy dedicated fans. Keep them happy (and interested) with occasional giveaways and exclusive first-looks, and they will be your go-to resource for advanced readers, street team members, and pre-sell/limited edition opportunities.

3. Blog Tours
If you’re blogging to an empty room, it’s time to go on tour. You could pay for a blog-tour-in-a-box (you know the type), but you’ll get the best results from a DIY tour of your own. Find popular blogs where *your* fans would hang out and assemble eight to ten stops over the course of about two weeks.

Think outside the box – don’t just stop on book blogs, think about the other hobbies and interests you and your fans share. It can be cooking, crafts, tech gadgets, video games – anything you’d talk to your friends about, you can blog about to your fans.

Make sure you’ve got a great byline, headshot, and a specific action you want new fans to take (join your mailing list, follow you on Twitter, like you on Facebook, etc.).

Need more information about Blog Tour basics? Link here to read about Blog Tours, Hops & Sharing Contests.

Drugs don't work

photo by Celeste RC

4. Offline Promotions
Don’t assume the Internet is the only place to find readers.

Local bookstores, libraries, and schools (an especially great resource for YA authors) are great places to hold events and meet new fans. Book signings, readers, and strategic donations can generate local interest in your book.

Take advantage of your local media sources as well. Newspapers are always looking for local interest pieces, you just have to make the right pitch. Highlight your unique perspective or experience, something that sets you apart.

You’re not just-another-author, you’re a talented artist with a unique story.


1. Social Media Selfishness
If your tweets and Facebook posts are all “Marsha! Marsha! Marsha!” I’m afraid you’re suffering from SMS (Social Media Selfishness). You’re flooding your fans with tweets and links that have no substance.

You are an author, not a salesman. Don’t hammer people with pleas and sales pitches, be a friend. Growing your fanbase is a two-way street of give and take. The most successful people on social media are personable, charming, and genuinely interested in having conversations with their fans.

2. Shortcuts
Overnight success stories are never true. Every successful author I know earned their rewards the old fashioned way – hard work, long hours, painful mistakes, and an indie’s most valued asset: perseverance.

As the industry grows, so will the number of people looking to take advantage of desperate authors. Don’t get caught up in the glitzy appeal of a quick reward for no investment.

As an added bonus, when you do reach the peak of success (which you will, no doubt) you will appreciate it so much more because you know what you sacrificed to get there.

3. Doing nothing
Without question, this is the *BIGGEST* mistake you can make. Don’t let fear, laziness, naysayers, stress, distractions, or anxiety turn you into a statue. The absolute worst thing you can do for your book promotions is nothing.

You’re going to make mistakes, it’s all part of the process, so there’s no reason to be afraid of it. If you can learn a lesson from the experience, your mistake will become an opportunity. Do some research, but know when it’s time to stop reading, planning, and worrying so you can start actually doing something.

Seriously, what are you still doing reading this post? Stop reading, start promoting – you know what to do.

Readers, what do you think? What’s been your experience with KDP Select? Any suggestions for other promotions that have turned out really well – or flopped? Leave a comment and share!


Shannon O’Neil

Shannon (The Author) blogs, tweets, eats, and sleeps book promotion along with Toni (The Geek) at Duolit (The Self-Publishing Team). Visit Duolit’s website and download a FREE copy of The Weekend Book Marketing Makeover – Jumpstart your novel sales with an introvert-friendly approach to finding your crazy-dedicated fanbase! You can also follow Duolit on Twitter and Facebook.

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Photo credits: nate bolt, Celeste RC.

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48 Responses to Book Promotions That Work

  1. Derek June 24, 2013 at 2:49 pm #

    These are some really good pointers and advice. Thanks for sharing!

    • Molly Greene June 24, 2013 at 2:57 pm #

      Derek, thanks so much for stopping by!

    • Shannon June 24, 2013 at 4:28 pm #

      Hi Derek! Happy to share some insights, it’s a tough industry but success is 100% possible! Glad you enjoyed 🙂

  2. Belinda Pollard June 24, 2013 at 3:23 pm #

    “If your tweets and Facebook posts are all “Marsha! Marsha! Marsha!” I’m afraid you’re suffering from SMS (Social Media Selfishness).” Haha, love it!

    Some great stuff in here, Shannon and Molly. Thanks! Bookmarking now…

    • Molly Greene June 24, 2013 at 3:27 pm #

      Belinda, I cracked up when I read that part, too – so true and such a great reminder!

    • Shannon June 24, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

      Thank you Belinda! Glad you enjoyed the Brady Bunch reference 🙂

      • Belinda Pollard June 24, 2013 at 4:40 pm #

        Jan would definitely have something to say about many of the people who auto-DM me…

  3. Onisha Ellis June 24, 2013 at 3:33 pm #

    I disagree about KDP. You give away thousands of books, make into the top ten of your genre and the day after your promo you plumet down to 400,000. KDP free at one time was great for your book ranking but not anymore.

    • Molly Greene June 24, 2013 at 4:03 pm #

      Onisha, I’ve never used KDP so I’ll let Shannon weigh in – I bet they have a strategy!

    • Shannon June 24, 2013 at 4:41 pm #

      Hey Onisha! I hear you, some people have been really frustrated with KDP for that reason. But first you have to figure out what your definition of KDP success is — for us, it’s always about finding new fans more than getting a specific ranking. If you get your book to 4,000 people and a quarter or even an eighth of that group is really interested in your book it’s well worth it. It’s true that a lot of the downloads are from people who just grab it because it’s free but if you promote it well (especially through a targeted blog tour) you will get new fans. That’s why I say the best results are for people who write a series, because you can hook a few hundred people with book one and that will boost your sales for the rest of the series. But even with one book there’s no other way to get your book into that many people’s hands for free. It can also boost your reviews too! Just plan it out and find one of the lists of KDP-promoting social media accounts and send out your info in advance or pair it with a promotion from BookBub and you’ll do well! It’s worth a shot, just watch your stats and track it to see what you gain, then you can decide if you want to renew for another 90 days.

      • Molly Greene June 24, 2013 at 4:47 pm #

        Thanks for that comprehensive reply, Shannon. It makes sense to me that authors with multiple titles will get a bigger boost from KDP, so I’m waiting to try it out until book #2 has been launched. And I’ll be sure to have a plan when book #1 goes free! Thanks for clarifying.

      • Belinda Pollard June 24, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

        Do you think this works just for fiction, or is it for non-fiction too? I can see it as a way to reach new people who could turn into fans, but maybe that’s more a fiction thing. Interested to know what you think about this. I haven’t used it myself either yet, but I’m interested.

        • Molly Greene June 24, 2013 at 5:06 pm #

          Good question!

        • Shannon June 24, 2013 at 7:42 pm #

          Great question! I do think it can work for non-fiction authors too if your goal is to find new fans (for example, if you have a blog or a mailing list you want to grow or if you have consulting services or something that goes along with your non-fiction title) or get more reviews!

    • Shannon June 24, 2013 at 7:53 pm #

      I also want to pass along a couple of other links in case anyone wants to read up a little more on KDP Select. Here’s my Duolit post on the six takeaways from my KDP Select experience: I also recommend checking out what Ryan Casey has written about his experiences with it. This is his updated 2013 post on KDP Select success:

  4. Pamela June 24, 2013 at 5:12 pm #

    Thanks for this interesting list of promotion ideas. In the past, I’ve heard others suggest KDP Select also, but recently I’ve read that giving out ‘freebies’ reduces the ‘credibility’ of your writing. I’ve always felt this way. I worked hard to write and publish my novel. I know it’s good – the reviews are great – and my fan base is (slowly, slowly) growing. Why would I want to tell readers that my book is only worthwhile if it’s ‘FREE!!’ ? It just hits me wrong, so I probably won’t do it. I have just published my second book, and I’ve been tempted to reduce (not give for free) the price of my first book, but really, it just doesn’t feel right. 🙂

    But thanks much for the advice and opening up the topic.

    • Shannon June 24, 2013 at 7:50 pm #

      Hi Pamela! You bring up a great point. I completely understand where you’re coming from. I should have clarified in the post that KDP Select also is the best option for an author just starting to build their fanbase. If you’re growing and have some crazy-dedicated fans who can spread the word about your book organically, it may not be the best fit for you (though I still think there are new fans to gain). I would definitely not recommend lowering your eBook price — I’m more in favor of keeping the regular price higher (I’ve heard 2.99 or 4.99 are the magic numbers, but I don’t know) and just using your five promo days per 90 day period. Don’t look at it as giving away your book for free, you should look at it like you’re purchasing an advertisement. The lost money from sales is really just an investment in your marketing plan. If one in every ten people who downloads your book loves it and recommends it to a friend (who then has to purchase it) who then recommends it to their friend and so on, creates a chain of word-of-mouth recommendations (which is marketing gold!). Hope that helps, but if you’re still uncomfortable with it, absolutely don’t do it — that’s the beauty of being an indie, right? You get to make the call! 🙂

  5. Barbara Anne Waite June 24, 2013 at 6:14 pm #

    Good article. I have used KDP select 7 times and it seems to help sales for the memoir I have written. If I look at the graph on Author Central it shows not just a spike in sales on free days but in days that follow the Free promotion I see elevated sales. Book Bub added my book with one free promotion and the sales were really the best ever. In January I sold only 65 e-books, then after free promotion in Feb. I sold over 1,000. Actually it was 556 e-books sold and 386 borrowed. I consider them together since a borrow is almost as much profit as a sale at $4.99. I might try an 8th time using Free for 2 days. It also seems that I see an increase in print sales after I have done a free E-book promotion. I think it has helped increase the number of reviews as well. Twenty months after my book came out in print I am still seeing new reviews. Thankful for 225 reviews so far. My book is non- fiction so I hope that answers the questions if it works for Non-fiction as well. I have only published the one book so far.

    • Molly Greene June 24, 2013 at 6:26 pm #

      Oh my goodness!! Thanks so much for taking the time to share and huge congratulations on your success! 225 reviews is spectacular.

    • Shannon June 24, 2013 at 7:44 pm #

      Wow! That’s fantastic Barbara! Definitely a success story for KDP Select, even for a stand-alone non-fiction title. I’ve heard Book Bub is a surefire way to make the most of your promotional days — it’s not entirely inexpensive, but it’s a worthwhile investment for the sales return you’ll see (as you did). Thanks so much for sharing your story!

  6. Mary H Collins June 24, 2013 at 8:01 pm #

    Thanks for sharing the great advice Molly.

    • Molly Greene June 25, 2013 at 12:47 pm #

      Thanks for stopping by, Mary!

  7. C. R. Myers June 25, 2013 at 7:07 am #

    Thank you for the great information, Shannon and Molly. I am a firm believer in KDP. Select and free days! Look forward to implementing your other suggestions as well.


    • Molly Greene June 25, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

      Thanks so much, Cat!

    • Shannon June 26, 2013 at 8:10 am #

      Thank you C.R.! Glad to meet a fellow KDP Select fan 🙂 Good luck with everything and let us know if you need any help!

  8. Juanita Rice June 25, 2013 at 2:52 pm #

    Thanks for the boost. I need to get busy. 🙂

    • Molly Greene June 25, 2013 at 5:35 pm #

      So do I, Juanita!

    • Shannon June 26, 2013 at 8:11 am #

      Good luck Juanita! Take it one step at a time and it won’t be so overwhelming! 🙂

  9. Mary Pax June 27, 2013 at 2:31 pm #

    Book Bub gave me a free ad this week. I will definitely buy ads with them in the future. Not only did my freebie download like crazy and keep me in the #1 slot for space opera all week, but all my other titles sold, too. And on all sites – Kobo, iTunes, and B&N. Also sold paperbacks.

    The other thing that works is making friends with fans and colleagues. Be their cheerleader and they’ll be yours. Form an author co-op. I did that with 9 other speculative fiction authors.

    • Molly Greene June 27, 2013 at 3:56 pm #

      Congratulations! I’ve heard really great things about BookBub and author co-ops are definitely the happening thing. Thanks so much, Mary, for taking the time to comment, and best to you in future book sales!

    • Shannon June 30, 2013 at 11:42 am #

      Awesome Mary! Glad Book Bub went well for you, I’ve definitely heard a lot of positive things about their ads — it seems it’s always a good return. Congrats on the successful promotion! You’re right about making friends with fans/colleagues, especially in your own genre. I think authors get scared sometimes of competition, but we know readers don’t just buy one book a year! It’s not a mutually-exclusive sale, so I think wherever it’s possible to share each other’s work with similar fanbases it’s a benefit to everyone involved! Good tips, thanks for sharing. 🙂

  10. Mary H Collins June 27, 2013 at 7:09 pm #

    You’re welcome Molly.

  11. Millie Burns June 27, 2013 at 7:34 pm #

    I still haven’t done KDP select…but I think that’s on the horizon for me. I keep hearing good things. I had originally thought my book needed to be everywhere, so it’s on smashwords as well, so I haven’t done KDP.

    • Molly Greene June 28, 2013 at 9:06 am #

      I wish you great success with your KDP free days!

    • Shannon June 30, 2013 at 11:39 am #

      Hi Millie! I think that’s a common thing among authors — feeling like maximum presence on every sales platform is a must. I did that with my first book originally, too. I put it out there in every available format for the first year and then eventually scaled back to just Amazon. I think a reverse course of action would actually be best — start on Amazon and build your fanbase there (especially using KDP Select) — and then once you’ve got a good base going, you can expand to other sites/formats. That will also save you money when you’re paying for book formatting (since the eBook formats are so varied). Just a thought! But I didn’t see a drop in sales when I rolled back to just Amazon from the rest of the platforms. Definitely check out the post I linked to a comment above for my 6 takeaways from KDP Select and Ryan Casey’s success with it as well!

  12. Tahlia Newland June 28, 2013 at 10:45 pm #

    KDP select doesn’t work for anything that isn’t one of the big selling genres, doesn’t download at least 3,000 books and have a fair sales record the rest of the month. It’s a rare new book that picks up much help from it since Amazon changed the algorithm. Also few of those downloads get read. Sorry to burst the bubble, but for most people Free is dead no matter how well you do it. Been talking to a lot of new authors and that’s the way it is. Only those with established sales are still doing well from KDP select. There’s no free ride any more.

    • Shannon June 30, 2013 at 11:35 am #

      Hi Tahlia! Interesting thoughts. I’m not sure what would be classified as a “big selling” genre but I coached an author earlier this year who writes clean (no bad language) military science fiction and he did very well with KDP Select. I suppose if you did have a very tiny niche, it might not be as successful, but in that case I would look at it like this — if 1,000 people download your niche book (who would not otherwise have bought it anyway) and five of them actually read and enjoyed it, isn’t that still a gain? You didn’t give away sales you would have gotten anyway, and it cost you nothing to find those five fans. It’s true that when you see downloads in the thousands it does NOT mean that many people will read your book (a lot of people will download anything that’s free) but even if only a tenth of your downloads are read and you get at least 1000, that’s 100 people reading your book. Maybe half will like it, maybe a quarter will take the time to review it — that’s still 25 new reviews. I don’t know any author who couldn’t benefit from 25 reviews. Certainly if you’re not comfortable with KDP Select and feel like the time you’d spend promoting it could be better used elsewhere, that’s understandable. But I would strongly advise every author to try it at least once (and I mean really commit to promoting it, not just throwing your free book up for three days, you have to do make an effort). Even if you’re in a niche market, you may introduce a few dozen readers to something they didn’t know they liked to begin with and in the process convert a few dozen new fans. That’s just my thought process on it, but I know there are a lot of indies who don’t care for it and I respect that not everyone has had a good experience, but I’ve seen enough benefits from it that I wouldn’t toss it aside without a try. That’s all! 🙂

      • Molly Greene June 30, 2013 at 12:07 pm #

        Thanks so much Shannon! Talia, the gravy days may be in the past, but it seems a well-written book that’s appropriately marketed still can benefit from KDP Select … there’s a commenter earlier in this queue who reported good results with a single title that’s memoir, which I understand can be a hard sell.

  13. Madge Madigan June 29, 2013 at 3:29 am #

    Great ideas! I have 2 questions, 1. Can you use BoobBub if you are enrolled in KDP Select? and 2. What kind of promotion, is it free books only? Thanks.

    • Shannon June 30, 2013 at 11:26 am #

      Hi Madge! Yes, you can use BookBub in conjunction with KDP Select. It does have to be during your free days though, I don’t think they have an option for promoting paid books yet (but I sense it’s coming soon). I worked with an author who promoted his free days through BookBub in April and it went very well for him — he felt it was definitely worth the cost! Hope that helps, good luck with your promotions. 🙂

  14. Mike Bast July 8, 2013 at 10:32 am #

    Wonderful article! I loved what you guys were saying about Social Media Selfishness.I have blocked several people because of that exact reason. I think it is a delicate line that you have to walk in order to not turn people off to you and your book(s). I am trying to walk that high-wire right now. I am hoping to build up my Facebook likes for my upcoming book. I ran a Facebook contest and gave away 7 books. My likes jumped from 49 to 346, but I am worried that my follow-up content (post-contest) won’t be intriguing enough to keep people interested. Now that Facebook weighs posts based on engagement, if you don’t get interactions your reach diminishes significantly. Does anyone have any advice on how to keep your posts interactive without becoming a “Marsha Brady”. 🙂

    • Molly Greene July 8, 2013 at 4:26 pm #

      Hey Mike, so glad you enjoyed Shannon’s article! I’m going to wait for her to weigh in as Facebook Fan page promotion is not my strength.

  15. Kathleen Dexter August 24, 2013 at 10:12 am #

    I’m late finding this discussion, but in case anyone is still reading it:

    I’m just now finishing my second KDP Select free promo. After finding all kinds of vague “try this” advice and very few “I did this and here’s what happened” chronicles, I’ve launched a segment on my blog keepyourkneesbent to give actual results of my book promo efforts. I’ve called it the “Indie Roadmap” and will add to it as I go along. I hope it’s some help to others.

    • Molly Greene August 24, 2013 at 10:23 am #

      Thanks, Kathleen. Many authors have shared recaps re: how their KDP Select promos worked out, and we appreciate you also sharing your experiences.

  16. Valencia Turner October 2, 2013 at 11:05 pm #

    Thanks for the advice. I needed it and the encouragement.

  17. Pedro Barrento October 12, 2013 at 7:49 pm #

    I have been promoting my book “The Prince and the Singularity – A Circular Tale” for ten months now and from my experience KDP Select is not only useless but it actually puts some very useful marketing activities out of your reach.

    Appearing on other people’s blogs, although very soothing for your ego, never produced any practical result for my book.

    From my own experience, one of the things that works best is the use of Smashwords’ coupons to generate reviews on Amazon. Smashwords’ coupons allow you to give your book away for free to carefully selected groups of people (which will generate reviews) without ever publicly having your book available for free anywhere on the internet.

    Although I agree with the “WHAT *DOESN’T* WORK” section (it’s all pretty obvious) the “WHAT WORKS” is a repetition of things that are written all over the Internet but which are, for most books, simply not true, except for point 4 (Offline Promotions) on which I have no personnal experience.

    Just my opinion, Some things may work for some books / genres and not for other books / genres.

    • Molly Greene October 13, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

      So true, Pedro! Not all things work across the board. Thanks so much!