This is a guest post from Ben Taylor, a British freelance writer who spent several years living in Portugal and wrote a book about the experience. He now lives back in the UK, where he founded Home Working Club, a site dedicated to helping people explore freelance opportunities – in writing and various other fields.
5 Things I Learned About Marketing my First Book
I never intended to write a book.
It came about by accident, after I started a blog about moving to Portugal from the UK. While I won’t pretend that I didn’t hope people would read and enjoy the blog, I never had particularly big plans for it. I figured that, if nothing else, it was a good way to keep a journal of the experience.
However, after I’d been going for a year or so, the site got rather popular. It started creeping up Google’s rankings, which brought more traffic. Before I knew it, I had plenty of regular followers, with several suggesting I turned the blog into a book.
This began a huge learning process – involving Kindle publishing, print-on-demand, editing, typesetting, and a whole load of things I never thought I’d be interested in learning about!
I don’t live in Portugal anymore. My wife and I moved back a while ago after having a new baby. But every month, pleasing little royalty payments continue to drip into the bank. The book’s sold over 2500 copies since its release. I have no idea how “good” this is in the grand scheme of things, but it’s certainly many more copies than I ever expected to sell.
Since deciding to “go for it” with the book, I’ve learned a lot about book marketing. In this post, I share five key things:
1. Gentle promotion is good (but not too much!)
When I decided to publish Moving to Portugal, I was fortunate enough to already have a busy blog as a platform from which to sell it. With the help of my wife as a co-author, we even “respun” the stories I’d already written about on the blog, but from her perspective. This was so nobody could accuse us of reselling content we’d already put out there for free!
Despite having this loyal following, I pushed them a bit too much when it came to plugging the book. I know this is the case because I surveyed all the blog regulars a while after, and a few said I needed to tone down the book promotion. Nobody minds some self-promotion, but there’s a balance – and I didn’t get it quite right…
2. Amazon itself is a great sales tool
Following on from the point above, Amazon itself is very good at putting books in front of an interested audience.
I know this because as well as seeing my sales reports, I also see my Amazon Associates reports. These show what people have purchased after clicking through from my site. Taking a random month from this year, I sold 59 copies in January, but only a couple were due to clicks from my site. This tells me that people are finding the book from Amazon anyway, without my blog really being involved.
With this in mind, it’s well worth putting work into Amazon descriptions and keywords – probably more work than I thought necessary at the start.
3. Successful books are run like businesses
Once I committed to writing the book, I kicking into full freelancer mode and treated it like a business. I outsourced cover design and editing (having a family member who’s a professional editor certainly helped here!) I wanted to ensure that my book didn’t fall into the trap that so many books do on Kindle –people leaving bad reviews due to things like spelling and layout.
I do genuinely believe that this kind of business focus is key to any freelance endeavour (I talk about what it takes to be a freelancer here). While I’m sure I would have still sold some copies, I think taking this extra effort is what’s helped ensure the book still sells today.
4. Amazon talks sense on price recommendations
While our books sales remained reasonably consistent, there was a bit of a drop-off after a few years.
At this point, I decided to take a punt on Amazon’s recommended Kindle pricing. This suggested I vastly reduce the Kindle price, with the idea that sales would shoot up as a result, and I’d earn more overall.
I was sceptical, but gave it a go – and Amazon were right. Kindle sales went up by three or four times, resulting in more royalties than I would have had overall. I probably should have done it sooner. Interestingly, this had no big impact on sales of paper copies either.
5. Updates are necessary for non-fiction
This isn’t such an issue with fiction books, but I’m beginning to strongly feel like Moving to Portugal needs an “edition two.” Some of the practical advice is a little out of date, and a new preface explaining that we don’t live there anymore wouldn’t go amiss either.
This is something I intend to prioritise this year, and is all part of running the book like a business, as I mentioned before. Updating to edition two probably won’t result in any sales boost, but it’s looking like a necessary admin task. If I don’t do it, reviews will suffer. I can’t imagine many non-fiction books (apart from historical works) where this wouldn’t apply.
My first experience of book publishing and marketing has been largely positive. I have plans for this year that hopefully mean it won’t be my last shot at it either. My monthly royalties on this book won’t replace a day-job, but if I write a handful more – well – who knows?