Fifty Shades and the Martian Self-Publishing Marketing Secrets – Zachary Jarvis | Guest Post

When people think of an eBook success story, they tend to think about Fifty Shades of Grey. It was an eBook that was released by a small Australian company that also did print on demand and became a worldwide phenomenon. The Writer’s Coffee Shop didn’t have a big marketing budget, and so the legend that the success of the book came about by word of mouth began. But is the legend true?

When you’re marketing your eBook, there are two things that you must do. You must know who the audience of your book is and you must know how to reach them. It’s often glossed over that Fifty Shades of Grey began as a Twilight fan-fiction piece named Master of the Universe. It was published on multiple fan-fiction websites before ‘concerns about the sexual nature of the book’ forced it to be moved to Perhaps unwittingly, James targeted her audience – Twilight fans who wanted to see more explicit exploits. She also reached them, and more importantly, moved them to her own website. Then she took it off the site and sold it as an eBook.

She had already done extensive social marketing before people realized it existed.

The people who had read the book had already clicked 112 times to move through the chapters. They had already had hundreds of thousands of words of free entertainment and developed a relationship with the author. In and of itself, this is not a bad business model. Look at, for example. All his works are there for free. He has a Patreon link to give early access to upcoming chapters, but he also asks people to buy his eBooks and audiobooks. Firstly to support his writing, but also because it’s easier to listen to a book, or read it, than have to click a link and connect to the Internet at the end of every chapter.

Fans are likely to want to buy the expanded and edited final version of the manuscript as well. It’s also a way to create a loyal fanbase, who will go and spread word of mouth for you. Andy Weir released The Martian one chapter at a time on his website. When fans asked him to put it on Amazon, he did for 99 cents. It sold 35,000 copies in three months and got the attention of an audiobook publisher, which then got the attention of a print publisher. Weir released the book online for free in 2011, and on January 2013, it debuted on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list. Then the world saw Matt Damon growing Martian potatoes in 2015.

What do you do if you don’t already have a loyal fanbase, or you’re not piggybacking off someone else’s fans? Just because you’ve written a book doesn’t mean that you have also been writing a blog; been active on Twitter or set up a Facebook fan page. You might have been spending that time, y’know, writing your book. Well, there’s good news. E.L. James may have lucked in to social marketing, but technology hasn’t been twiddling its thumbs since May 2011. Social media advertising can’t guarantee you Fifty Shades style success, but it can spread the word about your book… maybe to the point where it gains the attention of an existing publisher, like Fifty Shades did with Vintage Books in April 2012 (who DID have a marketing budget).

The 2016 American election saw how powerful Facebook was in targeting certain individuals. No matter how you feel about the result, you can’t ignore the power of social media. Luckily, it’s not just a tool available to politicians or the elite – it’s available to everyone. Facebook stores a lot of data – not just about things you post, but about your history on the Internet. It could be the inspiration for a dystopian satire but it’s also a tool you can use to reach your future audience.

Let’s say that I have written a book about a nurse who develops superpowers. A man trained to heal develops the power to kill! There’s dramatic tension, character arcs… all the things that you need to make a compelling read. So how do I get people to read it? I could put an ad for my book out to men aged 18 to 35, who I think my book will most appeal to. But should I? Think about the books you really love – do you think you would fit directly into a targeted demographic? Wouldn’t it be better if you could target people who loved Guardians of the Galaxy and Nurse Jackie? You can. With Facebook Insights there are many ways you can target people who will really love your book – think outside the demographic box!

Another benefit? A little thing they call PPC – or ‘Pay Per Click.’ It means you get charged when people click through to your website, not for the number of ads you put up. It means that you get a bigger return on your investment and it also increases brand awareness. Even if the right kind of people haven’t clicked your ad, they know about your book – and that’s where the ‘I can’t remember where I saw it but I heard about it’ word-of-mouth begins.

With Facebook Insights, you can see people who have posted about your book. You can talk to them directly, especially if you’re starting out. Or you can automatically send out a different kind of advert to people who have mentioned your book. You can even tell if they have bought it or not, and give them a different message to spread the word. You can set up as many different types of ad as you want. All you need to do is write them. Fortunately, you’re a writer! Write a different ad for men, or women, or healthcare professionals, or genre fans or people reading on their phone. You can reach your readers like people, not cattle.

There’s no point in getting your audience if there’s nothing for them to see. It will probably be a link to your book’s page on Amazon (other eBook sellers are available) – so make sure that you are selling in countries where your book is available, and the store changes relative to location. The next thing they will see is the cover, in a teeny, tiny little box inside a box in their news feed. Make sure that the cover is clear and the text is uncluttered. Have a call to action to make them click through, even if it’s something like ‘Be the first…’ or ‘Don’t get left behind.’ On your book page, make sure your description is clear, and favours Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) friendly keywords too.

To sum up, it’s now easier than ever to get your book in front of people who will want to read it. Yes, you’ll have to spend some money, but that’s how it will get seen. It will also give you more time to make sure that your book is the best it can be – which should really be the point. Oh, make sure your book is properly edited and formatted too – it really helps.


Zachary Jarvis Author ImageBIO

Zachary Jarvis is a Digital Marketer with one thing on his mind: Results.

Uninspired by the never ending talk of ‘vanity metrics’ in the world of digital marketing, Magnate was founded – the ‘Social-First’ marketing agency.

On the very rare occasion he isn’t watching Step Brothers in his spare time – you’ll find Zachary in the thick of social platforms, learning what makes us tick.

This is driven by a fascination (perhaps a slight obsession…) with market trends and consumer behaviours.

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