What's the one marketing tool independent authors can't live without?

We're often spoiled these days with so many hi-tech marketing apps on the market, but there's one thing that should be at the heart of every author's business.

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If you have to choose one marketing tool to support your independent author business, make it your mailing list. If you can choose multiple marketing tools, focus on your mailing list and then anything else. Getting your mailing list skills up to speed will make the difference between succeeding and failing as an independent author.

Why is it so good?

1. You can talk to your fans

Because, unlike letting Amazon market your books for you, your mailing list actually lets you talk to your fans directly. People buy from people. Let your fans get to know you and they'll be more loyal to you.

2. It protects you from changes in the market

Also, keeping your own mailing list means that you're not dependent on a big company for your marketing. Sure, Amazon's not likely to stop selling books, but what if they suddenly did away with their 70% royalty level and everything was at 35%? That would halve your income and most likely make it impossible to continue your business. By having your own mailing list you can change retailers and take your fans with you. You can even tell them why you're moving — fans are really supportive and if there's a way they can earn you more money while they're paying the same price, I've found a huge proportion of them will make the switch with you.

3. It gives you more control

By taking control of your list and what you send to them, you open up loads of interesting marketing possibilities. Run free offers with direct downloads, send people to landing pages to learn more, get people to follow your social media channels... and you can measure and test all of these approaches to see what works best for your niche. It also lets you sub-divide your list so you can run more advanced campaigns, for example to readers who've bought book one of a series but not book two.

My favourite example

Without a shadow of doubt, it's the Advance Readers List. I'll be running a full course on setting this up later this year, but here's a rundown of why it's so powerful.

THE PROBLEM: You launch your book on Amazon. No one's heard of it, so no one searches for it, so no one buys it. Because no one's buying it, Amazon does nothing to promote it. So even more people don't buy it. It can feel like you're shouting into a vacuum.

THE ADVANCE READERS SOLUTION: By building up your mailing list, you can of course send out an email about your launch and you'll probably get a good few hundred sales if your list is big enough. But that's not enough to start making Amazon pay attention. So consider recruiting a portion of your list to be your 'Advance Readers' — people who'll write you reviews for a strongly discounted copy of the book.

Here's how it works:

  • A couple of days before your main book launch day, publish your book on Amazon at 99c / 99p (don't worry, people won't find it by accident. That's the whole problem!)
  • Send an email out to your Advance Readers with the link to your new book, asking them nicely for an honest review. You probably only need 100 advance readers — it shouldn't be more than 10% of your list.
  • They'll buy the book on the cheap and leave you some reviews (Note: it's not free because you want them to be 'verified purchasers' on Amazon. And Amazon doesn't make it easy to make a book free anyway).
  • After a couple of days, bump the price up to full (£4.99 works best and gets you into the 70% revenue bracket) and email your full mailing listabout the launch.
  • They'll find your book already has sales and reviews, which makes people much more likely to buy. You'll hopefully have a few tens of reviews by now.
  • The sales from your full mailing list will get your book climbing the sales ranking on Amazon. If you've chosen your categories specifically enough, you might well get into the New Releases section.
  • Once your book has this kind of traction, Amazon will start promoting it to readers of your previous books, or to customers who've bought similar authors.

That's been a very successful approach for me, and for many other independent authors. As I mentioned, I'll be doing a more detailed look at Advance Readers later on, but it serves as an excellent example of why you need to be building your mailing list right away. The control and power it gives you over your book marketing is unparalleled.