Mike Connell

How Authors Can Build an Effective Content Marketing Strategy

By: Mike Connell | May 3, 2017 | 
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How Authors Can Build an Effective Content Marketing StrategyWriting a book, whether it’s about business, marketing, PR, or works of fiction, has always seemed a daunting project.

But it’s not just the writing that seems so…big.

It’s the marketing and PR.

You can’t just be a creative genius.

Gone are the days when publishers (if you’re even going the traditional publishing route) would pour marketing resources into making sure your book is read.

So, great… you’ve spent all this time pouring your heart and soul into the creative process, and, finally, you finish.

Success. You’ve done it! Congratulations.

So, what next?

There are, generally, two not-so-secret-secrets to success as an author:

  1. You have written, or are writing, a (great) book people want to read; and
  2. You have a way of getting that message in front of those people.

It’s Not Enough Just to Write the Book

According to David Farland, New York Times best-selling author and writing instructor, so many writers focus on the craft, on the project.

They don’t spend any time on learning how to sell what they write.

I’ve known many authors who have done just that, David writes in a recent post.

They focused on becoming writers and never learned the first thing about building a career.

They’ve taken so little thought to the business side of writing that in some cases, they even managed to derail their career before it got started.

This is where creating a content marketing strategy for your book comes in.

A Content Marketing Strategy Must Include Email

If you’re an established author, you may have a fan base you can rely on.

But if you’re a new author, you’re likely going to struggle to find that readership early on.

The fact is, authors, like many small businesses, tend to live and die by their email list.

Email remains a significantly more effective way to acquire customers than social media—nearly 40 times that of Facebook and Twitter combined.—McKinsey & Company

People who subscribe to an author’s list are fans.

Following an author’s Facebook page or Twitter handle indicates interest.

Subscribing to the email list means loyalty.

It implies the need for a deeper connection and a desire to know what’s going on with your work, when, and where.

So, you may ask, how big does this list need to be?

What does success look like when it comes to building your base?

According to Farland, you just need to start somewhere.

Friends, family, business associates.

A core group of people, fans who you can mobilize when your book comes out.

Identifying your existing fan base, and getting them to subscribe to an email list you own, is the first step in creating your content marketing strategy for your book.

Putting Your Email List to Work

If you can get a dozen or so people to buy and review your book the first week that it comes out, you’ll find that Amazon.com and Goodreads will begin to advertise it.

Fifty people is even better, since Amazon’s algorithms kick in and they begin advertising it more broadly.

If five hundred people review it quickly, it tells Amazon that you’ve got excellent sales velocity (that a lot of people are buying your book fast). — David Farland

But that’s just the beginning of your content marketing strategy.

Table stakes.

To build your base, to scale it, you first need to ensure you have the basic foundation blocks in place:

  • A website.
  • Landing pages with capture forms.
  • A blog visitors can subscribe to.
  • Some carrots. Something you can incentivize your readers with. That can be short stories, glimpses into your writing process, or chapters from an upcoming work.

Getting Your Email List Started

Bringing us back to the beginning.

How do we get those subscribers, those fans, rolling in?

According to Nick Stephenson, novelist and marketer, one way is funneling.

This means giving it away for free.

“It” being the book itself.

This is your funnel book.

No. Really. You give away your book. For free.

Well, not free.

You want their email address in return.

If you haven’t written a book yet, it’s a short story, a collection of short stories, or other repurposed content.

This is how they’ll get to know your work.

This is the gateway to you.

It’s the case study or white paper of the literary world, all for the price of an email address.

Stephenson goes on to tell you that by listing your book for free on Amazon, you’re tapping into one of the largest (the third largest, he stipulates) search engines in the world.

Your free book (owned content) with some well-researched keywords in the title and description, along with directions to your website, will yield traffic in and of itself, i.e. you haven’t had to pay for anything yet.

We’re still talking about owned media (it’s your book), earned media (you’ve mobilized your list), and shared media (people are talking about your free book and hopefully spreading the word on their social channels) content.

But your job isn’t done yet.

Monetizing Your Subscriber Base

You need to shift gears slightly and move into the final part of your content marketing strategy—paid media.

This is where you’ll need to find your lookalike audiences and personas on Facebook, targeting people who like, say, George R.R. Martin, if you’re writing in the Fantasy Genre.

Send them to your landing page (that you made easily with tools such as Hubspot or Wordstream), where you’ll offer them your free book in exchange for an email address (that you collect using tools like MailChimp).

Once they submit that (and have provided double opt-in permission for you to send them information, offers, and updates about your work), you send them the various links to the publication on Amazon or applicable eBook seller.

Now you’re building your base.

You have a list of people you can update when you have almost finished your book, or when you have a publication date, pre-order opportunities, a book signing or speaking event on the horizon.

You have a network you can mobilize to get that crucial early attention.

Your goal is to attract attention quickly, Farland says.

In fact, if you want to become a New York Times bestseller, you need to get several thousand sales in your first week (about 5000 to 7000), and if you can keep it up for several weeks—say four—you’ll hit the monthly bestseller list.”

That kind of engagement takes discipline and work.

It takes a strong, loyal base that won’t come, at first, from your amazing writing.

Congratulations, you’re a marketer!

About Mike Connell


Mike Connell is the director of client services at Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. He is also a contributor to the award-winning PR blog, Spin Sucks, the leading source for modern PR training, trends, and insights. Find more of Mike's musings on his blog, Communative .

  • Dawn Buford

    Excellent advice Mike. I can’t tell you how many independent new authors I’ve bought books from on Amazon because I read their free short stories first, or bought their first book for 99 cents. It’s an easy way to get a reader like myself to buy into a series of books.

    • Thanks Dawn! That’s great to hear. Have you subscribed to any of your favourite authors’ email list? We all get enough emails as it is, so it’s a true test of fandom when we sign up for that type of content. No pressure 😉

  • I’m interested to hear from authors themselves! Strategies, tools and tactics they have tried, what kind of success or learnings they’ve experienced…

  • I feel like I should have kept my mouth shut about this when we talked yesterday so I could comment here instead.

    The biggest challenge is, indeed, that publishers do not support the marketing of the book. They’re great at getting them on shelves, but even still, you have to work hard to gain visibility.

    If, for instance, you want to be in airport bookstores or in end caps in Barnes & Noble, you have to pay for it. And it’s not a small sum.

    Most publishers look for a great idea, a smart proposal, AND an engaged and loyal community. They’ll ask for the number of your Twitter followers and Facebook fans, they want to know how many people are in your email database (and what percentage actually read what you publish), and any other social proof stats you have.

    The book writing isn’t the hard part. It’s the book marketing that is…and I say this as a professional communicator.

    • Thanks Gini! Great insights. It helps, I’m sure, to have a great book, but yes, getting the word out to readers and book buyers is a never-ending process.

  • David Sachs

    Great article, Mike. This is an interesting plan – I have used pieces of it, but not necessarily as well-aligned as your suggestion here of targeting everything towards the growth of the email list. I’ll see if I can try implementing this note for note- it will first require having something valuable, to give free.

    • Thanks for reading @disqus_RfORLH5Jpp:disqus! I think you have tons of material at-the-ready. Keep your premium pieces (Tragically Hip, Twisted) as just that: Premium. Charge for them. But pieces of poems, short stories, a preamble to The Flood, or whatever… You already have what many of us are striving for: Great books that people want to read.

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