It’s been three and a half years since I first published my debut novel, Can’t Beat the Heart of a Carolina Girl. Back then, I had no idea what I was doing when attempting to promote my book and relied on every marketing article I found on the internet to teach me how to sell more books.
As time soon revealed, however, these random articles didn’t help me. I became so caught up in learning that I never really implemented anything worthwhile. Either that, or I implemented practices that didn’t help me in the long run.
In February 2020, I took an indie-publishing course taught by author Sarra Cannon called Publish and Thrive, which taught me the best practices of marketing fiction books. Though I’m still in the process of fixing past mistakes and implementing these best practices with my back-list, today I’d like to share with you the top four marketing mistakes I made back in 2017 when Can’t Beat the Heart of a Carolina Girl first debuted.
Mistake 1: Making My Own Cover
I was in my last semester of college and had a part-time job as a tutor at a local community college when I published Can’t Beat the Heart of a Carolina Girl, so admittedly I didn’t have much of a budget for marketing the book. In hindsight, I probably should have waited six months to a year longer to further polish the book and save enough funds to market effectively, but I was over eager and dove in headfirst.
My most critical error when publishing Can’t Beat the Heart of a Carolina Girl was deciding to make my own cover, using Microsoft Paint and PowerPoint, no less. *Facepalm*
As you can see, it’s difficult to determine what genre or tone the book has, which surely confused potential readers. And, not only that, the image is pixelated, and it was very obvious on the paperback copies.
In summer 2018, after discussing the cover with an author friend, I decided to change the cover for the book. My sister was in her second year of graphic design classes at the time, so I paid her to create the current cover:
Though there are still some elements that could be tweaked now that we’ve both gained more knowledge of cover design, it was an improvement on the first cover. Why?
First, a teen girl was added to the cover, showing that the genre was YA. Second, the images were illustrated and arranged in more professional programs made specifically for graphic design, so pixelated ugliness wasn’t an issue. Lastly, illustrated covers are currently trendy in both the young adult and contemporary genres and give away the tone of a lighthearted feel, which sums up Can’t Beat the Heart of a Carolina Girl.
Mistake 2: Failing to Grow an Author Platform Beforehand
The second most detrimental error I made marketing-wise was waiting to build my author platform until the month I published the book.
Yeah, you read that right. I launched to an online audience of zero and wondered why the book wasn’t selling. -_-
And now I know, as many of you probably know, it’s better for aspiring authors to start building up their platforms and audience reach as far in advance as possible before releasing books to ensure maximum exposure.
If I could rewind and create a different game plan for my first shot at self-publishing, I would have created my author platform accounts and started blogging at least a year before releasing Can’t Beat the Heart of a Carolina Girl. That way, I would have been able to build up a trusted following that may enjoy buying the book upon its release.
Mistake 3: Targeting the Wrong Readers and Social Media Platforms
Going along with Mistake 2, when I finally did try to build up those social media accounts, I targeted the wrong readers and platforms.
As far as the readers went, I didn’t research that niche well enough to know that readers within the niche have such a wide variation of beliefs when it comes to certain aspects of book content that I ended up receiving negative feedback for things I thought were okay to include in my books.
This went on for the first couple years of my publishing journey, and then I decided to identify who my ideal reader truly is and fine-tune my targeting strategies. As a result, my ARC Team for The Crush has been super solid so far and is helping my next release to become my best-marketed release to date.
And, as far as the platforms… I hate Twitter. I’ve always hated Twitter. I don’t understand how to use it. And yet, one of the first social media accounts I made as an author was a Twitter account. Of which I hardly ever used and ended up deleting about a year ago.
That time I spent attempting to “grow” an audience on Twitter was pretty much wasted. I’m fairly certain that at the time I deleted the account, I was up to 700 followers, though close to none of those equated to book sales.
I also relied heavily on my Facebook page, though there are a few key aspects about Facebook that I’ve found debilitating when it comes to book marketing:
1) My Facebook page’s audience is 98% made up of my personal Facebook friends. And, I’m not trying to be judgmental here, but only about (maybe) 5% of those followers even read books and/or engage with my posts. I live in a rural area, and reading is often look upon as “boring” or “nerdy” in my hometown. Because of this, I rarely post on Facebook anymore unless I’m sharing a post from Instagram.
2) Facebook only shows page posts (I mean, unless you’re wiling to buy ads there) to a small portion of the people who follow your page. According to an article from www.socialmediatoday.com, “A post’s organic reach is only about 6.4% of the page’s total likes.”
So, say I have a following of around 150 people on Facebook. This means I’m only reaching about 10 people when I post. Long story short, I’ve found posting there to be halfway useless over the last few years.
3) The last and final reason why Facebook is no longer the meat of my social media marketing plan is that the majority of my target audience is not active on the platform. The average Facebook user is 40 years old according to smallbusiness.chron.com, which varies greatly from my target audience of 13 -25 year olds for YA Fiction. I feel that authors of fiction or nonfiction targeting adults from 30-65 would benefit from Facebook marketing, but it has not been serving me well for the past few years.
How I Changed My Social Media Marketing Strategy
Once I identified where I was failing in terms of social media marketing, I finally asked myself the question: Where do people my sister’s age (aka my target range) go most online that would be great for an author platform? I used to think it was Twitter, but then it became glaringly obvious: Instagram.
I thought it over, did some research, and made a game plan surrounding making Instagram my number one social media marketing tool and making it feasible to implement.
God has surely blessed this endeavor, as I’ve garnered over 400 followers in a little over a year on the platform from users who are actually in my target audience, and have received an overwhelming majority of ARC team sign-ups from Instagram.
If I could start my author career from scratch, I would have started out my social media marketing plan with this blog, an Instagram account, and an Authortube channel. Authortube is something I still haven’t implemented due to the lack of equipment and being camera shy, but I may consider pursuing it in the future, as it is popular with my target audience.
Mistake 4: Conservative or Non-Existent Advertising
Finally, upon first releasing Can’t Beat the Heart of a Carolina Girl, I bought absolutely no paid ads for the book. I didn’t do Amazon ads until a year or two later, and I experimented with the old Goodreads ad system later on as well, but neither helped sell the book. Most likely due to the cover.
Social media, especially when you’re just starting out or have no online presence, I’ve learned, is often not enough to give your book launch the exposure it needs. While it’s frowned upon to pay someone to review your book, paid marketing efforts like listing your book on discount sites like Bargain Booksy or submitting your book to Reedsy Discovery may be worthwhile.
I’m still in the process of calculating my ROI (return on investment) for the paid marketing efforts I’ve implemented for The Crush, but I plan to do a future post explaining the pros and cons of each.
That’s it for today, Arrowheads! Thanks for stopping by!
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Talk to Me, Arrowheads!
What book marketing mistakes did you make with your debut novel? Share with our community in the comments!
Aim high, stay strong, and always hit your mark.