The Digital Audit: Start Your Book Marketing Here

It takes an exceptionally entrepreneurial spirit in order for self-publishers to launch their books successfully in a flooded market. Whereas traditionally published authors have marketing and publicity departments to support them to some degree, indie authors must wear all the hats, including that of marketing director. Luckily, roughly half of all book sales happen online, rather than in bookstores. What this means is that a solid digital marketing plan is key to your success as a self-published author.

As with many parts of the publishing process, writers aren’t experts—and digital marketing is one of the more complex areas that independent authors are compelled to learn. The sheer number of options and platforms and best practices out there, the thousands of opinions on what works and what doesn’t . . . It’s overwhelming to navigate without developing a dependency on Xanax!

Authors at the start of their self-publishing journey often ask me tactical questions about marketing their book, such as “should I have a promotional price for my e-book?” or “should I start a Twitter account?” or “I’ve heard podcasts are a good idea—should I do that?” I’m purposefully cagey in my responses to those one-off questions, and here’s why.

A good marketing plan—whether it’s for a brand, or a podcast, or a book—, relies on having a strategy. And a strong strategy is based on a thorough “digital audit.” In this critical first step you review your current digital footprint and look for areas of opportunity. This research then forms the backbone of your online marketing strategy.

1. Make a comprehensive assessment of all of your existing accounts. These may include your author website, Facebook page, a Twitter account, a Goodreads profile, an Instagram account, or a Tumbler blog. Assess the size of your following on each social platform, and take note which groups are most active in conversation and sharing with you. This benchmark will be useful later as you track the impact of your various marketing tactics. Drill deeper and analyze which types of posted content gets the most interaction from your community (posts with photos? iInformation-packed blogs?). Try to formulate a picture of why people—beyond friends and family—follow you in the present.

2. Roll up your sleeves and research your book’s audience. Methodically. Start by finding five or more competitive titles with to your book. Make sure they’re current (within the last five years), the same genre or themes, the same format, and similar length. (Unicorns like The Martian are off-limits for comps.). Stalk your comp authors on social media, read their book reviews, listen to their followers. Then follow their followers. Formulate a descriptive profile of your “look-alike readership.” The more specific you can be in this definition, the easier time you will have entering into conversation with these people.

3. Understand your audience’s behavior online. Once you’ve identified your audience it’s time to ask, where do they hang out? Is there an avid Goodreads contingent? Are they news junkies on Twitter? Or perhaps they’re both and use the platforms for different purposes. Make a list of where your readership spends time and what kind of content they’re looking for on each platform.

4. Do your research. It’s easy to think you understand a platform because you understand your own niche community. Research your audience until your assumptions are challenged—and then you’ll know you’re on the right track. To ensure you’re being objective, look at the broad demographics for each platform. Because it’s hard to argue for marketing your memoir, Adventures in Retirement, on Instagram when you realize that less than 4% percent of Internet users over the age of 65 are on that platform.

5. Make a Venn diagram. Think about the areas where your existing platform overlaps with your book’s readership and online behavior. The strategies that will help you find and target your readership will begin to surface straight out of your digital audit. When it comes time to market your book online, you can be confident that you’re choosing smart and efficient tactics to reach your widest possible readership.