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Lessons Learned about Promoting a Debut Novel

By Frank A. DiBianca

So, after years of writing, revising, professionally editing, finalizing, and submitting manuscripts to agents or publishers, your book has finally been published. But unless you’ve been published by one of the big houses, the lion’s share of selling your book is going to fall squarely in your lap. Now comes the big question. How do you promote and market it?

I’d like to share with you how my wife, Kay, and I answered that question working together on her debut mystery-romance novel, The Watch on the Fencepost, Crosslink, 2019. Our goal was to distribute the book through a traditional publisher and to prioritize book sales over personal income. But what we learned may be valuable regardless of one’s publication goals.

Kay used her author website at kaydibianca.com to build her subscriber base. She ran a monthly blog series called The Craft of Writing where she interviewed well-known writing experts. This not only provided a valuable service to other writers, but also gave them a forum to interact with leaders in the field. We feel sure this exposure had a positive impact.

Our first effort at marketing was through a blog tour shortly after the book was released. It’s hard to map sales, but the tour brought in more than twenty reviews of the book. Fortunately, these were very good, and good reviews will definitely help sell a book.

The next major effort was to run Facebook ads. Although we used these ads for several months, we only saw modest sales activity. We’ve read that some authors have been wildly successful with Facebook ads, but that wasn’t our experience, even though Kay worked with a Facebook specialist and followed her advice. So, we paused the ads at the end of the third month.

We then went to featuring the book through various book promotion sites. In all, we used about twenty-five promo sites and ran a total of almost fifty promotions. Some were much more successful than others.  We were fortunate to land two BookBub Featured Deals, one for the international market and the other for the U.S. market. They accounted for the largest sales, by far, that we experienced. In addition, this promotion boosted the book to #1 status in the US, Canada and Australia on Amazon.com in Christian Mystery and Romance!

Other efforts at getting the word out were through Facebook Theme parties, which increased sales and increased newsletter subscriptions, and book signings. The book signings were satisfying because we had a chance to meet and talk with potential readers. Kay also included a video book trailer and a game for the audience to play, so the talks were always fun.

Because the book was traditionally published, we were not able to employ certain other promotions including Amazon ads and Kindle Unlimited.

The end result of our marketing efforts was sales of over six thousand copies. The largest block of those sales came through discounted ebooks via the BookBub promotion site. However, the results in the advertising cost per book sold varied widely (by a factor of about 50!), depending on the site. Paperback copies accounted for only about 5% of the total books sold.

Our advice to authors who are beginning the journey is to research the channels we’ve described here and any others that may interest you. What worked for us may not work for you, so you’ll have to do your own experimenting. It is essential to try several promo sites and keep a detailed running spreadsheet on the results, including time period, fees paid, books sold, income earned, and other important information.

We wish you all much success in your book marketing efforts.

To maximize book sales and author income, hire lots of independent promotional sites and track, track, track the results. @fdibianca #ACFWBlogs #writetips #ACFWCommunity Click To Tweet

Frank A. DiBianca is a fiction writer and retired university professor. He received a Ph.D. in high-energy physics from Carnegie-Mellon University and later worked in biomedical engineering. Frank lives in Memphis with his author-wife, Kay (The Watch on the Fencepost, CrossLink). He is completing his first novel, a romance.

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11 Responses to Lessons Learned about Promoting a Debut Novel

  1. Barbara says:

    Frank, thank you for sharing this very informative aspect of writing–the marketing beyond the writing. I’d highly encourage readers to visit Kay’s The Craft of Writing blogs as there’s a wealth of writing information there as well as access to the interviewed author on the day of each live post, as the authors answer questions posted in the comments. All the best to you and Kay in your teamwork in writing!

  2. Thank you, Barbara. Yes, Kay and I are very thankful for our writing partnership. Each of our fingerprints are in each other’s literary endeavors.
    Your encouragement to Kay and me is a blessing to all three of us!!!

  3. Kay DiBianca says:

    Good morning, Barbara. Thank you for the shoutout about The Craft of Writing blog. This writing journey has been an exciting one, and we can’t wait to see where it takes us next!

  4. Vincent says:

    Frank, appreciate the insights on book promoting. I hadn’t realized the extent of creativity and effort required. Question. How much does word-of-mouth matter in book promotion, at scale? Relatedly, in the digital world where communications sometimes “go viral”, how can a book intentionally be promoted that way? Most importantly, I think “The Watch on the Fencepost” was excellent reading. Kay, thank you for the exceptional treat. Vincent

  5. Hi Vincent,
    WE JUST HAD A POWER OUTAGE and it’s too hard answering on my phone. Be back as soon as possible ?

  6. Back on again, Vincent,
    Thanks for your questions. I’m sure somebody has done an analysis on the value of word-of-mouth promotion. I assume it’s extremely important and works something like this. If each primary buyer (friend or someone persuaded by an ad) influences well less than one additional person to buy, total sales will be limited. But if the average is well above one, sales will explode. Kinda like compound interest.
    Your other question about viral internet communications is above my pay grade, but I’d guess a mention of a book that is laudatory AND highly attenion getting (provocative, suggestive, politically incorrect?) could start a chain reaction.
    Anybody have any ideas on this?
    Also, thanks for your compliment on Kay’s book.

  7. Paco says:

    In the 90s when I had to market my Programming Skills I put my Resume online like a lot of others, but as more and more did the same I was lost in a sea of resumes, so I built my own website and I was determined to make it a useful website that performed various Volumetric and Engineering Calculations. (to help people). It was one of the first of it’s kind and a very useful site evidently, because I received thank you emails from all over the world and I believe it got me at least one job. I didn’t worry too much about Image or Pizzazz. In the time of 56k Modems I had few large graphical files to load so my site loaded very fast. Today we live in the time of Memes. A picture is worth a thousand words. Build a better Mouse Trap! (but do it all for the Glory of God!)

  8. Kay DiBianca says:

    Paco makes a great point. Writing and marketing have become a lot of fun for us, but we want to keep our eyes firmly fixed on the reason we’re doing all this. It’s all about Him.

  9. Hi Paco,
    Yours is an interesting and undoubtedly widespread use of marketing. With the arrival of the internet, there are many ways to market things that don’t require one to be working for a big company or independently wealthy.
    Kudos on creating valuable software and giving it away to humanity!
    I also resonate with your dedicating your work to our Creator!
    Way to go!

  10. Thank you so much Frank and Kay Dibianca for the shared wisdom, and trail-blazing insight gained from your endeavors in the promoting of your books. It must be true that great minds think alike,as you have mentioned some of the tasks that I myself have attempted through marketing. You have also introduced some new ideas contained with-in this article that I believe I will add to my toolbox. It is my hope that your book brings about a revelation of the MESSIAH as it is being embraced across the globe.

  11. Thanks, Duane,
    Your message is encouraging and inspiring! It brought something to mind: Whereas secular writing is dedicated to this world; spiritual writing is dedicated to the Messiah, heaven, and the entire universe He created.
    Thank you for that insight.

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