Cynthia Hartwig’s Top Five Marketing Jobs for New Authors

We met Cynthia Hartwig in Seattle at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference. Cynthia teaches writing and storytelling at the Richard Hugo House and The School of Visual Concepts, and we learned right away that she had a knack for tackling topics writers find daunting. She joins us today to demystify what some consider to be the scariest task new authors face: marketing their titles.

Cynthia02The Top Five “Absolutely Positively Have-To-No-Matter-What” Marketing Jobs for New Authors

We need to talk. Yes, I’m talking to you, friend. I get that you’re a writer, a word nut, a lover of deep, heartfelt tales, more conversant in character arcs than target markets and audience splits.

Stop shaking in your boots. I’ve narrowed the marketing tasks down to the top five most effective steps for authors new to the marketing conundrum. If you’re stultified by the thousand things you’ve heard other experts telling you to DO RIGHT THIS MINUTE, start here and you’ll do better than fine.

Understand that a marketing hat is not a dunce cap, a cone of shame or a dog collar.

Writers are strange animals. They write books and they want people to read them. And yet when someone says, “be a marketer” they get all shamefaced and embarrassed.

If you can’t admit to the idea that marketing = sales, try thinking of marketing as an honorable way to find readers. Assuming you’ve got a great story, an inviting cover and a hook-‘em-hard title, this list of marketing priorities will get your book sales moving.

1.  Fill out your Amazon Author Central profile to help readers find you.

It seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many new authors forget this basic task. Filling out your Amazon Author Central page is far more effective than paying for a sexy web site at the early stage of your author career. This is because Amazon attracts millions of readers to its site—and all of them have no idea who you are or why they should look for you UNLESS your book comes up in their search bar.

You have no real brand identity (yet), so it makes sense to help Amazon direct readers to your e-books and audio version(s). Amazon is the online mega-store equivalent, so naturally you want to be front-and-center, as close to as many reader “buy” buttons as you can get. Your author profile page is there to help you.

2. Give out free copies like candy in exchange for reviews.

Cynthia04Deborah Reed, pictured right, is a very successful writer of both literary novels (much harder to sell than genre books) and thrillers (written under the pseudonym, Audrey Braun). Deb recommends sending lots of free copies of your book to bloggers for review. “Be incredibly generous and polite to said bloggers,” she says. “Also give free copies to other writers and readers, including people you know, in exchange for an honest review.”  Don’t worry that giving your book away will steal sales away from you; while it seems counter-intuitive, free sampling is a proven way to build an audience. Once you hook a listener, they will clamor for more. (ACX gives you 25 free download codes that you can use as Cynthia recommends. Just email to request them.Ed.)

3. Reviews are worth mowing the neighbor’s lawn, changing diapers, and washing cars.

Reviews are social proof that your book is worth spending hard cash for. We’re herd animals and believe me, the more you can herd friends, hair cutters, garage mechanics, yard people and yes, even family members, to write a paragraph of honest copy about your book, the better your sales will be.

Your goal is to hand-sell 20-25 reviews. Call in every favor, every chit, every IOU or marker you have outstanding from people in exchange for a review. Do not worry one whit about whether the reviews or good or bad; in fact, I believe bad reviews have a positive effect because people are so cynical they will distrust you if all the reviews are glowing.

4. Build an email list of 1000+ and mail an e-newsletter once a month.

Books have always been sold hand-to-hand until the marketing snowball gets rolling. I hope you started an email list a long time ago but if you didn’t, immediately start collecting names and email addresses of everybody you come in contact with. My list includes business associates, past clients, social club members, PTA committee volunteers, neighborhood watch folks and a host of people I meet in a busy social life. You want to track everyone you meet because people who know you are more likely buy your book than people who don’t. It’s been said that an email list is the one marketing tool that traditional publishers most want to get their hands on. So it makes sense as a “self-marketer”, that you’d build your list into a marketing asset of at least 1000 names.


Next, create an e-newsletter and mail it once a month. More often than that is annoying; any less and people will forget why they are getting a message from you and will unsubscribe. If you happen to blog, the best things to put in your e-newsletter are interesting and informative posts—just don’t make them posts about writing (most of your friends and associates don’t care a whit about the writing, just the reading). Always include a clear, simple call-to-action asking the recipient (nicely) to buy your audiobook. Show your cover with its short sales blurb and make sure they can click a link to buy on Audible, Amazon, or iTunes. If the e-news is informative and doesn’t bludgeon them over the head with a buy-Buy!-BUY! message, your newsletter will be the closest thing you have to your own storefront.

5. Create a blog that doubles as your web site (and isn’t about writing).

You won’t find social media on my “top five absolutely, positively must-dos” for a self-published author right out of the gate. Even though I’m a huge social media fan.

I believe a new author is better off creating a blog that will build credibility in a specific area and will later become the hub for social media. Instead of randomly tweeting or posting “Buy my book!” on Facebook (which doesn’t work and annoys people), create a strong blog designed to build both platform (aka who you are online) and proves your authority (why readers should care).

Don’t make your blog about writing, because the field is saturated. Instead of writing about writing thrillers, blog about weapons the good and bad guys use against each other; don’t write a blog about writing Regency romances, write a blog about the amazing fabrics (duppioni, muslin, jacquard, white weave, slub, satin!) of Regency-era fashions. Once you’ve got yourself established in the blogosphere, then links to your posts become the “there there” that all your tweets, Facebook posts, Goodreads comments, and Pinterest boards lead to. I use WordPress as my blog and website platform and by far, the Two Pens blog aimed at business readers is one of the most important marketing component I use.

6. Once You’ve Written a Book, Record It

I know, I said there would be five tips. But here’s a bonus. You’d expect that the ACX blog would recommend having your book produced in audio. But don’t do it just because ACX says so. Do it for selfish (i.e. marketing) reasons: people who buy audiobooks are way different than the people who buy e-books or print books—and the market is growing. Audiobook listeners are multi-tasking in some way: they’re driving to or from work, they’re riding the subway, enjoying a sunny day in the park – doing a hundred and one things you can’t do with your eyes glued to a page. A basic tenet of marketing is to be everywhere your buyers are. Why not expand your readership beyond books to listeners of audiobooks since ACX has made it so easy to have your words professionally recorded?Cynthia01

-Cynthia Hartwig

Have you tried any of Cynthia’s marketing tactics? Which have worked best for you? Tell us about it in the comments!

28 responses to “Cynthia Hartwig’s Top Five Marketing Jobs for New Authors

  1. Dear Cynthia, Just finished my first audiobook today and uploaded to ACX.
    I wrote my first ebook and published it one month ago. This is all so new and I feel so out of touch with modern technology but, I’m learning and using whatever is out there. I appreciate your interest in those of us who have drawn up the courage to begin a new journey. Thank you.

    Emmitt L Ross

    • Hi Emmitt. You know that old saying about Rome not being built in a day. Pick one marketing task per day and do that. Then move on to the next. I think consistency for short periods is better than one shot hours-long marathons. Plus you’ll have time for writing 🙂

  2. Hi Cynthia.
    Your sage advice rings true for all businesses today. Thanks for the great reminders and the usable tips.
    Peter Ellermann Voice Overs

    • I love how easy ACX has made it for authors to work with great narrators. Maybe I should write a post from the perspective of voice over actors and actresses on how to get a great read that matches the tone and voice the author is looking for 🙂

  3. Great column. My friend’s book will be published in the next month. I sent this on to her. Good job.

  4. Excellent post! I love your statement: “If you can’t admit to the idea that marketing = sales, try thinking of marketing as an honorable way to find readers.” 🙂

    One of the topics that seems to come up often is how to deal with pen names in Author Central. I recently wrote a tutorial about it – if you or anyone need a hand with it the link for my name on this comment goes straight to the tutorial.

    • Hi Jim. That post on Author Central/pen names is well done. I would rather see most people write under the “real” names, mostly because it’s hard enough to build a brand for one entity without adding 3-4 names to the list. Remember, readers and listeners buy their favorite authors multiple times.
      That said, if you have a good reason to have a pen name (some people do this in the erotic category), the post is excellent. Thx for weighing in.

  5. Good advice from the always wonderful Cynthia – – the woman’s a gift to other writers!

  6. Great post. I’m curious about the mailing list. I use Mailchimp, and they make it very clear that people should only be added to that list if they have clearly agreed to do so. Mailchimp outlines what this consent looks like, and it’s very narrow–I can’t add all my contacts, and I’ve honored that. I invited my contacts to join my mailing list via email when I created it, but not too many did so. Any recommendations? I’ll be sending a reminder about the mailing list when I let my contacts know that my book is available.

    • I agree with MailChimp or Constant Contact that access to someone’s email inbox is a privilege. So I’d never email someone who didn’t want to be emailed. That said, I also believe it is fair to do an initial mailing that indicates your newsletter (or whatever form it takes) is planned as a series of news on X (whatever the focus of your e-news). You tell the recipient that they can opt out RIGHT NOW and point out where the “Get me outta here” button is. They will decide yea or nay at that point. Don’t annoy them again with any mailing whatsoever.

      On subsequent enews mailings, you should always carry a message at the top (that’s where it is in Constant Contact anyway) that says, “You are receiving this enewsletter because you have taken a class with me/are friends with me/came to a book reading of mine/or any other reason you know their name.” Be sure to use your full name which hopefully will jog their memory of how they came to be contacted by you.

      People sign up for email all the time and forget they signed up or lose interest or sometimes, like I do, go on a jihad to clear out the long beaver’s tooth my inbox has become. So don’t take their opting out personally. And remember that people lurk for quite a while before making purchases (rule of thumb is 7 contacts for every action) so don’t give up. Just keep the enews interesting and good looking and relevant.

    • By the way, Elissa, I really like your profile photo. It’s a lovely shot of you and beats the heck out of a lot of snapshots many authors are using. Good work.

      • Thanks! I took it myself, with a regular old point-and-shoot and a tripod.

      • Congrats: great eye. One tiny nit (alway the creative director here): crop out that tiny bit of white in the right hand corner so it doesn’t take the eye out of frame. The eye always goes to the lightest part of the shot which is not where it should wander in this lovely image.

  7. Reblogged this on Lorca by Candlelight and commented:
    Sensible, down-to-earth and not too techno-savvy advice. Well worth reading and acting upon…

  8. This is some fabulous advice. My book isn’t out yet, but I follow thousands of authors on Twitter that tweet nothing but book links. A secret I must share with you? I never bought a book that I heard about this way. I want to find out more about people, see how they converse and it’s almost always an authors personality and tone that makes me buy a book from an unknown writer. I wish so hard people could get this because, as a writer I love to link to other writers and have that community of like minded people feel. But the downside is a saturation of marketing tweets in my Twitter timeline. When will people get it? You’re so right, I don’t believe it does work.
    To give a final example, I once met a new indie author at a book launch and chatted with him all evening. He was a very nice chap and we exchanged Twitter names to keep in touch. After following him for a month I unfollowed. He never engaged in conversation with anyone and tweeted nothing but links and reviews all about his book. This was nothing like the man I met in person. Just be yourself! People will want to read you if they are pulled in by your online conversation and personality.
    Thanks for this, excellent post 🙂

    • Writers can rule at Twitter because we’re quick, quirky and funny. But if you don’t show the quirk, what are you? Just another shouter, as you say. I’ve written a lot on the Two Pens blog about personal branding and how to write tweets, if you’re looking for other ways to think about why and how to show your personality online. People follow people, not robots 🙂

  9. Wonderful, concise tips, Cynthia. Thanks!
    In looking for audio book reviewers, it seems that their numbers are small. . Booklist and AudioFile Magazine have reviewers, but any others I have found seem to focus exclusively on zombie stories, lol..
    Do you know of other bloggers who review audio books?
    Thanks, again!

  10. brilliant advice. thank you. You are an inspiration to all indie authors. My genre is textbooks: INTRODUCTION TO STATISTICS

    • Virginia, I’m making the leap that your marketing is focused against the education and professor/teacher market? I know a terrific woman named Nancy Lee who knows a lot about textbook marketing from her work with the guru of social marketing, Philip (sp?) Kotler. She’d be worth quizzing. Email me and I will get you her email.

  11. Pingback: 14 Ways To Promote Your Kindle Book…For Free #100blogsbook | G34 Media

  12. Thank you very much for taking the time to share this information, Cynthia. I especially appreciated reading the comments and your responses.
    Do you have any specific tips/tricks/or resources to recommend for promoting non-fiction?
    I have an excellent title, a great cover, the work is professionally formatted and illustrated, and is available in ebook, paperback, and audiobook versions. I have held giveaways, posted flyers, emailed every kind of blogger/reviewer I could find, and so on.
    Despite a topic and material that is relevant, useful, and valuable to MILLIONS of Americans, (I say this without hyperbole) I cannot seem to generate much “buzz,” or more than a small amount of sales each month.
    The book is called “Ten Questions – The Insider’s Guide to Saving Money on Auto Insurance.”
    It is based on my years of experience as the number one Sales Agent (for my nationwide company) and the thousands of policies I have sold in over 30 states.
    After hearing so many people complain about high rates, bad coverage, and their basic lack of knowledge about how auto insurance works, I was motivated to write this book to help people answer those “questions.”
    I spent countless hours to ensure that this “short” (78 pages) book is absolutely relevant and useful, easy to understand, and that the information actually works. It is unlike any other resource that claims to offer the same information–in fact it has even been pirated, and I was recently offered a small amount to sell the “non-exclusive” rights to it.
    I am at my wit’s end, Cynthia, and yes it was a short trip.
    Any and all advice, referrals, information or anything else you could think of to help this strong and useful work break out would be appreciated beyond what mere words could express.

    Thanks for listening.


  13. Great Information!!!!

  14. I hope ACX is planning to expend their marketing options for Canada and France. Most of my audiobooks are in French, and I live in Canada. I would love to be able to give away promo codes for the 2 countries where my potential listeners are.

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