NOTE: There’s a gift to help you with this at the bottom of the article.
There’s never a better time to grow awareness of our stories, and better yet, it’s not required to pay a fortune to market your books. When I started working to release The Royal Gift, my author website went live in August 2014 – fourteen months before the book was released. I wrote articles about what was happening with the final preparations of The Royal Gift’s release, the fact that I had flying cows in the beginning of a book in a different series, and some of the knowledge I’ve learned over the years about growing awareness of your books.
Combined with my activity on social media and making friends with other writers, when The Royal Gift launched in October 2015, it shot into the top twenty and then top ten for its categories on Amazon. Downloads grew each day – the first day starting with eight, and then racing upwards (with one day even having 64 without seemingly any work my end).
The key component in my marketing?
As it was a debut for a series and for me as an author, I wasn’t going to throw marketing money at it. I knew what worked, I knew how to do things such as Facebook advertising, Google Ads and how to get my paperback copies into Waterstones.
But I also knew that the series would have years of awareness building (marketing) and fanbase building to come – each book would bring at least one such surge per year.
So I set the budget low: £50.
(At this time, the marketing spent on this book is still just under £100, just, and it has finally slipped out from the top 20 due to zero promotional work on the book recently).
One year later: 13,469 paperback and ebook copies had been grabbed by readers.
83 ratings and 11 reviews on Goodreads (3.65 rating)
18 reviews on Amazon US (3.5 average rating)
5 reviews on Amazon UK (3.8 rating)
A handful of reviews on other Amazon sites
That key component was cross-promotion.
What Cross-Promotion is and Why do it
Cross-promotion is when you team up with another (usually a fellow author) with a following of readers or listeners to get in front of their followers. It’s one of the strongest ways to grow awareness of you and your books, and can make and break your career as an author.
Deciding on Your Goal
Before you approach anyone, decide on the way you want to cross-promote with them, or prepare your guesting content or gift, you need to know what your aim is.
Primarily, it should be to grow awareness of you and your books and build your email list.
This could mean doing research into someone who has asked you to be a guest on their site or show. Other times, it could be about checking out those you know will say yes, working on your portfolio of appearances or just following your gut. It could even be a case of helping a friend out.
The majority of authors will need to use cross-promotion in the first 10 years on a consistent basis with the goal to grow awareness, build their appearance portfolio and start attracting email subscribers interested in their stories.
Another way you could decide on your goal is to determine where you’d like to be in 3, 5 and 10 years.
In 3 years, do you want to know without a doubt that you’ll have at least 2500 downloads the day of your next ebook release?
In 5 years, are you planning on having been on every popular radio station, every popular well known news channel as a guest feature, and have a following of 100,000?
In 10 years, do you plan to be a household name worldwide or where you are?
If you wanted to have 2500 downloads the day of your next book’s release, you might want to do 500 guest appearances online.
Let’s take a look at the math:
Goal 2,500 sales on Launch Day.
2500/5 (new followers/subscribers) = 500 (guest appearances)
Then let’s assume about 25% of those people go on to buy the book on the first day of the release:
2500 / 100 * 25 = 625 sales.
This is a rough guide with the maths – some sites you bring into your guesting portfolio will give you more than five new subscribers or eager fans, others may give you zero.
And let’s look at the question – how much time would you have to create 500 articles in one year?
500 / 52 = 9.61 articles a week.
And let’s say they each take a minimum of 2 – 4 hours each.
19.22 – 38.44 hours a week.
Now let’s pretend (or rightly assume) that you have a nine to five job. After you get home from work (let’s add on another hour for that), that means after work you have five hours, assuming you work from 6pm – 11pm.
That gives you 25 hours a week.
So you could do it if you really wanted to, especially if you also use weekends (not included in the above calculation).
But a lot of people can’t hustle like that. Others who can will burn out a few days or weeks in and then have to play catch-up.
Basically, you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you if you want to get 2500 sales in one day in one year and for one book, but it’s not impossible, nor is it impossible to do it in three years (500 / 156 months = 3.2 appearances online per month).
Don’t get discouraged by the maths above – I felt 5 subscribers was just a nice goal number for those starting out per event. Pick a number of cross-promotional events to try and have take place per month, and go from that angle if that makes it more do-able for you – take into account the time you have available to you to hustle.
Do you need a website to cross-promote?
No but you will need an email list if you don’t have a website yet (otherwise you can’t cross-promote because only you will benefit and at the same time you will fail to send new people interested in you somewhere where you can communicate with them).
If you don’t have a website yet, I recommend a self-hosted WordPress site and to host with Bigwetfish or Bluehost. For those without email lists, I recommend Mailchimp to get started (as they have a free account option for those just starting to grow their following) and Aweber for those looking for a little more bang for their buck (such as the automation sequences called campaigns at Aweber and the ease of creating your own custom templates). I also love Aweber because I sent a suggestion to them in 2016 and one of their team reached out to me and thanked me, explaining they were putting the suggestion into motion (which they did). I still have more suggestions for their improvement, however, haha. Anyway, let’s get back on topic:
Who should have more followers/readers?
This doesn’t matter. As long as you both have a few, then you have everything you need to want to cross-promote. And nope, you shouldn’t ask someone how many subscribers/ readers/ downloads they’ve had because the result of your cross-promotion can be affected by several things:
- How interested their subscribers/readers are.
- How many special features and how much promotional work has gone into increasing their downloaded statistics.
- How many of their subscribers/readers actually turn up, ever, to an article or to open an email.
- How you and they cross-promote and how well you both do it.
- Some subscribers are going to be there just for the free stuff, others to be supportive without ever buying stuff.
- Some subscribers or readers just aren’t going to like what you offer them.
(Some) Different Ways to Cross-Promote
The most common way to cross-promote with someone is to interview each other. This also has one of the lower success rates for gaining new readers, as most interviews are boring unless the reader is already interested in the guest or what they’re chatting about.
Recently, I was interviewed on two other authors’ sites – one offered to host me to help with the launch of my latest release (Threat), whilst the other was looking to interview independent YA authors to learn from them.
My independent fantasy writing friend that hosted the interview for my book launch was the more successful – the goal was to get new subscribers to both of my email lists – Writers’ Club (my free email list club designed to help authors interested in improving the size of their engaged fanbase and in growing awareness/marketing their books) and Readers’ Club (my email club for those reading my main fantasy series).
Having new subscribers would mean new sales further down the line (which, let’s be honest, is the author’s ultimate goal all other goals feed into).
Between them, the two email lists lists gained nine new subscribers.
The other, with a more well known author that’s traditionally published?
One to my Writers’ Club.
Do I consider either of those a bad outcome?
Nope. And the reason for this is, unless my buddies do a content audit and remove those two Q&As, I may get additional subscribers in the future from those guest appearances. They’ve also become part of my guesting portfolio.
NOTE: Both these authors hosted me expecting nothing in return, but being me, I always plan to return the favour. These two guest appearances here are simply used to highlight how helpful author interviews can be. They’re also the easiest to organise (which we’ll cover further down). Since this part of the article was written, the appearance on the traditionally published author’s site sent a second new subscriber my way.
The clever author finds ways to write how-to articles on more than just writing or organising their bookshelves. Doing this lets them gain appearances in audiences of readers that aren’t usually targeted by authors, and may result in a large number purchasing your book or subscribing to your email list.
For example, I taught my dyslexic brother to read when the schools failed – I could approach communities for parents with dyslexic and write a how-to article focusing on helping them from sharing my experience. In the bit at the bottom of the article that tells the reader about the article’s writer, I’d share that I’m a YA and NA fantasy author and link to a gift just for them and their kids (likely an audio version of one of the books with a PDF to read along with).
Another example: I can play the alto saxophone, and could write a how-to to find someone good at servicing your saxophone (especially for kids who often end up with a dent in the bell).
How would I turn these into a cross-promotional possibilities?
For the community of parents with dyslexic kids, I’d probably end up inviting the owner, editor or a highly respected member of the site to jump onto my podcast with me, introducing them to my listeners and making sure they send listeners somewhere at the end of the show.
For the saxophonists, I’d probably work something specific out with them, such as a shoutout in one of the books (with a link to their website), have them introduce one of the podcast episodes and let listeners know all about them and the article, or let them write an article for my subscribers about building fanbases from their experience.
Here’s something writers often get wrong, which impacts your book’s reviews:
How-tos for other writers attract other writers to read your book and pick apart your writing style and plot in reviews (often overlooking structure), when they should be focusing on how much fun the story was/wasn’t.
Unless you have another reason to write how-tos for other writers, I actually recommend against these for attracting new readers.
Recommending Each Other as Potential New Reads.
Another way to cross-promote is when authors recommend each others’ books. A word of warning though: you should only recommend something if you’ve read it and enjoyed it yourself. The author who hosted my Q&A that gained me 9 new subscribers is the author that I most often recommend to my own subscribers. I do this without expecting anything in return or telling her, but if you and your author buddy have both read and loved each other’s books, start recommending them to readers who will like the same sort of reads as you.
The Author Buddy Spotlight
It’s perfectly OK for you and your author buddy to agree on a day when you both email your lists and let your readers know about your friend and give them a link to check it out or to a gift by your friend. (More on gifts further down.)
For example, you might send something like this:
Heya [email subscriber]!
My author buddy, [Author Friend], is releasing a new book called [Book Title]. Here’s what it’s about:
[Their book’s blurb]
I think it sounds [how you feel] and [what you’ll likely do/why it appeals to you].
[Author Friend] said she had a gift for you if you’re interested – if you [head to this link], she’ll send the first three chapters to your inbox and take any questions you have ready for her next Q&A!
[Here’s that link again]
[Your email sign off]
Blurb and Cover Reveals
One of the easiest ways to cross-promote is to do reveals on each other’s sites – readers love the excitement of reveals, especially when there is a build up, and a great blurb or cover can attract new readers, especially combined with an exclusive gift. At the same time, these are short-lived cross-promotional events – once they’re done they are the most unlikely way to send new subscribers or readers your way. As a reader myself, I’ve never really seen the appeal, so these don’t work for every reader.
Free sample sharing
Often done on book tours, a sample is given to several websites to share with their readers, with the expectation that it will result in a few sales. You don‘t need to have a book tour going on to do this, and can do it years later (if you’re traditionally published, check what you’re allowed to share and with how many other sites).
Box Sets & Anthologies
One of the increasingly common ways of cross-promotion is straight within the marketplace by creating box sets (usually only as ebooks) and anthologies. Although this can be a lot of work for whoever is organising the box set, this can result in a lot of new readers coming your way and several authors I know use this exclusively as a way to grow.
Popular among readers, giveaways are when you organise for readers to do something in return for potentially winning something, in most cases a copy of your book, a selection of several books or book themed stuff (such as bookmarks and candles inspired by Harry Potter).
These are best used when you and the other author working together already have a strong following – 2000 or more subscribers to your email list or daily readers to your site everyday. Without a strong following, giveaways can go badly. In one case I know of, an author was giving away three copies of their book and promoted it with cross-promotion with three other authors. The other authors were their friends, but weren’t as on the ball with using their websites and didn’t have very large audiences. One often reblogged content instead of creating content for her readers too. The end result was that only three people entered the giveaway, so all three were winners. This means there was no demand for the book created by the giveaway; a giveaway should have more people disappointed they didn’t win than that did, so they head to Amazon and purchase a copy instead.
Selecting the Right People to Cross-promote with
There are three different types of people you’ll want to cross-promote with:
- Friends, family and author buddies
- Big names in your genre or in the larger market you’re included within.
- People who have a following that includes your existing readers and new potential fans.
Let’s take a closer look.
Friends and Author Buddies
Teaming up with a friend is the best way to get started or to keep on target if you have a goal for how many cross-promotional guest appearances you want to make. Your buddies are also the guys and gals that are the most likely to say yes, and that you’d love to support too.
Big Names in Your Market
If a website or podcast has more listeners or readers than you have, there’s a good chance that a good portion of your potential readers hang out with the big name. Getting a few cross-promotional or guest appearances in at their spots online in return for one on yours may lead to surprising friendships, and far more subscribers or readers than you were expecting.
However, this does assume their readers and subscribers are engaged. Otherwise it’s just handy to say you’ve been featured on their site.
People with the Same Readers
If you know people who read another author tend to read you too (check out your book’s Amazon page for ideas unless yours is free), then you might find new readers at their site and they might do at yours too. Another way to find out if your readers enjoy reading another author is to ask them.
Organising Yourself and Your Content
The organisation of a cross-promotional event can be a little harder, especially when you’re working on several at a time. You will need to find a system that lets you keep on top of things. For me, I started using a Google Sheet (Excel for Microsoft Office users) and it had the following fields:
- Contact Email
- Why (why I wanted to do an appearance with them)
- Type (what sort of event would we be doing)
- Date of Initial Contact
- Follow Up Dates
This didn’t work for me – after some time it got tangled up with new notes, or forgotten entries and just irritated me. So I switched to one Google Doc sheet, and merged it with my master list of article ideas – now all cross-promotional ideas go there too. It lists all the basic title ideas for articles (not the end title that gets used, just one that lets me know what it’s about), each has a few bulletpoint notes underneath and their content, and directly next to the title, in smaller font is who I’ve offered it to and the date. On Mondays I follow up with anyone I’ve reached out to that I haven’t heard back from for 7 days.
Bringing in your Email List
The best way to use a cross-promotional event is to combine it with growing your email list.
You can also make the event more successful by letting your subscribers know about the two parts of the cross-promotional event.
Let’s take a look at this in more detail.
Let’s say you have 5 subscribers, and they’re eager-sneezers. They’re fans and friends, and they want to go out of their way to support you. The friends might not ever buy something you release, but your fans will.
You decide to do a guest appearance with me. I’ve two large email lists with a good engagement rate – subscribers not only almost always open all my broadcasts (70% open rate at the time of writing this), but I also get a lot of emails in reply. My click-through rate (the amount of clicks per subscriber) is pretty good too, though I tend to shy away from giving my readers’ list anything to click, putting everything in the email itself.
I’m always game for cross-promotion, so unless there’s a sign you don’t take your work seriously, I’ll say yes. I ask if you want to do a text-based or audio-based event, and depending on your goal I may suggest doing an interview each. On my side of things, I spend about 1 hour preparing questions for you, keeping in mind your goal to make the answers of interest to the readers so your goal should do OK. Once you send me your questions for me, I read through them, mull them over for a day or two then make sure I write my answers with my goal in mind. For each question I’m asked, I try to make more of an effort to answer, so whilst many authors will only give a few sentences or one paragraph to a question, I aim to give more. This helps me stand out and give more value to the reader (depending on content).
We both either create a gift for new subscribers or grab one from our archives we’ve made before. We add the subscribing option into the posts’ drafts and add it to the webpage for the interview (even if it’s a podcast) and make sure that new subscribers will get their gift as soon as they confirm their email, or the day after they have.
On the day of release (which don’t need to be on the same day as each other), we email our lists and let them know about the interview, share why they might like it, and give them the link. We do this for both parts of the cross-promotion.
A bad example of a reason for your subscribers to visit an interview:
I think you’ll love this interview because it talks about how I became an author!
A good example of a why that your subscribers might like an interview:
I think you’ll love this interview as I share brand new, never seen before information about [character name of a series you write that your readers love] and some of the struggles she has to overcome to [resolve the external conflict of the book].
Approaching Your Chosen Collaborators
There are two ways to approach, and it depends on which type of person you’re contacting – friends, family and author buddies, big names in your genre or in the larger market you’re included within or people who have a following that includes your existing readers and new potential fans.
Family, friends and author buddies are the easiest to approach.
All you need to do is hit them up with an email, and make a point of (genuinely) catching up with them or seeing how you can help them. I often try to keep in touch with most author buddies I have between cross-promotional events too, as I am honestly interested in how they’re getting on as authors and in the other areas of their lives.
You also explain you’re looking for a way to cross-promote with other authors/people to grow awareness of your book, and wondered if they would be interested.
For the others, you’ll need to take a bit more time and it works better if you both have websites.
Head to their website first and read some articles that catch your eye. Try to learn at least one thing you can try or take-away from it, or something you and they have in common (such as owning cheeky black cats).
Then email them whilst those articles are fresh in your mind and write one opening paragraph talking about that, and if you are going to take action on something, let them know it and that you’ll email them back with your results (make sure you do if you say this, no matter how long it takes).
Then ask if you can help them create some new content for their readers by doing some cross-promotional work. Ask if they would be interested in a text-based interview on your site (max question recommendation is 12) and if it would be possible to contribute to their site as well either by answering some questions about [give topic ideas] or writing an article on a particular topic. If you go the article route, make sure to highlight how it will help their readers.
How to politely follow up and keep on top of it all
My rule to politely follow up is to keep it short and sweet, and to wait 7 days.
I then hit them up with an email by grabbing the last email I sent to them and forward it to them again, taking out “FW” in the topic title and saying,
“Heya [their name],
Just floating this back to the top of your inbox in case you missed it. Let me know what you think.
[your sign off]”
To make sure I don’t miss anyone off, I use that master sheet of article ideas that has been merged with the cross-promotional work and on a set day of the week, I’ll head into my inbox and check on the ones that are waiting to hear back from the other people. If it’s been more than 7 days and I haven’t had a reply, that’s when I sent a polite follow up. I’ll do it a few times before stopping.
The Day of the Event
On the day of the event, you need to promote the piece, but first, let’s be polite and email the other person to thank them for having you or for being on your site/email list. After that, your awareness building work for that day could be as simple as this:
- Share with your email subscribers with a link to the event.
- Tweet 3 times, spread out throughout the day, with different related hashtags, tweet content and images, with a link.
- Share on Instagram once with related hashtags.
- Share on Linkedin once.
- Link to your feature on their site on your site for your site’s readers that aren’t subscribed to your email list yet.
After the Event
As you’ve already thanked them by this point, you don’t need to again, but if you want to send a gift to them, do! I tend to send pretty notebooks or if I know someone loves something in particular, something related to that. For example, I have one author buddy friend who loves Alice in Wonderland stuff, so I found a few really cool items on Amazon related to that, including a beautiful mug, notebook and a jumper. For another person in my writer’s club, I know they love Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon, so I’d likely send them a notebook with him on it, or a table figurine of him for their writing space. Someone else I did a guest appearance for liked quirky things, so I got them a quirky mug about the many different faces of a ninja (which were all the same). Just be aware that some people are uncomfortable with gifts and will either A) ignore your email offering the gift to them, or B) refuse it. Shrug it off in those cases – it’s not you.
After the event, you’ll also want to keep promoting your appearance on their site, and theirs on yours for a while. Depending on how many ways you promote such things, you may want to promote them twice a month, and if you have any automation for new subscribers to your email list, you may want to include it within that setup.
Procrastination, Fear of Failure and Fear of Growing
It’s worth noting that a lot of times, we will put things off because we either don’t feel it’s important enough for our attention, or because we’re afraid. If after reading this, you don’t approach at least one person to cross-promote with, ask yourself why. Don’t you want at least one new fan this year? Aren’t you fed up of hoping someone will choose your book out of the millions on Amazon and Kobo?
If you’ve thought about guest appearances before and never manage to follow through, it’s likely fear of success, of change or of the unexpected. All things we as authors need to embrace. After all, the unexpected is going to happen whether we like it or not.
What to do Now
Join Writers’ Club below to get my worksheet for Cross-Promotion from my course, Reach Your Readers. This worksheet which will give you actionable steps to take today. Using the guide will help you to grow awareness of your books, and grow your fanbase by walking you through the whole process over 8 days, with some additional tips too.