I guess it depends on in what context you mean “How to Sell” your first novel. If you’re talking about selling it to an agent or publisher, then I have no idea. But if you’re talking about selling it to readers, all I can pass on is what I’ve learned through trial and error as far as what works and what doesn’t.
Assuming it’s the latter, I took a page out of Ted Turner’s book, “Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise.” After a first month where I naively assumed that readers would just come wandering in out of the cold of cyberspace to snatch up my book, I recognized that I had to be more proactive. But the question was how, on a very limited budget, and without any real idea of what I was doing? I decided to give social media a try, and of all the topics in the indie community, I think this one is one of the more contentious. In fact, outside of the question about whether or not to put all one’s eggs in the Amazon basket, I think this one creates more dissension between indies than any other.
Without resorting to the polemics that are such an integral part of this debate, I will instead just give the metrics of how things worked for me. I would point out that I had a “secret weapon” in the form of a really great cover, and I can’t stress enough how important this is to success.
I created an ad on Facebook, but while this is my first book, it’s not my first marketing/promotion rodeo. In fact, I would submit that I cut my teeth learning under the auspices of one of the most recognizable brands, not just in this country but in the world. As a career Marine, I spent 5 years of that career on Recruiting duty, and I was exposed to the power of a brand that, no matter what one’s political persuasions are, most people would admit is a household name. The time period where I was a Recruiter was when the first, and probably most famous commercial came about, simply known as The Sword ad. It was from this ad that I learned the power of the intangible in selling a product, and with my cover I not only had something that was evocative of the story, it conveyed a powerful yet subtle message of the price of war on a young man’s soul.
Focusing my ad on the English-speaking countries, and narrowing it down to anyone who listed interests that pertained to my genre, I didn’t put a link to my book on Amazon. Instead, I just asked them to come to the Facebook page I had set up and Like my page. Once they did, I sent the first 150 people a code for a free book, and in the message I made a simple request, that if they liked the book they pass the word, and if they REALLY liked it, to write a review on Amazon. Because of my budget constraints, I set a limit of $150 dollars total, which turned out to last exactly 2 weeks.
In that two week time period I went from 23 Likes (almost all friends and family) to almost 300. And out of the 150 free codes I gave out, a total of 43 downloaded the book. From those 43 books I garnered a total of 6 reviews, 4 in the U.K. and 2 in the U.S. Most importantly, by the end of May, my second month of publication I had sold more than 600 books, compared to the 45 I did in April. While I can’t empirically prove that this was due to the Facebook ad, it seems pretty clear to me. With that priming of the pump, I traveled the blogosphere, begging, pleading, cajoling, or convincing people to read my book and give it a review. Also, I tried advertising on other sites, like Goodreads, but I didn’t experience near the success I got from Facebook. In short, it was an all-day, every-day job of coming up with ways to get my book in front of as many people as I could.