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Beyond the Book Launch: Selling Your Self-Published Books' Backlist

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.


Launching a book is exciting. The sales might be exciting at the beginning, too. But then the months roll on and the new book isn’t new anymore. The sales aren’t rolling in like they did at first.

The post-launch down period can be very distressing and depressing for self-published authors. You may feel you did a good job marketing the book during its launch and wonder why that success isn’t continuing. You may also wonder if a low or no sales trend will be the norm for the future.

But here’s the good news. When a book is no longer new, it becomes part of your backlist. Your backlist is all the books which you have previously published, but are older than about a year. In the traditional publishing world, backlist title sales can make up a significant percentage of a publishing house’s total sales, and it can be the same way for self published authors. In fact, as of this writing, my first book from 2011 is still my best selling title year after year.

However, backlist book sales over long periods of time demand long-term marketing tactics.

Book Launch Marketing Is Not the Same as Backlist Marketing

When a book is newly launched, the promotional messaging is “here’s my new book.” But after a few months, when it goes from “my new book” to “my latest book,” the messaging needs to change.

“Buy my book” promotions, which are tolerated when a book is new, become too sales oriented and tiresome for your fans and followers. Posts on social media and your email marketing now need to concentrate on the content of the book. This does not mean that you give away all the content! Nor does it mean that you keep promoting the features and benefits of your book’s content. Rather, you use the book as the basis for even more content.

As contradictory as this will sound, expanding on the content of your book shifts the focus of your book promotions to you, the author. Remember, people follow authors, not books. So you want to be someone worth following.

Here are a few things you could do.

Write and promote blog posts on something happening in the news or media that relates to the subject matter of your book.

Here’s an example of an appropriate expansion on book content. Say your book’s main character is a superhero type. You could do a blog post on superhero alter egos when yet another superhero movie comes out. The post could explore the alter egos of characters in the the movie, then compare them to that of your book’s hero.

But avoid any “If you like [name of movie, show, etc.], then you’ll love my book” references. That’s too sales oriented! Subtlety sells.

Offer behind the scenes insight on how the book came to be.

In nonfiction, it’s common to have an introductory chapter to offer the book’s backstory and prep readers for what’s ahead. Your expanded content (blog, video, etc.) could share some or all of your introductory information, or even provide more than what’s in the book. This can be helpful in enticing readers to actually check out the book.

For fiction, particularly novels, introductions are not commonly used. This provides a wealth of opportunities to discuss your book’s backstory on social media, blogs, videos, or podcasts.

Host a virtual Q&A (question and answer) session.

The easiest way to host a Q&A is on social media via a post (text or video) or live (such as Facebook Live or Instagram Live). These Q&A posts and events can focus on a particular aspect of your book such as a character, setting, situation, or topic. Q&A posts and online events offer your readers a way to interact with you.

However, if you don’t have a large following online, these can be challenging since only a small percentage of followers typically participate, which can be very discouraging. The good news is that if only a small number of your followers participate, you can get comfortable with doing Q&A, especially if you venture into trying Facebook Live or Instagram Live. Some hosts and participants may even prefer a Q&A with less participants because it can offer more focused, in-depth, and personal conversation.

What About Advertising for Previously Published Books?

After a book is out of the book launch period, some paid advertising may be necessary.

Amazon Marketing Services (AMS)

One of the most obvious advertising platforms for continuing book promotions would be Amazon Marketing Services (AMS) ads on Amazon. AMS ads appear right where people are buying.

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I’ve used AMS ads for a few years now and have had a good ROI (return on investment) overall. But as the Amazon advertising platform continues to expand to show non-Amazon products and services (I’ve seen automobile and home loan ads!), the competition and cost for ad space is bound to increase. Like Google AdWords, AMS ads are on a bid system. Bigger advertisers can easily outbid you.
If you decide to use AMS ads, continuously monitor your ad spend and sales, making necessary adjustments to preserve your revenues and profits.

Facebook and Instagram Ads

Facebook and Instagram ads are sometimes suggested for advertising books, and there are authors who have reported doing very well with them. However, the investment can be substantial. As well, the tracking of how many sales are made can be difficult since Amazon does not allow the addition of the Facebook/Instagram tracking pixel to Amazon product pages. Actual resulting sales can only be estimated.

My personal experiments with Facebook and Instagram ads for books have never fared well. As just mentioned, I can only estimate sales generated by these ads. By monitoring sales for titles I was advertising, I did not see an increase in sales while the ads ran. But I have successfully used it for non-book efforts and I’m not ruling it out for future experiments.

Nor am I ruling out Facebook and Instagram ads for author branding purposes, meaning that I’m using them to build my audience, likes, etc. The advertising message is less sales based, and may even be “boosting” posts of non-book content to expand visibility on these networks. That can be a good use of this advertising for long-term author platform (fan base) building. As people discover you, your old backlist books can be new to them. This helps expand your market and long-term sales.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2019 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 17, 2019:

Hi Marie! Glad you found it helpful. We all think we're terrible at marketing. But luckily we all keep working at it. :) Thanks for stopping by and have a great week!

Marie Flint from Jacksonville, FL USA on June 17, 2019:

I'm terrible with marketing, and this article is hopeful.

Thank you for sharing!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 11, 2019:

Peggy, thank you so much for sharing this information with your friend! Wishing her much success with her writing and publishing adventures. And I so appreciate your support! Have a wonderful day!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 11, 2019:

Hi Heidi,

I am sending this information over to a friend who is venturing into the world of writing books, so she will need to know much of what you write concerning all aspects related to the publishing of books. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 08, 2019:

Hi Liz! True, authors need to keep all of their work in circulation to make the investment worth it. Thanks for chiming in and have a terrific weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 08, 2019:

Linda, there sure is a lot to think about! What authors forget is that they have to be and do just like the big trade publishers, only on a smaller scale. Thanks for chiming in and have a lovely weekend!

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on June 08, 2019:

Good to note. Enjoy the weekend likewise.

Liz Westwood from UK on June 08, 2019:

This article contains some great tips for keeping previously published books in the public eye and maintaining interest in them.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on June 07, 2019:

You've shared some great information yet again, Heidi! There is so much to think about when creating a book, but you're an excellent guide. I hope you have a great weekend.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 07, 2019:

Bill, see how accomplished you are! :) Glad I could make your day. Thanks for stopping by. Now go and have a fun weekend with Maggie and Tobias!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 07, 2019:

Hi Miebakagh! Thanks for bookmarking this for when you have a backlist to promote. Cheers!

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on June 07, 2019:

Hi, thanks for sharing. I have also bookmark this page for my reference reading.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 07, 2019:

I never thought of it as a backlist. Hey, I have a backlist!!!!! Pretty cool, this old man with a backlist of literary works.

You just made my day!

Happy Weekend, my friend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 07, 2019:

Flourish, lots of people (including authors!) don't know what a backlist is. But there's value (intellectual and financial) in a publisher's or self published author's backlist. What's even more surprising is that bigger trade publishers will acquire other publishers just to get their backlist.

I'm trying to get used to the Maven bottom "reading list" suggestions, too. I'm guessing it's a work in progress. I've seen some sites do it very well. So we'll have to hope HP is working on it.

As always, thanks for stopping by and thoughtfully commenting! Have a lovely weekend ahead!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 07, 2019:

Hi Pamela! Thanks for your kind words and glad you enjoy the articles. Have a beautiful weekend ahead!

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on June 07, 2019:

You always write such a thorough article with great information. I alwys learn new things when I read your articles. Thank you Heidi.

FlourishAnyway from USA on June 06, 2019:

I didn’t know what a backlist was (much less how to market it) so I definitely learned something. I liked your example about the superhero. I’m not enjoying this new Maven marketing at the bottom of the comments area. At least on my iPhone it’s really frustrating and makes it harder to comment

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