The Pro Bono Marketing Staff Every Self-Published Author Has at Their Fingertips

by | Jan 13, 2017

By Eva Lesko Natiello

In today’s article, written by Eva Lesko Natiello (@EvaNatiello), indie authors are reminded of the importance of the decisions we make publishing our books. Enjoy, and be sure to comment below if you can think of other “staff” available to help self-published authors market their books.

Yesterday an author contacted me to arrange a marketing consultation. He told me he was disappointed with his marketing team. He liked what he saw I’d done with my book, and thought my team was doing a much better job. He was different than the other authors I’ve worked with—this author was traditionally published.

Here’s another example of “the grass is always greener…” We indie authors think the traditionally published benefit from something we don’t: a roster of professionals that comprise:

  • a sales team
  • a marketing team
  • and a P.R. team

But, if truth be told, many traditional authors are increasingly underwhelmed by what this roster is able to accomplish on their book’s behalf.

I’d like to tell you, barring your ability to hire a professional marketing consultant, every self-published author out there still has a powerful, results-driven, hard-working “staff” at their fingertips. This staff:

  • works pro bono
  • is positioned to work overtime, weekends, and holidays
  • doesn’t take coffee breaks, roll its eyes or call in sick

There are many tiers to marketing and endless opportunities. But when you’re just starting out and still struggling to recoup publishing expenses, know that you already have a robust sales, marketing and PR staff in place. The key is to recognize these players as uniquely yours. Rely on them. Leverage them. And think hard about maximizing what they can do for you. They will help you sell books even while you’re eating lunch, sleeping, and on vacation (hey, one can dream!). Say hello to your staff:

Your Sales Team

  1. S.V.P. of Sales: Your Book Cover

    Plain and simple, if you don’t leverage your cover for all it’s worth, you’re missing out on a magnificent opportunity. Your book’s cover is the most important member of your staff. In fact, it’s the head of your sales team. Yes, count on your cover to sell books. Because if it’s not, you need to fire it and start anew. It’s your book’s first impression, and you already know how important that is. In some cases, your cover works harder than a real live salesperson. How can you leverage it? Let’s take a look at the elements.

  2. V.P. of Sales: Cover Art

    Whether this is a photo or illustration, the cover art immediately tells the reader what genre you promise:

    • romance
    • thriller
    • horror
    • YA
    • self-help

    If you want to really leverage it, make the visual evocative. Get the reader to feel something and you are off to a great start. Pay attention to:

    • color
    • contrast
    • scale
    • the emotions the art evokes
  3. Director of Sales: The Type Treatment

    The font you choose for your title is another way to communicate your theme. Depending on the typeface, it can convey a sense of whimsy, darkness, adolescence, humor, mystery.

    • Is a sword dripping with blood used instead of a “T”, are puckered lips used instead of an “O”?
    • Is your title in a speech bubble?
    • Is it bold and unflinching?
    • Does it look like it was drawn by hand in chalk?

    Keep a keen eye on letter spacing, weight and size and negative space.

  4. Assistant Director of Sales: The Tagline

    You don’t have a tagline? Rethink that now. A tagline is part of your sales team. In the absence of a real live person to tell your customer what to expect in the book, this is it! This is your opportunity to deliver a succinct, provocative hook. To not have a clever cover tagline is to miss a valuable opportunity.

Your Marketing Team

  1. S.V.P. of Marketing: Meta Data/Book Description

    Meta Data is located on your book’s page at the retail site wherever you choose to sell your book. In very basic terms, it’s the information that identifies your book:

    • Title
    • Author
    • ISBN
    • Format
    • Page Count
    • Publisher, etc.

    While this metadata is important, it’s a given that it will exist on your book’s page and pretty straightforward. I’m talking about the next layer of metadata: the Book Description.

    Whether someone is reading the back of your book in a store, or the description online, your Book Description provides a powerful opportunity. You get to control every single word here. Make sure every single word is working for you.

    The first two lines of your description are incredibly important and should absolutely contain some of your keywords while also hooking your potential reader. The algorithms of online retailers are such that they will capture the first few lines of your description and search for keywords there to help direct a consumer to your book.

    So your book description is working backstage as well as frontstage. It’s also the first impression the reader has to your story. Don’t blow the first impression! This description deserves a great deal of thought and time. Next to a well-written book, a well-written description is vital! If you had a real live salesperson, the book description is what they would use to get a retailer to stock your book. But you don’t have a real live salesperson, what you do have is the strategically written book description and you’re going straight to the consumer with it! Bam! How powerful do you feel now?!

  2. V.P. of Marketing: Keywords

    I mentioned keywords in your book description. In addition to using keywords there, every online retailer allows you to choose keywords so that potential readers are able to find your book when they’re using the retailer’s search engine. Keywords are IMPORTANT. (Sorry to shout.) I am not going to explain how to choose keywords, there are many, many articles that explain that. Just Google it. Make sure you study this. It’s that important.

    Each keyword is an additional salesperson on your staff. Don’t you want the biggest sales team selling your book? Use every keyword available to you. The keywords you choose have the potential to land you on bestseller rankings.

Your P.R. Team

  1. S.V.P. of P.R.: Reviews

    If you had a real live P.R. team they would be talking you up at every turn. They’d be extolling:

    • the virtues of your mesmerizing prose
    • the seduction of your characters
    • the urgency of your plot

    You don’t have that. That’s okay, you have the next best thing: reviews. Use. Them. Here. Right beneath your book description lay out a series of crazy great reviews that you’ve received.

    What? They’re not from Stephen King or James Patterson? Doesn’t matter. If someone said something wonderful about your book, quote them. It’s okay for now. Down the road, if you are lucky to get a book blogger or a newspaper or a radio interviewer to say something positive about your book, you’ll replace them. Little steps for little feet. The main thing here is that you are piecing together an impression.

  2. V.P. of P.R.: Awards

    Have you received any awards for your book? Now’s the time to brag. In fact, this can go above the reviews. Readers love to buy books that have received an award.

    Wait, it’s not a Pulitzer? That’s alright. Use it for now to hold the space for your future Pulitzer.

How are you feeling now, boss? Taking these actionable steps by utilizing your virtual marketing “staff” will give you tremendous power and control, and that’s something else you have over a traditionally published author. Every single element of your staff is working to push your book closer to the top of the pile of books vying for readers’ attention. Make it easy for them to choose yours.

eva-n-headshotEva Lesko Natiello is the award winning author of The Memory Box, a New York Times and USA Today Bestselling psychological thriller about a woman who Googles herself and discovers the shocking details of a past she doesn’t remember. She is also a blogger, speaker and marketing consultant on self-publishing, book marketing, creativity and perseverance.
Photo: Amazon links contain my affiliate code.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Ally

    The importance of things like a great cover, engaging description, and leveraging technology (keywords, metadata, category selection, etc.) cannot be overstated–these are some of the things I find myself urging clients to revisit when they tell me their books are languishing. Not only do you offer wonderful advice, you managed to present this time-tested information in a totally refreshing way. Thanks so much for a great article that I will be sharing via my own social media platforms right away ;-)

    • Eva Natiello

      Hi Ally, thank you for the kind words. I’m glad you found this post useful and thanks for sharing it. I hope it helps authors in your social circles to find new readers!

  2. Karin Larson

    Terrific information to consider, thank you!

  3. Noelle A. Granger

    Truly excellent advice that I’ve largely had to discover on my own. I did hire a marketing group, but it became clear after two years that they weren’t really interested in doing much with my book series. I found another one, not local, which has already done some good things for me. Money continues to go out, not much in yet!

    • Eva Lesko Natiello

      Hi Noelle,
      Thanks for stopping by. It is a leap of faith when hiring a marketing team. Full transparency is the best way for that relationship. Glad to hear the new team is having some positive results. Much continued success!

  4. Leighton McCormick

    Eva: An excellent write-up on the “Hidden Staff!” Thanks for posting. Wish I had read before selecting a publisher at a dear friends suggestion. The publishing work was okay, but the follow-up marketing services suck, Big-Time! My book is floating in Purgatory right now. Of course, the publisher will help out…for a hefty fee! Unfortunately, I’m tapped out. Have a young-adult book for which I’m seeking a publisher, so will keep your advice in mind. Thanks once again. Leighton McCormick

    • Eva Lesko Natiello

      Hi Leighton,
      Congratulations on your book. I took a quick look over at your Amazon page and saw that you are published by Authorhouse. I don’t know how much control you have, but there are a few things you could do on your own that may help. I would first ask them about your paperback list price. It is way above what a comparable book costs. Maybe they will price it more competitively. If you have control over your Author Central page on Amazon, you can do some of the things I suggested in my post. How about a powerful evocative question or statement at the top of your book description? Is this book a romance? A historical romance? Use that kind of language. Right now your book categories are “mystery.” If it is a mystery, the description should tease the reader in a different way. You could look at 5 or 10 books that are comps to yours to get an idea. Remember that the cover image, the graphics, the tagline, all make a promise to the reader of what type of book they will find inside. Make sure that your messages all dovetail in the right direction. Good luck, Leighton!

      • Geru Gandalf

        Hi Leighton. Alas, you are ‘published’ by a company that is condemned as a scam outfit by many Author Societies.

        I agree, as I was also conned by them. Cancel your contract as soon as possible.

  5. michael n. marcus

    Good points. Here’s another.

    A book’s front cover is extremely important, but don’t let the back cover be a weak afterthought.

    In physical bookstores and online, browsers can be exposed to powerful back-cover sales messages to help close the sale. Ebooks can have artificial back covers that provide an additional sales medium online.

    • eva

      So true, Michael! I think of the back cover more for book store sales, but you are absolutely right about the potential for powerful sales messages. Like blurbs, endorsements, awards and keywords. Also, the book genre above the barcode is always a good idea, and it’s also a great spot to place an author photo, short bio and author website address.
      Thanks for adding this!

  6. Michael W. Perry

    That’s a marvelous list and I especially like the emphasis on the cover. Too many good books are crippled by a bad cover. My goal is to create one that’s so good, people want to be seen carrying it.

    There’s one miss, although it is mentioned in passing under metadata. That’s the book’s title and subtitle. Like the cover, it jis part of a book’s initial make-or-break impression. An interesting title suggests an interesting book. The dull title suggests the opposite.

    Generally, for the title I aim for short and memorable. Your The Memory Box is a good illustration of that. The title should suggest what a book is about, but need not explain much. My latest, Embarrass Less, does that. Keeping it short almost makes it easier to fit on the cover in large type.

    The subtitle is a good place to put a book’s description. Embarrass Less is easily remembered, but doesn’t tell what the book is about. The subtitle does that: A Practical Guide for Doctors, Nurses, Students and Hospitals. That makes it clear it’s intended to help staff make hospital care less embarrassing. Notice too that I did my best to get as many keywords as possible—embarrass, doctor, nurse, student and hospital—into the title or subtitle. That helps push the book toward the top of search results. Another useful role for that subtitle is to position a book in a series, such as “Book Three of the Frog King Tales.” That’ll let potential readers know they need to look for the first book.

    My own expertise to write Embarrass Less comes from when, as a man on the nursing staff of a top-ten children’s hospital, i found myself caring for teen girls after major surgeries that left them helpless. My job description, I could have told them, “is everything you find embarrassing.” What I describe in the book worked. They and I got along marvelously. My main problem, as the book describes in detail, was getting along with teen guys all hot and bothered, as well as embarrassed, that most of their care was provided by pretty, young and female nurses. That they found hard to take. Far from being a book about bedpan technique, although that is discussed, it’s a quite interesting and often funny look at the differences between the sexes.

    Good titles and subtitles typically don’t come easy. When I start a book in Scriverner, I always create a section in which I list ideas for both as they come to me. Rarely, if ever, do I publish a book with its initial title.

    And if you’re stymied, ask friends for help. When I drew a blank on the right title for my companion volume advising teen girls (and anyone else) how to make their hospital stay less embarrassing, a friend suggested I mention the most vivid source of embarrassment for most patients, that flimsy hospital gown. That led to Hospital Gowns and Other Embarrassments for the title and the picture of a most unhappy teen girl in a hospital gown on the front cover. That illustrates another point. It helps if the cover and title share a common theme. That why for the YA novel I co-authored, Lily’s Ride has a young girl on horseback with the sun setting behind her.

    Flipping also helps. Embarrass Less was written for hospital staff, but every stock photo that fit the target audience was terrible. A picture of a single nurse can work well. I did that for Senior Nurse Mentor. Toss in two nurses, and it begins to look crowded, particularly for a book cover which has to be aligned like a portrait. Extend that to include male for the sake of balance, and it gets dull as dust. I definitely did not want the textbook look.

    Then a flash of inspiration struck me. Why not flip the subject of my cover and feature the only patients in hospitals who’re not embarrassed, little kids. And when I found two pictures of two kids playing doctor, my cover problem was solved. If you check it out on Amazon, you’ll see that cover provided me with the perfect descriptive text.

    One other suggestion. Covers often involve a conflict between the cover image and the title. Each wants to dominate and take up space that the other wants. Short titles help reduce that conflict and allow you to make the title clear even in a thumbnail image. But it helps if, when you’re selecting a cover image, that you keep in mind that it has to be one that leaves space for title text, either above it or across the middle of it.

    Also, I see a lot of covers that are very busy in the sense that there’s a lot of content there that a potential reader has to digest. Some may like that, but I don’t. I like a cover that focuses on one thing. Embarass Less has those two kids playing doctor. Lily’s Ride has a girl on horseback. In some cases, a collage can be done well, but that takes expertise I lack. Embarrass Less would have been worse if the cover had been a collage of staff and patients. Lily’s Ride might have included her foes, the KKK, but combining the two would have been messy. In general, it’s best to borrow a rule that engineers call KISS—Keep It Simple Stupid. Pros can handle complexity well. Most of us are best advised to stick with simplicity.

    Hope that helps. Thanks again for the suggestions about marketing. Marketing is by far my weakest area as an author.

    –Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books

    • Eva Lesko Natiello

      Hi Michael,

      Thank you so much for the snapshot of your process in choosing a title and cover image. Authors love to get a glimpse of the backstage decisions that go into self-publishing. The importance of a good title cannot be minimized! And I admire your ability to think about and use keywords in your subtitle. Well done!



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