How to market a self-published book from scratch (everything I did to launch at #1 in three Amazon categories)

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably thinking about writing a book or have already written one and have no idea how to market it.  

I thought about writing a book for several years before starting the process because I didn’t want to waste time writing a book that nobody would read. To be honest, I was afraid that nobody would read it. That’s a little embarrassing to admit considering that fact that I’m a professional marketer, but it’s true.

In April of 2016, I decided to take on the project. I told myself that I was going to learn everything I could about marketing a self-published book while writing. My book is about how musicians can get started and grow their freelance careers. What followed were  months of writing, editing, and laying the foundation for the launch and on October 10th of 2016, my book debuted at #1 in three Amazon categories. In fact, I even managed to beat a New York Times bestseller that had been absolutely dominating the top spot prior to my launch.

While there are tons of ways to market a book, in this article I’m going to share everything I did to promote mine. Some people do a Kickstarter while others do a soft launch of the book before it’s even written and build an audience as they go. For my launch, I kept it pretty straight forward and used the tried-and-true tactics that have successfully launched countless other self-published books.

Before we get into the weeds, I just want to say that absolutely nothing about my launch was innovative or new. I spent months reading books, scrolling through countless articles, and listening to podcasts on the topic. At the end of this article I’ll share some of the my favorite resources on this topic and you can check those out if you’re interested.

Here is everything I did to market my book launch:

Build an email list

When I started writing my book, I knew that an email list was going to be the biggest asset in launching my book. At the time, my list only had about 400 people, so I knew I had to beef that up.  In order to grow this the list, I created two email courses in the months leading up to the book launch. These email courses were primarily focused on list building, but they also had the added benefit of letting me test the book’s material on real readers before I published it in the book.

By the time I launched the book, the list had grown to about a thousand people and gave me direct access to the people that I was depending on to make the initial launch a success. These readers opened up many doors that led to guest posting opportunities and podcasts in addition to helping me select the cover design and even editing the book.  

If you’re reading this with the intention of launching a book or any other product and you don’t have an email list, stop reading and go create a free account on Mailchimp. It will seriously be the best marketing decision you ever make.


In the classical music world, there has been a growing interest in podcasts over the last few years and I wanted to use this platform as the centerpiece for my launch.

Here are the reasons why:

  • There is an existing audience for each show that cares enough about self-development to listen to podcasts
  • Recording each episode only took about an hour of my time
  • There is a large crossover audience between shows so I can reach the same people in multiple places

Almost nobody in the classical music space had really leveraged the full power of these platforms and I wanted to try to be the first. There are plenty of people who had been on a couple of the shows, but my goal was to get on ALL of them. These efforts resulted in interviews on about ten different podcasts that all came out during my launch week.

Guest posts on other sites

Just like the podcasts, my goal was to leverage the existing audiences of other platforms. There are tons of niche blogs in the music world so I wanted to get on as many of those as possible.  It’s a great opportunity to share some of the best content from the book with different audiences.

I ended up guest posting on about eight different blogs, which got me on a bunch of different email lists and lots of additional social sharing during launch week.  

The majority of the traffic came from just a few of these posts, but I do believe it was worth it to cast a wide net because I had no idea which of these were going to yield the best results.  

Misc. items

Facebook Live

In the week leading up to the launch, I did a daily Facebook Live session in which I talked about the process of writing the book. People are fascinated by this process and since I had gotten tons of questions about it, I decided it would be a good way to talk about the launch without being too annoying.  These videos got thousands of views in total and allowed me to reach a lot of people in my peer group who ended up supporting the project that wouldn’t have known about it otherwise.

Personal Email Outreach

Gary Vaynerchuk gave me this idea on an episode of the AskGaryVee show. It’s exactly what it sounds like.

I literally sat down and wrote personal emails to over a hundred people who I wanted to personally inform about my book launch.  These emails weren’t sales-y, but instead they were meant to just inform people about what I had been working on. It took forever, but using Boomerang (awesome Gmail plugin), I was able to schedule these to all go out on the morning of my launch.  

Promo video

This turned out to be pretty useless, but it was super cheap on Fiverr so I would do it again.  It was a nice piece of content to share on FB, Instagram, and my Amazon author page. I don’t think it converted many people to buyers, but I do think it lends a little credibility to the book to have a promo video.

A post shared by Seth Hanes (@sethhanes) on

Engage Email Subscribers

I involved my email list at every step of the writing process. The goal was to get my subscribers  as invested in the project as I could by allowing them to vote on the cover artwork, edit the book, and help with the marketing. This worked really well and helped me build a deeper relationship with many of my readers.

Having my mom sell the book

OK, this is a little embarrassing, but it worked. I had my mom calling all of our family friends on the day the book came out to tell them about it. I know that it helped move some copies of the book and it gave me a reason to reconnect with people I hadn’t seen in forever.

A sale is a sale, right? 😉

Post-launch coverage

In the months following the launch, there has been a surprising amount of coverage from places I didn’t expect.

Here are a few examples of things that have popped up:

  • Inclusion in book clubs
  • YouTube video reviews
  • Blog reviews
  • Inclusion on various resource pages
  • And a bunch of other random things

The hardest part about marketing a book is sustaining sales after the initial marketing blitz.  It’s tough, but chasing down every possible lead really helps sales continue.

The Results

As I mentioned above, the biggest win of the launch was having the book debut at #1 in three different categories and beating out a New York Times bestseller for the top spot.

Besides generating some passive income from book sales, there have been many other benefits since the launch:

  • More paid speaking opportunities
  • Landing new marketing consulting clients
  • More freelance work for myself as a musician
  • The chance to meet amazing people all over the world who have read my book
  • And tons of other unexpected things

The benefits of having a successful marketing campaign go far beyond just moving copies of your book because if you do it right, your book will lead to tons of other opportunities.

How to get results like this for your launch

OK, before we wrap this up, I have one last thing to say about marketing a book.

It’s hard.

Like, really hard.

Don’t listen to anyone that says otherwise.

If you want to successfully launch your book, get ready to hustle. In the months leading up to my launch, I interviewed tons of podcasters and bloggers on my site to start building relationships with them. I created two email courses that came out to around 10,000 words each to build my email list. That’s like writing another book.

But here’s the good news:  the success of your book is totally in your control. Anyone that wants to do the work can get results like these. The strategies outlined in this post have worked for countless other authors and if you’re ready to do the work, they can make you launch a success too.

Further reading

If you’re interested in learning more about marketing a self-published book, the resources below will teach you everything you need to know to have successful book launch.

How to Self-Publish a Bestseller by James Altucher

The Right (and wrong) Way to Market a Book by Ryan Holiday

How I’m Marketing My Self-Published Book by Charlie Hoehn

12 Lessons Learned While Marketing the 4-Hour Body by Charlie Hoehn

The Complete Guide to Writing Your Book by Tucker Max

How to Write a Bestselling Book This Year by Tim Ferriss

Your First 1000 Copies by Tim Grahl

Kindlepreneur blog by Dave Chesson

Love Your Work podcast episodes with Nir Eyal and Tucker Max by David Kadavy