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Case study: A practical guide for authors who want to use content marketing to build their audience and sell their book

26 min read | Last updated on

So, you’re an author or an aspiring author and you want to use content marketing to help you grow your author business? Great — you’re in the right place! If you haven’t read the first post in this series, A practical guide to using content marketing in your business, then check that out first so you’ve got an overview of how to get started and then pop back to this post to find out exactly how to apply it to your writing business.

In this series of posts I’m going to outline 12 steps that will help you use content marketing to build your audience and sell more books. This will be a mix of template and guide that you can use as a starting point. Once you’ve got the basics down pat, the sky will then be the limit.

The 12 steps are:

  1. Recognise that you’re running a business
  2. Choose a focus for your first content marketing series
  3. Choose a market to target
  4. Choose which problem to focus on solving
  5. Find a topic for your first piece of content
  6. Plot the rest of the content series
  7. Decide what types of content you’ll create
  8. Research SEO keywords
  9. Plan your content distribution and promotion
  10. Create your content
  11. Create your distribution and promotion assets
  12. Create your copy

Step 1 — Recognise that you’re running a business

Before I get into the nitty-gritty stuff, I want to make this first and most important point. Regardless of whether you’re writing your first book or your fiftieth, and whether you’re writing fiction or non-fiction, you have to treat your writing as a business.

If you treat it as a hobby, you won’t sell as many books. You can still sell some books. You may even sell a lot of books. But you will sell more books if you shift your mindset and treat your writing as a proper business.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have fun. It does mean you may have to do some things you might not find as enjoyable (like marketing) — unless you pay someone else to do them.

The good news is, if you use content marketing to help you sell your book, you don’t have to give up your entertaining social media chats — that’s all part of the strategy 🙂

Ok, with that out of the way, now we can look at the more interesting steps.

Step 2 — Choose a focus for your first content marketing series

This is fairly easy for authors. If you’re writing your first book, then you’ll choose that first book. If you’ve published multiple books, choose just one — perhaps the one you most want to succeed or the one that’s struggling the most.

If you want to market a series, start with the first book. You’ll create a content marketing series for the first book and then you can up-sell and cross-sell the other books in the series.

You will also want to create content to market your author brand more generally but it’s easier to start with a book first.

Step 3 — Choose a market to target

Too many people want to sell their product to everyone. Authors generally recognise that their audience is going to be restricted to readers that are interested in their genre (for fiction) or topic (for non-fiction), but that market is way too broad when it comes to creating marketing materials.

You’ll have a much better chance of selling your book if you tailor your marketing efforts to a narrower target market. The narrower you go, the more you can tailor your marketing and the more successful it will be. Once you’ve concurred one market, or at least made a start by creating a content marketing sequence for those readers, you can then create additional marketing resources for other target markets.

So, how do you choose your target market? There are lots of ways to do it and your approach will likely be influenced by the type of book you’re writing. Having said that, the basics don’t change.

If you’ve already published your book, take a look at the people who’ve bought it. What do people like about it? What do they dislike? What can you tell about people who’ve reviewed your book? What do people say about your book on social media and what characteristics do those people share? What are common characteristics shared by many of your social media followers (if you’re on social media)? What do your social media followers talk about on social media?

Using that kind of information, you can build a picture of the kinds of readers that won’t be interested in your book and those that will. Get as much information as you can about those readers that enjoy your book and use that to build a detailed understanding of your ideal reader. And don’t restrict the type of information you gather. Do lots of the people who read your books talk about their cats on social media? That kind of information might seem irrelevant if your book isn’t about cats but when you’re using content marketing, it’s all crucial information that can give you an edge.

If you haven’t published your book, you can still do the same kinds of analyses but you’ll have to stick with your social media followers for the most direct information. To supplement that info, take a look at people who read books that are similar to yours. If you’re writing non-fiction, look at readers of other books on the same or similar topic. If you’re a fiction writer, take a look at the readers of books in the same genre or that deal with the same themes.

Once you’ve gathered all that information, you can create what’s called a ‘customer persona’. Although in this case, I’m going to call it a ‘reader persona’. A reader persona may sound complicated, but it’s basically a profile of your ideal reader. It might read something along the lines of: Katy is a 23-year-old university student who loves gardening. She’s got a cat and likes to hang out on Twitter. She loves growing edible plants and lives in USDA zone 9b. And so on…

Personas help you compile your ideal reader research into one spot but their real power lies in the fact that they give you a ‘one reader’ to talk to when you’re creating content. When you create content that speaks to that person, your target readers are much more likely to feel like you’re speaking directly to them. When that happens, they’ll feel like your book is written just for them and they’ll have to buy it.

Your research is probably going to reveal a number of ideal reader personas. If so, pick one and start your content marketing efforts with that persona. Once you’ve got a content marketing series for that persona, you can then follow the same process to produce a series for each of the others.

Step 4 — Choose which problem to focus on solving

This is fairly easy for authors as each book is likely to solve one problem. If you’re writing a non-fiction book, typically it is designed to solve one problem so that’s the problem you focus on. For instance, if you’re writing a book about pest insects in the home garden, the problem you’re solving for your reader is that the reader has pest insects in their garden that are causing havoc. If you’re writing a book about building furniture, the problem you’re solving for your reader might be that they want quality furniture but can’t afford to buy it or it might be that they want custom furniture that perfectly matches their personality and style.

If you’re writing a fiction book, you might not think that you’re solving a problem for your reader but you absolutely are. Your reader needs a good book on x theme or from y genre. You might even go so far as to say your reader needs that kind of book to help them understand how that theme is playing out in their life or to help them escape from the horrible circumstance they find themselves in.

As an example, Terry Goodkind’s book Faith of the Fallen focuses on the concept that ‘your life is yours, rise up and live it’ and so the problem that his readers might be facing could be that they feel they don’t have any control over their lives or that they lack the courage to make a positive change in their lives.

Step 5 — Find a topic for your first piece of content

Once you know who you’re targeting and what problem you’re solving, you can then start planning your content series. The first step in that process is to pick a topic for the first piece of content.

The idea is to produce an initial piece of content that attracts your ideal reader. It could be directly related to your book or it might be seemingly unrelated. Ideally, it should be about a topic that your ideal reader would google but if you’ve got a strong social media following or engaged email list, you could also pick something that is just really interesting and relevant. Here are some examples of topics that could be used for the first piece of content in a content marketing series:

  • how to get rid of aphids for a book about dealing with garden pests
  • how to change a nappy for a book designed to distract cranky babies
  • a review of a good recent sci-fi novel for a sci-fi novel

Step 6 — Plot the rest of the content series

Once you’ve picked your first topic, then you need to come up with a sequence of topics that will lead your reader to your book. The number of pieces of content will vary depending on the type of book you’re selling and the initial topic you chose but typically you’ll have 3-6 pieces of content in a series.

If you’re still writing your book and want to keep potential readers engaged, you might produce an extended series of content. This is especially effective if you’re writing a non-fiction book.

Here are some examples of topics that could work for published works.

A book about dealing with garden pests

  1. How to get rid of aphids
  2. Other pests that typically infect gardens that have aphid infestations and how to deal with those pests
  3. How to prevent future pest infestations
  4. Gardening practices that deter pests (this could be one piece of content or a whole series)

A book designed to distract cranky babies

  1. How to change a nappy
  2. Baby change time challenges and what to do about them
  3. How to use books to distract cranky babies during nappy change time

A sci-fi novel

  1. Review of a good recent sci-fi novel
  2. If you loved that book here are 10 other sci-fi novels you will like
  3. A discount for a new sci-fi novel (your novel)

Step 7 — Decide what types of content you’ll create

As an author written content is going to be high on your priority list. You’ll probably write blog posts and depending on your target audience you might also produce lots of social media content and an email newsletter. An email newsletter is especially helpful if you’re writing a series as you can then market the other books in the series directly to those who buy the first book.

There are lots of other types of content to consider though. Images are a great way of capturing attention and engaging an audience. Do your readers also like movies? If so, video is another great content type. Do your ideal readers consume audio books rather than physical books or ebooks? If so, you might produce a podcast or other audio.

Using our previous examples, here are some ideas for the kinds of content you might consider.

A book about dealing with garden pests

  1. A blog post and infographic to show how to get rid of aphids
  2. A blog posts about other pests that typically invade gardens infested with aphids with an email list sign-up call to action
  3. A free mini ebook about how to prevent future pest infestations that readers get if they join your mailing list
  4. An email series about a variety of gardening practices that deter pests

A book designed to distract cranky babies

  1. A video and transcript that show and describe how to change a baby’s nappy
  2. A comic about various nappy changing challenges with an accompanying blog post with tips for combating each challenge
  3. A blog post with lots of photos and/or a video showing how to use books to distract a baby during a nappy change

A sci-fi novel

  1. A blog post book review or a video or audio recording of you reviewing the book
  2. A blog post and infographic with a list of the 10 books
  3. A book trailer video for your novel with a discount code for readers who purchase it by x date (the discount is a great option if you’re trying to get pre-launch reviews or if you’re trying to get lots of sales just after releasing your book); alternatively you could produce a book trailer video for your novel and post it with a sample of your book (perhaps the first chapter or so)

A note about social media content

In these examples I’ve focussed on big pieces of content you can create. But there’s also a lot you can do with small pieces of content such as that which is often posted to social media.

Below I talk about promoting and distributing your content on social media. But you can also create social media content that doesn’t link to bigger pieces of content. This kind of content keeps potential readers coming back to your social profiles so they see the content that does link to your website/blog etc. It also builds engagement and a sense of community plus demonstrates your expertise on your book topic, all of which helps improve the chances a follower will buy your book.

You can also share other people’s content (this is called content curation). Doing this provides even greater value to your community (for less effort on your part because you’re not creating something from scratch) and it can help you build relationships with other writers (tag the writer in your share so they know when you’re spreading the word about their content).

Step 8 — Research SEO keywords

Ideally, your target readers will find your first piece of content through a web search or via a post on social media and then you’ll guide them with links to the other pieces of content. Readers may also find the subsequent pieces of content through a web search though. This means you should have SEO keywords for each piece of content so you can help your content rank better in the SERPs (search engine results pages), which will drive more traffic to your content.

I could write a whole book on how to choose SEO keywords but there are some fundamentals that should help you get a handle on this step:

  • Think about how you would search for help solving the problem dealt with by your content.
  • Test out some search terms and see what shows up in the SERPs. Search for the terms in Google and see what other searches Google suggests.
  • Use the Google Adwords keyword planning tools to see how often your prospective keywords are entered into Google, how much competition there is for them and to get suggestions for other keywords. The more competition there is for a particular keyword, the more search volume you want there to be. If a keyword has a low search volume and high competition, you’re not going to have much success with it. If it’s got a high search volume and low competition, then that’s an ideal keyword (this is rare though). If you find a keyword that’s got low competition and a low or medium search volume, that’s probably going to be your best bet. If you create awesome content and optimise it for search engines, then it’ll rank well in the SERPs and help you access a greater portion of the target market. After all, if only 100 people search for a given keyword in a month but you can convince 90 of those people to buy your book then the content that generated those sales is worth it (provided it costs you less to produce than the value of the sales it produces). This is especially true because it will continue to generate sales at a similar rate whereas ads will only generate sales when they’re running and they often become less effective over time.

Here are some examples of keywords you might choose.

A book about dealing with garden pests

  1. How to get rid of aphids, how to get rid of aphids on roses, how to get rid of aphids naturally (this is a good term if your book is about organic pest control methods)
  2. How to get rid of black spot, what causes black spot, how to get rid of black spot naturally (when aphids feed they leave behind a residue that promotes fungal infections like black spot)

Note you don’t need keywords for emails and lead magnets as these aren’t searchable on the web.

A book designed to distract cranky babies

  1. How to change a nappy, how to change a baby’s nappy, how to change a newborn nappy
  2. You could choose keywords for each of the challenges you deal with in your post
  3. It probably wouldn’t be worth the effort to optimise this post for search engines. You’d rely on linking and social media to send potential customers to that post.

A sci-fi novel

  1. It’s probably not necessary to optimise this first post for search engines — anyone would find this kind of post via a web search probably searched for a book review for the specific title and you shouldn’t have to do any work to add that keyword to the post
  2. Best sci-fi books, top sci-fi books, best science fiction books about x topic
  3. It’s not necessary to optimise this post as potential readers that find it via a web search would likely search the name of the book or your author name

Step 9 — Plan your content distribution and promotion

Once you know what content you’re going to create, you need a plan for distributing and promoting it.

First, think about where you’ll post the content. Most of the time this will probably be on your website but you might also produce guest blog posts for other websites and book reviews for book review websites. If your ideal readers prefer to listen to audiobooks, you could produce guest podcast episodes for other podcasts or if you’re writing a series of books or write lots of books on a similar topic (gardening books for example), then you might start your own podcast. Similarly, you might create videos and post them on your YouTube channel.

Then you can think about how you’ll help people find your content. An obvious choice is to post links to your content on your social media channels. Don’t just do this once. Unless your content is time sensitive (such as for a discount with an expiry date) you’ll always want people to visit it so you should post links to it on a regular basis. The frequency of your posts will depend on how much content you have, the platform you’re posting to and how much time you can devote to distributing your content. Once a month is a good place to start.

You can also post links to your content on a variety of fora provided doing so adds value to the discussion. (Don’t be spammy or it will turn people off your brand.) If we take our examples from above, gardening posts can be shared on garden fora, nappy changing posts can be shared on parenting fora and book review posts can be shared on reading-related fora or fora related to the genre of the book. As an example, a book classed as ‘women’s fiction’ might be appropriate for a parenting forum.

Relevant fora can be on websites dedicated to the topic (or broader topic as the case may be) or you can find Facebook groups and other social media groups that fulfil the same role. Reddit and other similar sites are other great places to find relevant conversations.

You can also get ideas for distribution channels from your reader persona. If your ideal readers love playing board games or computer games, for instance, you could share links to your posts on fora dedicated to gaming.

While content marketing is primarily an organic marketing technique, you could also consider running paid promotions for your content to give it a bit of a boost. This might be especially effective in the lead up to a book launch or if you don’t yet have a large social media following or email list. Paid promotion is totally optional though.

You may also want to look at offline distribution and promotion efforts. You could write a brochure about how to combat aphids and include a QR code for readers to access the full blog post for instance. Or you could see if your local library will display your book review and/or top 10 sci-fi books list. Maybe you could turn your blog post about how to change a nappy into a flyer for the maternity ward at your local hospital.


Don’t just share your content once and hope that all your potential readers will see it.

If you’re sharing content on social media, hardly any of your followers let alone non-followers will see each post. If you’re sharing content on a forum, there are usually multiple threads on similar topics and not all your potential readers will read each thread. If you’re sharing content offline, your potential readers don’t go to all the same events etc. Plus, no matter where you’re sharing your content, new visitors/users will be joining the platform all the time and they typically won’t see older content if you only share it once.

The trick to effectively sharing your content is to share it multiple times. Highlight different bits every time you share your content to attract a variety of potential readers. This also means you won’t annoy people who do see multiple posts/brochures etc. about the same piece of content.

When it comes to social media distribution, I recommend sharing each piece of content at least once a month. Ditto fora, provided there’s a relevant conversation to share it in. When you go to events or otherwise distribute your content in the physical world, you won’t share all your content if you have a lot of it. But you can distribute a selection of your marketing assets and mix up your selections regularly.

Step 10 — Create your content

If you’ve done all the above steps, now it’s time to actually create your content. Written content is likely going to be right up your alley because you’re a writer and presumably you have good writing skills. Having said that, writing a blog post is different to writing a book and there are lots of bits and pieces that can make or break a post. So you might like to check out this guide to writing a great blog post — it outlines 8 steps to follow for a great result and includes a guide to writing the SEO particulars of a post.

When it comes to the other types of content go ahead and create it if you’ve got the skills and tools you need. Free tools like Canva and Adobe Spark Post make it easier to create great pictures and infographics though you might still choose to hire someone to create those for you. Similarly, anyone with a smartphone can create videos for Facebook Live and YouTube but you may choose to hire someone to create videos of a higher quality than what you can create yourself. Emails can be a tricky beast. You might be able to create your own email newsletter to keep fans up to date on new book releases but if you’re creating a content marketing email campaign designed to get prospective readers to make their first book purchase from you, then you’ll probably benefit from hiring someone to craft an effective email marketing campaign unless you’ve had email marketing training.

Regardless of the kind of content you choose to produce, be sure to create something that has real value for your potential readers. Content marketing is most effective when businesses make a real effort to produce content that is truly useful or interesting for their target audience. If you do this for your ideal readers, it will create trust and show them that you’re worth their money. It’s also a great opportunity to show potential readers that you know what you’re talking about (or that you know how to write good fiction).

Step 11 — Create your distribution and promotion assets

Once you have your content, you can create your distribution and promotion assets. Some of it is easy to create while some of the most useful social media assets may require the help of an expert. Often creating social media content is time-consuming.

Crafting offline content is often a case of repurposing your digital content. Creating social media content can be as easy as selecting quotes from your blog post or a short clip from your video.

If you’re distributing your content on a forum, take the time to craft meaningful contributions to the discussions. If you just post a link to your content you’ll likely end up being blocked for spamming the community.

If you’re trying to get your content featured as a guest contribution on someone else’s blog, review website or podcast you’ll need to craft an awesome pitch (whether written or verbal) to give to the outlet’s owner or content manager.

When you’re sharing content on your own social media channels, you can schedule your content in advance using one of the free tools like Buffer, Hootsuite and RecurPost. For other distribution methods, you’ll probably want to set aside a certain amount of time each week to look for relevant opportunities to share your content.

Crafting effective distribution and promotion assets is a skill unto itself. Have a good go at it yourself before you consider hiring someone to help you. At the very least, this will give you a better idea of what you need help with. I’ll be creating some examples you might use for inspiration. If you want to be notified when they’re available, fill out the form at the bottom of this blog post.

Step 12 — Create your copy

The last piece of content in your content marketing series needs to link to information about your book. That might be a landing page that links to places where readers can buy your book or it might be the book’s sales page itself.

Generally, the best way to set this part of your sales funnel up is to create a landing page that’s specifically targeted at your ideal reader. This can then link to the places where prospective readers can buy your book (and those places can have the more generic, but still awesome, sales copy).

This landing page should focus on telling your prospective reader what they’ll get out of your book (the benefits rather than the features) and why they should choose your book over any other book on the market. This is easier to do if your book is non-fiction or an educational fiction book (such as an educational children’s picture book).

If your book doesn’t fall into either of those categories your landing page can instead focus on the experience your book gives. Use your landing page to tell prospective readers what your book will make them feel.

Your landing page gives you a chance to really market your book in the way that works best for your book and your target audience. You can add videos and images, style text and even add animations. Your text can be as long or as short as you want and your formatting options are limited only by your imagination. The platform/s on which you sell your book severely limit your marketing options so don’t rely on your sales page on any given platform to sell your book. Those sales pages are necessary so you can market to potential readers who find your book through the platform but you’ve got way better options when you’re funnelling potential readers to your sales page through your content.

Where to from here

Once you’ve set up for your first content marketing series make sure you monitor your campaign’s performance so you know how well it’s performing and can make changes to improve it over time. Once you know what works for your audience, you can create additional campaigns for other books, other target audiences or other problems that your books solve.

Check out the following articles to learn more about how to do this:

I’ll also be producing more blog posts, case studies and other content on this topic. To be the first to know when I publish something of interest subscribe to my mailing list.

If you find you need a bit more help with your content marketing, don’t hesitate to reach out to an expert for advice, training or to take advantage of the services they offer. To that end, if you have a question, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me. If you’ve got a limited budget, I suggest you hire a strategist to produce an integrated content strategy for your author business. Provided you have the time and resources required to implement it yourself this is the most efficient and cost-effective way to get professional help with your content marketing. There are cheaper ways to get help but you won’t get the same results. Similarly, there are ways to get more comprehensive help that will produce an even better result but they cost more.

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Dr Kelly Wade

Hi! I’m a full-funnel marketing specialist and my mission is to build a better tomorrow by helping organisations that solve crucial problems, efficiently generate sustainable growth with strategic marketing assets that attract, nurture, convert and retain the target market.

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