10 Ways South African independent authors can market their books

by Tiisetso Maloma

I have sold have sold over a 1000 copies of my 2013 self published book ‘Forget The Business Plan Use This Short Model’ since the start of its marketing in April 2013. This is 600 + ebooks via e-stores such as Amazon, iBookstore, Kobo and others. The other is hardcopies sold straight from me through either couriering or personal meetings.

eBook sales were mostly international. Anyway, for a self published South African, I am proud of these online sales given our ebook market in only now developing. A Kanye West like rant is deserved, so good I should spit Ultramel custard – khotha so hard. It says to me I can do much better this year, which I am hard working on.

I have helped publish a number of South African authors online via my ebook conversion and distribution company Bula Buka, and marketing advised on some.

I am going to share with you points based on what I did and what I am going to correct in promoting my book.

Why wait for publishers?

Conventions, in our case publishers, are there to facilitate efficiency to get value (books) conveniently (they have well located stores) in the hands of users (readers/consumers). In any industry these applies.

Just because they say no to facilitate your value (book), it doesn’t mean your book doesn’t deserve to get in the hands of readers. They do not dictate what value is, consumers do that. More important is ‘goal keepers’ (consumers) not ‘gate-keepers’.

It is the information age, a buyer’s market. If you believe you have a valuable and/or entertaining story to share, go ahead validate it with your market and self publish – thanks to the internet it is much easier today. Conventions will find you ahead and you will be leveraged then.

Book examples: take ’50 Shades of Gray’ and ‘I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell’. Conventions said no to them at first, then the authors self published and consumers said yes to the books (million dollar big way) – conventions came around later.

My book is getting me opportunities which weight financially more than the book sales. This leads me to say it is not only about huge book sales but advancing your career.

Let’s get into the ways to market your book..

1.     Don’t release just yet: validate

Look, books are products. Like any other products they are intended for a use. So you need to validate if anyone would use them (buy/read them) before you actually make them.

An entertaining book renders use (entertainment) to whoever is reading it.

I did validate my book’s concept and the ‘short model’ part. I validated these with a couple of entrepreneurs around me. However what I should have done was to share these validations onto public platforms (social media) before launching, so as to grab believers in how I was to solve their entrepreneurial problems.

When you are done with the concept of your book, before writing, or as you begin writing, start sharing briefly some concepts, tactics or stories to test if they stick with people. This grabs followers of your message. Those are possible buyers. They could even sway the direction of your book: they will say we can buy your book if it is like this and not like that.

Do read into these people, read how you can find them in groups and figure out ways to engage with them.

I’m sure you do get retweets on twitter; likes and comments on Facebook. It means people take note of what you are saying. Test your book in this way as well.

2.     Don’t release just yet: build buzz

I didn’t do any prior book release marketing for my book. I regret this. I did it to an extent but it wasn’t as I would do it today – now it would be very extensive.

The reason I didn’t do prior-book-release-marketing was because I believed I shouldn’t make any noise about a product which isn’t ready yet.

How I would do it today:

–          Writing articles related to my book’s direction and share them via guest blogging.

–          I have newsletter following on my blog, obviously that would be used as well.

–          Social media. This is a given.

–          When I talk about my book, I would ask for feedback. Do not be scared of feedback. Most of the people who give you feedback would feel vested to read your book when it comes out. And spread the message about it to others.

–          Introduce the cover 2 or more months before the book comes out. If the cover has a concept to it, you can throw a bit of a narrative to it.

3.     Maintain and grow a fan database

Exercise your social media presence, tweet and Facebook. Talk more of content related to your book’s concept so to attract the kind of following which consumes your kind of work.

Interact with folks in your industry, you are not interesting on your own, interact.

The important thing to do is make sure you start a mailing list. I use Mailchimp, I highly recommend it (it’s free if your database is less than 2000 subscribers or something). Ask those interested in your message/book to sign up to get further updates and excerpts of the book as you are writing.

People are likely to miss a tweet or a facebook status than an email.

4.     Publish and share a dramatic excerpt from the book

People respond to drama more. Look at newspaper headline on street poles, most are dramatic – because drama sells newspapers.

Example: 2 dead rhino poachers will make it onto media headlines than ‘best math teacher nominees’. Go ahead and google this. The award winner makes it of course.

If your book has a dramatic part which you think people would love, use that to lure people in. Solicit other blogs and forums which might find value and appreciate the piece.

5.     Choose a catchy or memorable or maybe a shark like book title

I have helped many authors publish online. Some book titles don’t raise any interest in me to investigate the book with ambition to read it, because I just don’t get what the title suggests about the book.

I tested my book title ‘Forget The Business Plan Use This Short Model’ and it raised resonance with a lot of people, a lot of people hate business plans, and it got others gobsmacked. They were like ‘what the hack, but we thought a business plan is important’.

Googling ‘Forget The Business Plan’ confirmed further that a lot of people hate business plans and that seasoned entrepreneurs are preaching ‘forget the business plan’.

Of course this isn’t a dictation, but merely stating that sharp titles would raise interest in people to investigate your book. This tactic is advantageous especially to self publishing authors.

Here are other titles by South Africans which I think are clever and appealing: ‘Could I Vote The DA’ by Eusebius Mckaiser, ‘Mama I Sold You’ by Thaamir Moerat which Bulabuka.co.za digitally published, ‘In My Arrogant Opinion’ by Khaya Dlanga, and ‘Lose The Business Plan’ by Allon Raiz.

The title which I totally like is by American author Tucker Max, ‘I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell’.

So do test your tittles beforehand. I am testing a title for my next book coming out next year 2014 April, ‘Confessions of a Terrible Entrepreneur’, and will have a subtitle which balances the ‘terrible’ part of the title. But secretly I have had a couple of entrepreneurs say to me they resonate with the title very much, and I am sure those are the ones who will buy it – buyers matter more. Will see…

6.     Publish an excerpt with value

Besides on your blog, solicit relevant subject blogs and magazines to publish excerpts from your book.

The excerpts must be of value, helpful and thoughtful.

This is besides the dramatic piece. Drama is one tactic you can use, but if you are not about drama, this one will show people that your book is of value and they should read it.

You can publish the dramatic piece 3 months before your book is released, then this one the first week of release. This is to show that your book is not all just ‘wild fire’ but contains value.

Again so that book reviewers (not just media but people) can have good things to spread about your book.

My book has been featured in Drum magazine, Under 30 CEO, Trasnform SA and countless online magazines.

7.     Go print at least 20 hardcopies for sales

Of course there are more South Africans reading hard-books than ebooks. So try your best to print some hardcopies.  Here quality varies with your affordability –  at least a way there is a way. Go investigate with different printers (book printers and general printers).

But ebook sales are picking up. Being published online it gives you an ‘official author’ status and a good online search presence.

8.     Sell by couriering

I have sold over 400 hard hardcopies, either by meeting those who want the book (depending on whether it is convenient for me) or posting to them by registered courier mail with the South African Post Office. By book retails at R150 and it includes free courier.


But I must say personal meets are a hella fun.

9.     Ask customers to take photos with your book

If you buy a book from me, I either take a picture of you with the book or ask you to do it. I then tag you on social media.

Out of 10 times I tag a picture of someone with my book at least 5 sales come out.


To promote and attract sales for my book I organised a number of workshops on business modelling, some free. I spoke at other people’s events, at times for free.

I at times lost money on workshops which I organised when the turnaround didn’t meet the cost to market. From here on, I rely on partnering with people who have a database of relevant possible attendees, to then do pre-sales without many other marketing activities.

With the free workshops, for example I would ask organisations which assist entrepreneurs, to organise their crowd for me. I did one with YDO in Eersterus. A lovely crowd but I suspected though they were trying out entrepreneurship in the absence of employment. They much rather be jobbing (I didn’t sell so much books). Funny enough it was the one workshop which I enjoyed the most. It must have been because I had to thoroughly thoroughly dissect every concept and point.

The concept of marketing (which ‘Forget The Business Plan Use This Short Model’ details) is engaging firstly with groups which can bring a quicker return in sales given the marketing expenditure.

On some workshops I sold more books than on others. It depends on my delivery and who is the audience.

Who buys depends on whether they have an interest in the help or entertainment your book is offering, and in my case, those practising entrepreneurship did buy more than those aspiring.

This year I have identified new groups which I will do free workshops for. And it will be cheaper.

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A piece on dealing with press was supposed to be included but I thought since it is big, it will follow later. So sign up to our mailing list at the top of the website to receive it firsthand.

Do please give your comments and share other book marketing techniques.

Tiisetso Maloma is the co-founder of Bula Buka. He is a business model consultant, devised EBC business model canvas, authored Forget The business Plan Use This Short Model and the free booklet Township Biz Fastrack. Follow Tiisetso on Twitter @TiisetsoMaloma, Quora and Facebook.

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