Guest post: Kourtney Heintz on chasing discoverability

Big thank you to Megan for inviting me to be a guest blogger here. It was lovely hanging out with you at the Hunter College Writers' Conference!

The decision to bring a book to market wasn’t one I took lightly. I did my research on self publishing and talked to authors who’d done it and done it well. I spent months weighing the pros and cons. I hired freelancers for editing, formatting, and cover design because creating a stellar book is the first step. Then I created a marketing plan and hired a publicist because a book has to get noticed. Without a big publisher’s distribution network and marketing push, discoverability can be the hardest part of self-publishing. For my book to stand out in the overcrowded marketplace, I had to chase discoverability.

There are a couple hundred thousand books published each year. How many do we hear about? Dozens? Hundreds at most. So how do you help readers find your book? Word of mouth is the biggest driver of sales, but how do you get people talking about
your book?

1) Build a strong social media presence

Have a well designed website with content that is regularly updated and keywords that make you Googleable. Be active on Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or Instagram. Be interested in others, and they will be interested in you. If blogging is your thing, post regularly, interact with other bloggers, and build a place where people actually stop by to chat.

2) Get out there and find your readers

You need to be contacting libraries and bookstores to have signings. You need to be creative with venues and events. If your book involves wineries, have a wine tasting at a winery. If you have a character with cancer, do a signing to benefit the American Cancer Society. You need to be visible in your community. You need to be findable. And having a physical presence helps.

You have to build a readership one reader at a time. Sure it’s hard and time consuming, but it’s what you sign up for when you self-publish.

3) Use targeted advertising

You need to understand who your target audience is. My best advice on how to do this is to read Jennifer Fusco’s Market or Die series for authors and do all the exercises. They will teach you how to create your own integrated marketing plan. When you do this, you will identify your target market and can then figure out where to reach them.

If there’s a popular blog about YA books and you wrote a YA book, consider buying a banner ad.

Find sites for readers and offer to do a giveaway. Goodreads giveaways are a great way to build an audience.

Goodreads ads are worth investing in too. You can target the ad to your market or to comparable authors (both of which you will know from creating your integrated marketing plan).

4) Get reviewed and awarded

You need to give readers a sense that this book is worth reading. You haven’t been vetted by a traditional publisher, so you need to give them clear signals that your book is worth their time and money. Submit your novel for a Kirkus Review or a Publisher’s Weekly review. If you know a USA Today Bestseller or a NYT Bestseller, reach out 6-8 months ahead of time and ask if they will consider blurbing your book.

Awards are another seal of approval. Enter your book in award contests like the National Indie Excellence Awards, USA Best Book Awards, EPIC Ebook Awards, Readers Favorites Awards, Independent Publisher Book Awards, and International Book Awards. If you win or final, it signals to readers that this is a book worthy of their time. These contests promote their winners and finalists on their website and via press releases, which increases your discoverability.

5) Gently encourage readers to write reviews

Amazon uses reviews in its algorithm to determine what books it promotes. Ideally, you want 100+ reviews. But it will take a lot of time to get them. When someone says I loved your book, you can politely mention how it really helps sales to have reviews and ask them to spread the word on Amazon and Goodreads.

6) Reach out to the press

Learn how to write a press release and reach out to local and regional media for your book’s debut. Give them an interesting angle/story and you might get press coverage. If you are having a special event, like donating half your profits to charity, fire off another press release. It might get mentioned in the local paper. Maybe not. But you won’t know unless you try.

My publicist reached out to a local afternoon talk show, CT Style, and booked me an appearance on the show. I reached out to the local newspaper, The Republican American, and got a feature. The article was picked up by the Associated Press and ran nationally.

Kourtney Heintz is an award-winning author of cross genre fiction for adults. Her debut novel is The Six Train to Wisconsin.

She also writes for young adults under the pseudonym of K.C. Tansley. Her debut YA gothic mystery, The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts, will be published by Harlequin and is represented by ICM Partners.

She lives with her warrior lapdog, Emerson, her supportive parents, and three quirky golden retrievers on a hill somewhere in Connecticut. She tends to believe in the unbelievables and write about them.

Find Kourtney Heintz online, in the blogosphere, on Facebook, on Twitter, and on Goodreads.

The Six Train to Wisconsin:

When Kai’s telepathy spirals out of control, her husband Oliver brings her to the quiet Wisconsin hometown he abandoned a decade ago, where he must confront the secrets of his past to save their future.

Paperback available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Ebook available from AmazonBarnes and Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, and iTunes.


  1. Great advice. Shows just how much work marketing is. And it's not a one-time thing either. It's an ongoing process. I think it helps to have more than one book out, too. That's what I'm working on now--trying to get more product out. But it doesn't happen quickly. Sigh.

    1. Thanks Carrie. Yup, it's definitely ongoing. And tweaking. Everything builds on everything else. Yes, having more books out definitely helps. Especially if you write a series or within the same genre. :) It a process to get the ball rolling though.

  2. Kourtney, this is great advice - a real how-to for where to start marketing your book - so many things here that I would never have thought of, but I think every prospective author should read this!

    1. Thanks Andrea. Marketing and promotion are such a huge part of my author career. It took me a year to really get a handle on things. Or at least feel like I did. :) I tried to provide strategies and tactics that any novelist could use. I hope it helps.

  3. Kourtney, I feel lucky to have had an inside view of your process from the beginning. You have demonstrated that an engaging product (e.g., book) plus savvy hard work can really pay off. Yes, it's a slow slog, but you're doing it, and in the process have been inspiring other indie and self-published authors.

    1. Thank you Audrey! I am lucky that you went before me too--you helped me find the courage to enter this frightening unfamiliar world of indie publishing. :) The book definitely has to be top notch or no amount of promotion will help. It's lots of marketing strategy too. Not just jumping on the new tactic but making sure it fits your strategy and accepting that they payoff may be further down the line.

  4. You are one of the hardest working authors I know, Kourtney! You do it all and not everyone can say that. Obviously all of your effort has paid off as I know you've got several awards under your belt...yay! Keep it up, you're obviously doing something right. :)

    1. Aw thank you Jill. Some days I feel stretched to my limits and wish there was more of me. Overall, there's been lots to celebrate. All the steps toward my publishing dreams count. Even the incremental ones. ;)

  5. Kourtney, the value in the advice and information you share is that you walk the talk - you have done all this and while the results speak for themselves I know how hard you have worked and how much time you have spent accomplishing them :) EllaDee

    1. Thanks EllaDee. :) Being out there definitely helps you learn what works and why. One of the best things I read about promoting is that strategies are pretty constant, but tactics change often. So I try to think about what strategy a tactic will work for before I consider using it.

  6. I'm still deciding whether or not to self-publish or seek a publisher. The one thing holding me back is the expense to self-publish. Other than that, I can find no other reason that I'd want a publisher. I'm going to a writer's conference in October. I plan to gather all the info I can there on both choices and then make a decision for my finished novel. Thanks so much for sharing these tips, Kourtney

    1. Hi Loridr. It's a big decision. I spent 3 years pursuing traditional publishing before I decided to self publish. I researched and talked to authors who'd done it before me. It felt like the right choice for this book. From my experience, the upfront cost to produce a great ebook and paperback is about $3,000-4,000. The majority will go to an editor and a cover designer and reviewers like Kirkus and PW. If you can find people to trade services with, you can cut some of the costs. Glad to help. It also depends on your goals. Do you want to be a small business or do you want to be a writer? Because if you hate the business side, you're going to hate 50% of being self published. Best of luck! Let me know what you decide. :)