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How to Advertise Fiction vs. Nonfiction Books

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

Advertising fiction books and nonfiction is different... and the same.

Advertising fiction books and nonfiction is different... and the same.

Advertising Your Book

One of my author friends on TikTok asked me if the process of advertising a book was different for fiction as opposed to nonfiction. The answer is yes... and no.

In this article, I explain the differences between advertising fiction and nonfiction.

All Advertising Begins Similarly

Regardless of whether your book is fiction or nonfiction, your advertising decisions will begin with determining who your ideal reader is. This profile should include both demographic and psychographic elements. Here are some important factors to consider.

  • Age
  • Gender identity and sexual preference
  • Relationship and family status (married, single, parent, etc.)
  • Education
  • Income level
  • Profession/occupation (e.g., student, engineer, stay-at-home mom, etc.)
  • Location (country, state, or city)
  • Attitudes and interests
  • Hobbies
  • Life challenges (past, and current)
  • Goals

Once you've established your ideal reader profile, you can start thinking about where and how you could advertise to reach them.

Same Advertising Channels, Different Targets

Advertising channels such as social media ads, Amazon ads, and email marketing are used for both fiction and nonfiction. Any differences between the two are in the targeting.

The good news for authors who are not experienced advertising professionals is that advertising platforms can be very good at targeting those who match your ideal reader profile. This is especially the case for Facebook, Instagram, and Amazon advertising.

When you set up your ads, you’ll identify the demographics and interests of your ideal audience. Then, with almost limitless knowledge of their users coupled with sophisticated algorithms, Facebook or Instagram will put your ads in front of those users that are closest to your ideal target.

Authors often get tripped up when they set up their ads and see how small the reach is for the narrow ideal reader parameters they’ve entered. The temptation is to go broader in the hopes of reaching more people. But for niche books with a highly defined reader profile, that wide distribution will waste ad dollars by showing the ad to everyone.

Email Marketing

Email marketing can be very effective for both fiction and nonfiction. However, the biggest challenge for email marketing is getting people to subscribe and then open the emails.

Only a small percent of your website visitors will ever opt-in to your email list, and email-open rates have been declining over the years. You’re lucky if 20 to 30 percent of those few who subscribe actually open your emails.

What About Promotional Posts on Social Media?

When it comes to social media for non-ad promotional posts, choose the networks where you have the greatest actual or potential connection with your ideal reading audience. Always conduct tests to see which ones might be worth your while. The ones you logically think would be a good fit might not be. And the most productive networks can change over time.

For example, as a business nonfiction author focused on small business and self-publishing, you would think that LinkedIn would be an ideal platform for my organic promotions. It absolutely isn’t. Twitter used to be my key network years ago. Currently, most of my social activity is on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and TikTok.

As with any business, do not load your social media posts with “buy my book” messages. Adopting a 10 percent policy, meaning that only 10 percent of your posts are promotional, helps keep your feed from looking like it’s all advertising.

Different Genres, Different Appeals

Except for required reading in school, readers usually read fiction for entertainment or pleasure. Though nonfiction can also be entertaining and pleasurable, it is usually read to become informed or skilled.

This is where advertising fiction differs the most from advertising nonfiction. Advertising for a work of fiction needs to draw people in with emotion, whereas nonfiction’s appeal is in the information value it provides.

Therefore, the appeals in the ads should be different, as should their “creative” content (colors, layouts, themes, illustrations, etc.). An ad for a nonfiction book on accounting might have minimal or clean lines and be text-heavy to highlight included topics. In contrast, an ad for a fiction book might be heavy on visual elements with minimal-but-intriguing teaser text to excite readers emotionally.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2021 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 19, 2021:

Mary, ain't that the truth! Plus, most authors don't have the advertising background that I have. So I can imagine that this can be overwhelming for many of them. I just hope that some will read this and gain some clarity.

Thanks so much for your comments, as always! Have a lovely week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 19, 2021:

Peggy, thanks for the follow-up comment! Agreed, that's why I do love Facebook and Amazon advertising which can target users better than I ever could.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 19, 2021:

Bill, just playing both sides of the equation. :)

True, advertising is probably not that much of an issue for you now. But if you did start advertising 30 years ago, the whole advertising landscape was completely different. I was in advertising at that time. There was no Google until 1998. Even Amazon wasn't around until 1994, and KDP came much later. So you would have been advertising your books differently than now when all these online tools are available.

Enjoy that beautiful weather and have a great week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 19, 2021:

Liz, ain't that the truth! The internet has completely changed the advertising industry (which I used to be in years ago). Mostly changed for the better. But it has become more and more complex over time.

Thanks so much for chiming in and have a wonderful week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 19, 2021:

Peggy, appreciate you sharing my articles with your author friends! And collaborating on a book presents a completely different set of challenges. Hope it goes well for them.

Thanks, as always, for your support! Have a lovely week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 19, 2021:

You're so welcome, Dora! Glad you found it helpful. Appreciate you stopping by. Have a beautiful week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 19, 2021:

Linda, I don't think any author realizes how involved self publishing is until they get into it. Then, bam! All these questions. Thanks for chiming in and have a beautiful week!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 19, 2021:

Flourish, yep, us OGs are making TikTok ours! While I do have a good amount of Millennial and Gen Z kids in my tribe, I also have lots of older friends on TikTok. They're a riot. So we're just having fun. :)

Thanks for reading and chiming in! Have a beautiful week!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on April 18, 2021:

It's amazing how many elements go into advertising that people who do their own promotions have to consider and work hard at.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 18, 2021:

It makes sense to me that fiction books would be advertised quite differently from nonfiction. It is good that some of the platforms like Facebook let you target the audience that you seek.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 18, 2021:

The answer is yes and no? Well thank you for clearing that up. LOL

As always, great information. I just wish I had started writing thirty years ago instead of ten. Now, at 72, I find I simply don't care about advertising my books. I know I would have cared considerably when I was younger. :)

Happy Sunday, my friend! 80 beautiful degrees here, record highs, loving it.

Liz Westwood from UK on April 17, 2021:

This is an interesting and helpful article for anyone planning on publishing a book. It also gives a great insight into book ads and illustrates how much the internet has changed the advertising business.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 17, 2021:

I have some friends who are collaborating on a book. This information may be of value to them. Thanks!

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on April 17, 2021:

Thanks for the very insightful information you shared here.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on April 17, 2021:

I never realized how much there was to think about when publishing a book until I started reading your articles. Thank you for always sharing good advice, Heidi.

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 17, 2021:

Wow TikTok huh? Maybe those youngsters are right that they start platforms and we move in! It’s a smart move.