A Powerful Book Marketing Strategy: Start Small With an Insider Group

A Powerful Book Marketing Strategy: Start Small With an Insider Group

Book marketing is a chicken and egg situation: To sell books, you need readers, but to get readers, you need to sell books.

Where exactly do you begin? How do you approach such a daunting task in a competitive environment? If you follow typical strategies, you and your book will get lost in the crowd.

Over the last few years, a neat solution has cropped up, and it’s gaining steam. Often referred to as an “insider group” or “private beta group,” it’s a powerful tool that has worked for authors in a variety of genres, from action writer Bob Mayer to startup-funding, nonfiction author Mike Belsito.

Initially, marketing your book to a small group can appear counterintuitive. Some authors may worry that focusing on merely a few readers is not a good use of time. But it works. Here’s why, and how to start your own group.

What is an insider group?

The idea is a simple one. As an author, you build a tight-knit group of special readers who like your work and use them as evangelists to help with your marketing. They help you spread the word much further than you could on your own.

For example, Bob has sold more than 4 million books and has thousands of readers. And yet he knows the power of an insider group, and keeps a small private Facebook group of about 30 avid fans of his writing. (You can hear Bob talk about his insider group here.)

Mike revealed a very similar idea in another interview, explaining how he used a few individuals to evangelize about his book when it launched. Mike’s book reached number one in its category on Amazon, and his “insider group” was a significant contributor to this success.

Mike and Bob write in completely different genres. The fact that insider groups worked for both of them hints at the enormous potential and flexibility of this idea.

Why you should work with a small group of readers

It’s not hard to imagine how beneficial a small pool of dedicated individuals can be. Why keep it small, though, if you have more fans “knocking at the door” and wanting to join your group? Here are a few reasons:

It focuses your marketing

The process of creating an insider group will force you to think about the type of reader you are appealing to. By focusing on and engaging with a few fans, you’ll be able to “put a face” to a snapshot of your readers.

The revelation of this key group’s identity will guide your marketing efforts and demystify the question of who you’re writing for — helping you reach them more effectively. For example, you might learn that your target demographic left Facebook behind long ago in favor of Instagram and Vine, so you might choose to focus your efforts on those platforms.

You’ll make personal connections

People will only turn into evangelists of your writing if you have put in the effort to get to know them and make a personal connection. This is only possible with a manageable number of dedicated readers in a structured environment; if the group’s too big, you won’t be able to get to know everyone.

You can also encourage connections between the other members of the group, building relationships among a cohesive team of advocates in which each one feels valued.

Dedicated readers can become useful critics

Some authors turn their insider groups into a critical readership by asking them to serve as beta readers. Since these readers know your writing and want to help you, they can offer great feedback on your story’s development — and many readers love seeing a “sneak peek” of your writing process.

While your insider group won’t replace your editor, reader criticism is valuable, since these are the people you’re writing for.

You’ll make your members feel special

If the readers in your insider group genuinely feel appreciated for helping you out, they are likely to remain loyal readers and constant supporters, giving their support and guidance freely in exchange for feeling valued. The bigger your group, the less privileged each individual will feel.

How to find your early readers

“But it’s my first book!” I hear you cry. “I haven’t got any readers!” That’s not a problem; all authors have a first book at some point.

Here are a few things to consider as you build an insider group ahead of your book’s release date.

Start preparing months before your launch date

You need to think about your marketing activities before you finalize edits and design your cover. Building an insider group is no exception. Start early, especially if you don’t yet have a readership. Give yourself a lead time of several months to build up an audience.

Use your existing network

Think about all the people you know who might like your writing and reach out to them individually, sending them a sample of your manuscript. If they like it, they may be interested in joining your group.

Consider sharing an excerpt

Think about posting part of your book on sites like Wattpad, Figment or Leanpub to help potential fans discover your work. Then select a few of those fans and let them know about the insider group you are creating.

Reach out to existing fans

If this isn’t your first book, reach out to your most dedicated fans — the most enthusiastic reviewers or the ones you have already established a relationship with — and ask them to join your group.

Prioritize enthusiasm

Don’t assume that people with the greatest online clout will necessarily be the best people to have in your group, or that you should ignore those with a smaller online following. True passion for your work is far more powerful than a wide reach.

How to keep your insider group happy

Of course, keeping the group small and “exclusive” is key. But there is more that you can do to turn your big fans into even bigger fans.

Send them exclusive material

Whether you’re looking for critical feedback from your readers or simply want to share new scenes or cover design drafts, exclusive material is a sure way to keep your insiders engaged.

Maintain a personal relationship with each member

Remember, this is a personal relationship and groups typically only number about 20-30 readers, so email them individually. This one-to-one communication is central to the entire idea.

Use their personal expertise

When you get to know each member of your group personally, think creatively about ways to capitalize on their unique perspectives. For example, author Mark Dawson had an ex-FBI agent in his group who helped him develop his action scenes, ensuring they were realistic and detailed.

When we hear about the latest success stories in publishing, it seems like it’s all about the numbers: downloads, sales, reviews, earnings, etc. These numbers are both fascinating and intimidating to the average author: “How will I ever get to such a stage in my writing career?”

Remember, all those successful authors started small, with a limited but loyal fanbase that created a snowball effect. Creating your own insider group could be the start of your own snowball.

Have you tried creating an insider group of fans of your work? We’d love to hear your stories in the comments!

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  • Great read and wonderful advice. I’m putting together an insider team right now. While I’m referring to it as a “launch team,” I think I like the insider term better. :/ I’m going to take some action steps based upon some of your advice to engage prospective members better and keep them engaged once the whole group is assembled. Thanks.

    • Thanks Chad! Yes, I like the term “insider”. It’s only a word, but it changes the way I think about them, for more than just a “launch” or initial sales push. They can be much more powerful than that, if used creatively, and the name might just change how you think about it too. Best. Thomas

      • I agree. wish I had had your post a few days earlier. I am thinking about changing it anyway and going back to change some of my verbiage where I have promoted it.

        • Thomas du Plessis says:

          Glad to hear it!

          Just a thought on “promoting” it. Obviously, I don’t know exactly what you are doing in terms of promoting your beta-group (presumably to attract members?), but I would recommend growing it organically, as opposed to trying to attract people from the outside. Identify some fans of your writing first and build a relationship with them. Then after a while, see if they are interested in joining a group.

          Making people feel special is an art. Wasn’t it Groucho Marx who said: “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.”

  • Pimion says:

    Such a nice article!
    All that chicken-egg situations are always mindblowing. Thank you for making it a little bit clearer.

    • I’m glad you liked it Pimion. These things can really help, and with this one, if you invest into it like any relationship, it has a good chance of flourishing and leading to new ideas.



  • Wendy says:

    The problem with using an “insider group” is that they can only help you expand your audience if they travel in wider circles than you do. I have an “insider group”: my local writing club. I’ve sold a few books (and paintings) to them, but they seldom make the kind of connections that would expand the market for my works, because for the most part, they’re doing their swimming in the same pond that I am.

    • Hi Wendy,

      A writer and a painter! Fantastic 🙂

      I believe this may be a problem of definitions. The local writing club that forms your “insider group” may well be fantastic for feedback and I’m sure many would like your work. However I’m talking about something quite different. At your writing club, I’m assuming members join explicitly for the purposes of group critique: it is a pre-defined group that happens to know your work, because you are part of the group in the first instance, and not because they first came across your work.

      What I am talking about is creating a group that is specifically for you, made up of people from around social networks and sharing sites who like your work. If you build this type of group (as well as still attending your writing club of course!), I guarantee you that you will find people swimming in a different pond.



  • David Throop says:

    Thanks Thomas for sharing. I’ve read about “insider groups” or beta-readers, tribe members, any number of ways to label the same thing, first readers.

    Having heard about the power of having such early readers, I’ve often wondered how, and where, to find them. You offer a couple great points – from Wattpad, Leanpub and Figment – I definitely will have to check them out.

    My question with these formats is, as a short story writer, how can I offer a snippet of a story to get traction within these formats? It is clear for longer fiction and non-fiction, but for shorter word counts, are there other ways to find those same beta-readers?

    • Hi David,

      It’s an interesting problem you’ve raised. Perhaps I could rephrase it to see if I’ve understood it properly: as a short story writer, how do I find a group of beta-readers who will become consistent advocates when my work is by its nature non-sequential (unlike multi-series genre fiction) and not a larger work of fiction that readers are used to? How do I then find them on sites which normally accommodate larger works?

      I believe the answer may be in thinking of your short stories as a coherent body of work made out of smaller pieces. In practice, this is not much to how other authors have to think, you may just need to try a slightly different approach. You need to focus even more on finding readers who really like your writing style, as opposed to just those who may like one particular story.

      There may be a step-approach that could help.

      I would recommend starting with a few short stories ready to be shared. Share a complete one on the reading network of your choice. Collate readers who express an interest and send them a second one. Judging by the ones who like the second round, you will see who could be a potential for your beta-group – those who like your writing and your style, as opposed to a single story. You could even try another round if necessary, containing only a snippet of another story.

      Experimenting with a step-approach like this could be your best bet. It’s quite methodical and the drop-out rates will be high at each step, but it could just be the best way to wean out the casual readers, from ones with whom you can form deeper relationships with over time.

      Does that help at all?


  • Evita says:

    Great read and insights Thomas! Thank You very much for taking time to share it with us.
    I think it is very good path to take – to have a small fan group of dedicated readers. Will check the book sites you recommend! I create – paint/write picture books and always wondered how to share a part of it.
    Also – may be it is easier just keep close relationship with those few readers through e-mail rather that create an online group for them together?!

    • Thomas du Plessis says:

      Hi Evita,

      You could always use both emails and a group. After all, an online group requires that you’ve already built up a few readers, and maybe for you find that you only want to create the group once you’ve attracted a few readers through email.

      One of the benefits of an online group is that members of the group could get to know each other a bit, sharing what they may like about your work. The other benefit is that they can actually see themselves clearly as members of a select group, and that could make them feel included and supported in a common cause.

      On a purely practical note, it is also easier to send group messages in online groups. They also give you the chance to communicate privately and directly with each member, when you need to.




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  • H Gibson says:

    Very good post!
    I make use of an Alpha reader who follows chapter by chapter to assure story flow and clarity before the book goes to the editor.
    After editing, a few key Beta readers work through it. They know me as well as the series and are also the first ones to leave comments on the new book. Only after this first commentary are the books officially published and made available to the waitlisted readers. From here a key group of about 50 people takes most of the marketing forward via word of mouth referrals.

  • Tom Icon says:

    Great advise, sounds like an essential game plan.

  • Devlin Blake says:

    I LOVE this idea. Wish I had it when I did my first book. Or even my tenth. I might use it to help me launch my new product on finding time to write.

    It’s true that writers are not enemies. No one who reads in a genre reads the books of ONLY one author. There just aren’t enough books by one author out there to satisfy a voracious reader.

    So when authors of the same genre work together, we ALL benefit, including the reader.

  • Thanks for this info, Thomas. I self-published a romantic mystery trilogy over a year ago and did not understand the value of an “insider group” then. Would you recommend that I back up, start over, and treat these books as if they are new (with regard to an “insider group”)?
    My other question is this: I am determined to acquire a great agent for my fourth and fifth novel, but that could take a long time. Should I wait until I have a “deal” before creating and sending excerpts, etc. to my insider group? I don’t want them to get bored. Any thoughts?

    • Lisa Rowan says:

      If your insider group is in-tune with the publishing industry, they may have connections to agents or other interested parties. I can’t speak for Thomas, but I would advise working with your insider group early!
      Good luck,
      TWL Editor

  • Jo Fisher says:

    Just read the marketing strategy where you start small. Brilliant. As a former PR my first thoughts were to flood the market with Press releases; but thinking small makes a lot of sense, so that’s the route I’m taking. In the next week I’ll be setting up a Facebook group in the name of Jo Fisher Author and introducing the world to some bits of my coffee break romances and big project, net.bandits.