As the She Writes Press authors are gearing up for publication on the spring 2014 list, questions are coming up about how and when to promote and publicize.
Part of the reason authors get so confused about book marketing and publicity is because it’s actually pretty confusing! My intention with this post is to lay out what you need to know in the simplest possible (I hope) terms.
What is marketing?
Marketing is anything you do for your book that increases its visibility and gets the word out. It involves effort, time, and resources. And it generally costs money—a pay to play kind of arrangement. It includes collateral materials, like postcards, bookmarks, and posters. It includes digital media efforts, like your book trailer, YouTube campaigns, and webinars. It includes building your social media and creating a social media campaign. It also includes sending out promotional copies and doing book giveaways, as well as advertising, co-op, and paid promotions. (And I’m sure there’s more!)
Why is marketing so important?
Marketing can generate direct sales. Because it increases visibility, the more you do, the more people see you and your book. A standard rule of marketing is that you have to touch people eight times before they’ll buy something. (I’m sure some experts would argue it’s many more times than that.) The most surefire way to get in front of your potential readers is through marketing. Unlike publicity, it’s guaranteed: you are paying to play, so you end up with an ad, a placement, swag, or a book trailer. The more you play, the more visibility—and, hopefully, influence—you build. The less you play, the less visibility you get. Does marketing always translate into sales? No. But not doing anything is like starting a full mile behind the rest of the group in a road race.
When should I start marketing my book?
You want to start thinking about a marketing plan for your book well before your book is published. Most publishing houses require some sort of marketing plan for nonfiction books before they’ll acquire an author. They want a commitment from novelists as well. Agents and publishers will ask, “Who do you know?” and “What can you do for us and for your book?” Anyone who’s ever filled out an author questionnaire from a publisher knows how tedious an exercise it is—and it’s because they want to know every possible marketing angle you have to offer well before the book is out. The moment you’re done writing (if not sooner), start figuring out what you’re going to commit to and what will be the best use of your marketing dollars. Not all books need advertising. Not all books need trailers. Do competitive author research to figure out what worked for the better-selling books in your genre. Reach out to authors and ask them what they think worked. Set a budget and a timeline for yourself. The heavy marketing should happen in the firs three months of your book being out, but the prep work that goes into that should start anywhere from two months to a year before your book comes out.
What is publicity?
You can’t buy publicity, and that’s why it’s so coveted. Publicity is earned, either because your book is awesome and people love it, or because you’re awesome and people love you. Publicity generally happens when someone connects with the message of your book and so they decide to: run a print feature or an interview; review your book; recommend your book; or invite you appear on a local or national radio or television show. A lot of publicity is generated as a result of who you know. Yes, nepotism. Some of the best publicity hits I’ve seen authors get have happened because they’re super connected. So, reach out to your friends in high places and ask them for favors. At the bare minimum, ask everyone you know to review your book on Amazon. A book being released into the world is worthy of an ask—big or small—and you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised by how many people respond to the call.
Why is publicity so important?
I’m not sure that publicity is more important than marketing, but because you don’t pay for it and it’s therefore more objective, it seems to have more credibility. And on that note, it’s more awesome for you as an author—because you don’t pay for it. Publicity feels good, and when you get what’s called “sticky publicity,” meaning that something hits and everyone starts responding (either by doing more publicity or buying lots of books), that feels damn good. Good publicity can determine print runs; it can make or break a book; it can launch an author’s career. But a tricky thing about publicity is this: you can get a lot and it can do nothing for your book. Publicity does not always translate into sales, and there’s no rhyme or reason as to what works and why, though national media and certain specific vehicles (Today Show, Oprah, Fresh Air, People magazine, etc.) seem to have golden touches.
When should I start publicizing my book?
You start officially working to get publicity for your book no earlier than six months prior to publication, and most authors and publicists start working for it three months in advance of publication. Most review outlets ask for a copy of your book three months before it’s published (so you’re sending advanced copies, or galleys). If you’re publishing traditionally, getting confirmed publicity can affect how many books your publisher prints, as well as how many orders the major trade accounts place. Good publicity equals faith in your book. The reason many authors hire a publicist is because you’re supposed to line things up before the book comes out, and yet the publicity is supposed to not actually hit the public until the book is released. This is a dance—and not easy to manage. It involves a lot of moving parts and scheduling and follow-up, so if you don’t like this kind of thing, hire a publicist! If you already have one, this person is your most important ally. Do really nice things for them and let them know how much you appreciate them. Working on behalf of authors to get publicity is sometimes a pretty thankless job.
What is sales?
The definition of sales varies depending on who’s selling. Sales for a publishing company is generally controlled by a sales force. This is a team of people who go out to bookstores and national accounts and do what’s called “selling books into the trade.” This means they pitch the books they’re responsible for selling and the buyers take whatever orders they’re going to take. If you are selling directly, or you’re a self-published author who doesn’t have a sales force working on your behalf, then you are a primary generator of sales. You can sell your book on your website and at events and readings. It may seem obvious enough that sales entails selling your book, but too many authors dismiss sales as something someone else should be doing on their behalf, which is a mistake. No matter how you are published, don’t assume that sales is someone else’s job.
Why is sales so important?
Sales equals money, so it’s probably the most important thing on this list, though it’s hard to get sales with no marketing and no publicity. But sales is also the thing most authors (especially women authors) like the least. I’ve hosted a few webinars where people have expressed feeling offended at being sold to directly. We have judgments about selling, and about being self-promotional. Women are often conditioned to believe that we’re being self-congratulatory, or a braggart, or plain rude if we start to talk about ourselves and our achievements. We think we’re being pushy if we try to sell. It’s hard to change your feelings about selling from feeling self-conscious and bad about it to feeling like you really have something amazing to offer—and feeling like it’s no problem if people don’t want it. Sales is a mentality. It’s a state of mind. And if you want to make money, you can’t rely wholly on someone else for sales, especially not your publisher! You need a sales script, and you need to get comfortable with it. You need to practice telling people that you’re a published author and have a book, and practice figuring out a way to bring in what’s called “an ask.” You might be shaking your head, no way, but the key to your success, I promise, is all about accepting and embracing the salesperson inside of you. Yes way, all the way.
When should I start selling my book?
You can certainly presell your book, but if you don’t have someone to do the fulfillment for you, then you are the person who has to fulfill the orders. So keep that in mind. Most publishing companies do not fill individual orders, so you can order your own book (typically at a discount of 50%) and fulfill any orders you might have sold prior to your book coming out. The other obvious time to sell your book is right when it comes out. You can do what’s called a “book bomb” in the first or second week of publication, urging everyone you know to buy your book. The benefit of going this route is that your sales will be captured by Bookscan, an industry tool that measures book sales. If you’re a career author looking to traditionally publish, or looking to keep on traditionally publishing, you want your sales captured in Bookscan because publishers base what they can offer to an author by way of an advance on the sales of their previous books. Always have a link to your book on your website. Always bring books to events. Hell, carry your book on you always. And always be looking out for affiliate partners. I have worked with a lot of authors over the years who’ve made direct sales (in the tens and hundreds) to corporations, theatre groups, schools, recovery centers, organizations, etc. If you have a book with a message (whether nonfiction or fiction), you want to be thinking about selling your book to groups.
That’s the skinny. There is a lot more to say on each of these points, but I hope this will give you a sense of what’s ahead of you if your publishing date is on the horizon.
I welcome thoughts and questions as always, and please, share your biggest marketing, publicity, and sales successes with the community!
*Star on the Stage image from BigStockPhoto.com.