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  • The What, Why, and When of Book Marketing, Publicity & Sales
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The What, Why, and When of Book Marketing, Publicity & Sales
Written by
Brooke Warner
September 2013
Written by
Brooke Warner
September 2013

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!

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  • Carol Graham

    Thank you, Brooke.  I will do that.  My life is "an open book" now - literally!

  • Donna Kaulkin

    Done! I love your webinars -- very helpful.

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    The webinar will be recorded, so just sign up and you'll get the follow-up link to watch after the fact. Thanks!

  • Donna Kaulkin

    I would love to attend the webinar, but it's same time as my weekly writing group. Will you repeat it for us West Coasters at another time?

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    @Carol. Well, I don't want to probe you on the issues, but you can absolutely become an expert in trauma and its aftermath. People who've suffered through abuse, for instance, often become experts in PTSD, or healing and helping others. It's all about the framing, but it's possible that you don't want to get pigeonholed. I sat on a panel with Laura Davis and she talked about how hard it was to be famous for the worst thing that ever happened to her. You might want to listen to it. It's very interesting: http://www.divshare.com/download/23807069-60c

    Also, consider Deb Siegel's webinar on the 24th, where she's going to be talking about "thought leadership," which is a key way of conceptualizing your expertise and what you have to offer:  http://shewritespress.com/thought-leadership-webinar

  • Karen A Szklany Writing

    So much to think about and chew on here. Thank you, Brooke! I am wondering if I should create a separate Amazon affiliate account to which I can link my web site's home page, in addition to the affiliate account that I have through Hub Pages.  It may be a more direct way to benefit from online sales of my book than I have had in the past several years. Seems like my learning curve has been rather wide, but much of what I have done for myself recently is because of what I have learned reading blog posts here on SheWrites!  Thanks again!

    One more note ~ I just ordered more copies of my nonfiction gardening book and a friend of mine who has been so supportive bought 3 copies to give to here clients ~ she has recently been certified as a Holistic Nutrition Coach.  I am very grateful to her. Since she has also bought a copy of my book for herself, I will have to find a way to make something for her as an extra "thank you" gift....but I am inspired to give it another chance before I move onto hatching a new baby chick of another genre.

  • Edward Smith

    Hi Carol, my heart goes out to you for the unfortunate way you have come to be an "expert" in these areas, but I can see you want to make the best of it.  You will have to do some research as to which of the "expert" niches you will do best in.  My first piece of advice is to settle on a goal for the venture.  Are you out to make money, are you out to become famous, are you out to spread the word on a cause, etc?  Each of these will lead you down a different path.  Next brainstorm about the areas you have really mastered since getting to where you are now.  Did you find an area of need that there was just nothing available on it and you had to learn by doing?  That tells you that you have hit a high "need for information" area.  The downside of that is that it may be too small a niche to make money, but then that is why we set your goals up first.  OK Carol I hope this helps and be sure to scan my blog americasleadingmediapitchcoach.com for more ideas.  Also feel free to keep the questions coming here on Brooke"s blog, this is an outstanding resource. 

  • Carol Graham

    Taking the "expert" path is sound advice and appreciated.  i have been trying to figure out a way to do that because my book is a memoir and I certainly have been an "expert" on traumatic events, sometimes more than two at a time and how to juggle your life and keep smiling in spite of all the tradegy and heartache.  Any ideas?

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    @Edward, we appreciate all good advice!

  • Angelica Hopes

    Thanks a lot Brooke for these valuable tips, I shared your link too with co-writers who are my friends in FB. Have a beautiful day. best regards, Angelica 

  • Edward Smith

    Hi Brooke, hope you don't mind me commenting again, all of the comments have been great.  One thing authors might consider focusing on more strongly is the idea of being experts who just happen to have written a book.  Concentrating on the book itself for sales takes you down one path.  You focus on reviews, Amazon, endorsements, networking with other authors,etc for instance.  The "expert" path can also be taken at the same time since you are going after a totally different audience.  Here you are focusing on the subject of the book rather than the book.  So you pursue media that covers the subject but not books as such.  The media understands you are there to plug the book and allows you do so, but the focus is on the subject.  By the way, this is a a great way for fiction authors to break out of the "book" focus road.  You take the subject that is the subtext of the fiction, show you are an expert in that area and show how that background subject is of interest to a mass audience and bingo, you get coverage for your fiction book.  OK, thanks for all the great information you are providing.  One more thing, this all applies to books that have been around awhile, since the media is not focusing on the book, but rather the subject, when the book was published does not matter.  Thanks, Edward Smith.

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    @Teresa. Hey! Good for you. That's the way to do it. You have to always be on the lookout, and see yourself as the expert national media is looking for. Congratulations!!

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    @Jane. there are things you can do to give your book a second life. I think I'll save that for another blog post. Good inspiration. Thank you and check back in two weeks. :)

    We have a list of publicists on SWP. AND it is admittedly difficult to find good ones. Or they cost a fortune.


  • Teresa K. Thorne Writing

    Hi Brook,

    Thanks for the post.  My share is to keep your eyes and ears always open to opportunity.  I was at a luncheon where a panel was talking about the media.  One of the panelists was a reporter for NPR.  I approached her with an idea for doing a radio story about the investigation of the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four young girls and changed history.  She did, and me and my new book--Last Chance for Justice--got a few moments of national prime time!

  • Cynthia Ann Conciatu

    Thank you so much for the suggestion, Brooke! I will look into that. Thank you for the link as well.

  • Jane Goldsmith

    Very good article, which I wish I'd read before my book was (self) published.  Do you have any tips about doing publicity most effectively AFTER publication?  Also, what about finding a good publicist, other than word of mouth/asking any other authors you know?  Most haven't used publicists.

  • Carol Graham

    Great idea -- I live in the toolies but will attempt to form a group!

  • Mary Anne Benedetto

    This is a seriously valuable post! Another suggestion is forming a local author group with emphasis on marketing and promotion. I found that there are many writers in the Myrtle Beach area, but no organization that brought them together. I formed Beach Author Network (see http://www.beachauthornetwork.blogspot.com) and we promote a different member book every two weeks through Facebook, Twitter, emails, the above referenced blog and my own book blog at http://www.abookfeast4u.blogspot.com. We all have different contacts and are able to reach more eyeballs collectively than we are able to manage individually. We participate as a group in various local events, and my next goal is to organize an annual book festival. We meet monthly at a library conference room and feature speakers who enlighten us on marketing and promotion topics. One of our members maintains the Beach Author Network blog, and I have a sign-up sheet where members can volunteer to either lead a program or acquire an expert to speak to the group. There are no dues, and we attempt to work in as paperless a manner as possible. Through this group I have met some amazing authors, read some books that I ordinarily would never have chosen and cultivated some dear friendships. A win-win!

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    @Donna. Good for you! I just followed you on Twitter. Thanks for these great suggestions.

  • Carol Graham

    Thank you, Thank you,  Thank you.  I must be on the right track because I have done what you suggest and much more.  I know that perseverance pays off and in fact, is what more than one review said about my memoir, Battered Hope.  They were shocked at the perseverance and tenacity it took me to get through life to this point and I am a long way from giving up now.  So, thank you for the input and I will continue to work and become successful in this venue.  Along the way, I am helping every author and wanna be author that I can with tips, plugs and reviews.  The more you give the more you receive, especially if that is not your ulterior motive.

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    @Cynthia, it's so much more difficult with ebooks. Reviewers won't really do anything with them. You can certainly do a KDP giveaway, which has been effective for a lot of authors. One of our SWP authors just posted about it yesterday. See here: http://www.shewrites.com/profiles/blogs/swp-behind-the-book-kdp-select-what-is-it-why-it-matters-part-1

  • Eileen Flanagan

    I'm in process with my third book, and the industry doesn't get any simpler, which is why we need our friends more than ever. Unfortunately many authors are shy about asking their friends or not specific enough about what they need. If You Love a Writer is my most popular blog post ever because it gives authors an easy was to let their loved ones know how to help. Just post a link to my blog, which of course helps me, too, if they stay long enough to poke around my site and learn about my books. Good luck, everyone! 

  • Brooke Warner Outlining

    @Shannon, oh my gosh. This is so common, and painful. Hard lesson, but yes, travel with books always! When I went to San Miguel last year for a writer's conference they told me to bring five books, so that's what I did. They sold out before my workshop even started! Now I know better: always come prepared to sell more than you expect to.

  • Donna Kaulkin

    Thank you, Brooke. I was in need of an informed, serious pep talk. I’ve been marketing “Brenda Corrigan Went Downtown,” (http://bit.ly/1a5F27U) since it came out in April and I have to admit I’d rather be writing my next novel. Here are some ideas that have worked wonderfully for me:   ⋆ A website created by a professional, with purchasing link, blog posts, events, and brief descriptions of book and author.  And reviews, of course, front and center.  ⋆ Bookmarks printed with a brief description of story, plus how to order, are great. (I just ordered my 2nd batch.) I use them like business cards and they lead to sales in unexpected places:  the local pool, shops, movie queues—wherever you chat with the people around you (and I’m a big chatter).  I also tuck a bookmark into each book at readings/signings, and ask readers to give them to a friend. Sometimes people ask me to sign the bookmark, because they have “Brenda” on their kindle!     ⋆ Local book clubs and bookstores. Word-of-mouth is the best marketing tool in any sales efforts. When people read my book, many recommend it to their book clubs and local bookstores. I’ve had one local bookstore event, with another coming up (we don’t have too many bookstores in my area anymore, unfortunately). And my schedule to read at book groups has been pretty healthy.  ⋆ Social networking has been a mixed bag for me. Facebook has had the best results. I get a huge amount of hits on my website from redditt posts, but I doubt this results in many book sales.  I tweet my little heart out, but—kerplunk! Maybe I just don’t have the knack for short-windedness, as we can see from this post. Anyway, good luck everyone.


  • Cynthia Ann Conciatu

    I've just self published a digital book of poetry, called Muse Swings through Amazon.com. the key words here are self published, poetry, and digital. My purpose is more for posterity than for prosperity, however, it would be nice to sell a few copies. Other than notifying friends and family are there any suggestions on how to get it noticed?