• Maria Ross
  • Five Tough-Love Book Marketing Truths You Need to Know
Five Tough-Love Book Marketing Truths You Need to Know
Written by
Maria Ross
April 2012
Written by
Maria Ross
April 2012

Building on my Five Marketing Tips post from last week, I thought I'd offer a healthy dose of my business marketing juju out to all of you.

See, I'm in business. I've been a management consultant, an advertising exec and a Corporate Marketing Director. I've crafted messaging to help sell everything from tomatoes to technology. As a branding strategist with my own firm now, I straddle this crazy line of "business person" and "artist." I've always written, acted and even sung in choir. So my artist's right brain is truly engaged. But I've also tracked sales metrics, determined revenue targets and directed marketing budgets - so I'm all about creative ideas but only as long as they get results. Just depends on which goals you are after!

In writing classes and conferences, this strange marriage of art and commerce collides - and sometimes not in pretty ways. You see brilliant writers - many more talented than I am - who can't articulate why people should buy their book, or can't succinctly describe the plot in 30 seconds. And since I actually love the field of Marketing so much, this pains me. I wish I could reach out and help every single one of them polish up their approach so their work can shine.

So, I'll start with five tough-love truths about marketing that you are better off accepting rather than trying to fight. The more you can adapt to the reality and learn ways to make it work for you, the better your fabulous book will do.


TRUTH #1: Your Book is a Product

Please don't lynch me! Yes, it's art. It's emotion. It's sometimes transcendant and powerful. But it's a product. People pay their hard-earned money for your book. It's a transaction. This means that all the rules of marketing apply. You have a product to sell, so you need to clearly articulate who the product is for, what they will get out of it, and then price it accordingly. Publishers need you to understand this. They can't exist if their books don't sell. So yes, they may ask you to change things in order to make the book more marketable. Doesn't mean you have to agree or even do it, but you need to understand the business reason behind it. Unlike my first book, I self-published my current book, Rebooting My Brain, because I wanted full editorial control to tell the story I wanted to tell. If I get picked up by a large publisher, I would want their feedback on how to make the book sell more copies. I know there are lines I will not cross, but I also know that I might be able to pump some aspects up or down and reach more people with my message.

Be open to the constructive criticism and don't take it personally.


TRUTH #2: Be Clear About Your Audience

If your book is so targeted to a small interested niche, or it's so broad that no one really can understand if it's for them or not, you're going to have an uphill battle. Marketing is not about lying (as many people think): it's about spotlighting the truth of your story, of the product's strengths and showing people how they will benefit from it. If you accept this definition, then not EVERYONE will benefit from your book. My memoir will not appeal to everyone, but I'm targeting people who've been impacted by brain injury or those looking for an inspirational story. That means targeting brain injury patients and their families, medical professionals, rehab services, and nursing groups as well as (mainly) women who love inspirational & humorous memoir, book clubs, etc. and probably watch certain shows or admire certain people.  I've also narrowed it down to women between the ages of 30 and 55. Doesn't mean someone outside of that WON'T read it - it just gives me something to aim for in my marketing efforts. And truth be told, you should have had this person in mind while you were writing the book - you probably did, you just never really thought about it before!

Create a clear target audience profile so you can make better use of limited time and marketing budget, target the right press outlets and avoid ineffectively boiling the ocean.

TRUTH #3: Just Because You Build It Doesn't Mean They'll Come

Think putting your book on Amazon or setting up your website will just make the orders flood in? I wish! You will constantly need to remind people that the book exists. Marketing is not a task you can cross off the list like "copyediting" - it's never "done." You will always be marketing your book so strap in, settle back and try to enjoy the ride. My first book, Branding Basics for Small Business, came out in 2010. Every week, I do something to market this book. I respond to press queries on HARO that are applicable to the book's topic. I guest blog for business sites to continually promote the book. I pitch media on certain themes from the book. I do speaking engagements for business and marketing groups. If I come across a new blog, I pitch the editor to review it. Am I promoting it like I was in the beginning (or like I'm doing with my current book?) Heck no. But as long as you want to sell copies, you will always be marketing. And think of it this way: new people are always joining your target audience profile each year, right?!

Marketing your book is an ongoing effort, so make it manageable and easy for yourself. After your first 6 months of launch, try to find three small things you can do each week to keep the promotion going.


TRUTH #4: Social Proof Goes a Long Way

What do I mean by social proof? Think about how Yelp, Twitter and social media in general can make or break companies and products. People like recommendations, referrals and insight - even if they don't know the other person. Start thinking about endorsements and reviewers for your book before it's even finished. I identified people from the time I started both of my manuscripts. I was then able to respectfully ask the right people to review the book and if they enjoyed it, would they be willing to endorse it? Sure, I've bought books or seen movies that critics may not have liked but it always helps to have some good reviews in your corner. These don't have to always be from The New York Times. Are there best-selling local authors in your city who support other emerging local authors? I approached one for my memoir and she gladly endorsed my book even though she didn't know me. Is there someone globally-known who is a good fit for endorsing the work? I approached one of the world's leading marketing experts to endorse my business book - it was a long shot and I thought, "Worst he can say is no." Amazingly, he agreed because he liked the book. Think of all the people in your circle (or on She Wtites!) who could offer some great social proof for you. Even if someone has never heard of them, the mere fact that you have a glowing review from a published author on your site and your Amazon page will make a world of difference.

People want to know they are not the first ones trying a product, so give them some good testimonials to feel better about the purchase decision. Target 20 people and send them a short, to the point, respectful request for a review. Then send a copy of the book in the format of their choice.


TRUTH #5: Marketing is Testing...and Retesting

Here's one of the hardest things for people who don't engage in marketing for a living to understand: not everything works. Of course, you need to be strategic to increase your chances, but often you have to try a few different things before you get the right result. In Marketing, we often call this "A/B Testing." We'll test emails with two different subject lines to see which performs better; we'll send two different offers to small samples of a mailing list and see how they perform before we send it out further. I've run marketing campaigns that have flourished - and flopped. There are so many varables that could be the issue: the list you used, the way you worded the offer, the time of day something was sent out, the audience's proclivity to buy, etc. Don't get discouraged if you try something and it has zero effect on sales. As long as you are reaching the right audience (see Truth #2)  you can learn from this and adapt. For example, I did a radio show for my current book that was a perfect fit. I got no sales out of it. But you never know who might listen to that show, or if down the line, they decide to purchase. I'm not saying to be okay with ALL your marketing efforts not working, but the idea is to canvass your audience over time, use a mix of tactics and then hope the overall effort has impact. I hate to tell you this, but you will pay for marketing tactics that work, and you may also pay for some that don't. Paying for advertising is not a guarantee it will achieve the desired result. In many cases, you are paying for the opportunity  - and what you learn from it.

Track your results, know your goals and tweak and refine as you learn from failures. Every new data point will make you stronger.

What do you think? Any other marketing truths you want to share that you've learned? Please comment!


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