Book Marketing

Books in the Age of Impressions: Part One

My job is to convey the message about our services to people who wish to publish a book. This includes tracking how clients come to us. I’m interested in how they find us, as it helps me adjust our marketing. When I look back at how current and potential clients have found us, the most common pathway is through one of our books. But how do you track or quantify the impact of a book as a marketing tool?

It’s more straightforward in the online world. We now have the ability to track and quantify nearly everything we put online. I can pull up the Google Analytics page for our Orange Frazer website and know how long people spend on each page, which page leads people to the contact page, which page causes people to stop reading, etc. I can track how many people are new visitors or returning visitors and how many of them visit on a desktop computer, smart phone, or tablet.

Most important, I can track the number of impressions my content may have, which means I can also create new and better content, and update its layout and structure, so that it reaches more people and garners more impressions.

But how do we, then, quantify the “impressions” of a book? This is answered through two specific questions

1. If I print 10,000 books, am I limited to 10,000 impressions? 2. Can you compare books and websites as marketing tools?

I believe the answer to the first query is no, and following is why.

Cleveland photography, Jennie Jones
Cleveland photography, Jennie Jones

We produce books for private clients all the time. These books end up on bookshelves, in stores, on coffee tables, and in gift shops, each book with a finite number of copies and a predetermined retail price. A few years ago, we worked with Cleveland photographer Jennie Jones to produce her collection of Cleveland architectural photography, Cleveland Inside Outside. While she printed a finite number of books, sold a finite number of books, and kept a finite number of books, people have interacted with her book in not-so-finite ways, and it’s led to various outcomes.

For example, I recently received an email query from a photographer living in Paris, who, on his most recent trip to Ohio, visited the Cleveland Museum of Art and saw Jennie Jones’s book. He felt it akin to his vision for his own work, so he contacted us to learn more about what we do. Someone else may have also seen and flipped through this book without purchasing—in fact, who knows how many people looked through the book in the gift shop, and who knows how many people will now remember Jennie Jones’ photography, or the unique design of the book?

Another example: we recently met with a university committee about producing an anniversary book, and we left a number of our books with the committee members to show to the board. One of these board members happened to have an entirely independent book in mind, saw one of our books, and came to us about her own project. We will now be publishing her book as well. The books, passed around to a group, and then discussed with family and friends, were experienced tenfold.

We are currently producing a memoir for a local farmer and Vietnam War veteran. How did he discover us? Through the book of Clinton County photography currently sitting on the coffee tables of local banks, political offices, residents, and community liaisons.

While each copy of a book is finite, the number of people a single book can reach is anything but.

So, to answer the second question of comparing books and websites as marketing tools: kind of. We can use similar language in our comparison: impression, as a term, is useful when discussing print materials. However, there is still the question of tracking a physical product. Maybe someday we will know when you turn a page, dog-ear a corner, or Google the author. We are coming closer to this with e-books. But for now, we’ll focus on how to leverage the potential impressions of a book for marketing—in part two.

Promoting a Book: It’s a Lot More Like Writing Than You Think

Book publishing workshop at Milton-Union Public Library.
Book publishing workshop at Milton-Union Public Library.

As part of Orange Frazer’s educational outreach, I regularly conduct workshops and sessions on book publishing for aspiring authors. Not surprisingly, a number of their questions revolve around book marketing and promotion. Typically, authors will point out that they don’t enjoy marketing, and that they publish books because they enjoy writing. I can empathize with this. I love writing as well, and book promotion and marketing (after the emotional rollercoaster of writing, editing, and publishing a book) can seem that much more exhausting, intimidating, and frankly, boring. But the more I work to promote and market our own books at OFP, the more I recognize that book promotion is not so unlike writing as we often assume it is: the two are, actually, quite similar.

1. Tell a Story Promoting and marketing a book—like writing—is all about telling a story. People buy products because of compelling narratives. For those who watched the Super Bowl on Sunday, this is particularly poignant. Budweiser won our hearts not because it laid out the facts: Budweiser is a cheaper, more cost-effective beer that provides the same taste quality, value, and availability as its more expensive alternatives. I’d guess no one would be running out the door for a Budweiser after that bore of a message. Instead it told us a story: the story of a puppy and a Clydesdale, of friendship, loyalty, companionship, of the potential for dreams to become reality. They told us a story that we wanted to believe, that made us feel good, that appealed not to our needs, but to our wants.

2. Consumers buy based on wants, not needs This strikes at the second crucial part of book promotion and marketing: forget about what people need and start showing them what they want. Oftentimes, marketers will expound on the needs of consumers: show them why they need this product and then why your product is their best available option. This seems like it will be effective; we assume that our target audience makes logical, fact-based decisions about which products to buy. But think of yourself, and you realize that this is hardly ever the case. While we would like to think we buy based solely on need, we almost exclusively buy products based solely on our wants. Right now I need a new clothes iron, but instead, I bought a pair of overpriced yoga socks. Why? I liked the idea of yoga socks, I liked their bright colors (especially in a winter that seems neverending), and I liked how comfy they looked. An iron, while necessary, did not invoke any of these feelings, and so, I essentially forgot about it.

Similarly, people will not buy your book because they need it. They don’t need it. At all. Book buyers are a niche audience, and they are not reading voraciously because their life depends on it. They read books because they want to, because they want to be involved in your story, swept up in it, transformed by it.

So stop thinking about book promotion like a formula, where well-placed ad + reputable book review + in-store displays + radio interview = bestseller. Start thinking about book promotion like your own writing. Tell your readers a story. Will your book sing them to sleep, remind them of their first love, suspend them breathlessly from chapter to chapter, revolutionize their understanding of the past? Marketing, after all, is plot, with all of the characterization and emotional integrity of a well-written book.

Should I Pay for Book Reviews?

Let me start this post by stating: this is not a discussion of whether or not you should pay for a favorable book review, as that is, obviously, unethical. This is a discussion of whether or not indie and self-published authors should pay for reviews from reputable sources (Publishers Weekly and others offer such programs). SONY DSCSelf-published authors still exist in a divided space. Most review publications will specify that books be “traditionally” published, many author fairs explicitly exclude “author-financed” books, and several industry observers have questioned whether or not we should separate books online by their path to publication—traditionally published books in one section, self-published in another.

As an industry, we still don’t know what to do with the hundreds of thousands of self-published titles coming out every year, and our systems for reviewing, featuring, and selling these titles is disjointed at best (and marginalizing at worst).

Book reviews are at the nexus of this issue, as they have long been heralded as the make-or-break moment for an author. A favorable review in the New York Times book review—at one time—could catapult an author to fame, whereas a negative review could leave an author moaning helplessly on his couch for days on end (this is a true story, best left for another time).

Before diving into the question of paid reviews for self-published authors, it’s crucial to notice two trends in the industry as a whole:

1) Review blogs and websites have proliferated, whereas almost every print newspaper in the country has cut its book review section entirely. 2) The book reviewers of yesteryear have lost some of their weight in the book discoverability formula (fewer people read traditional, print book reviews, making them a less significant predictor of a book’s success or failure).

Given these trends, how crucial is it for your self-published book to be reviewed? And, subsequently, should you pay for a review? Here are three things to consider as you make your decision:

1) How often do you read book reviews? Book reviews should target either booksellers and librarians or book consumers in general. You would fall into that second category, so if you, as an aspiring author (and an assumed book reader), aren’t reading book reviews to discover new titles, then you might question whether or not other consumers are. 2) And for the first target audience: what book reviews do your local booksellers and librarians read? Head to your local indie and ask them how they discover new books. Ask the same of the collection development librarian in your community. They probably learn about books from a variety of sources, so take note of which ones they turn to when they are choosing which titles to stock. 3) Certain review sites are aggregated into a bookseller or librarian’s ordering system. For example, Baker & Taylor, the number one book distributor for libraries, pulls the relevant Publishers Weekly and Library Journal reviews for each title into its system. This means that a librarian doesn’t even have to leave her ordering system to read reviews from these sources, making these review sources invaluable. 4) The almighty Amazon. Consider whether or not a traditional book review in a reputable periodical or on a well-read and respected blog will outweigh a hefty number of Amazon reviews. If you are focusing primarily on selling to retailers and librarians, perhaps focus on more traditional review sources (as most indie booksellers won’t care about how many five-star reviews your book has on Amazon). If you’re selling independently, though, and maybe even exclusively online, a thorough—and diverse—stock of Amazon reviews can go a long way. Give free copies of your book to those you think would have an interesting and relevant critique, and ask them to give you an honest and unbiased review on Amazon. A few negative reviews are great—they show a consumer that you didn’t just pay off your friends and family to sing your praises.

At this point, you’re probably realizing that I won’t answer this post’s primary question: should you pay for a book review? I honestly don’t know. I do think, though, that every single book has a unique trajectory, and as such, should be handled and promoted individually. What’s right for your book won’t be right for anyone else in your writer’s group, so think critically about whom you are selling to, what they read and share, and how a review will positively—or negatively—impact your goals.

Paid book review resources for self-published authors:

Publishers Weekly Select

Kirkus Author Services for Indie Authors

Unpaid book review resources for self-published authors:

Book review blogs (this list from Goodreads highlights independent book bloggers):

Library Journal

Finding Book Review Blogs: Think Beyond the Book

This morning I was reading through one of my favorite daily emails, Shelf Awareness Pro (if you have any interest at all in writing, publishing, bookselling, or reading, I suggest that you subscribe). They often sell ads to book publishers to promote books pre-publication (usually so that book reviewers and booksellers can request advance reader copies), and today I noticed that they had included an ad for a book I’ve been following the past few weeks (already on my to-read list): All Russians Love Birch Trees, a novel by Olga Grjasnowa, published by fellow indie publisher, Other Press. The ad scrolled through a few reviews I had already read, a headshot of the author, and the cover, but it was the final blurb that caught my eye. Other Press had included a quote from the Warby Parker blog.

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If you aren’t familiar with Warby Parker, it is an online eyeglasses retailer that specializes in vintage-style frames. It’s recently become very popular outside of its original niche audience (confession: I recently bought a pair myself), and the company has done an incredible job partnering with designers, stylists, bloggers, and others in the fashion world to create a hip brand and highly visual blog.

I had no idea that the Warby Parker blog reviewed books, though, and the more I thought about it, the more I loved it. Typically, authors only consider dedicated book review blogs when looking for online love for their books, and publishers often have a list of go-to bloggers for promotion. Reaching outside of the book world into another corner of a vibrant fashion/culture industry is smart. As a reader, it reinforces that this is the kind of book I want to read (I love Warby Parker’s brand and unique style). For a consumer (or bookseller or blogger or reviewer) who may have been on the fence about the book, a blurb like this is a well-timed affirmation that this novel is young, edgy, and transformative.

Also, I would love to see a report on the correlation between book buyers and eyeglasses wearers. My guess is that my fellow book nerds and I buy our fair share of eyewear.

Promoting Your Book at Creative Locations

Bookstores and libraries are usually an author’s go-to for book tours, and rightfully so. These venues are ready and willing to host events, are experienced in scheduling and promoting authors, and draw well-read and curious crowds. But there are a number of other creative locations for book events that authors often don’t consider. Alternative book events can draw niche audiences interested in very specific topics, and they can put a spotlight on the author and his/her expertise.

Here are just a few ideas for alternative book events. This list isn’t exhaustive, but it should help to get your gears turning for your own book project.

Back to Eden: Landscaping with Native PlantsSpecialty stores. Last spring, Orange Frazer Press released Back to Eden: Landscaping with Native Plants, a gardener’s guide to using native plants in home gardens. We knew that we needed a very specific audience for the author’s events: skilled gardeners with an interest in trying new plants that are both native and available or for sale in their region. We also knew that the event host should gain something from holding the event. To that end, we contacted a few of our local garden centers, ones with substantial stocks of native perennials, and asked if they would be interested in hosting a native plants workshop with the author. The response was incredible, and the events ended up being very successful for both the author (who sold a significant number of books) and the garden center host (who sold a significant number of native perennials).

 

Marie-at-Make-and-Takes-bookRegional fairs and festivals. Book festivals are, of course, one excellent avenue for book-promoting authors, but also consider craft fairs, antique shows, and other niche festivals and conferences. Perhaps you wrote a book on hiking the Appalachian Trail, and there is an outdoors fair at your local REI, or maybe you’ve written a novel set during the Civil War, and there is a Civil War reenactment outside of your city. You can search for fairs, festivals, tradeshows, and conferences through area event centers or through online calendars (your local newspaper, your state’s travel magazine, etc.). Offering to be a guest speaker, panel participant, or workshop host at one of these events will position you for even greater success, giving you the opportunity to sell your book to enthusiastic attendees.

 

 

can-a-tech-meetup-change-the-world-video--a5a68b588eClubs, associations, and organizations. Every city has its fair share of private groups—country clubs, craft/hobby meetups, book discussion circles, and the list goes on. Consider contacting relevant groups/clubs in your region, and offer to be a guest speaker at one of their meetings or special events. These groups are often actively seeking out speakers, and most will gladly welcome a free offering. You can put together a short presentation about your particular setting, area of expertise, or topic, and then sell books to attendees at the conclusion. Meetup.com is a great way to start searching for relevant groups.

 

What creative locations have you used for book or author events?