marketing your book

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.

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?

Author Insider: How to Sell Your Book with Susan Levine

As I’m sure our readers know (because I haven’t been able to stop talking about it for weeks), our newest children’s book, Harriett’s Homecoming: A High-Flying Tour of Cincinnati, comes out next week! The author, Susan Levine, is a marketing powerhouse, and I thought it would be a great resource for our commercial and custom authors alike to hear about her unique promotion tactics. As she will tell you herself, it’s all about personal relationships, so I spent a while on the phone with her this morning gleaning her wisdom. Here is the condensed version:

1. Start with questions: You have to put yourself in the customer’s shoes to understand the audience.  Why do they want my book? How is my book different than any other book they could buy? I knew my audience would be engaged parents and grandparents—people that are taking their kids around the city to see these places. My audience is also librarians and teachers. It is required by state education standards to teach elementary-aged children about Ohio history. This is the perfect book for them—an illustrated children’s picture book about a great Ohio city.

And it’s not just the end consumer—you have to think about the distributors who will move your book along to the customer. Who wants to sell my book? How is this different than any other book they sell? What can I do to get it to them? How can I get them excited about my book? I knew I should approach the highlighted places in the book, and then hone in on specialty book and toy stores. When I was promoting my first book, Packard Takes Flight: A Bird’s Eye View of Columbus, I approached Larson’s Toys and Games in Columbus about carrying it. I stopped in every few weeks, I brought them Graeter’s Ice Cream coupons as a thank-you when they bent over backwards to help me—I built a personal relationship with them. And the result? They have had my book on the counter for over two years now, and they’ve personally sold hundreds of copies.

2. Network: I worked with the places featured in the book for months ahead of time—researching, building relationships, getting permission for inclusion and pictures and history, etc. I will be dropping off a thank-you copy of the book to every single one of these places, asking them to pass it around and tell their friends.

3. Know your seller: Niche markets want something people can’t find many other places. When I am doing a book on a particular city, I will go to every neighborhood in that city and walk through all of the specialty book and gift stores. Once I’ve figured out which one is the best fit for my book, I go in and talk to a manager, explain to them how perfect their store is for my book and pitch it to them to stock it. But, I will only offer it to their store, and I make it clear that they would be the exclusive seller in that neighborhood.  It then becomes mutually beneficial.

And once you have your book stocked somewhere you can’t just stop there. Specialty book and gift shops don’t operate like your franchised Barnes & Noble: they don’t have books on automatic replenishment. You have to go in every six months and check on your book—do they have enough copies, do they need any more signed, is the book displayed well and correctly? This is where an author has a lot of pull in keeping their book stocked and displayed.

4. Be Assertive: You have to be confident, and you have to be proactive. Talk personally with booksellers, know the Kids’ Lead at your local Barnes & Noble, ask them if they need to place a new order, ask them how to get a staff-pick for your book or how to get better bookshelf placement.

5. Social Media is Powerful: I’m still learning how to optimize social media, but I am learning just how effective it can be. When I was doing Packard Takes Flight, a natural resources/falcon conservancy blog posted about the book and linked to my web store. Within days orders were rolling in online—and these were just from peregrine falcon enthusiasts! Never underestimate what online buzz in a niche industry can do for you.

6. Do Complimentary Programs and Speaking Engagements: Our greatest success with both Packard Takes Flight and Harriett’s Homecoming has been our interactive, engaging, and multi-disciplinary school program. I’ve had so many school librarians who’ve told me it’s the best program they’ve ever been a part of. My favorite was an older librarian who told me: “This is the best author visit we’ve ever seen…and I’ve seen a lot.” And it’s effective because it keeps the kids engaged, learning, and moving.  We talk about architecture, about cities, about falcons, about how books are made. They get to meet Erin, the illustrator, and learn about the artwork and they get to meet the falcon and learn about a native species. It’s really fun and fast-paced, and it moves more books than anything else.

Speaking engagements are also important because they help expose you to your niche audiences. They are never a direct sales pitch, but they enable you to talk about what you’re best at, and you can use your experience and your book as an example. I’ve spoken for the Audubon Society, the Ohio Libraries Conference, the Columbus Historical Society—the list goes on.

7. Make sure you are filling an unmet need with your book: Write a book that fills a need that you are uniquely qualified to fill, and then tell people about it. 

A big thank-you to Susan for her insight!