It’s written into a lot of book contracts these days – authors are expected to market their books. But how do you market something you’ve written when publishing is such a subjective business? That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? Marketing at the best of times is really a form of voodoo science because consumers are very fickle characters in their buying habits. And mea-culpa time – I basically suck at book marketing but I’m going to share my observations and a little bit of what I’ve learned over the past few years.
1) Most book buyers aren’t book bloggers.
I love book bloggers. Love, love, love, LOVE ’em. They champion your work, they’re connected with other bloggers. They’re industrious Twitter users and post their reviews all over social media. BUT … they’re not the market. They’re a slice of the market and their influence is probably limited to their social media circle. Yes, there are some bloggers who review for the industry in Kirkus, for example, but the average book buyer out there doesn’t blog, doesn’t Tweet, they might be on Facebook and that’s about it. When an author has a book coming out, it’s simply expected they will arrange for a blog tour, do interviews and giveaways. That’s standard operating procedure – but those authors are marketing to the converted, if you will. Book bloggers are book lovers who’ve taken their passion to the Interweb via social media, but I’ve not yet seen a study that shows a direct correlation between book blogging and serious sales of books.
2) Book signings are a crap shoot.
I’ve done book signings in England (which was great fun – go Blighty!) in Calgary and here in Saskatoon. The bookstore can put up a poster with your smiling face and cover art for your latest novel, but you just never know if anyone is going to show up. Now – if you’re an established brand like LKH or Kelley Armstrong, yeah – people will come. But if you’re just starting out or if you’re a mid-list author, you’re still the author that nobody has ever heard of so it’s going to be a serious crap-shoot if anyone comes to your signing or your reading. (You know, outside of family and friends.)
3) Facebook, Websites, Blogs and Twitter
Every author I know has a website, a blog, an FB account and they Tweet furiously. That’s expected – but again, unless you’re an established brand, there’s no real way to measure whether your online marketing efforts (giveaways, giveaways, giveaways, author interviews, interviews, interviews) are going to translate into actual book sales of note. Actually, you can flood your Twitter feed and become an annoyance if all you Tweet is a snippet of a review for your book. Chances are the people following you aren’t the market you’re aiming at in the first place. In most cases, your friends and followers are bloggers, fellow authors, agents and publishers. Again, LOVE YOU ALL … but they’re not the market.
4) Benefit over Price equals Value.
That’s what I call the Consumer Buying Equation. There has to be a whole lot of “what’s in it for me” in order for someone to part with their hard-earned dollars. They’ll only buy if they see value in what you’re putting out there – it could be everything from grommets to shoelaces to books. It’s exceedingly hard for any author to answer the consumer buying equation because there are just so many books published each year. And your market share (assuming you have one) is shrinking because of self-published books that appear every single day on Amazon.
5) Product Placement!!!!
But that product placement is reserved for the established brands from the large publishers. If you have a steamer trunk full of money, you can experiment with getting your product placed higher online venues but you won’t have a ghost of a chance in a brick and mortar shop – so your market is once again, online. And even with Borders closing almost two years ago and Barnes & Noble on the brink of going bye-bye, most people still shop for books at bookstores. If you’re mid-list or just starting out, your best bet is to create the mother of all book signing events at your local store and hope that it’s such a hit that other stores might want to take you up on doing one in their venue.
6) Chances are your best efforts will yield little
Sorry – but that’s just how I see it. Unless you can somehow tap into the mainstream consciousness with your book, you’re really going to be marketing to the converted.
7) You might go viral
Because you just don’t know what the hell is going to happen once that book gets published. It might wind up being slammed by every book blogger on the planet. Similarly, you might catch the eye of someone with media influence and suddenly you’re on Ellen and your book rockets to the top of the bestseller list. You might also go viral if you make a YouTube video of yourself in a drunken rant about how hard it is to get noticed enough for someone to spend ten bucks on your epic tome. I recommend against online rants because someone will do a big time smack-down on your sorry ass.
8) Author “Group” Blogs Are Great, but …
You’re preaching to the converted already. The market isn’t blogging – it’s at home watching reality TV, working two jobs, raising kids or playing with a PS 3. I’ve run a group blog – Dark Central Station. It was a fun project, we all blogged regularly (Nancy Holzner, Wayne Simmons, Thomas Emson, Christina Henry, Gary McMahon, Linda Poitevin, Erin Kellison and a few others …) AND … well, the blog no longer exists. Why? Because we have books to write, revisions to do, day jobs, night jobs, children to raise & book promotion on a variety of other online venues that take up our time. We ran that blog for almost three years but we didn’t hit critical mass and that brings me to my next point …
9) Critical Mass – WTF is that, anyway?
Critical mass occurs when the publishing stars are aligned, something miraculous happens and you actually get noticed by the mainstream book buying public who don’t blog, don’t tweet, don’t live on Facebook or Pinterest or Tumblr and who happened to hear about you through the mainstream media like USA Today and you wake to find yourself to be a publishing phenomenon. I mean, I think that’s what it is. I’ll let you know what critical mass is once it happens to me. If it happens to me. Will it happen? Beat’s me …
10) Psst … even BIG book publishers haven’t figured out book marketing
No, seriously, they haven’t. It’s why the focus is to push the established brands and to treat newcomers as a risk. And rightly so … they have to spend the money to get product placement in brick and mortar shops. But it’s still a crap shoot – even for Random Penguin or the other big publishers. Which brings me to my final point – I am responsible for a great deal of marketing in my day job and here is what I know. Marketing is a PROCESS … it’s not an EVENT. Unfortunately in publishing, every book that comes out is an EVENT and more often than not, there’s no process in place to convince consumers that a book is worth their hard earned money. Add to this is the fact that we live in an immediate gratification society when it comes to consumer spending and books are not immediate gratification products. People value TIME over MONEY and to read a book … well, it takes an investment of time to garner that sense of gratification and that’s ASSUMING the reader liked your book.
Perhaps the reason book promotion/marketing is so difficult lies with this simple truth. A book is not an iPhone. Know what I mean? A book is, well, a book! It’s 70K-100K words. It doesn’t go beep! It doesn’t have ringtones or apps or 4g wireless. It is paper, bound together with glue. It has a nice cover (in most cases) some things authors have written about the book, but at the end of the day it’s a book. How can any author starting out be reasonably expected to compete with things that go beep and have flashy screens, etc?
All of this points to the larger problem of declining readership and the wholesale devaluation of the written word, I think. And it’s here where solving the riddle of book promotion must begin: get people reading. Get people talking about reading. Get people talking about books. Get into the schools and get the books into school libraries. We used to have a culture of reading in North America, now we have a culture of reality TV shows where Honey Boo-Boo is top of mind. 50 Shades is top of mind, but I don’t think even the author had an inkling that her book would be in the right time at the right place to hit critical mass and become a phenomenon.
So we authors will continue to slog away at promoting our books and hopefully someone will invent an app that will flash onto people’s smartphones with a subliminal message: BUY THIS BOOK!