Monday, May 20, 2013

Book Marketing 101 (and How Publicity Fits Into the Picture)

This article appeared in the May 2013 issue of Author Magazine:

When it comes time to market a book, many authors believe that certain aspects of promotion are more important than others. Some feel that Internet marketing is the answer to sagging sales, while others think that simply hiring a publicist will address their sales problems. Some focus mainly on items like book videos or blog tours, while others rely on repeated pleas to their social networking followers in the hopes of encouraging them to buy.

But savvy authors know that it takes an integrated marketing approach to succeed in today’s crowded book market. And, although many authors don’t want to hear it, the traditional rules of marketing apply to selling books, just as they do for other products.

So, what are the rules of marketing? Authors who have studied the subject (most likely in college) will recall that a marketing mix is made up of two components: a target audience and a marketing strategy.

Defining an author’s target audience is not too complicated. Authors can look at the books they’ve written and ask themselves: who would read this? Women? Men? Young adults? Children? Authors can also break down those broad audience categories by genre (mystery readers, fantasy readers, fiction readers, nonfiction readers etc.) and demographics/psychographics, including age, sex, religious and political preferences, economic status, etc., to help identify more precisely the different audiences to whom their books might appeal.

The marketing strategy, however, is the more involved part of the marketing mix. Those who’ve studied traditional marketing will remember that a marketing strategy is made up of what we call the Four P’s: Product, Promotion, Price, and Place. Let’s take a look at each of them in terms that are helpful to authors.

Product – In traditional marketing, we define a product as either a physical object or a service that one person might sell to another person. In the realm of writing, an author’s primary product is the book itself.

But that’s not all an author is selling; in addition to the book, the author is going to be selling himself (his expertise, background, character, etc.). This is what we call the author’s platform, and it’s something that publicists and other marketing professionals consider part of the product package, along with the book.

In addition to the book itself and the author’s platform, the author can also sell or promote what I refer to as add-ons. These include events, appearances, signings, written articles, Internet and blog posts, and other items that the author creates to promote his book. These events or written items can be used as promotional collateral to pitch to media or other agencies that are looking for content for their websites, publication, and media programs.

As a publicist, I can’t emphasize how important having a good product is to the marketing effort. The book itself, and its ability to engage its audience, is the number-one factor in the entire marketing plan. Without a good book, there is no hope of success – a book must be well-written and professionally edited and designed in order for it to sell. The author must also have a platform; without it, the publicist (or the author herself) is left with only the book to sell. If an author is willing to writing articles and make public appearances, then that completes the product picture that she and/or her publicist will have to sell or promote to media.

Promotion – The traditional definition of promotion encompasses a number of techniques that help an author’s audience become aware of the book and motivate that audience to purchase it. These techniques include (but are not limited to) advertising, publicity, social media and Internet marketing (including the creation of websites and blogs, blog tours, book videos, podcasts, etc.), personal selling, direct marketing (via postcards, flyers, etc.), giveaways and tie-ins, etc.

The important thing for authors to note about promotion is that publicity is just one part of the promotional mix. I often get messages from authors insisting that they can’t hire me because they are going to hire a social media expert instead. I agree that authors should hire social media experts, especially if they feel they need help with setting up blogs and Facebook and Twitter pages, tweeting, blogging, etc. But that doesn’t mean that they also can’t hire a publicist (who, by the way, may use some of those social media tools to publicize the author’s work). The two are not mutually exclusive.

Publicity is just one part of an author’s promotional plan. Its purpose is to create awareness about the book and the author among the book’s target readers. A publicity plan usually includes creating a media kit (which contains items like the author’s photo, the book cover art, a press release, an author bio, and other items that describe the book and the author to the media), putting press releases on the newswires and relevant social media sites, setting up book tours and author appearances, scheduling online, print, radio, and television interviews, setting up blog tours, and creating other exposure opportunities for an author and his book.

Publicity is different from paid advertising in that it cannot be commissioned for a fee – a publicist can call and ask the media for an interview, but unless the author and the book are somehow newsworthy, there is no guarantee that an editor or producer will say yes. With a paid ad, an author is guaranteed that the ad will run in whatever publication or media it is placed. A feature that is obtained through publicity efforts, however, is not paid (aside from what the author might pay a publicist to pitch the idea to a media producer). Instead, a publicity feature in a newspaper, online news site, blog, or radio or television program is one that the editor or producer has chosen to produce because she feels the topic is of interest to her audience.

Price – Much has been written about the importance of correct pricing for books, especially now that the ebook market has changed the game for how readers buy. For hardback and paperback books, price is an important consideration in terms of the current economy and what an author’s target audience can afford (or is willing to spend) on a paper version of a book. Those booksellers that are still around generally advise authors to take care with the pricing of paperback books – if the price points are too high (generally over $16), booksellers will often refuse to shelve them in their stores.

Similar trends have developed in the ebook market, where the growing numbers of self-published authors have pushed the amount of offerings to a staggering collection of over three million titles. Competition to sell ebooks is now so fierce that authors and ebook-selling entities like Amazon, are offering them for free (with the hopes that the free books will help build awareness about the author by encouraging readers to promote via reviews or word-of-mouth).

The ebook market appears to be an elastic one (meaning that when the price is lowered, sales volume increases), making the .99 – 2.99 range the general rule-of-thumb for most self-published ebooks.

Place – Before the ebook explosion, distribution was a key element to making a book available to booksellers. Because booksellers prefer to do their ordering from one wholesale source, making a book available via distribution entities like Ingram and Baker & Taylor was an important consideration for publishers and authors. The traditional publishing houses with multiple titles would set up relationships with distributors for all the books they printed, and booksellers would then buy books from a number of publishers by going through one or two distribution companies.

Now that many authors are self-publishing their books, distribution has become a tricky issue. Because self-published authors typically only have a few books to sell, they’ve found that they have to locate distributors willing to work with individuals. There are companies out there that will do distribution for individual authors and help them place their books with those booksellers who still exist, but many authors have not thought about placement and distribution, and thus are often surprised that they have to address this aspect of marketing.

The advent of print-on-demand publishing (POD) has also changed distribution. Before POD publishing, traditional publishers printed large runs of books (called offset printing) and stored them in warehouses. These offset runs made ordering easier for wholesalers, who could immediately fulfill booksellers’ orders via a publisher’s warehoused stock.

With the advent of POD, especially among self-published authors, books are no longer warehoused; instead, they are printed in specified quantities as the books are ordered. For booksellers who prefer to buy from distributors, POD books present a problem – they are not always immediately available, and therefore (in the minds of booksellers), cannot be easily ordered through the sellers’ preferred distributors. Self-published authors will often find that booksellers turn down their requests to stock their books simply because the books are POD and/or unavailable through the sellers’ preferred distribution channels.

This situation can make self-published books less available to readers, especially those who have not yet purchased an ereader or who to prefer to read paper books. While the ebook market is growing exponentially, it still represents a small percentage (approximately 20-30%) of the reading market. This means that if self-published authors don’t have distribution for their books, they can be relegated to selling mainly via the Internet, and thus must compete for fewer readers in a channel that has a huge number of titles available. Competition and availability are key components of the Place element in the author’s promotional plan, and therefore, it’s not one to ignore or take lightly.

The bottom-line here is that authors, and especially self-published authors, must take all of this – audience, product, promotion, price, and place – into careful consideration when they’re ready to market a book. Some fight it, and/or deny that certain of these elements aren’t important (or worth addressing) But those who do pay attention to each aspect of the marketing mix are the most likely to achieve success.