The book publishing industry has experienced dramatic changes in the past couple decades. Previously, a few gatekeepers at major publishing houses determined what was worthy of publication. But the digital revolution democratized publishing, spawning the explosion of self-publishing and enabling hundreds of thousands of books to reach the market every year. Much like in the music industry, indie publishing created a wild west where virtually anyone could publish a book quickly and inexpensively.
The media has also changed. The Internet, social media, and instant communication processes have radically streamlined the relaying of newsworthy information, forging a leaner media corps in which fewer producers and editors create more and more content.
Unsurprisingly, these changes also prompted a shift in how books are promoted and marketed. Now the competition for media attention isn’t just fierce — it can be overwhelming. Relatively simple book publicity tactics of the past no longer suffice. While some core elements remain the same, for the most part the process of pitching and disseminating information about a book and the way information is presented to media is quite different.
Here are four examples of longstanding book promotion strategies that no longer work.
Leading media pitches with “I wrote a book”
At one time, publishing a book was indeed a newsworthy and fairly rare event. Due to the the boom in self-publishing, this is no longer the case. Today, according to Bowker, thousands of books are published each week in the United States alone. To get the attention of editors, producers, bloggers, etc., you need to lead with why you and your book should be of interest or value to their audiences. What makes your book unique? What will readers get from it? What is newsworthy about your book, or what newsworthy information can you provide?
Here’s an example of an effective publicity pitch. Notice that the book itself is secondary to accentuating what makes it worthy of consideration.
Dear Mr. Adams,
I Am Cait is set to premiere in the next few days and the world is suddenly awake to the issues transgender men and women face in the U.S. Even last week the DOJ announced they would allow transgender military to serve openly by the end of 2016.
But what’s next?
(Author name) was born in a boy’s body and has been living for years as a woman after her sex reassignment surgery. She knows all too well the actual issues in front of men and women born in the wrong body.
In her new book, (book title), (author name) gives us a glimpse of what’s in store for transgender men and women who want to be accepted in their new bodies.
In what will be an emotional and eye-opening interview, (author name) is available to discuss the following:
- Can transgender men and women really live as who they were meant to be?
- Dating as a transgender: What happens when your date learns of the past?
- Why Caitlyn’s fame can be frustrating for those living like this for years
- Her journey: from moving to NYC when she was 17, to living in the Middle East, to transitioning in her first year of law school, to her sex change in Thailand
Please let me know if you are interested in receiving a complimentary review copy of (book title), or would like to connect with (author name) for expert commentary and feature/profile interviews.
Many thanks for your consideration, Mr. Adams. I look forward to hearing from you.
Targeting the widest audience possible
Thinking your book is for everyone is a common mistake authors make. Finding and marketing to your niche audience is a much more powerful way to reach the right book buyer. Across the board and within genres — romance, self-help, personal finance or business — today’s book buyers are more sophisticated than ever and have many more tools to discover a book. Book buyers know what they want and need.
To cater to readers’ specific wants, the number of sub-genres to search has skyrocketed. For example, there are almost 300,000 Romance ebooks on Amazon. But there are 20 subcategories within Romance based on specific interest:
- African American (7,632)
- Collections & Anthologies (11,294)
- Contemporary (107,190)
- Fantasy (20,769)
- Gothic (1,061)
- Historical Romance (33,191)
- Holidays (6,551)
- Inspirational (18,114)
- LGBT (25,018)
- Military (7,098)
- Multicultural & Interracial (9,776)
- Mystery & Suspense (30,823)
- New Adult & College (13,232)
- Paranormal (36,329)
- Romantic Comedy (19,775)
- Science Fiction (7,059)
- Series (19,113)
- Sports (4,456)
- Time Travel (3,139)
- Westerns (9,476)
If your book matches a category within Romance, make sure it is properly categorized or you could miss out on exposure to the most relevant population of potential readers. Pay careful attention to your target market and position your book accordingly.
When your book has cross-market appeal in multiple categories, switch up your book’s categorization — series, time travel, historical, and African American can describe the same book. This puts your book in front of a whole new set of eyes. But be honest about the book’s sub-category or you risk disappointing readers.
Here are a few more ways to target the right audience for your book:
- Optimize your website: Use the right keywords and metadata to enhance discoverability on search engines.
- Optimize your social media pages and profiles: Use those target keywords in social media descriptions and bios so people can easily find you and your books.
- Run targeted price promotions: Consider promoting limited-time discounts to genre readers via platforms such as BookBub, where you can target your promotion to readers interested in specific categories.
- Run ad campaigns to a targeted audience: Place targeted ads on social network platforms, run contests on Goodreads, or set a reasonable budget and run specific ads through Google Adwords.
- Reach out to relevant reviewers and bloggers: Take the extra time to find highly specific genre reviewers and bloggers. A mention about your Romance book on Smart Bitches Trashy Books will put a book in front of an active and powerful book community. Get to know yours. These key influencers get books noticed.
Sending over-the-top press kits to media
Back in the day, super-slick, flashy, eye-catching printed media kits were common and often effective at grabbing media attention. Without modern digital technology, printed publicity material often needed to be packaged in a way that made it stand out from the stack of other mailed press kits sitting on a producer or editor’s desk with accompanying books.
Websites and social media have made physical presentation much less important. It is now a single email subject line or the opening sentences of an emailed pitch that make media take notice, prompt them to visit a website or social media profile, and ask for a copy of the book. Following up with interested media by mailing a professionally written printed press release and personalized letter with the book is typically all that is expected.
Here are some examples of subject lines for pitches that attracted significant media attention:
This simple subject line drew national TV interest and resulted in numerous interviews for our client. Aren’t you curious as to what it’s all about?
Feature: 7 Most Romantic Spots in Bucks County
This subject line helped a romance author get local media coverage.
Interview: Perfect for Father’s Day – How to Turn Your Wife into a Swinger
This subject line got attention for an author of a book about improving your golf swing.
The Teen Years are Rough – Who Has it Better or Worse? Girls or Boys or Parents?
This subject line helped a New York Times bestselling neurologist and researcher get noticed. Instead of leading with details about a study, we showed a specific and timely application of the study’s results.
LOCAL INTERVIEW: Award Winning Seattle Filmmaker and Author Reveals Little-Known History of Pacific Northwest
This subject line garnered attention for a historical fiction author who took years to study and incorporate little known Pacific Northwest history into his trilogy.
Waiting until a book is published to start promotion
Now more than ever, building an author’s brand takes time and persistence. Because of the sheer volume of new books coming out every week, you need to start promotion early. A long-term strategy to attract fans, readers, and media and build authentic relationships works best. Whether 18, 12, or 6 months prior to a book’s publication date, an author should consistently blog, tweet, post, and engage. This develops a strong platform and more genuine author-reader connections for when a book is available for purchase.
A bad strategy is creating a social media profile, friending and following people at random, and immediately suggesting they buy your book. This is book marketing suicide!
Case study of an author who started promotion early:
One of our clients was a business consultant writing her first book on the topics of leadership and work/life balance. One year before publication, she began a Twitter, newsletter, blog, video, and media outreach strategy. Specifically, she:
- Created a series of short “how to” videos.
- Blogged three times each week.
- Started conversations on key influencers’ blogs.
- Captured email addresses for her monthly newsletter.
- Followed key media on Twitter and engaged in authentic exchanges.
When advance reader copies became available five months before the book’s publication, we sent them to a highly targeted list of book review editors and long lead magazine editors (those working on stories four to six months out), along with other pre-launch media outreach initiatives. We worked with her for several months after the publication date as well to reach additional print, broadcast, and online media.
- Her newsletter list grew from 1,500 names to 25,000 names, her Twitter follower count increased from 250 to 4,500 (18 months later, she has almost 23,000 followers). This gave her thousands of targeted consumers to share the news of her book’s release.
- A small sampling of our media placements included Publishers Weekly, Fast Company, Entrepreneur, The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Forbes, Women in Business, and The Huffington Post. This gave her additional content to share on social media, enabling her to further build her credibility with fans and followers.
- We were able to direct media, potential book buyers, and potential clients to informative blog posts, videos, and newsletter articles. We could also pitch her as an expert and thought leader who offers consistent, relevant, and valuable information.
- She became a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Her business and speaking career are thriving.
Is this methodology a guarantee? No. But starting early and having a well thought-out plan prior to publication puts an author and book in an excellent position for attention.
While book marketing best practices have changed over time, keep in mind that if you focus your efforts on what others want and need, and give before hoping to receive, you can succeed. With some creativity and persistence, you can break through the crowd and attract media attention, develop a fan following, and move books through innovative pricing strategies.
Treat your book and marketing efforts like a business. Don’t shoot from the hip. Do your homework and monitor what’s happening in publishing, book publicity, and social media. See what successful authors of competitive titles are doing. Ultimately, your book is your business, and businesses don’t survive by employing marketing strategies of the past that no longer work. Instead they stay ahead of the curve and focus on what works now.
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