Not all marketing endeavors achieve the same goal. They aren’t designed to. Some are strictly tied to conversion and making that sale. Others are more about brand building, which can’t be quantified in the same way. Although in the past I probably leaned too heavily on conversion marketing, after 60 books and nearly 20 years in publishing, I no longer believe that’s the wisest path.
I now look at the marketing for my books a bit like a farmer might view his fields — it’s what I put into the soil before even planting that makes the biggest difference in the end. Many of my marketing ideas aren’t meant to directly impact sales; they’re meant to build an audience and create a stronger, more long-lasting brand so that I sell more books over time.
Here are nine advertising tactics I’ve tried, and my takeaways on each. Some of these are what I call my boomerang ideas — the projects I took on at least partially to provide a service to my readers that wound up significantly enhancing my career. Keep in mind that while I’m sharing my results, other authors with their own unique audiences and various budgets may see different results.
1. Run a book group on Facebook
When I started my own book group on Facebook a year ago, I had no idea it would grow to over 10,000 avid readers in just 12 months. I pictured it as a smallish group for which I would pick a monthly book we could all read and discuss. In the months I had a release, that book would be mine, but in the months when I didn’t have a release, I wanted to feature other authors whose work I enjoyed.
The reception to that idea was so positive that I decided to visit each featured author in his or her home and do a Live Event so the group could discuss the book with its author. This was the closest thing I could think of to providing them with an in-person event for our book group meetings. So far, I’ve featured authors like Jill Shalvis, Susan Mallery, Sandra Brown, and Robyn Carr, and many more amazing authors are in the queue.
Verdict: Although the book group takes a great deal of time, it’s the best marketing decision I’ve ever made. Not only have these readers become die-hard supporters, they’ve become friends, which, of course, enriches my life. From a marketing perspective, they’ve boosted both my sales and my engagement by a large degree. They’ve introduced their friends and family to my work. They’ve posted about my books again and again on social media. They’ve reviewed my books on all the important sites. They’ve made the libraries and retail stores in their areas aware of me and helped to make sure my books are shelved and visible when released.
2. Create subscription book boxes
The idea for my monthly subscription boxes came from a desire to make it even more fun to belong to my online book group. Subscription boxes were gaining in popularity, so I decided I’d offer 50 “Professional Reader” boxes to the group each month in which they could get an autographed copy of the book we were reading along with other fun, reader-related items. I wanted to make it possible to purchase a monthly or annual subscription, or buy only one month here or one month there, so that’s what we did. Demand immediately outpaced our supplies and our expectations. After only a short time, we were selling 300 per month. Although I usually feature the works of big name authors for my monthly book pick, I almost always include an emerging or lesser-known author as a “Brenda Novak Recommends” title. One of my favorites of these so far is Benjamin Ludwig’s debut hardcover, Ginny Moon, which went in our June boxes. Some of the other items in the box include:
- Things I’ve handpicked for each reader, like the tea and books box that contained a different vintage teacup and hanky for each person.
- Personalized items, like the handmade leather journal that had each reader’s initials embossed on the front or the “This Book Belongs to Joe Reader” stamp.
- Other book-themed items, like a Silver Springs t-shirt (“I Left My Heart in Silver Springs”), a book lover coffee mug, or a Hanover House sleeper shirt.
Verdict: Another win. These boxes are also hugely time-intensive, but they are a labor of love and are priced such that they are at least self-sustaining — I make no money off them but my daughter makes a small amount for managing the whole process. Those who get the boxes post pictures all over the internet when they arrive, and their excitement spreads. We always include one surprise item, which is another fun element. And this gives me the ability to recommend books I love (beyond my own). Overall, this is a very successful brand-building strategy.
3. Offer commemorative pins
For every reader who reads more than 50 of my books, I offer a pretty commemorative pin. After all, these are my super readers, so I thought it only fitting to thank them. In order to claim this pin, readers simply need to download my printable book titles PDF, check each book they’ve read, and send it to my assistant (via email or snail mail).
When I first came up with this idea I wasn’t sure it would go over all that well, but I have been pleasantly surprised. Avid readers love goals like these, which means I have to keep reordering pins (a nice problem to have).
Verdict: Definitely worth the expense. Not only does it reward my most loyal readers, it incentivizes new readers. I’ve had so many new readers start to collect my whole library since I instituted this program.
4. Run BookBub Featured Deals
I always notice a huge increase in sales when advertising a discounted book with BookBub. It’s a great way to introduce new readers to standalone books or entice them into a series. For example, I recently ran a Featured Deal for No One but You in the Contemporary Romance category, which sent my Amazon ranking to #16 for the entire Kindle store and placed the book on the USA Today bestseller list, even though it had already been out for several months.
Verdict: My BookBub Featured Deal always creates great visibility and a positive ROI. It also creates “halo” sales that are more difficult to calculate. I will take as many Featured Deals as I can get!
5. Invest in social media and my website
There are several ways I’ve used my website and social media platforms to connect with readers:
Putting a store on my website
Not only can the Professional Reader Boxes be purchased from my store, I offer fun t-shirts with various booklover sayings, autographed Brenda Novak mini-totes, limited edition bookmarks I’ve had designed for each year, and tickets to my annual reader event. I have other things planned, as well, such as collectible Christmas ornaments, Santagrams, a Valentine for February, etc. Although there was an initial start-up expense to installing the store (about $2,000), it more than carries itself now that it’s up and has been a huge success.
Creating better posts for my Facebook and Instagram accounts
There’s a cost associated with creating your own content, but I feel that it’s part of community building, which is essential to brand building. I publish a Foodie Friday post every week that requires time and effort to cook, stage, photograph and promote, but providing a good recipe and the how-to video, or an enticing picture, is something my readers can look forward to each Friday. It will also enable me to compile these recipes for a cookbook I can either give away or sell (or include in one of my Professional Reader Boxes).
Creating book trailers and other interesting content
I find that change is key. You don’t want to post the exact same type of content over and over. What appeals to one reader might not appeal to another — or your followers can simply get bored of repetition. To combat this, I post attractive photographs taken where my book is featured in an appealing setting (i.e. with a mug of coffee, around a campfire, etc.) rather than simply showing the cover itself. I also have book trailers created for my various series. Since I write suspense for St. Martin’s Press and romance for Harlequin, these turn out very different. Here’s one that I had created for my suspenseful Dr. Evelyn Talbot series:
The company who makes these for me, Trailer Girl, uses stock video in order to keep costs low — she used to work for Hollywood making the big movie trailers so she’s adept at editing such videos.
Building my mailing list
To incentivize website visitors to sign up for my mailing list, I offer a free read. To do this, I created an attractive landing page where readers can learn more about me and my work. Here’s an example of the landing page I had created for Hanover House, the prequel to my Dr. Evelyn Talbot suspense series, where a psychiatrist is studying psychopaths at a remote facility in Alaska:
Once a reader signs up on this page to receive my book, they are added to my mailing list (unless they opt out), and I use BookFunnel to send the file so it’s all automated.
Verdict: All of the above gets an enthusiastic thumbs up! My website and social media channels put me directly in touch with my readers — and with potential new readers. Time and money spent here (if done wisely) can pay big dividends, resulting in higher sales, a stronger marketing arm, and a bigger brand. I’ve definitely felt the positive results of this.
6. Host an annual reader event
I’ve hosted reader events with #1 New York Times bestselling author Christine Feehan in the past, but the “Champagne for Breakfast” brunch I just hosted in California in July was the first I’d ever done on my own. It turned out to be a fantastic event. Tickets were $40 per person and I had readers come from Iowa, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Canada, Utah, Washington, etc. Book sales were fantastic at the event, but even though I charged for the brunch, my cost came in at a whopping $7,500 for only 150 people. It was a bit like putting on a wedding!
Next year I’m going to do a Harvest Day on the Delta (I live in Sacramento, which has one of only two inverted deltas in the world). Those who attend will be shuttled to Steamboat Landing via a ferry from Old Sacramento, receive a tour of the four-generation pear farm where I’m holding the event, have a lovely dinner in the farm’s fabulous barn (made for large gatherings), receive some fun items to take home, and be able to get my new book autographed before being ferried back to Old Sacramento.
Verdict: The jury is still out. Personal events like this are tremendously gratifying and fun. From a marketing perspective, however, they are time-consuming and expensive. So… I’m going to offer the opportunity to attend the Delta Harvest Event in 2018 and see if I can spread the costs more evenly over the group rather than carrying such a large portion myself. If not, I may have to forgo these in the future. ☹
7. Run giveaways
Giveaways can be effective, but giving away expensive items or doing too many can attract people who want something for free instead of readers who are actually interested in my books. Although I do a fair amount of giveaways, I try to make sure it’s almost always a book or something book related. I often buy food products after sampling them at Costco. That’s the type of marketing I’m trying to emulate with my own giveaways.
One very successful giveaway I ran recently involved a Facebook Live event in which I read the first two chapters of Her Darkest Nightmare, the first full-length book in my Dr. Evelyn Talbot series. I wanted to drive preorders of Hello Again, the next book in the series, which was just about to come out. I love to read aloud, so I combined this “adult storytime” with a simple giveaway of the book I was reading to give the post more of a viral reach.
Verdict: Depends. These can be really helpful in getting various posts to be seen on social media and even building my newsletter, but they need to be strategic.
8. Buy remainder print advertising
I was so excited when I came into contact with a company that sells “scrap” advertising — spots in major magazines available at a discount because you book them at the last-minute. I thought it would be so effective to get into the big women’s magazines, and I was convinced that we had the same demographic and target market. So I’ve tried taking a few slots over the past several years, one even in People.
Verdict: Even at a significantly discounted price, this was a waste of money. In my experience, print ads in women’s magazines don’t move the needle at all — and you can’t track any sales that do come from these ads. Perhaps ads like this do set you apart as a premium brand. Even if that’s the case, however, I’ve decided to leave these to my publisher.
9. Give away swag
I’ve heard so many authors over the years discussing the pros and cons of swag. I’ve spent plenty of money on this type of promotional device, but there’s a difference between “spammy” swag and swag that really represents your brand. In general, I’ve found that “spammy” swag is a waste of money. One way I’m trying to stay away from the typical “throwaway” is to make my swag more personal to my readers. I give out a lot of bookmarks, but they have the reader’s full name in the actual design, and we create a new limited edition bookmark for each year, so many of my readers try to collect them. The members of my book group love winning these — so much so that I’ve made them available for purchase via my online store.
Verdict: In many instances there are better places to spend marketing dollars, but I have learned from my mistakes and now believe swag, if carefully thought out, can be effective.
The best form of marketing is the product itself, of course. But even good products — great products — need an avenue with which to find those who will be most interested in them. When the big indie craze hit, I realized that regardless of how I published my books, I needed to become more responsible for my own marketing. I knew if I had my own marketing apparatus — a strong following on social media and a big and responsive mailing list — I would have more to offer a publisher or would be able to go it alone, if I ever decided to move in that direction.
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