At last week’s BookExpo 2018 — the biggest annual publishing conference in the US — several sessions and panels covered book marketing and sales topics. We gathered tips from experts at the leading publishers, literary agencies, and publishing or marketing vendors, and we’re excited to share them with our readers!
From audience engagement to keyword optimization, publishers and marketers were buzzing about boosting preorder sales, authenticity on social media, and running personalized promotions.
Here were our top nine takeaways from BookExpo 2018:
1. Authenticity fosters reader loyalty
Panelists repeatedly mentioned that authors should focus on the marketing tactics and social media channels that match their personalities, and for which they’re truly enthusiastic. Readers can sense when an author is being authentic vs. when they’re forcing participation. And simply sharing links to their own books on social media — which some authors still commonly do — comes off as spammy.
When deciding which social media channel to focus on, the panelists from Media Connect recommended thinking about what drives you — if you’re an avid Facebook user, your posts will be more authentic and engaging than if you’re trying to be a Facebook user. If you’re going to invest time into growing a following on any social channel, you want to be fully committed since it’s a long-term investment. It could take 1-2 years to develop the following you’re looking for.
Also, follower count isn’t everything. It’s better to have 1K engaged followers than 1M unengaged followers. In fact, 1K followers can be enough for some authors — it depends on their niche and target audience.
2. Personalization is the way to your audience’s hearts (and wallets)
Just as they did last year, panelists recommended personalizing your marketing — it’s important to find, understand, and tailor promotions to your unique audience. The panelists from Media Connect emphasized that book marketers should be thoughtful about each book’s target audience, where those readers are looking for content, and on which channels to reach them — something that seems obvious, but is still often overlooked. And once you nail down your targeting, catering your messaging to that audience will help you close the sale.
When engaging with readers on social media…
Learn what kind of content readers prefer seeing from you on each social channel — your audience’s tastes may differ from Facebook to Twitter to Instagram.
Bestselling author Sylvia Day recommended authors analyze their engagement data on each social channel to determine what content users engage with most. For example, your fans on Facebook may be interested in seeing updates about your writing process, whereas your Twitter followers might prefer reading your commentary on TV shows they also enjoy. If you engage with fans authentically with content they care about seeing, they’ll be excited to learn more about your newest books when you announce them.
When running advertising campaigns…
Katie Donelan from BookBub recommended targeting readers who are most likely to be interested in the book you’re promoting — fans of the author and comparable authors — and catering the messaging and design of the ad to that audience. Tools like BookBub Ads make it easy to target fans of a specific author. Many advertisers run campaigns specifically targeting fans of one comp author with creative that includes of the name of that author, aiming to quickly grab readers’ attention (example: “If you like [comp author], you’ll love [author of the book you’re promoting].”)
When reaching out to the press…
When pitching the media in order to secure coverage for a book, personalize the pitch to each reporter. Deborah Kohan, Senior Vice President at Media Connect, recommended mentioning a reporter’s previous coverage to show you understand what they write about. Here’s how she recommended structuring the pitch:
- Subject line: 5-7 words to entice someone to open the email
- Headline (in the email): What would you want a reporter to say about you?
- A short intro: Personalize and include what makes you/your book different
- A few bullet points: Support the headline
3. Preorder campaigns can help you optimize a book’s positioning
During a panel on the secrets of a good preorder campaign, marketing pros from HarperCollins, Ballantine Books (PRH), Macmillan Kids, and Kensington all agreed that preorder marketing campaigns can give you data to determine whether the positioning and messaging for a book is resonating with readers. Tobly McSmith from HarperCollins equated preorders to a “canary in a coal mine” — if a preorder flops, perhaps the marketing direction, description copy, metadata, or cover design needs to be revised or redone entirely. Being responsive to early preorder trends will allow you to shift a book’s positioning before it’s too late.
Kristin Fassler from Ballantine Books provided a great example: When her team first created the positioning for Need to Know by Karen Cleveland, they thought the Russian spy plot would set the book apart. However, during the preorder period, they learned that readers were more interested in the domestic suspense angle — a mother in crisis trying to save her family. They adjusted the book’s positioning, which led to an increase in preorder sales, and the book ultimately landed on the New York Times bestseller list.
4. Stack promotions to build and maintain preorder buzz
Marketing a preorder isn’t a one and done deal — it takes multiple campaigns over a variety of channels to get the word out. Stacking promotions has been an effective way for authors and publishers to drive preorder sales and buzz. Penguin Press’s preorder promotions for Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere entailed a multi-pronged media outreach plan, giveaways, paid advertising, social media promotions, and more. Matthew Boyd, Associate Publisher and Marketing Director at Penguin Press, noted that sales aren’t the only important success metric to look at — measurable engagement online on book discovery and social media sites indicates reader excitement, and is also incredibly important.
When theSkimm announced the cover reveal for Karin Slaughter’s The Good Daughter, HarperCollins ran a BookBub Ads campaign on the same day. This helped them drive more buzz and sales for the book. While the span and frequency of promotions depends on each individual book, Tobly McSmith from HarperCollins recommended spacing out promotions, but not so much that it could kill momentum; if you only have a few levers to pull for a book, you don’t want to space them out over the course of six months.
5. Author familiarity is one of the primary ways readers decide what to read next
In a recent BookBub survey, according to Katie Donelan, 84% of readers choose new books to read because they’re by an author they already like. In fact, it’s the most popular factor in deciding which book to read next (followed by 72% of readers choosing a book because it’s next in a series they like, and 67% buying based on plot).
Because author familiarity is such a key factor in readers’ book purchasing decisions, BookBub provides readers with easy ways to stay on top of what’s going on with authors they love. Readers can follow authors on BookBub to get email notifications when that author has an update — e.g. when they have a new book, preorder, or deal available on one of their titles, or when they’ve posted a book recommendation on BookBub.com.
Sylvia Day echoed this sentiment during her panel, when she revealed that when she announces a new book to fans on social media, she no longer includes buy links. Instead, she’s developed such an authentic (non-spammy!) brand and loyal audience of readers that when her fans are interested in her newest book, they’ll find that book themselves.
6. Fine-tune keywords to make books more discoverable
Adding keyword metadata to a book helps make it more discoverable and can help increase sales on online retailers. You’d think this would be obvious, yet only 38% of books have keywords attached to them.
The panelists from the Book Industry Study Group recommended adding as many keyword variations as possible to a book, where a “keyword” can either be a single word or a multi-word phrase. They advised sticking to a 500-character limit, but because there is no standard character or phrase limit for all retailers, you should order the keywords based on priority.
Since readers search using keywords or phrases to find books, it’s important to use natural language as opposed to standardized classifications publishers might typically use. There could be many variations of a phrase readers might be searching for. For example, for a World War II nonfiction title, keywords could include: World War 2, World War II, Second World War, WWII, WW2, etc.
7. Create a PR outreach plan early
According to panelists from Media Connect, PR is more than just about giving away free books, tweeting, making videos, or blasting out a press release — it’s about strategically reaching out to influencers and getting media coverage to grow an author or book’s brand.
But lead times for getting media or influencer coverage are getting longer and longer. Publishers and agents are notorious for missing deadlines, but it’s crucial to get a book to the media by their deadline so they have time to provide coverage. Deborah Kohan, Senior Vice President at Media Connect recommended starting to reach out to journalists 4-6 months before a book’s launch. Here was the timeline that Media Connect recommended for soliciting media coverage for a new book:
6 months prior to launch:
- Create a website (or add a book page to your existing site)
- Brainstorm ideas and craft a marketing plan
5 months prior to launch:
- Develop a press kit/media pitches
- Pull together your advanced review copy (ARC) media list
- Start to solicit testimonials/blurbs
4 months prior to launch:
- Compile a list of media connections you plan to approach
- Send out your ARCs to long-lead media (those that need more advanced notice)
- Select/schedule book signings and appearances
3 months prior to launch:
- Follow up on ARC pitches to media
- Continue to query bookstores and speaking opportunities
2 months prior to launch:
- Contact non-book reviewer media (such as relevant talk shows or feature story reporters)
- Approach online reviewers
- Reach out to local media (or arrange a book tour)
1 month prior to launch:
- Schedule radio and TV interviews
- Finish ARC follow-up
- Contact more online reviewers
- Add on bloggers and websites for outreach
- Hit daily newspapers, newswires, and weekly publications
Planning early can be critical in other areas as well. Kristin Fassler of Ballantine Books gave an example of a book launch campaign that started two years before the on-sale date! Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly became a major bestseller when it launched, but the team started building toward this well in advance. The author built up a social media following from scratch by talking about World War II history, and Penguin Random House assisted via numerous marketing channels of their own.
8. Tie books into cultural events whenever possible
Piggybacking onto current events, holidays, or trends in pop culture can help drive buzz for a book. David Hahn, Managing Director at Media Connect, recommended looking for holidays that tie in to your book. There’s a holiday for everything now — even things like National Cupcake Day. Promoting a book around a relevant, buzzy event can help drive exposure for a book to an audience that’s already paying attention to that event.
9. Audiobook sales are on the rise
According to Markus Dohle, CEO of Penguin Random House, audiobook sales saw 30% growth in the past year. Audiobooks are appealing to two different kinds of readers: those who’d enjoy sitting around a campfire listening to people tell stories, and those who multitask and listen to audiobooks while doing other things. He also revealed that demographics for audiobooks consumption aren’t skewed toward one demographic — people across all age groups, genders, genre preferences, etc. are listening.
Did you attend BookExpo this year? What other tips did you come away with? Let us know in the comments below!
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