In my last little blurb, I touched briefly on the marketing conundrum. To return to that: I suspect the most important aspect of book publishing is marketing. You may have the greatest book in the history of Personkind. But if no one knows about it, no one will ever buy it. Readers have to know about it to buy it. And marketing is the way you help them to know about it.
So how can you go about this marketing stuff? From the vantage point of experience, here’s what I’d probably do now, if I were to start all over from Square One today:
Hire a Pro
A marketing person would be my first hire. That is where I would put most of my start-up money, and it’s also where I would invest the most effort in recruiting and personnel assessment. I would hire this person before doing anything else.
The woods are full of people who will tell you they can market books. Most of them haven’t the faintest. Some are so hungry, they will lie just to get the job, saying they understand how to engage this or that tool to attract readers and sell books. In addition, a lot of popular ideas about what strategies work are simply wrong, or are outdated.
Where do you find a paragon among book marketers? Ask everyone you can think of, in and out of book publishing.
Track down authors whose books resemble yours and that are selling well. Send each author an inquiry asking if they can recommend their marketer. Most will not respond, so you’ll need to send out quite a few queries. But sooner or later you’ll probably find someone who will refer you to their marketing agent.
Contact the local Public Relations Society of America chapter. This group’s members are working professionals in marketing and public relations. They have a jobs board and invite job postings from prospective employers. Be prepared to budget some money to post an ad and to hire someone for a gig that lasts long enough to produce results.
If there’s a publishers’ association in your state, along the lines of the New Mexico Book Association, attend a meeting and ask members for suggestions. Many of these groups are very active and include publishers and authors with successful track records.
Attend regional and national book fairs. Network actively and inquire among the people you meet to see if anyone can refer you to a good marketing agent.
Attend regional and national writers’ conferences. The larger, better established ones attract New York literary agents. These people do know effective marketers. They may (or may not) refer you. Nothing ventured: while you’re there, you can also ask authors who seem successful.
Budget a substantial amount of money to pay for marketing services and campaigns, which should begin before the book is published. In retrospect, it’s clear this is where the largest share of a publisher’s or author’s budget should go.
Hire a virtual assistant to handle the social media time suck
Although the effectiveness of social media marketing is, in my opinion, questionable, it cannot be neglected. And it is very time-consuming.
This is another task to which I would dedicate a fair slab of the budget.
You or an assistant should write blog posts every day having to do with subjects related to your books or your readers’ interests. Each of these needs to be optimized for and posted at Pinterest, and then you need to post each one at Facebook groups, on your Facebook business page and on your personal Facebook timeline, at Goodreads, on Twitter, at Google+, and to the extent appropriate, at LinkedIn.
Exclusive of the blogging, which you should be doing anyway, the ditzy social media tasks can easily soak up two hours a day. That’s two hours when you’re not writing, two hours that you’re not out on the town networking, two hours that you’re glued to the computer unable to exercise or take care of your family or read or think or do anything else. And two hours is a conservative estimate.
Crowd-fund or take out a business loan to pay these contractors
It’s always better to use someone else’s money than to throw your own down the drain. Platforms such as Kickstarter, Publishizer, and Unbound help fund and market your publishing project. Obviously, you have to share the revenues. But these outfits can generate revenues: a share of something is a lot better than a share of nothing.
Some such organizations function like publishers, but they seem to be more flexible than “traditional” publishing houses in terms of the kinds of books they’ll chance their money on.
Put books on Ingram right away
Ingram provides distribution services needed to circulate books to retailers, educators, and libraries. It offers a wide variety of marketing and fulfillment services, as well as a partnership with CreateSpace, a PoD service whose reviews are mixed but which is internationally known.
I would not use Ingram’s CreateSpace for printing, because I want more control over that process than you can get by working through a gigantic faceless corporation that outsources its jobs overseas. However, I would get my books into Ingram’s distribution system as quickly as possible.
Focus on person-to-person and business-to-business marketing
Early on, I discovered that the 30 Days/4 Months diet plan and cookbook sold easily and in gay abandon when I talked it up to groups in person. Campaigns to sell it on social media generate plenty of “likes” but not many sales.
Acquaintances made in writers’ and publishers’ groups report similar experiences. Almost everyone who is making any money on their books will tell you that speaking in front of groups and arranging author-signings and bookstore presentations sells more books than any amount of virtual jawing on social media.
The next stage of my marketing campaign will be heavy on presentations and in-person networking. If I could have started out knowing then what I know now, I would have hit the ground with personal presentations, radio talk-show interviews, podcasts, and YouTube videos.