Tag Archives: marketing books

Pitch Your Book to 10,000 of Your Closest Friends

The Complete Writer
Section VII: Publishers and Self-Publishers

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Pitch Your Book to 10,000 of Your Closest Friends

Prevailing wisdom has it that social media are the key to marketing a book. Your company is requested on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+, even YouTube. The folklore contains a germ of truth, given that as a book author, you personally are the main marketing engine for your products.

Along with this advice, we often hear legends of authors who have sold thousands of books by running campaigns on various social media. This, too, may be so. But with a caveat.

Social media marketing requires you to build large followings of real people—not the kind of bots that show up on Twitter and emanate computer-generated “follows.” You need human beings who recognize your name, whose names you recognize, and with whom you have something resembling conversations over the Internet.

You find these people by tracking down and “friending” (or “following” or “connecting with”) everyone you’ve met since before you were in preschool: classmates, fellow workers, friends, relatives, friends of relatives and relatives of friends . . . and on it goes.

It’s best to have built a large following before you have something to market. If you submit a book proposal to an agent or to traditional book publishers, they will want to know where you’re active in social media and how many followers you have. It’s a selling point in trying to persuade a mainstream publisher to buy your book. If you’re self-publishing, you want to have created a pre-existing interest in you and in your subject, so that you have an established audience for your book.

Some say that Goodreads is the most effective social medium for self-publishers. This was true before Amazon acquired it, and it apparently remains so. You can establish a presence at Goodreads as an “author,” thereby giving yourself a little cachet. But that will not excuse you from working steadily to build and maintain your readership there.

Social media marketing requires you to post something almost every day on every platform. But what you post cannot be blatant advertising for your books or products. You must create the effect of real-world conversation on a wide variety of topics, most of them immaterial. Think of social media as small talk, translated to the Internet. It’s a vast cocktail party, without the highballs and canapés.

Unless you serve them to yourself, that is.

At Goodreads, the topic is usually books and book reviews. Conversations may spin off a book discussion, but most people seem to haunt Goodreads because they like to read and talk about what they read.

Because it brings you a built-in audience of book readers, Goodreads is potentially your richest field among the social media. Like any facet of doing business with Amazon, it can also be intensely frustrating.[15] Personally, I gave up on Goodreads after it repeatedly rejected an ISBN that I copied directly from Bowker’s website, making it impossible for me to market the book there.

In the past, too, Goodreads has suffered from very nasty trolling.[16] As a result, some authors’ book sales have been irreparably damaged.[17] Amazon has taken steps to deal with the abuse, apparently with some success. However, you should be aware that the potential for personal attacks, blitzes of negative reviews, and faceless bullying exists and probably will never completely disappear.

Facebook has “Groups” whose topics focus on a wide variety of subjects. If you’re a genre writer, you can find people who love your genre, be it science fiction, romance, detective cozies, or whatever. You’ll also find groups of aspiring writers and groups of publishers. These represent ready-made potential readerships.

However, know that you cannot simply advertise to members of such groups, any more than you can on your own timeline. You have to engage them in conversations. This is time-consuming and creates a significant distraction from the real writing that you’d like to do. Nevertheless, if you want to market your book, you don’t seem to have much choice, unless you hire someone to do the job for you.

FaceBook does sell advertising, notoriously now that the company is overriding the adblockers of people who prefer not to be subjected to that kind of intrusion, and even more notoriously after the 2016 U.S. Presidential election. Because Facebook Ads can, in theory, be closely targeted to specific interests and demographics, some people say they have good results. This claim, however, is controversial. A number of customers have complained that Facebook Ads represent a bottomless pit into which to throw cash.

I hired a marketing agent to create and manage a Facebook Ads campaign for my novel, Fire-Rider. It sold exactly zero copies. The cost was high, and I felt the money was wasted.

In any event, you certainly should make your publishing efforts known on your personal timeline. Those who are most likely to buy your book are people who know you in person.

Twitter has hashtags to attract subscribers’ attention. Use the platform’s “Search” function to find active hashtags (#amwriting, for example) and include two or three relevant tags in each post. As I write this, Twitter still limits post length to 140 characters—the hashtags, the URL you post, and each image soak up some of those characters.

Thus, speaking of time sucks, creating a Twitter post that works can be a time-consuming challenge. Here, too: if you’re corresponding with real people, you’re better off to emit small talk rather than obvious sales pitches.

A drawback to Twitter is the number of machine-generated tweets, likes, and follows. Several apps exist to automate tweets and post them at optimal times of day.[18] You also can install a WordPress plugin that will automatically tweet each new post.[19] These aren’t necessarily bad things. But they do indicate that some portion of the traffic at Twitter isn’t entirely human.

LinkedIn can be useful, because it not only allows you to blow your own horn in a resumé-like context, it connects you with people in the publishing industry and enables a kind of high-level shop talk that can let you highlight your topic or discuss issues related to writing and publishing.

The level of conversation at LinkedIn differs from all the other social media sites. This is not the place to post photos of your kittens. Think of it as social media in a business suit. You want to come across as professional and serious. That characteristic makes some kinds of books eminently marketable on LinkedIn, just because of their nature. (Think books related to business marketing, for example.) With other kinds of books (fiction, inspirational, cute kitten stories), you’re probably better off to deflect the subject of your LinkedIn content to business aspects of your endeavor (what marketing ploy just worked successfully with your collection of inspirational sayings? What demographic buys the most cat books?).

Blogs are another form of social media. If you write engagingly enough and often enough, over time you can collect a surprising number of followers. And you can use your blog openly to plug your books, either in a given post or by installing widgets in a sidebar with links to your book’s Amazon address.

The whole idea of participating in most other social media is to drive readers to your blog, where you can entertain them with lively posts and showcase your wares. Often I post links to posts at the Plain & Simple Press blog, hoping to draw readers to the website, where they can find out more about all our books.

In that line, Pinterest is said to be especially effective. Experienced bloggers will often say that Pinterest drives more traffic than any other social media.

Pinterest features nothing but images with links to personal and business websites. The appeal escapes me, but it is very popular. Lacking any capacity to appreciate the marvels of Pinterest myself, I hire an expert who optimizes my site for Pinterest, creates correctly formatted images, and posts them on Pinterest so as to bring readers over to the Plain & Simple blogsite.[20]

Similarly, it’s possible to automatically link your blog posts to Facebook and Twitter. Networked Blogs[21] is one way to accomplish that.

Your blog can tie into another form of social media: the newsletter. Add a “subscribe” function, and you can easily gather viewers’ email addresses. A program called Mail-chimp[22] will vacuum up the addresses, create a master mailing list, and allow you to send newsletters to everyone who has subscribed. Some people believe a newsletter is the most effective marketing tool for businesses trying to reach customers—and that includes authors trying to reach readers.

YouTube is another popular social medium. Probably the most effective way to reach viewers here is to post how-to-do-it videos. This requires you to have an adequate video camera and learn how to post the file, which is not very hard. I’ve posted lectures for my online students there and found it an easy way to personalize the message. To create the degree of professionalism needed to sell a book, though, you probably should consult with a videographer: someone who has some training in making polished, stumble-free videos.

Podcasts are popular among many social media users. These are comparable to old-fashioned radio talk shows, only without the annoying ads and untethered to a time slot. You do need some broadcasting skill to create an effective podcast. Take a course or hire someone to help produce the thing.

In my experience, the best bet is to reach out, in the persona of a human being, to as many “friends” as you can gather on LinkedIn and on Facebook; to try to capture as many email addresses as you can from your blog; and to send out a newsletter as well as blogging regularly. And hire a social media marketer who really is an expert on how the systems work.

Promote Your Book: Give a Presentation

Whether you publish through a mainstream press or whether you self-publish, the bulk of the promotion job falls upon you, the author. One fairly easy way to promote your book is to volunteer to do a presentation on some subject relevant to a group’s interests.

For example, my friend Donna Freedman has offered to speak to a large writer’s group about strategies for creating popular, readable blog entries. Because the group’s main thrust is not craft but marketing, members will be very interested in what she has to say — and we hope, in her new online course on writing a blog people will read.

And just today, I talked to a business group about donating directly to breast cancer research centers rather than to self-perpetuating organizations that function as middlemen. Members of this group are active in public service and donate generously to worthy causes, so I knew they’d be interested in the subject. And speaking about the Susan G. Komen foundation and similar institutions gave me an opportunity to plug my upcoming book on the decisions women face after they receive a breast diagnosis.

A successful presentation can’t just have you step up to a podium and plug your book. You need to offer more than that.

Bearing that in mind, it’s pretty easy to create a public presentation that works, if you follow a few basic rules.

In thinking about your angle, consider your audience. Today’s talk, reproduced at my Funny about Money site, addressed a group of small business owners and executives. They’re committed to charitable works and, since most of them are middle-aged, they’re interested in health-care issues. Those who are not women have wives they care about, and so they can easily be engaged by the hot topic of breast cancer.

The material I put into today’s presentation may not go into my book at all, since its topic primarily concerns the kinds of choices women have to make, often on short notice and under a great deal of stress, about any number of proposed breast cancer treatments. It actually is based on information I came across in my research for the book. In thinking about it, I realized it would probably interest group members more and make them less uncomfortable than a frank discussion of what goes on inside the operating theater. For a different group, a different aspect of the topic might fly just as well or better.

Prepare your presentation thoroughly. Check and double-check your facts, and be prepared to answer any questions audience members may ask. Be sure to cover all the ground, even if briefly, within the time limit you’re given. Respecting that time limit is part of your preparation — don’t neglect this key aspect.

Write out a script and rehearse it, preferably in front of a mirror. You should practice delivering your presentation several times — at least three, and maybe more. Ideally, your presentation should be memorized. Of course, sometimes that’s not possible — too little time is given for preparation, or you have to present complex data that’s hard to remember accurately under the stress of public scrutiny.

In any event, do not read your script to your audience. Deliver your presentation as though you were speaking to a small group of friends, as off the cuff as you can make it appear. If you need a cheat sheet, list the main points in outline style and let these remind you of the content that you’ve rehearsed. Print out your notes in 18-point type, so you can read them easily under any lighting conditions.

If you use PowerPoint, for hevvinsake DON’T read the captions and notes in the slides to your audience! zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz…..

Watch a few TED Talks, studying the style and demeanor of presenters. Note how the speakers move and how they engage their audiences.

Provide useful information, preferably in the form of a handout. In my talk about the controversy around the Susan G. Komen foundation, I provided a one-page list of cancer research institutions to which anyone can donate. This is worked into the blog post, but it was offered separately to the group members, as a take-home.

Try not to be crass about plugging yourself. Instead of reminding listeners repeatedly about the wonders of your new book, mention it in your bio and — ideally — get the person who introduces you to remark on it. Use your time to provide valuable and interesting information.

But make it easy for audience members to find your book. Have a website that’s easy to find, preferably as your name — JoeBlow.org or some such — and place a link to Amazon or your own store so readers can buy. Bring business cards that carry your book’s title and a link to your website on Amazon (www.amazon.com/author/JoeBlow). And if you have copies of the book, bring a stack to the meeting, hand them around as a show-and-tell, and let audience members buy direct from you.

Look for the right audiences. This of course depends on your subject matter. A church group might be right for a discussion of some moral issue or — say — of philanthropy. Business groups are interested in a wide variety of subjects that bear on daily life and the well-being of members’ cities and commerce. Do a subject search on Meetup.com for groups that meet to talk about or participate in whatever your book concerns.

Don’t be shy about asking. The worst that can happen is they’ll tell you “no.” But you won’t get an invitation to speak if you don’t ask.

Speak early and speak often. You don’t have to wait until your book hits print to speak on your subject. If you have some expertise that you’re working into a book, begin giving presentations before the book comes out. Then when it’s published, you can go back to the group, remind them of your existence, and proudly announce publication.

Once you have a presentation that works, recycle it. Look into massaging it to fit the interests of other groups, work it into your newsletter and send it out to your subscribers, or revamp it into a post for your blog.

Self-Publishing: Pro’s and Cons

A good ole’ friend of mine, an IT dude with a liberal arts degree and a career in education behind him, has reinvented himself as an e-book formatter. He loves it. And in the course of loving it, he’s decided that The Future Is Self-Publishing. Print is dead, he tells us, as are brick-and-mortar bookstores and conventional publishing houses.

Well, I’m not so sure about that. Self-publishing certainly presents itself in a better light than it used to, when only suckers and incompetent writers paid someone else to publish their books. Today there are some circumstances in which it makes sense to self-publish a book and market it on Kindle, Nook, and iBooks.

And there are some circumstances in which it does not.

This morning I gave a presentation to a business group on the pro’s and cons of self publishing. This is how it came down…

Pro: No Gatekeepers

When you market a book to a mainline publisher, you have to faze your way past not one but a whole string of gatekeepers.

First your (or your agent’s) proposal hits the desk of a low-paid underling — possibly even an unpaid intern. This person’s job is to winnow the wheat from the chaff, rejecting about 90 percent of the queries that arrive in the e-mail or the snail-mail. She or he forwards the 10 percent (or less) of incoming proposals that she thinks might interest the press to her boss, an acquisitions editor.

The acquisitions editor tosses most of these, recognizing through experience which are likely to make a profit for the press and which will not. Maybe one in a hundred, then, will meet this editor’s provisional approval.

However, she or he is not in a position to send you an acceptance letter — not  yet, anyway. First, she has to persuade a committee of fellow editors and marketing executives that your proposed book is a good fit for their publishing house.

Most to the point: she has to convince the marketing department that your book will sell. If she can’t, it gets rejected no matter how much she loves your idea.

Got the picture? Your chances of selling a book to a mainstream publishing house are very low, no matter how many New York editors your agent takes to lunch each week.

Con: No Gatekeepers

Now, it’s true that when you trick out an e-book or a print-on-demand book for Amazon, no one tells you that Amazon won’t buy it because it’s not “good” enough or not “salable” enough. And that’s nice for you: it means you can self-publish darn near anything.

Therein lies the problem: you can self-publish darn near anything. But… can you sell it?

By way of selling it, one crucial — maybe even indispensable — marketing tool is the book review. And not just any book review: reviews that appear in large, mainstream media such as the New York Times or Library Journal or even your local metropolitan newspaper (if your city still has such a thing). These periodicals, which indeed are staples of people who read, do not review self-published books. The reason: no gatekeepers.

Newspaper columnists and reporters are busy people. They don’t have time to plow through mountains of amateur productions. They direct their attention to works that have already been filtered through the selective eye of a mainstream publisher’s acquisitions editor. So when you send a press release or a “free” book, the first thing that reviewer is going to do is find out who published it. If the publisher is “Joe Doakes and Friends” or some obscure name that doesn’t appear and never will appear in LMP, she’s not going to give it a second look.

To get an interview on, say, NPR or Good Morning America, most authors will need at least a few reviews in mainstream media. No recognizable reviews, no interview. No interview, no marketing opportunity. No marketing, no sales.

Meanwhile, librarians, who form an important segment of any publisher’s market, are swamped with products coming at them from all directions. They also have no time for amateur productions whose authors could not or never even tried to get the attention of a mainstream publisher. If your book isn’t reviewed in Library Journal, it’s unlikely ever to land on a library shelf.

Acceptance by a traditional publisher gives you an imprimatur that gets you into some very important doors.

Pro: You retain control over all aspects of publishing, sale, and distribution (assuming you buy your own ISBN).

This is nice. You own the book. You own its copyright. When you publish through a mainstream publishing house, the publisher typically buys all copyrights (unless your agent negotiates a better deal for you). You’re paid for your rights in the reproduction and distribution in certain markets, but…if a movie producer comes along and wants to option rights for a film, he does business with your publisher, not with you.

And of course, if you’re the publisher because you self-published, you negotiate movie rights, play rights, or whatever yourself. And you get a bigger cut of revenues from any such uses.

Con: You have to handle all aspects of publishing, sales, and distribution.

None of these are simple, easy endeavors. All three of them are difficult, complex, and often expensive jobs.

Can you learn how to do them? Sure. But fools step in where angels fear to tread…

Pro: Fast turn-around

At Amazon, you can get published in as little time as it takes to slap a manuscript together and convert it to a .mobi file. When you peddle your book to a mainstream publisher, it may be a year or more before you see your golden words in print.

Con: It’s easy to put together a substandard product when you get in a hurry.

Publishing a piece of schlock is not in your best interest. What is in your best interest is to publish a book that’s as good as can be. And you don’t accomplish that overnight.

A traditional publisher may indeed take a year to bring your product to light, but in that year the book goes through a couple of editors (neither of whom you have to pay out of pocket), a professional designer, a graphic artist, a marketer, and often a number of other professionals, such as indexers and lawyers.

Would you rather get something out there right this instant, or would you rather wait to build a truly high-quality product?

Pro: You get the lion’s share of sales revenues.

With a traditional publisher, you may (or may not) get an advance against sales. After your book has sold enough copies to reimburse the advance to your publisher, then you get a royalty, which these days is around 7 percent.

At Amazon, you get most of the book’s sale price, and that is one heck of a lot more than 7 percent.

Con: Amazon is about your only retailer, except for the much smaller iBooks and Nook and, for some works, special-interest sellers.

Amazon is vast, of course. It has a killer marketing scheme. And it shares a lot more revenue with you than traditional publishers do. However, it’s not the only game in town. And some distinct potential disadvantages arise when a gigantic monopoly takes over any business.

A monolithic seller like Amazon can block readers’ access to any book. We saw that when Amazon picked a fight with Hachette: if you were one of Hachette’s authors, your would-be readers were told your book wasn’t available, or that it couldn’t be shipped for weeks. You were, in a word, screwed.

Amazon also can remove any e-book you purchase from your device at its pleasure. Or at the government’s. We saw that in 2009, when Amazon elected to remove (ironically) copies of George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm from the Kindle devices of users who had purchased the the books in electronic format.

What if your book appeared only in Kindle’s .mobi format? What if Amazon decided to take it off the market and remove it from your paid customers’ devices? Your book would simply go away.

A print book printed through mainstream publishers and distributed through a national or international network of diverse retailers cannot so easily be censored.

Pro: The book remains on the virtual “bookshelf” forever.

The shelf life of a book sold in brick-&-mortar stores can be very limited – a matter of weeks or months. But once you have your book on Amazon (or iBook or Nook), it’s likely to stay available to readers for a very, very long time.

Con: An electronic book’s longevity will be limited by the technology’s longevity.

Is .mobi format going to last forever? Unlikely. What happens when .mobi becomes tomorrow’s Betamax or tomorrow’s Zip disk? How much will it cost you to convert your book to whatever the new format is? Will it even be possible to do so?

A hard-copy print book will remain readable no matter how much or how often digital products evolve.

Pro: Some people make a fair amount of money on self-published books marketed through Internet retailers.

If you’re a great marketer and you have a book that hits the market at the right time, yes, you can make some money on it. But…you could win the lottery, too…

Con: As a practical matter, sales revenues are likely to be minuscule.

A mainstream publisher doesn’t pay authors royalties based on what someone thinks a book will earn. It pays for what experience shows a book will earn.

As an amateur self-publisher, you have no practical way to gauge how well your book will sell. Your self-publication is a pig in a poke: sure, it may make a ton of money…but it may not. Matter of fact, it probably will not.

Pro: You have full control over marketing strategies.

If you’re an effective marketer or can afford to hire an effective marketing company, this is good. Very good.

But “full control” over something that you know nothing about? Maybe not so good.

Con: As a self-publisher, you have to market your book yourself. A full-service publishing company has a professional blogsite, newsletters, and catalogues that help market your book, plus it has a direct line to library buyers and book reviewers nationally and internationally.

Marketing is neither easy nor cheap. To sell your book effectively, you’ll need to learn a trade that many people go to college for four years to learn. You do not have the resources of a large operating business, either in terms of money or in terms of manpower. Marketing for most self-publishers ranges from “nil” to “weak.”

Pro: You can make it look any way you please – to the extent you can afford.

As the publisher, you get to pick the cover image, choose cover stock and paper stock, select fonts and chapter heading designs, decide how many and what pictures and graphic elements should appear inside. You can, in theory, produce a very beautiful book.

Con: You have to hire editors, graphic designers, and illustrators.

You have to find them, assess their skills, hire, them, and pay them. A traditional publisher already has such artists on staff or on contract.

Producing a print-on-demand book is expensive. An original cover image can cost upwards of $400, and a quote of $1,000 to lay out two hundred print pages is not out of the ordinary.

Pro: Seeing your golden words in print is a nice ego trip.

Con: An ego trip does not reality make.

Books That Should NOT Be Self-Published

Quality nonfiction. Any book that is heavily researched and artfully written, any book that comes under the heading of “literary journalism” or “literary nonfiction” and really, truly is engagingly written, should seek a traditional publisher.

These works need the support of traditional book reviewers, librarians, and academics, none of whom will notice your book if you self-published it on Amazon.

Quality fiction. Books that are not pieces of genre fiction (i.e., not fantasies about ghosts, dragons, fairies, and zombies; science fiction; romance; formulaic detective stories; etc.) should be marketed to mainstream publishers. Reasons: same as above.

Any book whose credibility will be needed to help you get any kind of academic job. If you are applying for tenure-track positions, your work must be peer-reviewed and published by an academic press — and not the kind that charges you for the privilege.

Any book whose credibility will be needed to help you attain political office. Really. Would you vote for some fly-by-night soul who published his jeremiad through Amazon?

Any book that you need to market through mainstream media such as NPR, the Washington Post, The New York Times, Library Journal, The New York Review of Books, or Publisher’s Weekly

Ideal Candidates for a Self-Published Work

Any book whose primary purpose is to market a business or nonprofit. A book that is first and foremost a marketing tool may in fact best be published through Amazon or a print-on-demand outfit, for reasons mentioned above: you have full control over its marketing, you own all the copyrights in it, and no one interferes or acts as an intermediary in any way. Often such a book pays for itself with its first medical or chiropractic patient or with the first few sales of a product or service. And a pure marketing tool will not need to be advertised through mainstream book reviewers.

A how-to or self-help book with a sharply focused market. Some years ago I ran across a guy who bought an RV and took off into the wild blue yonder after he retired. Before long the RV developed some ailment and needed repair. Being a handy sort of fellow, he figured out how to fix it. And having nothing better to do in his retirement, he wrote a little guide on how to do this repair and published it on Amazon.

To his amazement, every RVer in the nation soon found out about his booklet. It sold madly and he soon turned a nice profit on the thing. Readers begged him to publish more advice along the same lines. He did, and before he knew it…well, he was no longer retired. He had himself a new career as a writer.

Books intended to educate customers broadly (as opposed to selling them on your product or service). Sometimes you would like to inform your customers or potential customers about some consumer issue. Your impulse to do so may be altruistic, or it may be that you hope informed potential customers eventually will walk in your shop’s front door. This is a reasonable candidate for self-publication.

Books with a narrow audience that is widely separated geographically or may grow over time. For example, one of my clients wrote and will self-publish a memoir intended to be read by members of a large extended family or by future children and grandchildren. No mainstream publisher could make a profit on such a thing — but if your goal is not to make a profit, it makes sense to self-publish.

A truly entertaining piece of genre fiction written by an author who has a strong social network and effective marketing skills. On the other hand, sometimes self-publishing makes sense if your goal is to make a profit. Genre fiction, especially the romance novel, lends itself to this, because it’s the sort of thing that readers will seek out once they know about a given author. I suspect that many genre authors may be best served by self-publishing; if your book sells itself, you have no reason to share profits with a middle-man.


Print lives. Mainstream book publishers are still with us. But the Internet has changed the game of self-publishing. Before assuming that one or the other is best, consider the nature of your work, your goals and preferences, and your choices. They may be different than you expect.