Testing Your Book Promotion Campaigns

I talk with many authors and publishers who spend a lot of money and time trying to promote their books. If I had to pick one bad characteristic most share, it's a refusal to make an effort to test whether or not their book promotions are working. I think it has to do with the home run mindset. Authors and publishers alike have the goal of selling a lot of books, many even dream of bestsellers, so the only number they watch for feedback on their promotional efforts is their total book sales. I can honestly tell you that total sales is the only number I DON'T watch. Every day I check my Ingram sales, my Amazon Associate sales, my direct sales, the number of visits to my order pages and my overall web statistics. I don't really know how many books I sell in a year until I do my taxes.

There are several reasons why the total sales number is a pretty pointless figure to obsess over, the most important of which is that you're probably involved in more than one book promotion activity. If all you track is your total sales, how do you know how much your website is contributing, how much your Amazon listing is contributing, whether your sales are coming from great shelf placement, a third party pushing your book, or just having the right keywords in the Books-In-Print title at the right time? You don't. I've known publishers who spend thousands of dollars on mailings to libraries who make no attempt to track the results; those dollars may be responsible for all of their sales or none. They just keep randomly spending money on book promotions, shooting in every direction, and as long as they make a profit at the end of the year, they figure that's the best they can do.

Let's say you run three or four book promotion campaigns the first year your book is available: paid print advertisements, paid Internet advertising, organic website promotion, and writing guest features like crazy to bring attention to your book. Odds are, at least 50% of your sales will result from one of those activities and at least 25% from another. So why are you putting equal time and dollars into the other two activities when you could be concentrating your efforts on the promotions that work? If you don't make the effort to test your book promotions with measurable and repeatable metrics, you're flying in the dark.

The best book I've read about book promotion wasn't written by a publishing industry markete. It's the classic "Tested Advertising Methods" by John Caples. He returns to the same point over and over again with examples that many of us would find counterintuitive, where businesses carefully tracked the results of their promotions. The results show that the advertisements that appealed the most to the business professionals often fell flat with the reading public. You can't project your view of the world on your potential readers before they've even picked up your book. You might be offended by a big banner on a website that says "Buy the Book Now" - I would be too and I don't use the hard sell on my website, but you never know until you try.

The key to all of this, beyond sitting down and monitoring all of your book promotions on a regular basis to figure out how they are doing, is to stick with promotional campaigns that you can track. Websites are great, since server statistics tell you how many visitors see every page on your site, associates programs (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.) not only tell you how many of the people you send them buy your books, but what percentage. Book readings and signings are tough to beat for immediate sales feedback if you like speaking in public. One time media events like interviews on TV, radio or print are fairly easy to track in that the results will be immediate, if there are any results at all. The toughest type of promotional activity to judge is print advertising, unless you use mail-order type coupons or response codes, because it can take a long time to work. I don't advocate print advertising for books.

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