Relentless Promotion vs Intelligent Book Marketing

We all know somebody who is a relentless self promoter, who comments on every discussion list post, haunts every related blog and speaks anyplace that isn't equipped with a giant hook or a suspended ten ton weight. Relentless self promotion works - if your goal is to be known by many and despised by not a few. It's not a bad fit for self publishing, where simply making people aware of your titles is a major challenge. But it's similar to most brute force solutions in that it's rarely as efficient as an intelligent approach, responding to the market rather than trying to shove your book down everybody's throat.

One of the interesting aspects of professional sports for longtime fans is watching coaches adjust their strategies for different opponents, whether mid-game or in multi-game series. Simply going out there and doing what you do best is enough to compete in a neighborhood pick-up game, but it's not enough to win against comparable opponents on an even playing field. Developing flexibility is the main stumbling block for many a self publisher who did well enough with their first title, but fails to recognize that the same approach isn't ideal for all titles. In fact, last year's winning approach may be this year's guaranteed loser.

The sports analogy only holds up so far in self publishing because the challenge is less one overcoming opponents than making new friends. The opposition consists of competing publishers, but there's always room for a new title if it's good, and the competition is about gaining visibility rather than somehow defeating similar titles. Your potential readers are not opponents to be overcome, they are the people you are trying to help or entertain. This is one of the reasons I dislike the practice of gathering e-mail addresses to blast with news of a new book, something that strikes me as an attack on customer privacy. In all my years of publishing, I've never sent an unsolicited e-mail asking somebody to buy a book, despite my direct sales channel providing thousands of customer addresses.

So how can you tell if your efforts to market your book are paying off? By whether or not you are generating sales over time. Nothing else is relevant, not the number of "You're a wonderful human being" e-mails, not the number of media mentions and calls from reporters, not the number of reviews you generate by giving away free copies. If you've written a book featuring walking tours of Central Park, setting up a pushcart (with a permit) at a park entrance and hawking the book to passers-by makes a lot more sense than sending out a mass mailing to public libraries. Finding out what groups have a vested interest in Central Park and speaking to them or sending review copies to their newsletter editors makes a lot more sense than going on a cross-country tour of bookstore signings.

Yes, it will be helpful if your book shows up at the top of the Amazon listings for a search on "Central Park" or if your website places high for related searches on Google, but both of these are passive forms of marketing that may not be best suited to an ultra-niche title. The interesting thing about highly targeted niche titles is that the audiences are often highly concentrated, and can be reached through a small number of physical locations or niche/fan publications and websites. Sticking to your guns and not giving up is a large part of success in any endeavor, but you have to be smart about your book marketing as well. I'll conclude another lazy summer post with a publishing video rerun about selling books through your website:


Thomas Huynh said...

Hello Morris,

The definition of marketing may vary from person to person but one description that most people would agree on is that marketing is difficult -- much more difficult than collecting emails and blasting people with them. Your mention of flexibility is spot on; it'd be too easy for one technique to work in all situations.

Recently I came across a self-published author who has a website that uses the typical aggressive techniques. You know, the kinds you see in pyramid, get-rich-quick schemes. Huge bold letters, exclamation marks, obvious "limited time only price." Unfortunately he seems like an expert in his field and I honestly would have purchased his book if he was much more subtle about how his book can help me. Instead he seemed to push too hard and I wonder if this wasn't substituting for something he lacks. Perhaps not, but any intelligent person who's been around the block would run for the hills the way he tried to hard-sell his book on the webpage.

Why do some marketers do this? Is this analogous to the loud car ads -- the louder they are, the more stupid they assume their target audience is? (For example, compare ads of Fords/Chevys versus Mercedes/Lexus.)


Morris Rosenthal said...


Some marketers believe that the hard sell works with more customers than the soft sell. I can't say they're wrong since I've never tried the hard sell, so I don't really know. My guess would be that it depends greatly on the product and the audience. If the product is worthless, the hard sell would have to be more effective than the soft sell, because the soft sell (large book excerpts, for example) would give away the fact that the product wasn't worthwhile.

I think the variation in product quality leads some marketers who are always fooling around with low value stuff to assume that the hard sell is head-over-heels better than the soft sell, since the soft sell never worked for them. If their next business involves a book or a product that really is worthwhile, they stick with the hard sell because it's what they know.

Now all that said, I wouldn't be surprised if the hard sell really does work better for most products most of the time. Ever see the movie Glengarry-Glen Ross? The Baldwin clip with the ABC, Always Be Closing, is one of the greatest snippets of illegal video on YouTube.

I suspect a real salesman would laugh at the sell-through of my website and call me a loser. "What do you mean you get ten thousand visitors a day and you only close a handful of book sales? I'd put those books in looseleaf folders with a few dozen PowerPoint slides showing bullet point and sell the as $500 courses!"

Who knows, it's not something I'm likely to try, but that's because I make what I consider a decent living with my current approach and I'm not particularly greedy:-)


Zoe Winters said...

This makes me eventually want to publish a niche nonfiction title just to market it in unique ways, though I think I've got some niche groups that will buy my fiction.

Great points on the video too. I think paypal makes the most sense for direct from your website sales (when you aren't funneling traffic to amazon and such) since paypal is already established in most people's minds as a trustworthy third party. Whereas a merchant account directly from an author/publisher site, the reader has to decide to trust you with their credit card info. Which can be a barrier to sales.