What Is Book Marketing, Anyway?

Sometimes authors write me asking for advice about book marketing, but it turns out they want advice on tricking somebody (a store, a publisher, an individual reader) into buying their book. Other authors confuse book marketing with advertising, or with soliciting praise and reviews. For me, book marketing is a process encompassing many activities, from publicizing your book and making sure it's available for purchase to tracking the efficacy of your sales efforts and experimenting with alternative approaches. It's not enough to advertise, to obtain a measure of personal fame, to draw the praise from "thought leaders" or to obtain bookstore stocking. The goal of book marketing is closing sales.

Some guy e-mailed me a week or two ago to let me know that he had harpooned my web design in a design discussion group. I receive unsolicited aesthetic advice on a regular basis from web designers who couldn't attract a dozen adolescent visitors a day if they owned the domain "," but this individual took the time to add that my site owes its apparent success to (paraphrase) "secret practices yet to be revealed." Anybody who spends time on this site knows that the only secrets I keep are my politics and my bathroom habits, and if you're that interested in the latter you can read all about bowel movements on IFITJAMS.

Yesterday, the FonerBooks website drew just over 10,000 unique visitors, with over 8,000 of those arriving through search. That translated into a few hundred dollars of sales, including eight eBooks to customers in a half dozen countries and some Amazon Associate sales of paper books. Over the course of a year, the website will directly generate tens of thousands of dollars of eBook and paper book sales, and indirectly generate tens of thousands of dollars in paper book sales that I can't directly track. That's my idea of a successful book marketing website for a self publisher with a handful of titles, and the only "secret" is that I put visitors first and sales second.

The content based book marketing strategy only works if you give away some of your best work in order to draw visitors. In my case, I literally give away much more than I ever get around to publishing in books, because I enjoy creating content (writing and illustrating) and find it easier to publish online than to publish books. Every morning, I check the website visitor statistics BEFORE I check on book sales. As long as the site traffic is healthy, I know that the business will be healthy. No amount of diddling about with website design, balancing text and white space or tweaking order pages will draw visitors to your website. Other than writing and posting content, the only activity you absolutely have to spend time on for a new website is soliciting some quality incoming links. Since the only way to get quality incoming links from sites in your field is to publish quality content, publication has to come first.

I spent quite a bit of time at O'Reilly's Tools of Change last year talking about Internet strategy. It may seem strange that a one-man publishing shop with a four title list would have the nerve to be preaching at trade publishing executives about their approach to online book marketing, especially when my flagship website draws the drive-by ire of professional designers. But it's a rare trade publisher who can boast several times the FonerBooks web traffic, and despite their hundreds of employees and thousands of titles, most draw fewer visitors. It's also important to note that most large publishers design their sites around community building, with forums and frequent updates that should inflate their numbers. The consequence is that many of them draw only single digit percentages of their traffic from search, compared with over 75% for a strong content website. And what this means is that more than a decade after the Internet went mainstream, it's not too late for you to compete with the biggest NY trades online. Just don't waste another year thinking about it, because a couple of them actually read this blog:-)

O'Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference 2010


Business Case Pro said...

Terrific down-to-earth advice. The new, glossy term for your content-driven approach is "Inbound Marketing." There's a book of the same name. Quite good. Overzealous on sales funnel management and a maniacal faith in social media, but useful overall.

You deserve every success.

Morris Rosenthal said...

Case Pro,

Inbound Marketing, interesting. I just Googled it, they already run a summit conference. Looked suspiciously like the usual suspects for internet marketing gurus, though. It was even in Boston last year, I might have gone if I'd known and they'd given me a press pass.

I see the Inbound Marketing book is doing well on Amazon (rank around 1,000) and was publshed by Wiley. The outstanding thing about Wiley is that they do draw almost ten times my daly taffic, the best of any of the large publishers I checked. They do it with over 700,000 pages of content online, according to Yahoo site explorer, so on a per capita basis, I'm still whipping their behinds:-)


Anonymous said...

Your post strikes on an interesting conundrum I am currently wrestling with in my business: What to do next? I just published what I consider to be the crowning achievement of my title list on Lyme disease; a book that, frankly, couldn't be any better. I'm not bragging - I didn't write the book and I don't take credit for the work the author did to write it.

Although I expect the book to do well and make some money, I now need to know what to do next. Revise my older good-selling titles? Does revision matter? Write more content pages like you, Morris? Try to dip my toes into a new genre - maybe even a new domain name (like your ifitjams - which, by the way, is already a page rank 4 - amazing).

Or what about focusing on deepening my marketing of existing title list?

Perhaps picking up more titles from other publishers and selling those - I've been doing well at this for the last several years.?

The list of options for my next move is long, and I'm afraid that my decision at this point will be very consequential to the future of my business. One huge limitation I'm facing is manpower - I'm a one man shop (with a VERY part time employee) and my daily treading water tasks and maintenance takes up most of my time. Although to be honest perhaps I've grown a little lazy too. In any case, I'm scared to hire more help to take the burden of daily maintenance away so I have more time for projects .... afraid becuase, what if my new projects don't work out? I don't want to create more expenses for myself.

Although I started my company 5 years ago, this is really the first time I've been at a major cross roads where I really don't know what to do. The last 5 years I've just been soaking up growth which I knew was available to me. Now I'm wondering where and how the growth is. I am definitely looking for mentorship and advice, and perhaps a paid publishing consultant, although I doubt I'd find many who could tell me something I don't know. Anyway, that's my story, any input anyone?


Morris Rosenthal said...


Writing more content is a good idea if you want to explore your own potential. Putting things down on paper (or electrons) rather than just talking about them is a great way to see whether or not they make sense, and if anybody else cares.

We're in very similar boats in some ways, though for different reasons. I'm not afraid of commiting money or time to new projects, but I have a bug about doing everything myself, which puts some pretty strict limitations on what I can do. For the time being, I just keep on writing. I also (increasingly) try to meet more business folks in the flesh, both through local professional groups and events like TOC.

Good gravy, don't hire a consultant. I'll give you all the grief you want for free. Worst case, tell me what you want to hear and I'll repeat it back using different words - that's what you get from most consultants.


JFBookman said...


Thanks for another dose. I've also been drawn to local publishing groups and been very grateful for the connections I found there. It's a good respite from the digital life.

I'm in the beginning stages of building the content on my site, and the work involved, even though I enjoy it, is substantial. But realistically there's no other way I'd want to do it. Thanks.

IsraelFinancialExpert said...

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