Bard Press Essay #12
May 7, 2021
When I talk to authors about their projects, they always want me to share my best ideas for marketing.
“What are the three best things I can do to successfully launch my book?”
I normally rattled off three answers, techniques that I have seen work over the years.
Last week, I was in one of those launch conversations. The author listened carefully and said, “You know, I talked with another author last week and they said that [marketing technique] didn’t work for them.”
I answered almost automatically and with a touch of defensiveness saying,
“It depends on the book.”
One of my favorite colleagues says that book publishing is “an industry of anecdotes” —agents, editors, publishers and marketers trading stories about the cool and clever things that worked on their latest bestseller successes. The stories are traded like Pokemon cards.
Do not make the mistake of wholly trusting any anecdote or dismissing a story because someone told you it didn’t work.
Those success stories can be useful. I find that those insights serve as fuel for creativity. They provide snapshots into the launch of other books. You might hear about how a marketing channel is performing. You might hear about a PR pitch that tapped into a timely news cycle. A string of stories illuminates a trend marketers are favoring.
That usefulness is limited though. The arcs of those stories cannot be replicated. The author lacks the exact ecosystem to execute the idea. The book doesn’t fit with the method. The originality of the technique has become tired and isn’t working anymore.
Context is everything.
Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares wrote a great book called Traction. Their research involved talking with startup founders and asking what techniques they used to grow their businesses. The first thing they found was that there was no common technique among the group. Each company used a different sales or marketing strategy or tactic to build their business.
Weinberg and Mares grouped sales and marketing activities into 19 groups. My guess is that you will recognize almost all of these channels. I have listed them below and organized them into three groups. The first group is the common ways that we do marketing and sales in book publishing.
- Content Marketing
- Email Marketing
- Live Events
- Social and Display Ads
- Speaking Engagements
- Targeting Influencers
- Viral Marketing
The second group here is uncommon ways we create awareness for books. These are all approaches I have seen used to promote and sell books, but much less frequently.
- Community Building
- Non-Traditional PR
- Offline Ads
- Search Engine Marketing
- Search Engine Optimization
- Trade Shows
- Business Development
The final group is the rare methods and I think they are rare in book publishing, because they don’t fit the product really well.
- Affiliate Programs
- Existing Platforms
- Engineering as Marketing
The authors suggest that founders (and in our case authors) first choose a goal. Do you want to sell 10,000 copies? Do you want to add 1,000 people to your email list? Let the goal help you decide which channels to pursue. Then work on running small experiments in each channel and measure the impact on our goal. The objective is to see if you can find a channel to create real growth. When you find one, you stop all the other experiments and pour all your efforts into that single channel to get the biggest results.
Getting good at experimentation is important because Weinberg and Mares found a second important lesson in their research. They found that the founders had to change the marketing and sales channel as they moved through various stages of growing their company. They might have gotten traction with one approach in building the product (Fuel). They had to use a different channel to market the product (Launch). And when scaling the product, they needed another path to finding new customers (Accelerate). When moving to a new phase, founders returned to a wide set of experiments in the search of one that produced outsized results.
Experiments lead us to the best outcome.
I think we all engage in some form of the scientific method when we launch books. We select a set of techniques that we are familiar with and maybe even have experience with. We engage with partners who have even more experience to help, whether that is the publisher, publicists or marketers. There are some channels that generally work better at reaching readers. Overall, we know the direction we are trying to go.
What gets us into trouble is we listen too much to those stories that we have been told by others. We compare. We lament when our results don’t match. We dismiss all the advice we got.
The solution is to be more rigorous, and not by following a set of actions that worked for another author on another book or listening to the current wisdom of the publishing moment. Let’s be more precise in what the goal is for us as authors when we launch the book. Let’s get clearer on the methods we are going to actively engage in to grow our book. And let’s measure the experimental outcomes against our goals.
Why? Because it depends.