Book Promotion 101, part one

As I prepare to publish and release my new novel, (which I might have mentioned before) I have immersed myself navel-deep in the art and science of book publicity/promotion and the theory thereof. Along the way, I’ve learned some interesting facts and principles. Some I’ve learned through research and reading; others, I’ve discovered through the experience (sometimes painful) of trying to market my first three novels.

Now I’m going to share what I’ve learned.

The time for deciding how and where to promote your novel is before it’s published, not after.
As with any product, time is of the essence. Though your novel could very well sell copies for the next twenty years or more, the real make-or-break sales period is when it first hits the market. Therefore it is important that whatever marketing devices you choose to promote your novel are in place and ready to go when the book launches.

Whether we authors want to admit it or not, selling our books is a business.
We are entrepreneurs. Our books are our product and our readers, customers. We are no different than someone selling cars, or insurance, or hemorrhoid crème. We need to approach our business with the same mindset as any other person in sales. We have to know our product, know the market, and know our customers.

I’m assuming we all know our products, since we created them, so I will move on to the market. So let’s look at some facts.

Fact #1: There are about 430 million English speakers on this planet. Of those, 319 million live in the United States and 64 million live in the United Kingdom. But many of those English speakers are children and others who are not in charge of purchasing. The adult population of the United States is more like 200 million. So, in theory, there are 200 million possible customers for your book in the U.S. But that isn’t quite accurate.

Fact #2: Unfortunately, approximately half of all adult Americans have not read a book outside of work or school and have no intention of doing so in the future. This is important because it makes no sense to waste limited marketing resources on people who simply aren’t interested in the product. That leaves about 100 million Americans who might be interested in your book. A sizable bunch of people, right?

Fact #3: About 480,000 books are published in English every year. Of those, about 292,000 are published in the U.S. and 150,000 in the U.K. That’s about a book for every 342 people in the U.S. That’s not a whole lot in sales, is it? And that’s an optimistic estimate because it doesn’t take into account that a few of those published books will be written by people named Stephen King, James Patterson, or J.K. Rowling who will sell thousands of copies.

Fact #4: Most independent and self-published books sell fewer than 150 copies. Most others sell fewer than 2000. Why? Largely, because many (or most) authors, myself included, have their books published and then just put them out there in the market, hoping for the best. That is not good business.

As authors who wish to sell more than 150 copies of this novel we’ve worked so long and hard on, we need to honestly ask ourselves a few important questions that lie at the heart of marketing and promotion:

How do we attract the attention of all those possible readers? How do we get them to notice our book out of the 292,000 published every year? (In the United States.)

How do we convince the potential reader to give up their hard-earned money and buy one of our books?

How do we do both on a reasonable budget? (If you’re a multimillionaire, just hire a publicist and be done with it.)

The answer to these questions is targeted promotion.

It’s the same thing we do when an acquaintance approaches us at the grocer’s and asks what’s new. “I’ve written a book,” you say. “What’s it about?” And you tell them. Promotion is the same thing, but on a larger scale. We are getting the attention of a prospective reader, telling them why they would like the work, and where they can find it. Simple, right?

Well, in theory, yes, it is pretty simple. Simple, that is, if money is no object. (See my comment about multi-millionaires, above, and add an advertising agency along with the publicist). Unfortunately, for most of us, finances are a factor. We have a promotional budget and need to both stick to that budget and get the most benefit we can from every dollar (pound, whatever) we spend on promotion.

So how do we do that? Again, we have to gather some facts first.

Fact #5: No matter how good our novel is, it is unlikely that all the 100 million readers in the United States will want to read it. People, even the most voracious readers, tend to prefer to read one or two favorite genres and don’t wander much. The man who loves his western novels is highly unlikely to read a bodice-ripper romance. The woman who reads every mystery she can get her hands on, is unlikely to buy a sci-fi novel. There are exceptions, but for promotional purposes, we need to concentrate on the majority.

We need to identify the segment of the reading population most likely to be interested in our work and concentrate our promotions on them.

In my particular case, my novel is going to be a thriller (with strong mystery overtones) and some research on the web tells me that my particular audience is primarily women aged 45-65. They are the readers most likely to be interested in reading my novel, so I will spend my promotion money targeting them.

Fact #6: The make-or-break period for most books, the period when it either establishes itself
as a success or not, is the first six months after its release. Granted there will still be sales later, but the work will lose the luster of being “new.” Most sales will occur in the first six months.

Fact #7: Marketing experts report that it takes on average of 5-7 exposures to a promotional message for a customer to actually purchase the product. Think about it. How many times have you purchased something the first time you saw it advertised? Odds are not often. It takes a few reminders. Either you don’t need it right away, you can’t afford it at the moment, or other pieces of your life distract you. Sometimes you just need to be reminded. And I intend to remind you about my novel.

Fact #8: Marketing experts also recommend that the promotion campaign for a “new product” (which is what our novels are after all) begin 6-8 weeks before the actual product launch. Think of a Hollywood motion picture. When does the studio begin running trailers on television? About six weeks before the movie opens. They are trying to build up “buzz” for the new film. Apple does the same thing whenever it’s going to launch a new phone. We need to do the same for our books.

To review: we need to promote our books if we want to sell them to anyone other than our friends and family. To do this in the most efficient and cost-effective way, we need to identify the segment of the reading population that would be most interested in reading our work. This is our target audience. We aim our promotions at them. Our best time to sell our book and therefore the most important time to actively promote them is the first six months after the book is released. But, in order to build up some “buzz” or enthusiasm for the book’s release, we should begin our promotion six to eight weeks before the release.

Now that I’ve determined what I need to do, I have to figure out how I’m going to do it.

The campaign I’m designing will be the subject of the next post.


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