After receiving an influx of questions about writing and publishing a book, I decided in 2014 to put my advice into an article and publish it on LinkedIn. The regular stream of inquiries continued, and I would simply share the link and answer other questions to the best of my ability. Interestingly, no one has inquired about Part II of my LinkedIn article. Regardless, what follows is Part II of How to Publish a Book.
In Part I, I acknowledged the arduous task of taking a book from conception to print, and then recommended resources on the publishing process. I also gave advice on setting goals with realistic expectations. Neither article explains the writing process, which requires years of instruction and practice, despite the fact that throngs of books are released in conversational vernacular complete with grammar and punctuation errors that make those of us with English degrees cringe. I digress, but may I posit one additional note about writing a book?
Do not write a book to make money. It simply is not suitable motivation and will lead to an inauthentic product. With certitude I can tell you making money is a delusional excuse for writing a book. When people approach me to ghostwrite their books, the first question I ask is “What’s the purpose of your book?” The answer usually reveals the author’s true motive.
Write a book because you are passionate about the subject, are eager to share knowledge, or have an intrinsic desire to record information for the ages. One of my clients had me chronicle the events that would become his legacy. To the best of my knowledge, he never published the book.
The purpose of this article is to demonstrate a variety of ways you can market your book beyond Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Marketing, I maintain, is the more difficult side of the book publishing equation. While there are endless ways to promote a book, there is no single best way. Because marketing methods and communication tactics are always evolving, it is important to be creative and fresh. Since you’ve already defined your target audience before writing the book (you did, right?), the key is figuring out how to best reach that audience through their preferred channel of communication.
When my book Gravy Wars: South Philly Foods, Feuds & Attitudes was released in 2009, food was a hot genre but no guarantee of sales. I had to work hard to promote it, which is not uncommon for a first-time author. My publisher did not have a big budget. Even if Simon & Schuster had published my book, I would have been responsible for publicity. Publishers put marketing resources behind low hanging fruit—known entities. Fortunately, I was in the publicity business and able to promote Gravy Wars myself, as awkward as that was and continues to be. I’m still promoting it and will continue to do so as long as it is in print.
A side note: Gravy Wars did so well in its first year, selling more than 10,000 copies, that a slightly larger publisher made a passing inquiry about taking over the title. I did not see the point; I was doing all the promotional work anyway. Within the first 12 months of the book’s release, we went into a second printing. Not too shabby for a first-time author. It would be a few years before I agreed to release my baby as an e-book.
I will candidly reveal that even with two-thirds of the 33,000 printed copies of Gravy Wars distributed, the venture was not a reliable source of income. I never quantified the sweat equity associated with that project but if I had, I guarantee I’d still be in the red. That stated, I would not change a thing. I knew from the outset what to expect. For most, a published book is a loss leader. Having a book on a subject about which you are either passionate or an expert lends to your credibility and leads to more business, or in my case speaking engagements.
Once the manuscript has been completed, send it off to a professional copy editor (emphasis on professional) and begin outlining a marketing plan. Simultaneously, enlist the services of a professional artist who specializes in book covers (again, emphasis on professional). The chosen graphic will drive the design of your marketing collateral. If you have secured a publishing house, work closely with them during this process, contributing nuances reflective of your intention, but avoid the temptation to art direct.
After the cover design has been chosen, execute your marketing plan. There are countless ways to market a book. Any method should take into consideration the genre, audience, and the author’s goal. As with any promotion, be as creative as possible and as elaborate as your budget allows. The list below is in no way exhaustive, and I welcome your suggestions in the comment section.
Get experts in your field to offer a line or two about your book. This will require giving them either a draft of the manuscript or a few finished chapters. Include their comments on the back cover or first few pages of the book, as well as on marketing material. The names and titles of advocates add credibility to your work, while helping promote their respective brands.
A self-made millionaire told me years ago that the secret to his success was his ability to partner and repeat sales. One way to transfer this concept to book publishing is to partner with entities that will benefit from your book, whether it is a retail outlet or an industry that might like to purchase your title in bulk to use as a premium giveaway.
The gist of Gravy Wars easily lent itself to incorporating the stories of sponsors, adding value to the reader through a richer cultural experience. The many partnerships I formed guaranteed instant sales prior to release and provided multiple avenues of distribution.
Taking the concept in a different direction, consider partnering with another author who has published on the same or a similar topic. Two minds are always better than one. As a tag-team, you bring different perspectives to a topic. Perhaps you can promote each other as SMEs. Working in tandem helps both authors. It is always easier to sing the praises of another.
Sure, competition is real but why waste energy fighting it when you can partner and create more opportunity? The pie is huge and there is more than enough to go around. We live in an abundant universe.
I continue to look for partners to help promote my book of public speaking tips, Impact: Deliver Effective, Meaningful, and Memorable Presentations. Given the number of texts written on this topic and its niche audience, promoting this book is a bit more challenging. Knowing this at the outset, I sought to differentiate my contribution to the subject by creating a pocket guide, a terse resource for busy professionals and supplement to the classroom text. (Thank you for withstanding the not-so-subtle and shameless plug.)
Although not necessary, devoting a website to your book complete with SEO will make it easy to find online. If your book has a unique title, purchase the URL. Even if you never build a site, you can forward traffic from your URL to a site where your book can be purchased.
Of course! In 2020, do we need to break this down? Use the platforms on which your target audience is most likely to spend time. Just like traditional PR, be sure your comments and posts provide value. Don’t be like the perfume lady at the Estée Lauder counter ready to spray every passerby or the telemarketer that screams, “Don’t hang up!” Instead, build a relationship by first listening to (reading) your audience, and then responding accordingly. Let the sale come naturally even if it takes a bit longer than you had hoped.
If you are not accustomed to using social platforms, hire an outfit that is expert at it. There are plenty of good ones. Content marketing is a craft.
If you are a dynamite storyteller, consider starting a podcast. Once it is up and running, you’ll have more fodder for social media posts. If hosting a podcast isn’t your thing, get yourself guest appearances on as many podcasts as you can. A lot of podcasters enjoy interviewing good guests. It’s a two-way promotion.
The few newspapers still in print have been significantly reduced in size, allowing for fewer human-interest articles. That said, local weeklies and hometown ad papers are still great places to get some press, as are print and on-line trade magazines. This will require submitting a pitch or press release. If this is not your forte, hire a pro.
If you are the subject matter expert on a unique topic, you might consider pitching yourself to a local broadcast affiliate. Restrictions similar to those of the print world are very real, with local radio and TV programming waning, it is very difficult to get noticed by nationally syndicated programs.
If your budget allows, you could pay-to-play (infomercial); i.e., pay for a block of airtime and have at it.
Participate or create events that will help promote and sell your book. From festivals, fares, and trade shows to networking, seminars, and corporate black ties, whether you are the keynote speaker, offer a breakout session, or purchase vendor space, use these events to your advantage. As a result of Gravy Wars, I was the 2013 Grand Marshall of the Italian-American Parade in North Wildwood, NJ. It may not be a LinkedIn headline but it sure was fun.
Bookstores are not on my list of seven ways to promote and sell your book because they are a given. Make sure your publisher lists your title with distribution channels that will place your book in any surviving brick and mortar as well as online. Your job is driving traffic to those places. If you are selling the book yourself, place your title with the most prominent retail venues.
Be encouraged. Publish your book. Magnify your brand.