Making it Stick: The 4 Steps to Turning Book Marketing from a Science into an Art

by Omar on February 6, 2012

In my previous life as a Sr. Marketing Director for a large pharmaceutical company, I was known for making brash predictions come true -like doubling sales of a troubled brand in merely 12 months. Since then, in my current job, I’ve taken a struggling meeting production company from the brink of bankruptcy to a company with a premier mobile web application that was transforming meetings 16 months later. Book marketing, however, has become my biggest marketing challenge by far. First of all, there is the resource issue. At the pharma company, I had millions of dollars at my disposal – the trick was applying resources in a few key areas with a laser-focus on execution of key tactics. If you are just getting introduced to Our Story, we started The Pantheon Collective with a $15,000 investment, which wasn’t enough money to properly launch one book, let alone four. Next, we made a key strategic and financial decision early on to live and die by our ebook sales. With per book gross sales of $2.40, you have to sell A LOT of ebooks to turn a profit. Finally, I didn’t know jack squat about book marketing!

What I did know was that product positioning is one of the most important elements of marketing, period. So I took that knowledge and created the first marketing plan for SELLOUT by James W. Lewis. Looking back on that marketing plan today, I can see how naive I was about this whole book marketing process. For example, we spent $2,000 on a very unique book trailer for SELLOUT that eventually went on to win 3rd place in a major book trailer competition conducted by and consequently led to large brand exposure to thousands of readers. Great, right? Well, not so fast. In the beginning, I believed that producing a great book trailer would directly lead to thousands of youtube and other social video sharing website comments which would indirectly lead us to immediate sales. I’ve now come to realize that book trailers are a brand awareness tactic: nothing more, nothing less. There is no correlation between the trailer and sales, and even less of a relationship between the cost of the trailer and the potential ROI.

Around the same time, I was reading a great book called Word of Mouth Marketing and applied many of these learned principals to the SELLOUT launch and future book launches. I knew that book clubs had the keys to the kingdom when it came to literary influence, but I severely underestimated just how inundated each book club is by not only established authors and publishers but the thousands of indie and self-published authors as well. Breaking through to this select group was going to take something beyond extending a simple author introduction. Plus, there was the catch that an author needs book clubs to boost word-of-mouth, but book clubs don’t like to waste their time on an unproven author, any more than the Big 6 publishers do. That was the second nut I had to crack as a book marketing professional–how to be enticing to book clubs without annoying and emerge from the crowd as a found gem that would dazzle book clubs. It also didn’t hurt that James’ online hustle is only matched by his Captain America-esque good looks (lol).

Then there was the marketing enigma that is Facebook. On one hand, here is a site that collects more detailed user data than any company in history. On the other hand, if you can get a stranger to “like” you, there’s no guarantee that this extends beyond the rampant voyeurism that pervades the site. Not to mention that all the so-called marketers on Facebook are screaming, “LOOK AT ME, LOOK AT ME!” Step one for me was to figure out the science of crafting Facebook ads that led to likes. Step two was figuring out how to engage the “likers” once I had them on my FB page. And I tried everything…only to receive a spare comment or post every now and again. Until one day, while re-reading the Bible of book marketing, 1001 Ways to Market Your Book, I had an epiphany: To engage Facebookers I had to create a promotion where everyone won something but one person won EVERYTHING. The key was to ask the fans for the right action. The one that would really kick things into gear for us. Once I decided on the action, I convinced Stephanie and James to try it out and this one tactic, in addition to playing the .99 pricing game on Amazon has turned TPC Books from a company that had sold 500 copies of two books by the end of 2010 to a company that ended 2011 with over 9,500 copies sold in that year. We’ve run the same promotion for When Love Isn’t Enough and A Hard Man is Good to Find and seen the exact same results, only much faster.

The other learning about book marketing is that it does get easier as an author matures. We spent far less time and money marketing and promoting James’ second book than SELLOUT. That’s because by the time we launched A Hard Man, James had already won The NBBF’s Best New Author Award and was selling roughly 1,000 copies of SELLOUT a month. This lets me know that the up-front expense really pays out on successive books – provided you are giving the reading public what they want.

So I had the benefit of trial and error going for me by the time we got to our fourth book release One Blood by Qwantu Amaru. Still, the perfectionist in me never wants to rest on my laurels. I have to top myself. Otherwise, I feel like I haven’t learned anything. So, if SELLOUT was in-the-park home run, When Love Isn’t Enough was a stand-up triple, and A Hard Man was a walk-off home run; I needed One Blood to be a Grand Slam. My nearly two years in publishing told me that I was developing a formula for success; I just had to refine it. That formula goes something like this:

To create a bestseller you have to do 4 things:

  1. Get (Good) Reviews: There is a direct correlation between good reviews and sales as you move an ebooks price point from say $3.99 to $.99 and back up on Amazon.
  2. Get Networked: Connecting with established authors, bloggers, interviewers, online radio show hosts, book club presidents, reader communities, local genre meet-ups, and the like is crucial to boosting your book’s profile and visibility.
  3. Get Exposure: Targeted advertising using google adwords, facebook ads, goodreads ads, and youtube ads is key to driving up brand awareness. If a reader doesn’t know about your book they can’t buy it, right?
  4. Get Press: Whether you win a book award, get interviewed by your town’s local rag, or speak at your alma mater, nothing boosts your profile to prospective readers like positive press.

I have applied all 4 of these principals to One Blood and after the first 60 days post-launch, One Blood has 19 four and five star reviews (on Amazon and goodreads); the author has had interviews posted on seven websites and has participated in 3 major blog tours; the One Blood book trailer has been viewed nearly 7,000 times on youtube, and he has over 4,000 Facebook fans; and he has released a national press release, been profiled by his local cities website,  and spoken at his alma mater.

The result? Sales of over 1,300 books so far. Not staggering numbers by any measure, but when I compare the first eight weeks sales of One Blood to SELLOUT or When Love, I see a definite trend break. So here’s to turning trial and error from a science into an art. May you have even greater success as a result of our failures!

To see a specific example of a promotion we are running for One Blood, check out this blog on the One Blood TRUE FAN contest launching 2/7/12 and running until 3/31/12.

Good luck and good selling.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Troy Johnson February 7, 2012 at 8:08 AM

Very good article, Omar. Another important benefit you enjoyed, and made work for you was the Pantheon Collective itself. You all did a excellent job promoting not only your work, but the work of each other — that is extremely powerful and rare.

You and I both know we have been mutually supportive over the years. But consider the following: In your article, you mentioned YouTube, Facebook, Amazon. Of course these are all household names and important tools for authors. But references to other entities are shrouded, as in the reference to a “major book trailer competition”.

I know there no slight intended, but here s the impact: As the vast majority of authors do the same thing. The less popular platforms that are making an impact and are capable of making an impact do not benefit as a result. As these platforms grow so do their ability to help authors grow as well.

2 Troy Johnson February 8, 2012 at 4:09 AM

Thank you Omar, this really does make a difference. The Book Trailer contest was indeed very popular. I hope to kick one off to 2012.

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