Thursday, June 18, 2009
A bit about marketing books
Years ago, if my mother said she was “going marketing” I knew that she was going to the supermarket, and maybe also to the butcher, the fruit and veggie market, the appetizing store and hopefully even to Carvel. She’d load the trunk of her car with the food and supplies the family would need for a few days.
To Mom, marketing was buying.
For a self-publisher, marketing is selling.
It’s not the specific transaction of handing or sending someone a book after they hand you cash or a credit card or place an order online. It’s really all of the steps that lead up to the transaction when a book is exchanged for money.
Every activity and occupation seems to have an organization. The American Marketing Association defines marketing as “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”
In plainer English, marketing is the process of making people aware of what you want to sell them, and convincing them to buy it.
Each product area — including fresh-caught fish, screwdrivers, nuclear reactors, driveway resurfacing, hair dying and books — has a traditional system for marketing. Alternative channels may sometimes evolve or be discovered, devised or imposed. It’s best to at least understand the system that’s in place before inventing a new one.
The first step in marketing, or in a marketing plan, is to identify your customers and your potential competitors. The more precisely you can define the customers, the more efficient your marketing can probably be.
If you’re writing and publishing a dictionary, your potential market is all of the people in the world who can read the language you are publishing in, or are trying to learn it. The potential audience is many millions, and your potential competitors probably number in the hundreds.
If your book is about your not-so-famous mother, you probably have no competitors covering the same subject, and your potential audience may be eight people.
Most books fall somewhere in between. Books intended to help fisherman, amateur mechanics, guitar repairmen and corn growers probably have potential audiences in the tens or even hundreds of thousands — and dozens of competitors.
Unless you are writing in a very new field, you are likely to face competition from existing books as well as books that are in the pipeline.
It’s important to understand the difference between “push marketing” and “pull marketing.”
Books of fiction use push marketing. You must “push” your books on readers who really don’t need to read what you wrote.
A non-fiction book about an important subject can be sold with much easier pull marketing. If there is an existing need for the information or advice you are offering, readers will search for it and “pull” the books from the printing presses, warehouses and stores.
In book publishing, your customers are not just the potential readers. You have to court, impress, seduce and convince other potential “partners.” Your partners include booksellers, as well as a wide range of influencers. Traditionally the primary influencers were book reviewers in printed newspapers and magazines. Today many newspapers no longer review books, and magazines are disappearing. In their place is a constantly growing group of online influencers on blogs, websites and social media such as Facebook. You have thousands of potential allies who can recommend your book — or condemn it. This blog both praises and slams books about writing and publishing.
Book marketing has a lot in common with the marketing of other products, but it’s also very different.
Unlike food, books are not consumed and then replaced with identical items throughout the life of a customer. Unlike clothing, books are not outgrown and replaced with a larger size. Unlike tires or tools, books are not replaced because they’ve worn out. Unlike handkerchiefs, people don’t buy a pack of a dozen identical books to save money. Unlike cars, you probably won’t sell a book to each adult in the family. Unlike cars or videogames, people seldom trade-in older books for the latest model. Unlike televisions, people generally don’t return a book after trying it and finding they don’t like it. Unlike frying pans or screwdrivers, people don’t buy the same type of book in different sizes.