Book Marketing Reality Check: 6 Facts Authors Need to Face


Today’s authors have become, in essence, mini-publishers. They hold greater accountability—in varying degrees, depending on what publishing model they choose (traditional, digital, self)—for functions such as editorial, graphic design, production, distribution and marketing. For most writers, anything outside the craft of writing is a new concept. There is much to be learned, practiced and mastered before claiming some degree of proficiency.

More and more resources are becoming available to authors as they seek assistance in performing these various functions. And while most authors have at least a working knowledge of publishing that enables them to discern reputable editors, distributors and cover designers, marketing tends to be a bit more…complicated.

Just read Heidi Cohen’s “72 Marketing Definitions” blog and you begin to understand why there is so much confusion about marketing. The definition that most resonates with me comes from Marjorie Clayman, director of client development at Clayman Advertising, Inc.: “Marketing is building your brand, convincing people that your brand (meaning your product/service/company) is the best and protecting the relationships you build with your customers.”

The key takeaways from this statement for authors are “building your brand” and “the relationships you build with your customers.” This defines the WHO of marketing (author and reader). The WHAT is your product (stories and books). WHEN and WHERE are also easily defined. It is HOW and WHY that give authors the most trouble. HOW, because there are so many ways to market and promote a book, and WHY, because in many situations what worked for one author turns into a dismal failure for another.

I believe authors can do themselves a huge favor by acknowledging these six facts about book marketing.

Fact 1: There is no magic formula for successful book promotion.

I have actually been asked this question by authors. Sadly, there is no magic formula or top-secret strategy that everyone except you knows. No single marketing strategy is going to turn your book into a million-dollar bestseller. What worked for another author may (or may not) pay off for you. Anyone who promises you incredible results by doing A, B or C should be carefully questioned because they’re probably just after your money.

Fact 2: Successful book promotion is a long-term process.

Unfortunately, many authors start thinking about marketing and promotion a week or so before their book is scheduled for release. By then it’s too late. There are three phases to book marketing: pre-release, release and post-release. Each phase is equally important, but each requires a unique focus and specific actions. More importantly, book promotion is cumulative. Marketing requires consistent action and maintenance to preserve the foundation you’ve built thus far.

Fact 3: There is no such thing as a book marketing “expert.”

Okay, I know I’m going to take some heat for making this assertion, but let me explain. Book marketing is not an exact science like accounting or biology. Not only are there differing opinions among so-called “experts,” but today’s marketing environment (and related practices, applications and methodology) is in almost constant flux, thanks to technology. Things change so fast that marketers are always one step away from being outdated or behind the curve.

That being said, I do believe there are knowledgeable, experienced, innovative, educated, credible individuals whose thoughts and advice on book marketing are worth consideration. And, like any industry, publishing and book marketing have their own “best practices” and common standards. My suggestion is to educate yourself and be wary of anyone who uses words like should, must, never and always, especially when that advice comes with a price tag.

Many authors apply a marketing strategy because an “expert” recommended it. Remember, strategies work differently for all authors. If you are going to invest in a marketing initiative, make sure you understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. The important thing is to keep an open mind and attitude. Don’t be afraid to try different approaches. Most of all, don’t be afraid to do what works for you just because no one else is doing it.

Fact 4: Outsourcing 100 percent of your book marketing is a big mistake.

Many authors cite book marketing as their least favorite task, so, for those who can afford it, there is the temptation to hire someone and let them deal with it. As Vivian in Pretty Woman says to the shop assistant who refused to wait on her, “Big mistake. Big. Huge.”

First, YOU are the best-qualified person to market your books. No one knows or loves them better than you do. Put that passion into your marketing, and soon you’ll discover you aren’t trying to strong-arm sales but sharing your story, your brand, your author-uniqueness with readers. Second, marketing and promotion aren’t that complicated. Attend a few workshops, begin following some blogs, talk to other writers, look at what other writers are doing, and within a few months, you’ll be surprised at how much you know about book marketing. Third, marketing is about relationships. Readers and fans want to connect with you—not your publicist, not your personal assistant, not your street team. To some degree, you must be involved in your own book promotion.

A smarter solution is to hire a marketing coach or personal assistant who can help with marketing. If one of your marketing goals is media coverage, you might consider working with someone experienced in corporate publicity or journalism since media professionals have pretty tight style guidelines and they are quick to dismiss amateurish efforts. By staying involved in your marketing initiatives, you insure quality and consistency in the branding message going out over your name.

Fact 5: Successful book marketing isn’t measured in sales figures.

While the ultimate goal of every author is to sell books, there are certain marketing outcomes that contribute to ongoing success. For example, it is more efficient to sell multiple books to one customer than recruit multiple customers for one book. That’s why it is important to develop and maintain “relationships” with your readers. You want to keep them engaged so when the next book comes out, they’re already lined up to buy it. Another measure of effective marketing is word-of-mouth publicity. Are your readers so excited about you and your books that they encourage their friends and family to read you? Lastly, focus on building and nurturing relationships with fellow authors in order to implement cross-promotion and combine marketing resources.

Fact 6: Successful book marketing requires quality product.

I don’t care how glossy your marketing campaign is—if you have poorly written and designed books, readers may buy one but they won’t be back for more. Your book represents your skill and credibility as a professional writer. Asking readers to buy a book comes with the implied promise that your product is worth their hard-earned money. In addition to high-quality product, you must have product inventory. Remember that earlier tip about it being smarter to sell multiple books to one reader…yeah. So while it’s thrilling that you published “a” book, get back to your desk and write more books.


One thought on “Book Marketing Reality Check: 6 Facts Authors Need to Face

  1. Heather Ashby

    Thank you so much for these common sense tips on book marketing!!! Most blogs on the topic remind me too much of my high school Math classes! Thanks for speaking plain English so I can understand these basic nuts n’ bolts of marketing.


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