Marketing a book is hard work, no doubt. Countless books, articles, blog posts, conference speakers, and so on remind us of this on a regular basis and give us initiative after initiative to pile onto the book launch to-do list. So how does a publisher prioritize and organize the many moving parts of a marketing campaign? The easiest approach is to create a calendar and then tackle components on a schedule moving toward your pub date. Read on to learn how to build a schedule around the major milestones that you need to plan for.
Eight Months Out
Start seeking endorsements. The benefits of endorsements are threefold: they lend credibility to your work, boost sales, and pump up your publicity. Endorsements are crucial to the sales potential of your books. Bookstore buyers consider endorsements when deciding whether to place orders, and consumers look at endorsements when deciding whether to buy a book. These testimonials should appear on your book covers and in many sales materials. The first step in obtaining an endorsement is determining which celebrities, authors, academics, or experts are appropriate for the book. It is very important to begin the process of requesting endorsements as soon as possible. Ideally, start sending requests out as soon as the manuscript is through the copyediting stage. It can take some time to gather responses, and you want to ensure that you have the best endorsements possible to feature on the cover of the final book.
Seven Months Out
Produce ARCs. Advance reader copies (ARCs) are also referred to as galleys or advance review copies. They are ideally printed at least five months in advance of the pub month, and they serve a number of preliminary sales/marketing purposes.
- Book distributors use ARCs to pitch titles to their wholesale and retail channels.
- ARCs are used in pursuing long-lead reviews from print publications such as magazines and trade journals.
- ARCs can be submitted to book clubs for preliminary review.
- Authors can hand out ARCs to the people in their networks to request reviews and generate early buzz. Don’t neglect the growing communities of reviewers, bloggers, librarians, and buyers who work with digital ARCs that they get through services such as NetGalley. Their sites often syndicate reviews online, which means more visibility and exposure for your titles. Begin interviewing if you are thinking of hiring a publicist. Book reviews, feature stories in newspapers and magazines, radio interviews, and television spots can have an enormous impact on sales and provide ongoing ammo for a distributor’s sales force to use to keep new titles on buyers’ radars. You’ll usually see better results if, instead of doing it yourself, you hire a dedicated book publicist with solid media contacts, experience, extensive databases, and time for follow-up communications. Publicists usually begin their campaigns four to six months prior to publication date. However, many publicists will ask to review a manuscript before deciding whether or not they can represent a new title, so the best time to approach them is after copyediting is complete. Ideally, you will have locked down your publicist choice before ARCs go to press so the publicist’s contact information can be included in the ARC back-cover copy.
Six Months Out
Begin planning for any advertising you may do. If you are fortunate enough to have a budget for targeted advertising, start researching and negotiating placements early so you can include confirmed placements in your marketing plan and summary (see below). If you can’t confirm them this early in the process, be sure to lock in your advertising placements no later than three months prior to pub date to avoid disappointment in securing ad space. Create a detailed marketing plan and summary. Distributors want to see a marketing plan for each new title as early as possible. It should include plans for radio, television, and print reviews and interviews; online marketing efforts, social networking, Website development, trailer creation, blogging, podcasting, advertising, author tours (complete with specific locations), book club involvement, previous author appearances on national programs and in national publications, direct mailings, targeted outreach to relevant communities, and so on. This is also a good time to explore regional and national trade shows and book fairs that might be worth attending, and awards that might be worth applying for, so that you can put any pertinent deadlines on your calendar and add information on the events to your marketing plan. Additionally, it’s helpful to create a short marketing campaign summary. Your marketing campaign summary can be used in a number of places, including the back cover of galleys, distributor catalogs, and ads featured in trade publications. The summary demonstrates the support (or “pull”) you’re putting behind the title. Here’s an example of a marketing campaign summary:
- national TV, radio, and print media campaign
- 15-city author tour and workshop series
- national advertising campaign, including Publishers Weekly
- author has written for national publications and educational journals
- online marketing including social media giveaways and blog tour
- national trade marketing and sales campaign Use the hometown advantage whenever possible. The place where an author has roots can not only serve as the perfect starting point for a productive marketing campaign; it can also be a draw to retail buyers. Indicate the author’s hometown and state (and the nearest major metropolitan area if it isn’t obvious) on sales sheets, submission forms, and any other materials buyers or reviewers might see. It helps them quickly identify an important part of a book’s background and gives them an idea of the markets where it is likely to do well. Send ARCs and press kits to reviewers and long-lead media (if you haven’t hired a publicist to do that). Print publications work with lead times as long as six months, and if you don’t provide them with ARCs on their timeline, you likely won’t get your titles reviewed. Trade publications such as Publishers Weekly and Library Journal require ARCs at least four months in advance of pub date, and most other prominent review sources have similar submission guidelines. Make sure you also target topic-specific publications. Check all guidelines to ensure you’re including everything each reviewer and media person needs—at a minimum, send a press kit along with the ARC for additional review opportunities. Launch Website/blog/social media. A journalist who receives your ARC and is interested in exploring opportunities further will first look for a Website to visit. For this reason, it’s critical to have a Web presence for a title by the time ARCs go out. If the book does not have a dedicated blog or Website, a content-rich page on the publisher’s site is sufficient—or a well-built-out author page on Facebook and/or GoodReads. It takes time to build traction online, so the earlier an author starts establishing and developing a community through social media, a blog, a GoodReads page, and so on, the better. If your author is social-media-phobic, suggest starting with just one platform for 10 minutes a day instead of trying to be on all the sites all the time.
One to Five Months Out
With the planning and fundamentals taken care of, this period is full of execution of all sorts. Now is the time for managing the details on blog swaps, identifying high-profile individuals for online review requests, refining publicity angles and materials, sending out the first copies of final books as follow-up to pitches, finalizing ad copy and design, and so on. This is also when social media and blogging should be in complete go-mode, building momentum toward pub date through giveaways and engagement.
From Pub Date (or Just Slightly Before) Forward
Start soliciting Amazon, GoodReads, and BN.com customer reviews. More than ever, online buyers rely on customer reviews to discover and evaluate their possible book purchases. Ask the author to solicit reviews from friends, family, and fans. If someone contacts you with positive feedback about the book, send an email asking the person to put those kind words to work. This is a sample template we often give our authors for emails to possible reviewers: Dear [Name], Thank you for your kind words about [title of book]. If you have a spare moment, it would be a great help if you could post a review of it on [Amazon, BN.com, and/or GoodReads] and let other readers know why you liked it. It’s not necessary to write a lengthy, formal review—a summary of the comments you sent me would be fine. Here’s a direct link to the review form for [title of book]. Some sites won’t allow readers to submit reviews until after a book’s publication date, so time your solicitation of reviews accordingly. Begin publicity interviews, articles, and the like. Plan book-focused PR and marketing efforts to come to fruition primarily within the book’s pub month. Resist the temptation to wait and “see how it does” for a few months before ramping up the marketing effort. Corporate buyers expect to see the strongest PR push and resulting sales in the month of release. If you wait too long to do your marketing push, you’ll have a slow sales history that will impede your chances of strong support (read: your chances of widening your retail distribution) from corporate buyers. And after these many months of work, that’s the last thing you deserve! Tanya Hall is the chief operating officer at Greenleaf Book Group, a publisher and distributor specializing in the development of independent authors and small presses. To learn more: greenleafbookgroup.com.
More About Endorsements
Three recent Independent articles provide detailed advice about endorsements, and they’re all available via “Independent magazine” at ibpa-online.org: “The Legal Side of Endorsements and Testimonials” (September) by Steve Gillen “Endorsements, Part 1: Getting Comments to Spur Sales” (September) and “Endorsements, Part 2: Practical Pointers for Getting and Using Praise” (October) by Linda Carlson