The New Era of Book Marketing
Publishers and authors are attending the hot cocktail party of 2011, but none of them are wearing fancy dresses or tuxedoes. Cocktails aren't even necessarily being served, and some people are in their slippers.
Wait, what kind of party is this anyway?
The cocktail party of today is taking place online. This is where publishers and authors gather to chat with readers, such as on social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, and through blogs and location-based applications.
"It's an amazing portal to have a two-way conversation with our readers," says Rob Goodman, director of online marketing, Simon & Schuster. "The wall is down, and you can connect directly with the people who care the most about the books and products that you're selling."
Location, Location, Location
Simon & Schuster recently launched a brand-new way to connect with its customers through Foursquare, the popular, location-based mobile social networking community.
Users who follow Simon & Schuster Foursquare receive information and tips culled from Simon & Schuster books and authors when they "check-in" at certain locations, be it their favorite diner in London, a resort in Arizona, or the Pyramids in Egypt. For example, they'll receive facts about historic landmarks, a dish their favorite chef enjoys at a restaurant, or a tidbit such as 21 elephants walked across the Brooklyn Bridge in 1884, proving its stability.
"It's a really exciting platform to reach people at the moment when they're most interested in getting that content and learning about where they really are," points out Goodman. Each tip pushes readers toward Simon & Schuster books so they can learn more (and, of course, buy the book). So, for example, author Suzanne Corso tells fans where they can find the best cannoli in her neighborhood of Bensonhurst, which is the setting for her book, "Brooklyn Story."
"With Simon & Schuster Foursquare, we can deliver our book and author content right into the hands of fans and readers at their immediate points of interest," Goodman adds.
But Foursquare doesn't necessarily end with the person using it. Each user can opt to publish his or her location check-ins and the information he or she learns from Simon & Schuster Foursquare on Facebook and Twitter. "So you reach a much greater audience of impressions about your book and about your platform," explains Goodman.
Foursquare is one of the latest additions to Simon & Schuster's nontraditional marketing strategy, but it's certainly not the only part. The publisher is also active on both Facebook and Twitter, which it uses to start and join conversations. Through these conversations, the publisher offers book excerpts, contests, etc., that Goodman says are meant to excite and invigorate the fan base so consumers will then share the offerings with their friends and followers.
Simon & Schuster also has a presence on ustream.tv, a broadcast platform that enables it to hold author events online. This way, people who can't make it to a live reading can tune in online and even ask the author questions, or they can watch the reading after it has happened from an archive.
This is the perfect blend of new and old marketing, says Goodman: "It's about adding these online layers to the real world. It's another way to give [readers] additional information to get them excited about a book and make that purchase."
Touring the Blogosphere
Blogs also have become a popular—and relatively inexpensive—marketing tool for book publishers.
This was the marketing method that San Diego-Calif.-based Legacy Press selected to market its book, "The Christian Girl's Guide To Style," by Sherry Kyle, who embarked on a month-long, "11-stop" blog tour. From mid-November 2010 to the end of the year, three months after the publication of the book, Kyle talked about her book and its message on different blogs, either by guest blogging, or by being interviewed by the blogger. Additionally, other bloggers reviewed her book.
"We had been looking for more cost- effective ways for getting our authors connected with readers, and this seemed to be a great fit," says Rachel Harrison Brown, marketing representative for Legacy Press. "Online marketing methods are excellent because customers can share a great find quickly and easily. And, as a company, it allows us to have a conversation with the reader, and that relationship is what has the most potential."
Through these conversations, she explains, publishers should give readers just enough information to leave them wanting to know more. "Social media is built on the concept of a tidbit," she says.
Legacy's blog tour for "The Christian Girl's Guide to Style" reached around 14,000 viewers—a far greater number of readers than a traditional tour could. "We could have an author on the road for six months and not reach that many people," Harrison Brown points out.
And that's not counting the number of times the blogs were passed on virally to readers' friends. It also helped, she says, that Kyle already had followers of her own on Twitter and Facebook.
Harrison Brown says she knows the blog tour was successful. "We saw a direct correlation in sales of the book to every time there was a blog out there," she says.
And an added bonus: The blog tour didn't require a big financial investment. "Most of the costs were in time," she explains, "Sherry's time and our marketing department's."
According to Harrison Brown, the blog tour's return on investment was more than 50-percent higher than Legacy would have expected with a more traditional book tour.
"There are two major factors that figure into the calculation—reduced spend and significantly larger reach," she says. "We could plan 10 times the number of blog tours for the cost of one traditional book tour, plus we can customize and target specific segments of our market through the blogs, to allow us to increase our estimated rate of return."
Legacy plans to continue to use blog tours to market books, but still relies on more traditional marketing methods as well, such as sending press releases and review copies to print media outlets.
Round Rock, Texas-based public relations firm PR By The Book also is experimenting with blog tours, running its first last fall for four action-adventure novels, and starting another one this March.
For last fall's blog tour, the company contacted bloggers who cover action-adventure, and then created a schedule in which the 30 to 40 bloggers were all blogging within five days of a book's launch. The goal was to have different angles from each blogger.
Up to 20 bloggers will write about the book being released in March. "We want them all that week so it's timely," says Marika Flatt, PR By The Book's founder. "We want the power of multiple impressions on readers. We want that groundswell of Internet activity all in one week to give that big gust of book sales at the beginning."
PR By The Book got the word out about the blogs through its Twitter and Facebook pages as well as on the author's and publisher's social media sites. And once a blog runs, the publisher links to it from its website.
Marketing in this way is very low-cost, explains Flatt, costing, on average, around $4,000 per project. A more traditional campaign would cost closer to $10,000.
Blog tours can be all of the marketing for a book or just one part of it. PR By The Book is working on another campaign in which the blog tour complements print, radio and TV marketing.
"It all depends on the publisher's and author's wishes," says Flatt, "but it also depends on the budget—sometimes they don't have the budget for a $10,000 campaign."
Follow the Market's Lead
It doesn't always come down to budget; sometimes it's about where the market takes you. Education publisher Cengage Learning is doing more online marketing simply because it's producing more digital than physical books these days, explains Dan Silverburg, vice president of marketing for the humanities and social sciences.
"The marketing of the material is changing to match the customer," he says.
Cengage has two primary audiences: instructors and students, and it markets to both differently.
"For instructors, we use social media, especially LinkedIn, to create communities (such as for psychology teachers) so they can share best practices, tips and tricks for teaching," Silverburg says.
For students, the marketing is mostly via Twitter, where they can share notes and talk about different Cengage products.
"What student is going to listen to Mr. Corporation?" Silverburg asks. "Students use Twitter to help spread the word [about] products that help them be successful in the classroom. So we offer the ability to tweet within our digital products. This allows students to talk about what's helping them. They've become their own marketing tool."
Cengage is using blogs, too, to ensure that authors can provide almost real-time content, he says, which is sometimes much more timely than what is published in a book. For example, a blog about the recent situation in Egypt can supplement a book on the Middle East and keep it relevant.
"This allows us to be seen as experts in the field, so it is a form of marketing," points out Silverburg.
Blogs and social media might seem new to some people, while firmly established to others, but it's only been, respectively, seven and five years since the launch of Facebook and Twitter. However, in that time, they've changed how people communicate and how business is done.
So, what do the next few years hold?
Location-based mobile devices will be big, believes Goodman. "The way people access content on mobile devices will continue to grow, and more mobile devices will lead to more localized marketing opportunities," he says.
He also expects to see more interactive games, such as advertising banners that involve games or can show videos, for example.
The days of book tours and traditional advertising are not over, but online and mobile marketing campaigns will certainly continue to complement them. This is allowing book promotions to occur almost constantly, and publishers should ensure they are always a part of the conversations online. BB
Amanda Baltazar is a Washington-based freelance journalist who specializes in writing about business.