by Robin Bartlett
For first-time publishers
(and some experienced ones too), it is all too easy to get wrapped up in
promotional tactics that look like sure sales generators, such as co-op
programs, four-color brochures, mailings, ads, and flights around the country
for PR appearances and talks to groups of potential buyers. While some of these
activities may pay off, they are usually very expensive. But there?s an
inexpensive way of generating significant and ongoing sales for your book.
Today, it?s called creating buzz; some of us old timers in the publishing
business knew it first as word-of-mouth marketing (WOMM).
Simply stated: Buzz marketing
captures the attention of consumers and the media to the point where they get
excited about your message and tell others about your book. Then the buzz
starts to spread virally as more and more people are brought in and the message
is passed on and on.
Creating buzz starts with crafting
a water-cooler message around your book that will capture the attention of the
media and people in your target market. The media relay this message, and your
target audience picks it up and talks about it. This message becomes something
that trend-setters want to know, talk about, and pass on to others at the office,
in the gym, over cocktails, or in emails. As the buzz spreads, people make
stops at bookstores to buy your book for themselves so they can read it and be
more in the know.
There are six general approaches
that can be used to generate buzz for a book. Read on to see whether one or
more of them will fit your marketing and PR plans. As with any advertising or
promotional technique, you have to repeat your buzz message many times, but
once you have saturated your market and penetrated readers? minds, your
audience will respond by becoming free sales agents for your book and members
of your buzz marketing army. (Note: in preparing this article I consulted <span
by Mark Hughes, published by Portfolio in 2005. This is a great book on the
general topic of buzz but does not focus specifically on book marketing.)
and body parts. We all know that
sex sells, so if you are able to craft a buzz message that includes allusions
to or revelations about sex, body parts, or bodily functions, the public will
take notice. Just look at our preoccupation with who is sleeping with whom, who
has had a nip and tuck, who had breast augmentation surgery, who?s been kissing
whom, and who is getting married, or in a new relationship.
Weirdness. What?s weird? There?s a
popular series of ?Weird? books—<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Weird New Jersey<span
class=95StoneSerifIt>,Weird New York,Weird Florida,
and so forth. This series of books, each focused on a different state or
region, includes lists of odd facts, unusual stories, and information about
each state in the union. We are all fascinated by David Letterman?s daily Top
Ten Lists; we love the weird advertisements and newspaper articles that people
send to Jay Leno; and we gobble up weird stories that give us the
creepy-crawlies. So if you have a book that includes weird or unusual elements,
you should consider building a buzz message around them.
extraordinary. The extraordinary
is beyond weird. Extraordinary is all around us: a cowboy wearing only
underpants strumming a guitar in New York?s Times Square; stunt artists coming
close to killing themselves on TV; the World?s Dirtiest Jobs; newspaper
articles about UFO invasions and aliens taking over our bodies; masterful spy
networks that can monitor our everyday habits and download the information to
Jack Bauer?s cell phone so he can save the world on <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>24. If you can link your book to
something that?s extraordinary, you?ll get buzz.
funny. Humor gives us a respite
from our hectic world. A good funny story or a good joke will immediately be
picked up and carried virally to others. How often have you received a funny
email that?s been circulating for days by the time you get it? And how often
does it recirculate two months later? If you?ve got amusing stories or other
kinds of humor in your book, use it to build buzz.
If your book deals with scientific breakthroughs, medical advances, a new
method for doing a common job, a new business model, a fresh interpretation of
an old discovery—in fact, anything that sheds new light on a popular
issue or problem—you?ve got good potential for buzz. The media are always
looking for those kinds of stories and for authorities who can interpret them.
Suddenly, you may become the expert and find yourself in front of a TV camera
or a microphone talking about your views, your research, your book, and where
to buy it.
Insider stories. Does your book
have juice about political figures, celebrities, other people in the news? Does
it have fresh dirt about historical figures? Does it talk about things that
only people in the know would know? Is your information exclusive and for
insiders? Do you tell all or tell secrets? Capitalize on that in your buzz
Which Approach Will Work
Of course, the approach you choose
must fit your book. And sometimes you can combine two or more kinds of buzz
messages, making the potential impact on the media even stronger. Beyond that,
determining the best approach means crawling inside the heads of the people in
your target market and finding out what animates them. How do you do this? I
always recommend shopping where your audience shops and hanging out in
bookstores in the aisle where your book is or would be found. Without being
obnoxious, strike up conversations with people you see in those places and ask
a few well-prepared questions. If someone responds positively, you might even
offer to buy him or her a cup of coffee and do an in-depth interview. Conduct
your own mini–focus group and test what buzz message is most appealing to
your target audience.
Want more help? You can get
insights into buzz and buzz messaging in several places. Here?s my list:
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> Talk with friendly managers as well as customers.
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> Talk with friendly librarians.
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> Talk with friendly teachers, professors, and
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> Get to know some reporters and publicists.
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> Meet friendly editors and publishers.
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> at www.womma.org.
style=’font-size:11.0pt’> by Mark Hughes.
Whatever buzz message you use, be
careful to craft it simply and briefly. A good buzz message is a sound bite
that is easy to understand and easy to pass on to others. Make sure yours can
pass the 20-second reading test.
Robin Bartlett is a senior
account executive for the American Heart Association, a past member of the PMA
board of directors, and chair of the PMA University program. He served on the
board of directors for the Health Marketing and Communications Council and is
the past president of the American Medical Publishers Association. To contact
him, visit www.robinbartlett.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.