Occasionally, a publisher or
a self-published author puts a book in front of me and says, “I need your help
in marketing this book.” I think (but usually refrain from saying out loud),
“You mean, since you’ve skipped the marketing process, that you want me to help
you sell this book.”
Real marketing begins at the
moment a book idea is conceived, and it should affect everything you do. It
rests on a clear sense of who the book is for, how it will serve its audience,
how and where it will be sold, and how it will compete in the marketplace. It
involves—among other things—your choice of title and packaging, as
well as the price you charge.
Because a conventional marketing
plan is usually created downstream chronologically from authorial, editorial,
and publishing decisions, people fail to realize that the most important
marketing decisions have already been made. You can’t repair a marketing
mistake by selling harder.
Maybe the idea for your book is so
original and timely and the execution is so good that people see it and love it
and tell all their friends about it, so that, despite your lack of planning,
you have a success. This has happened. Occasionally. But you’re more likely to
get it right on purpose than by accident.
A Case Study Shows How
Unless you are a startup
publisher, your marketing plans for forthcoming titles will naturally be rooted
in your ongoing activities. If you publish professional reference volumes and
you have an active direct mail program, you know you will include your new
titles in your direct mail catalog. If you regularly attend meetings of
professional associations, you know which new books you will display at which
of them. And if you rely heavily on publicity to create pull through
bookstores, you know you will support your new trade titles with public
In each instance, however, you
still have to answer two major questions: How much will you spend on a
particular title? And if you target multiple channels, how will you apportion
To make this less abstract, I’m
going to use the marketing plan I developed for a book from my own company,
along with notes that illustrate how I came to my conclusions. A marketing plan
for a book from a larger publisher would not include all the categories below
in a formal document, but they are inevitably part of the decision-making
process. I have included them here to illustrate the critical stages in the
development of a marketing plan and the more-or-less organic process that
The book I’m focusing on is <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>The Case for Affirmative
Action in University Admissions by Bob Laird, who had been
admissions director at the University of California, Berkeley. With a sense of
where I needed to get to, I moved from step to step as I developed the book’s
marketing plan, but I also hatched some of the ideas simultaneously, and
occasionally I had to back up and rethink an assumption.
a salable book.
Laird sent us a 180,000-word manuscript that combined personal memoir, history, and policy analysis. Within it, I saw a solid work that could make a contribution to the affirmative action debate. Having had his manuscript rejected by numerous publishers (large and small), the author was open to suggestions. I recommended that he create a much shorter book focused on the policy debate. Fortunately, he had the skill and motivation to make the necessary changes. Six months later, he sent a highly focused work half the length of his original.
If the author had not
been personally involved in the administration of affirmative action policies,
and if he had not held an important post at a prestigious university, I
probably wouldn’t have given the book serious consideration. Looking at his CV,
I saw that he frequently addressed university administrators at professional
meetings, published articles in educational journals, and served as a resource
to general media on affirmative action issues. His track record gave me
confidence that the book would at least find a ready audience among his
professional colleagues and suggested that it might reach a wider public.
a reader profile.
Although I hoped
the book would find its way to a broad general audience among people interested
in social issues, I knew that our most reliable buyers would be college
admissions professionals and libraries. I decided to focus my marketing efforts
on the smaller but more reliable audience, and this assumption shaped all the
decisions that followed.
an effective title.
suggested several titles with a poetic flair, but given the nature of the book,
I insisted on a title that clearly described the contents. After some
discussion, we settled on The Case for Affirmative Action in University Admissions.
We both knew that the words “affirmative action” had to be in the title to
emphasize the subject matter, and to ensure that the book would appear readily
in Internet and database searches. I also wanted to use “the case for” to
indicate that this was a work of advocacy rather than a history. While the
title is longer than I might have liked, the author pointed out that we needed
to include “university admissions,” since the book does not deal with
affirmative action in other contexts.
the right package.
Seeing the core
markets for this book as professionals and libraries, I decided that I had the
best chance of reaching profitability with a hardcover in the $25 to $29 price
range. I reasoned that these buyers wouldn’t flinch at the cost of a hardcover,
that the subject matter was serious enough to justify the formality of that
format, and that a price in this range would mean the book would be profitable
with a relatively low sales volume.
In addition, I worked very hard
with the cover designer to come up with a look that conveyed the positive
message of the book and hinted at the nature of its audience.
Actually, you should
take this step while you are taking the steps listed above, and certainly
before you sign a contract. It is essential to do a profit-and-loss statement
that accounts for all your expenses and realistically estimates how many books
you will sell, and how many you need to sell to break even. With the numbers in
hand, you can estimate how much you can reasonably afford to spend on marketing
and determine if that sum is enough to let you meet your sales goals.
Although I concluded
that the author had credibility among his colleagues—and to a limited
extent within a community of activists engaged with this issue—I also
knew that he would be relatively unknown to reporters and reviewers. Moreover,
since the book was coming from a small independent publisher, I would have to
work extra hard to establish its credibility for the media.
Fortunately, the author had
contacts among colleagues and scholars at prestigious universities across the
country—Yale, NYU, University of Virginia—as well as with some
noted writers, including Nicholas Lemann, a frequent contributor to <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>The New Yorker
We knew we could get blurbs from these people and thought we could probably
rely on one of them to provide a foreword. That would help open some doors,
especially in the academic world.
But I hadn’t given up on the idea
that we might reach a wider audience, so I hoped we could find someone with a
national reputation to contribute the foreword. The author and I put our heads
together. Who would we choose, we asked ourselves, if we could have anyone we
wanted? At the top of the list was Jesse Jackson. Although neither of us had a
personal connection to him, the author started calling his network to see if
the six-degrees-of-separation principle might work for us. In fact, we made the
connection in only two steps, and, much to our delight, Jackson agreed.
Because the book was going to have
a foreword from Jesse Jackson, I began to rethink my sales projections. I
lowered the price from $28.95 to $26.95 and increased the print run modestly.
galleys to prepublication reviewers.
This is standard procedure. We automatically send galleys to the trade
magazines (PW,Library Journal,
among others; see “What the Trades Want,” in this issue), as well as to book
clubs, newspapers with review sections, and monthly magazines with long lead
times. For this book we also sent galleys to people who had interviewed the
author in the past, and to a select group of social activists. As a result, we
got reviews in Library
Journal and Booklist, which were tremendously helpful and confirmed
my instincts about the library market. We also got a small buzz in the activist
community that helped sell the book at least in small numbers.
the book and author to the media.
With a background in PR and trade publishing, I always consider efforts in this
arena to be central to the marketing of our books. Since I hope to make
significant sales through bookstores (including online retailers), I need to
generate media exposure that will send buyers to the stores.
Beginning with the print media, we
assembled large lists that included educational journals, ethnic publications,
daily newspapers, and magazines that cover social and political issues. We then
prioritized the list, sending review copies to the largest and most important
and press releases with the offer of a review copy on request to the others.
Like every publisher, I always hope for and expect more coverage than I get,
but this mailing did produce results, including features in <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>The Newark Star-Ledger
and San Francisco
Chronicle, an excellent interview and review in <span
class=95StoneSerifIt>Black Issues in Higher
Education, and an excerpt in <span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>Chronicle of Higher Education.
We also created lists of radio and
television shows appropriate for the subject, pitching appearances on radio
programs that interview over the phone and on local television and radio
programs where the author could appear in person. While we got a few radio
phoners around the country, most of our responses came from the coasts. Perhaps
because the author is local, we got a tremendous response in the San Francisco
Bay area, scoring appearances on some of the biggest talk shows. As an aside, I
should point out that the stations and programs that scheduled interviews were
not always the ones we expected. We got an appearance on Air America, which
seemed appropriate, but nothing on NPR. We did, however, get a lot of time on
ABC affiliates, and that was a surprise.
Finally, we asked some of the
authors’ colleagues to talk up the book on Internet listservs used by college
up speaking engagements and bookstore events.<span
While we were considering this book, the author told
us he was committed to traveling at his own expense to promote it. We timed
publication to coincide with a national meeting of college administrators in
New York, where the author would be presenting, and scheduled 10 days of East
Coast bookstore signings, talks at colleges, and media interviews. We arranged
eight events in 10 days, including a talk at Yale (arranged by the author), and
bookstore appearances in New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Virginia.
While some of the bookstore appearances were poorly attended (we forewarned the
author), they attracted the attention of C-SPAN2, which taped a talk at a small
independent bookstore in Staunton, Virginia. This tape ran at least four times
and gave us a tremendous boost.
We then set up a similar series of
talks and events on the West Coast, emphasizing both the San Francisco Bay area
and Los Angeles. As we routinely do, we arranged for back-of-the-room sales at
every nonbookstore event and offered bookstores full return privileges on books
stocked for in-store events.
We published this
book assuming (with crossed fingers) that it would be an important addition to
library collections. Although we budgeted for library mailings, we delayed them
until the book had received positive reviews in <span
several smaller publications. Once these reviews appeared, we signed on to some
PMA cooperative mailings to public libraries and academic libraries.
public relations efforts ongoing.
There is no better book promoter than an author with a passion. As part of a
commitment to opening up educational opportunities, Bob Laird maintains an
active speaking and writing schedule. We continue to be his active partners by
setting up events to coordinate with his travel.
After his book had been out for
nine months, we were able to set up a tour in Southern California that featured
speaking engagements at both UCLA and the Occidental Colleges, plus a bookstore
appearance. While arranging for these events, we were also able to lay the
groundwork for another series of events in the spring. As long as the author’s
energy holds up, we will work with him to create events where the book can be
David Cole is the author ofThe Complete Guide to
Book Marketing, principal of Bay Tree Publishing, and a member of
the PMA board of directors.