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Maximize Your Book’s Potential by Asking–and Answering–the Right Questions

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Books are not cans of soup or rolls of toilet paper. Each book “product” tells a unique story. Over 135,000 books were published in the U.S. in calendar year 2001 (according to Bowker’s Books In Print database), so all those other unique stories and products are out there. To compete, your book requires a thought-out promotion and publicity plan tailored to it and its market.

Here are the questions to ask at each stage in the publishing process to get your book’s story heard.


The Research Stage

Before and during the book development process, find out:

  • WHO is the potential reader for this book? (Then find out everything you can about them!)
  • HOW do they access the kind of information that’s going into this book?
  • WHERE do they shop?
  • WHAT else are they interested in?
  • WHY will this book be of interest to them?
  • WHEN is the best time to reach them?


Define the different “publics” or “audiences” for the book and make sure that appropriate materials go to the right people at the right time in the right format.

WHAT market segments are appropriate for your title?

  • Wholesalers?
  • Book retailers?
  • Nonbook retailers?
  • Online retailers?
  • Readers and book buyers directly?
  • Libraries?
  • Publishing and library trade/review journals?
  • Professional industry associations?
  • Book clubs?
  • Foreign rights buyers?
  • Consumer media?
  • Opinion-leaders in this topic area?
  • Professors/academics/schools?


HOW do they want their information?

Next, create a comprehensive timeline + action checklist to map out all the opportunities:

  • WHAT needs to be done?
  • By WHOM?
  • By WHEN?


The Pre-Pub Stage

Roughly six to eight months before the book comes off the press, focus on all the activities that support those initial sales calls on major wholesale and retail accounts.

Ask yourself:

  • Have I set the official publication date, defined as the date that finished books will actually be on the store shelves?
  • Are sales and distribution systems in place?
  • Have I arranged to send galleys to long-lead-time media, including publishing and library review media, at least three months ahead of official pub date?
  • Is the author positioned as a subject expert in press releases, the author bio, and other support materials?


As you assemble targeted, book-specific key media lists and review copy lists, be sure to answer these questions:

  • WHO are the media contacts most open to this topic?
  • WHEN did they last cover something similar?
  • WHAT sets this book’s author-expert apart?
  • HOW does the author’s expertise benefit the media’s audience of readers, viewers, and listeners?
  • WHERE else could the media contact get this expertise to serve their audience?
  • WHY should you be the one to provide answers and insight to the media?


Make sure your press materials focus on the media’s needs (for information, for entertainment) with an irresistible media “hook.” Media people are not the least bit interested in promoting your book. They need an expert who can answer their audience’s most pressing questions.


The Publication Stage

The key to a successful book launch at “pub date” is having the advance preparations done–inadvance!

  • Have you scheduled those media interviews and articles to appear at pub date?
  • Have you set up retail or other events (speeches, seminars) to drive sales?
  • Have you continued to follow up with all media contacts and event coordinators?
  • Are you maintaining an up-to-date Web site about the book and its author-expert, including all scheduled media bookings, talks, seminars, and other appearances?
  • Are you tracking the results? Do you know what’s working so you can do more of it?
  • Do you know what isn’t working? Do you have a decision process in place to cut your losses if necessary?
  • Have you covered all your bases?


The Backlist Stage

The stage called “backlist” is often the most profitable, especially when publishers ask some common-sense questions and take action on the answers.


  • WHO else?
  • WHAT else?
  • WHERE else?
  • HOW else?


More specifically, think through the following questions:

  • Have you connected with special interest groups to schedule author talks before professional and consumer niche market groups (including reading groups if appropriate)?
  • Did you remember to revise your press materials to incorporate hooks related to breaking news stories?
  • Have you re-framed the book’s story or the author’s in light of special events–holidays, anniversaries, local happenings?

Questions are just tools to get the job done. Do you have great questions you ask yourself in order to keep your book marketing, publicity, and promotions on track? Share the wealth! E-mail me the questions you ask in your organization about your book and publishing projects (jasbjm@earthlink.net). I’ll post this article and add other useful questions that come up at www.BlackGateWorks.com. That way, everyone can market smarter!


Bobbye Middendorf, a 20+ year veteran of the publishing business, is currently an independent writer who provides marketing and PR materials for clients as well as articles for such trade and consumer publications as “ForeWord,” “Conscious Choice,” “LOHAS Journal,” and the “PMA Newsletter.”


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