8: The key book marketing strategies you need to know and nail.
In Episode 8 of The Right Book Project podcast, we’re welcoming back book marketing expert Paul East
We’re discussing the key book marketing approaches you need to nail right from the start as Paul takes us through the importance of understanding the audience for your book, your own author platform and network, why you really need a strong and compelling online and social presence, routes to market and why Amazon is more important to the success of your book than you might think.
with thanks to Dave Harries of CommunicateTV: www.communicatetv.co.uk
Dave Harries: [00:00:00] Welcome to the Right Book Project, a Right Book Company radio production. My name is Dave Harries and I’m here with my co-presenter, Sue Richardson, to explore the whys and wherefores of book publishing, and how writing a book can enhance your business and personal profile. Sue is a publishing expert who’s been in the book business for many years and has written her own book – The Authority Guide to Publishing your Business Book. She’s the director of SRA Books and The Right Book Company, and has helped hundreds of professionals, entrepreneurs, experts and thought leaders boost their businesses and profiles with game-changing books. Now this podcast is all about you and your journey to writing a book. So, please get involved by joining our Facebook group, The Right Book Project, or tweet @therightbookco. You’ll find notes, links, recordings and transcripts of these podcasts on therightbookcompany.com. On today’s podcast we are delighted to welcome back to the studio, Paul East. Now Paul, you might remember, was with us a few episodes ago talking about marketing and the importance of marketing. And we’re going to do the same thing today, except we’re going to go into a bit more detail about some of the things that matter when you are marketing a book. And the reason we’re doing this is because this marketing piece is essential. It’s not just some throwaway afterthought, it really matters in the business of publishing a book. So, we felt it was worth having a detailed look at it. So, just to remind you, for those that didn’t hear the previous episode, Paul is a book marketing consultant. He works a lot with Sue at The Right Book Company; he’s been in the book trade for around 30 years, so he’s seen a few things in his time and you’ve been working for about 12 years with authors and writers. That’s right. isn’t it Paul?
Paul East: [00:01:39] That’s right.
Dave Harries: [00:01:39] Welcome to the studio again.
Paul East: [00:01:40] Thank you.
Dave Harries: [00:01:41] I’m glad you came back. I mean, presumably you enjoyed it the first time.
Paul East: [00:01:44] Yes, it was a marvellous experience and I’m very happy to be repeating it.
Dave Harries: [00:01:47] I think he’s just saying that but…
Paul East: [00:01:49] Not at all.
Dave Harries: [00:01:50] Alright. Well, welcome both of you anyway. So, let’s get down to business. We’re talking here today about the key book marketing strategies that you really need to nail. So perhaps, before we get into detail, you could sort of summarise what you think those key book marketing strategies are, Paul.
Paul East: [00:02:10] Yeah. I mean, what I didn’t want to do in this episode is go into huge detail, clearly, about the whole process of marketing your book, because it’s a great deal to it. I wanted to do really was just cover sort of the three or four general areas that you really need to try and make sure you nail and get right from the beginning. So, we talked a little bit, in the last time I was here, about target audience. So, you know, understanding and knowing your audience. So, I thought it would be interesting just to examine that a little bit more and understand what that’s all about. And also, we talked about the platform and your network, so I thought it would be interesting to perhaps look in a little bit more detail at that as well. And the importance of your profile generally and how that will help to, how that will contribute to your marketing process. And then there’s one other area as well, which can be contentious sometimes, is Amazon. We spoke at the beginning of the last episode that was here about Amazon and the drive for sales rankings and big sales there. But I wanted to go a little bit more into detail around Amazon and just examine a little bit more why it’s actually quite important as a platform.
Dave Harries: [00:03:18] And you also talk about something called ‘Routes to Market’. Briefly tell me what that is.
Paul East: [00:03:23] Well, that’s really about how people are going to get your book. I mean, there’s no point in writing a book if people have got no means of actually ever accessing it or getting it. So, that’s really what that’s about, Dave, is thinking about how people are going to get my book when I’ve written it.
Dave Harries: [00:03:37] Sue, obviously marketing is clearly something that you’re very aware of; I’m sure very knowledgeable about as well; and you’ve got Paul to help you along the way, as a consultant. But where does it, you know in this sort of pecking order of stuff you need to do when you’re writing a book and thinking about a book, where does it sit? How important is it?
Sue Richardson: [00:03:57] It is as important as anything else that you do. I mean, we at The Right Book Company, we have this kind of three-cornered philosophy, if you like. You have to write the right book in the first place, and you and I, in these episodes, have talked a great deal about that. And the second one would be to publish it in the right way. So, you know, whether you publish it traditionally or you publish it independently; very important that everything that you do has quality and that you work with the right people and all of that sort of thing. But the third corner of that is to reach the right readers and that essentially is all about the marketing of the book; getting the book out there. I have an old friend who published a book with me many years ago and she always used to say: if you write the book and publish the book but you don’t do anything about the marketing, it’s a bit like blowing a kiss in the dark at a party. Which I always used to love because it’s like: yeah, you know, what’s the point? Nobody’s going to see it; nobody’s going to do anything about it. And you’re actually not going to get anywhere with your book if you don’t think of that all-important third part, which is the marketing of the finished product.
Paul East: [00:05:21] And the time to think about it is not just as it is about to publish. And that’s really important. Because a lot of authors, you know, are very tied up in the writing process and very excited about the prospect of being an author, that the marketing just gets a little bit sidetracked and a little bit forgotten until actually it’s just a bit too late to do it properly.
Dave Harries: [00:05:39] And let’s start then looking in a bit more detail at these things. So, the first point you made was about the audience and knowing your audience. And we talked in a previous podcast about who your book was for and the importance of knowing that. So, presumably these are closely related.
Paul East: [00:05:56] Absolutely, really closely connected. And I think the process of understanding your audience when you’re talking about, you know, scoping your book, feeds into this a great deal as well. And we also said, in the last podcast when I was here, about the importance of knowing your target audience. And it is really is worth the time in getting under the skin of your audience and really understanding who they are; what their problems are; what their barriers are; what their frustrations are. Because this will ultimately help you to write a better book, one that’s much more focused and targeted on the audience, the correct audience, the audience that you’re trying to reach. But it also gives you a lot of insight and understanding into how you’re going to reach those people.
Dave Harries: [00:06:37] And do you think…something you hear a lot in business, not just in relation to books, but in business generally in relation to products, you hear people say: oh well, you know, my product or my book is for everyone. You know, I love the whole world to read it. They can all benefit from it. But I suppose that’s not very useful, is it?
Paul East: [00:06:53] Not really. No, it’s not. And I think that, you know, it can work in some fiction categories. But I think when you’re talking about non-fiction books and books particularly to help grow a business or to augment or facilitate a business, going into this with a kind of ‘this book will be for everybody’ is naive and possibly, to be quite frank, a little bit stupid. Because if you do that you’re going to water down your content and your marketing so much that it’s just not going to actually appeal to anybody or have any great use to anybody either. As marketers, we love a niche, and a niche is fantastic because it means you’ve got a very defined group of people in a very defined area, or areas, that you can reach out to people. So, it’s not wise to go into this thinking: yeah, I’m writing a book that everyone’s going to love. Because chances are you’re not going to find the people that actually should love it.
Dave Harries: [00:07:45] And let’s talk about that niche, because that’s very interesting. Is there a sort of ideal size of a niche? I mean, has it got to be above a certain number but below a certain number, if you see what I mean?
Paul East: [00:07:55] No, not really. I think, clearly I mean, if you go down too far, and you’ve got a niche with only 150 people that are ever going to be interested your book, you’re not going to sell many books. That doesn’t mean that your book isn’t going to be relevant to them, and it just may not meet the expectations you have in terms of sales of your book or the impact it’s going to have on your profile and your business. But having a niche, and exploiting that niche is marketing gold, you know, but clearly the bigger the niche the bigger impact you’re going to have.
Dave Harries: [00:08:22] Sue, I remember you talking about a book, a very, very tightly defined target audience for a book that you were involved in, which I think we referred to in a previous podcast. Would you mind reminding me what that was? Because I know, it was aimed at college lecturers or something, or college principals or something like that?
Sue Richardson: [00:08:38] Yes. Fiona Hudson-Kelly’s book, The Survival of the Smartest, which was a book which was written and published for a very, very specific marketing reason for Fiona’s business. They are a tech business in the education sector and they sell, well they have had a kind of, an amazing software platform that’s all connected to the apprenticeships scheme. And they created a really focused niche book, directed purely at college leaders. And it was never intended to be a bestseller. It was intended to do a very specific job. Huge value for the college leader, not really of much interest to anybody else, and has been used strategically in that business and she calls it the best, the most effective marketing tool that she’s ever had.
Dave Harries: [00:09:34] So, that’s interesting, isn’t it, Paul? Because there clearly the aim was not to sell thousands of books. The aim was to…it was a book about promoting and helping the business and that sort of thing, incredibly small niche, I would think. So, how would you…well I’d be interested how you’d go about dealing with a product like that, with a book like that. And you know, are there particular challenges there, because such a small niche?
Paul East: [00:10:01] Well, I think in Fiona’s case, I would imagine that she knew what she wanted to achieve from having marketed the book and knew and understood her market pretty well before she went into it. So, she knew she had a route to market. I suspect that she was also filling a bit of a gap in the market. So, that knowledge was not already out there, or at least not in a book form that people were familiar with and able to access. It does have its challenges, but I think it comes down to, again, understanding your market and your audience; knowing where they hang out; knowing how they receive information and knowing how they want to interact with the information you’ve got to give them; and how you are ultimately going to reach them. It’s not actually any different to marketing a book that’s got a bigger appeal, it’s just understanding where that market is and then going and finding them. And that’s the secret, if that’s the right word. I mean, that’s what this is all about really, at the end of the day, is understanding where your readers are and working out how you get to them. And she knew that market well enough to go out and do that seamlessly.
Dave Harries: [00:11:05] And not being obsessed by numbers presumably.
Paul East: [00:11:09] Absolutely, be realistic about the numbers. You know, if you’ve got 150 college lecturers who are going to be interested in your book, then you go out and sell your book to 150 college lecturers, and then maybe a few on the side that you’ll pick up. But don’t expect sales of five thousand because there aren’t five thousand people out there that are going to want it. And it’s about being realistic from the beginning about what you can expect to achieve with that book.
Dave Harries: [00:11:29] And what you really want the book to do as well. The ‘why’, I suppose. It comes back to again. Okay, good. So, I think I understand the audience point. So, let’s move on to the ‘know your platform’ issue. Remind us what this means and give us a bit of detail about how this can work.
Paul East: [00:11:50] Yes sure. So, the platform really is your kind of sphere of influence. It’s your world in which you can access people to promote and market your book to. And your network is kind of the people that are within that platform. And it’s really worth taking time to understand who is in your network and who makes up your platform. And I advise authors to do that quite forensically actually. Because you know, it’s very easy to just assume that you’ve got this platform; maybe you’ve got a big social media following; maybe you’ve got a big Linkedin following, which a lot of authors have actually when they come to write a book. But I think what you have to understand is that not everybody in that network is going to do the same job for you, and you need to understand and work out, on almost an individual level actually, how each one can contribute to your marketing/writing promotion and publicity process differently. So, I always encourage authors to split their network into different lists of people. So, some of the people in your network will be contributors, so they may be people that can help you write the book. So, it may be worth reaching out to those at the beginning of the process and say: hey look! I’m writing this book. Do you have any fantastic anecdotes or people you can introduce me to or great content that I can add? Have you got any ideas about chapter headings or content that I should be using? Not only is that a fantastic way to start promoting your book and the idea to your network and your platform, also you’ll hopefully get some really good ideas as a result of that, that you can build into the book. It also helps you to make sure you’re writing a book that’s right for your audience. Other people in your network will be influencers. So, they’re people that you can use to help spread the word about your book. So, it’s worth reaching out to them during the process of writing the book and also later on when the book is finished. And you’ll interact with those differently, potentially, to the way you’d interact with the people that are contributors. And then you’ve got other potential customers for your book. And again, you know, they’re worth knowing and understanding, but at the beginning of the process probably not that important to you. And I think it’s important to understand, you know, who in your network fulfils each of these roles, so you can interact with them in the right way, at the right time and get the best out of them. Now, some of them maybe all three. So, they may be a contributor, an influencer and ultimately a customer. In fact, most of them are probably customers. If they are all three then they’re probably your priorities. You know, they’re the ones you want to be talking to first. If they’re a contributor, influencer and a customer.
Dave Harries: [00:14:24] I feel a Venn diagram coming on.
Paul East: [00:14:26] I think there is a Venn diagram. Yes.
Dave Harries: [00:14:29] It’s a pity it’s a podcast otherwise we could’ve drawn it.
Paul East: [00:14:31] Well, I’m happy to draw one and we’ll pop it up on the website, maybe. Or maybe I’ll get someone that knows what a Venn diagram is to do it! So, yeah, I mean, I think it’s really important to understand that not everybody in your network and your platform is equal and different people will bring different things to the party. But you know, what’s really important about the whole process of marketing through your network is to involve them as early as you possibly can in the process, so that it doesn’t become a big surprise to them. So that during the process and the journey, your journey of writing a book…and Sonja and Sharon on an earlier podcast, mentioned how they were blogging, you know, continuously while they were writing their book. It meant they had a whole team of people that were coming behind them on this journey. So, when the book came out they felt they had a bit of a vested interest in it and wanted to buy it. Or wanted to find out more about it, at least.
Dave Harries: [00:15:19] Yeah. That’s Valuable Content Marketing, for those that haven’t heard that episode. And I would urge you to listen to it. It’s very interesting. Okay, so that’s the platform. And then you got to talking about honing, building, honing your online presence and profile. I wonder if this one is a little bit in…I’m Just wondering, I was going to say intimidating. Perhaps that’s the wrong word. But sometimes people are a bit worried about this, aren’t they? About building online profiles and presence and that sort of thing? Because it means you’ve got to do social media, and some people don’t like doing social media.
Paul East: [00:15:53] I know they don’t. But I think if you’re going to write a book, you’ve got to get with the program a little bit on social media. I mean, that’s more likely where a lot of your readers are going to be. And it’s down to you as the author really to try and work out which platforms are the most relevant to your book and its content. But you’ve really got to learn, I think, to harness social media, or at least get to grips with it. And ultimately you need to be findable. You know, you can’t write a book and become an author and want to use a book to grow your business if you want to hide under a rock somewhere. You know, you’ve got to put yourself out there. And you know, it doesn’t have to be…you don’t have to give away a lot of yourself, you know, you can build it around your business, and the messages around your business and your book, and can keep it quite focused on that with a bit of a flavour as well. But, you know, you need to be online and you need to be on social media if you’re going to make it a success, at the end of the day. There is a bit of an exception to that. I mean, if you think a little bit about the Fiona Hudson-Kelly example, you know, she already knew that she was going to get what she wanted from the book, because she had a very clear route to market for it. And you know, there are other authors as well that possibly fall into a similar category as that, where, you know, from the very start that here’s a group of people, I know they’re going to need this book, I just need to market the book to them. So, perhaps in that instance it’s not quite so relevant. But generally…
Dave Harries: [00:17:16] But for most of us?
Paul East: [00:17:16] Yeah.
Dave Harries: [00:17:17] And Sue, do you find that, when you are advising new authors, first time authors, that sort of thing, there is sometimes a reluctance to sort of engage with that sort of social thing? Perhaps it’s an age-related thing, you know, for those of us that are of a certain age, you know, we’re perhaps, we’re not digital natives, I think his expression isn’t it? I mean, do you have to fight against that sometimes?
Sue Richardson: [00:17:38] Yeah, I think it can be a challenge for people. And I think that that whole thing about social media, I know I suffer from this myself, I have to be honest. That, you know, it still feels that creating the…I think it’s about that whole thing of like how much is this kind of a self-indulgent thing and how much is it actually valuable to people. And I think the thing to remember is that, that visibility thing is all important when you’re either about to launch a book or you’ve launched a book. It’s about trying to be helpful and trying to say useful things on social media. And if you’ve just created a book or you’re about to create a book then you’ve got that in, you know, you’ve got bucket loads of useful things to tell people. And so, you know, think about it. In some ways…I think that I don’t know if this is a peculiarly British thing but we’re not very good at taking the centre stage, generally speaking I would argue. And I’ve come across this quite a lot with authors. One of the good things about the book is that you’ve got a product to flog, you know, you’ve actually got something which isn’t…yes, it’s you. But actually, you know, I’ve met a lot of people who find it difficult to take the centre of the stage personally but once they have a book, they can shine.
Dave Harries: [00:19:03] Yeah. So, you’re not just blogging about you had sausages for breakfast.
Sue Richardson: [00:19:06] Exactly. You actually saying: there’s some really good useful stuff in this book that I’ve done for you guys out there. And you’ve got a reason now to go and use those platforms to get the message out there.
Dave Harries: [00:19:20] Although I will be tweeting about what I had for breakfast later!
Sue Richardson: [00:19:23] Of course you will, Dave. And we’ll look forward to that.
Paul East: [00:19:26] I think your point about sending, putting out tweets and social content just talking about your breakfast and that kind of thing; you know, if you’re going to do the social media side you’ve got to be professional about it. I mean, ultimately the people that you’re going to be talking to and you’re going to be posting for, are customers. And you need to treat them like customers. It’s nice sometimes to bring a personality and a bit of friendliness into it, of course, but you need to be focused on the fact that what you’re trying to do here is sell your business and your book. So, it’s really important that you’re professional about it and that you have a high attention to detail and good standards, because these are ultimately going to be your customers.
Dave Harries: [00:20:01] Because really this is a branding issue, isn’t it? I mean because no doubt your business has a brand and one that you value and you try and be congruent with that. And the book has to be the same, presumably.
Paul East: [00:20:11] Absolutely. I mean, I think also with social, it’s not just about your own social profile that’s important ,you know. That is important. But also get active in other people’s as well. So, go out and find other online groups, forums Linkedin groups, things like that that you can join and start contributing to them. And contributing to them regularly so that your name starts getting out there a little bit and you start building that whole kind of profile visibility, building your credibility and authority, which we spoke about before. And become active within the social arenas, the communities in where the people that are likely to buy your book are hanging out. Because that will make the job an awful lot easier when you drop into the conversation, later on, you know, that you’ve got a book.
Dave Harries: [00:20:54] Can we talk now a little bit about the routes to market? Because this is an interesting one. And I know all these things are interrelated, you can’t separate them out, do one and not the other. But remind us again what ‘routes to market’ means, and then if you could tell us how you go about that, and what are the ways you deal with that.
Paul East: [00:21:12] Yeah. I mean, it’s really about understanding how people are going to get your book. So, as I said before, there’s absolutely no point in writing a book if you have no means of distributing it; if you’re going to send it out yourself; you’ve not considered about who’s going to pack it and send it and ship it and all that kind of stuff. It’s about knowing how people are going to tell you that they want your book. Is it going to be through a website, for example? Are you going to have some kind of e-commerce thing on there? If you’re working with an independent publisher, like The Right Book Company, who has distribution facilities, you know, how is that all going to work? Is your main route to market going to be direct sales? So, is that all mainly going to be through you, as an individual, people are going to buy it from you directly? Or is it going to be through the book trade? So, you’re going to be selling it through retailers like Amazon and Waterstone’s, WHSmith or something like that? That opens a whole other can of worms, which we could possibly get into another time. But you need to understand what the route to market is going to be and make sure that you’ve got the structure in place to make that work and make it happen. Otherwise you’re going to have a pile of books and no means of giving them to anybody.
Dave Harries: [00:22:24] And Sue, presumably, how you choose to publish the book is going to affect that route, well, it’s going to affect all the marketing I should think, but that route to market is certainly going to be affected whether you are traditional publishing, self-publishing or independent publishing?
Sue Richardson: [00:22:37] Without any doubt. And as Paul said, it’s incredibly important to make sure that right from the get-go, when you’re thinking through your strategy and how it fits with the business, you need to be absolutely sure that you are realistic about the routes to market. There are many, many people who are shocked and horrified, frankly, when they self-publish and discover that their routes to market are very limited. Now, if you self-publish through something, a platform like Amazon, maybe that’s all you need. And that’s absolutely fine. And if the project is, kind of a sort of, a vanity type of project, absolutely fine. If you’ve got a real strong, substantial business case for the book, you need to be really looking to see whether that is enough? Or whether actually you need something a bit beefier and something a bit, that’s actually going…you need to think about all sorts of things. You know, it comes back to your strategy for the business. Does the business need to be recognized internationally? And what does that mean if your book is actually stuck in one country? Be very specific about what routes to market you particularly need and then you need to go and find the correct publishing route that gets you that distribution. I think I told you this story before maybe, I can’t remember if we discussed on another podcast, but there was one author who came to me who had self-published and she asked me the question: how can I get my book into airport shops? And I had to say to her: I’m sorry, my dear, but you can’t. It’s not something that’s open to you; it’s not likely ever to be open to you. The only people who could ever get into airport shops, I would say, would be the big commercial publishers who have got big budgets to basically pay for that kind of retail space. So, these are the kind of funny little foibles of the book trade that it really helps to really have done your research about before you go too far.
Dave Harries: [00:24:38] Paul, Sue mentioned Amazon then, in passing. So, let’s move on to Amazon, because we mentioned that at the beginning. Why do we need to be concerned about Amazon, and what should we do about it as an author?
Paul East: [00:24:51] Yeah, well, I said at the beginning when we talked about my kind of philosophy around marketing books, and at the beginning of the episode that we did before and how I am not one of these people that is very focused on trying to get people up the top of the charts within minutes of their book coming out. And how I don’t believe that that always pays off in the long term, if we’re trying to create books that, you know, root themselves in their market and become centres of excellence for the market. But Amazon is important. Firstly, because it’s the world’s biggest book retailer. It’s where people go to look for books, ultimately. You know, you probably find that 80/90% of people look to Amazon for books. Even if the trade, the book trade, is not, and you’ve identified it’s not your primary route to market, you need to have a presence for your book, with a buy button, on Amazon. Because it gives it credibility; it gives it a platform and a route to market that some people are just more comfortable with.
Dave Harries: [00:25:59] And it is that relatively easy to do? I mean, if you, for example, I imagine if you traditionally publish, it’s easy to do because the publisher will do it. But if you’re independently publishing or even self-publishing, how difficult technically is it to be on Amazon?
Paul East: [00:26:16] It’s relatively straightforward. I mean, if you publish with an independent publisher, like The Right Book Company; all of Sue’s books go onto Amazon routinely. Am I right about that? So, that happens as part of the package that you that you sign up to with Sue. Outside of that, I mean you can put any product on Amazon. There is a cost to it. Amazon aren’t giving you that space for free, so you will lose money in terms of the margin that you would make compared to if you were selling it directly to somebody. But, yes, it’s relatively simple to do and straightforward, and at Amazon make it pretty straightforward to do it. It enhances and contributes to your offer, if you have a route to market through Amazon.
Dave Harries: [00:26:59] Well, I’m really sorry to say, but we’ve run out of time, believe it or not. We’ve whizzed through this podcast. Thank you very much, Paul, for all that advice and that sort of detailed stuff about marketing. There is a lot about all this sort of thing on therightbookcompany.com. So, and if you want to talk to Sue about any of this, I’m sure she would be very happy for you to get in touch. But I’m afraid that’s all we’ve got time for this week. So, my thanks to my expert co-presenter, Sue Richardson, and to Paul East. our book marketing expert, who’s been our guest this week. You can get lots more help and advice on writing and publishing your book by joining our Facebook group, The Right Book Project, where you can also leave a comment, ask Sue your questions or give us your ideas for future shows. Or why not visit our website at therightbookcompany.com, to sign up for one of Sue’s popular webinars or read her blog. We’ll be back in a couple of weeks’ time with our next episode, so please join us then. And in the meantime, keep writing.