A Different Kind of Book Marketing


Authors are trying to market their books. Yet this is only a fraction of the book marketing that occurs daily:

  • Many publishers, bookstores, and literary agents are trying to brand the notion that traditionally published books are much better. And why not? Many feel that it’s in their interest to reinforce this perception.
  • Many editors are striving to advertise common editing mistakes and the need to correct them. Indeed, editing is important. Exactly what is good enough?
  • Many cover designers wish to reinforce the importance of a good cover and to negate the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” But will the benefits outweigh the costs?
  • Publicity consultants, e-book formatters, PR services, advertising agencies, professional review specialists, font licensers, contract attorneys… So many individuals and businesses have products to help you with your book. Which ones do you really need? You may need some, and it’s a tough call to make.

Do you see frequent remarks online pointing out problems with self-published books? That’s exactly what many businesses and individuals want. Some of the people pointing this out don’t have anything to gain by it; others believe that they do. The indies who point this out are shooting themselves in their feet; the overall perception of indie books does have an impact on sales.

Those in the traditional publishing industry, or who are closely tied to it, may also be shooting themselves in their feet when they blast indie books. For example, when they paint a picture of e-book formatting problems, it may deter sales of e-readers and e-books to some extent, affecting traditionally published e-book sales, too.

There are some indie books with formatting, editing, cover, or writing issues. The worst offenders aren’t selling much; they aren’t even discovered much in search results, since the bestsellers tend to be much easier to find. We know about them from customers who bought them by mistake and learned their lesson from not reading the blurb and checking the Look Inside (probably a more common occurrence with freebies), and it’s been reinforced by many people who, for whatever reason, like to point this out.

Nearly everyone in the book industry would benefit, whether they realize it or not, from painting a positive image of the best books, rather than focusing on negatives. Just knowing there are problems out there weighs on a reader’s mind. People like to shop for products where the experience seems positive. Indies, especially, should point out features of quality indie books. Marketing to help spread news of the best books helps everyone.

Just like authors need to market their books, editors need to market their services. The better way to go about this is to focus on the benefits of good editing, rather than describing the problems with poorly edited books. Here’s the difference: Painting a positive picture of books helps a little to stimulate book sales overall, whereas a negative picture deters book sales a little. The better books sell, the more demand there will be for editing and other services.

Similarly, cover designers should focus on the benefits of hiring a graphic artist, instead of pointing out the problems with lousy covers.

Authors shouldn’t just be marketing their own books, they should also paint a positive picture of books, e-books, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, CreateSpace, Ingram Spark, Lightning Source, Kindle, traditional publishing, self-publishing, editing, cover design, and all things books.

Create a positive world that will attract and please book lovers of all kinds. This will maximize sales and services all around.

There isn’t a true distinction between traditional and self-publishing. Many traditionally published authors also self-publish; it’s becoming increasingly popular. What? Are they awesome at the same time as they are lousy? That’s ridiculous!

What counts, ultimately, to any reader, is how positive the reading experience is. A traditionally published book that provides a reader with a not-so good experience isn’t better than an indie book that wows the reader. Perhaps traditionally published books, on average, tend to impress readers more often. (Maybe not. Many indie books might be read mostly by their target audience with great pleasure, while some traditionally published books might be read by many readers outside their target audience. A personal marketing experience and fewer sales might, just might, on average result in a better reading experience. The pleasure of meeting and interacting with a small-time author has its benefits.)

But that’s not the point. The point is for everyone to sell more books by focusing on providing the best possible reading experience, and not for everyone to sell fewer books by focusing on the negatives.

Books that provide better reading experiences are inherently going to sell more. Advertising the negatives isn’t really helping anyone; books with those negatives tend to deter their own sales, as soon as word spreads. Rather, giving attention to those negatives is just hurting everyone, including those at the top.

The book industry is changing. Many publishers, bookstores, and agents don’t like it. Many fear it.

What they need to do is adapt; not complain about it.

The book industry is becoming inclusive. It used to be exclusive.

Publishers might still be inclined to play the exclusivity card. The proper way to try this is to market the benefits of publishing traditionally, not by marketing the negatives of self-publishing. Again, a positive experience for buyers helps everyone overall. This actually affects big businesses much more than it affects the small guys. If everyone loses 5% as a result of painting a negative picture, this hardly impacts the indie author at all, but 5% is huge for a big business.

There are benefits to publishing traditionally. Each author and book is unique. Some will benefit by publishing traditionally, others won’t.

Publishers could adapt toward inclusivity (and to be fair, some are moving toward this in small ways).

Amazon played the inclusivity card in a huge way: With CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), everyone can now publish a book.

Smashwords played the inclusivity card. Several other companies have, too.

This seems to be working well for them.

Imagine winding back the clock. What if Barnes & Noble or one of the big five publishers had played the inclusivity card before Amazon did? How might things be different today?

Maybe it’s not too late. Maybe there is a way for big businesses to become more inclusive without sacrificing too much quality. There may even be a demand for it. There are authors who would like something in between traditional and self-publishing, where you could get some benefits of both.

We can’t control what the big companies do.

We can be grateful for the opportunities that companies like Amazon, CreateSpace, Ingram Spark, Smashwords, and many others have provided.

And most of all, we can remember to market a positive image for books in general in addition to marketing our own books and services, realizing how creating a positive reading experience for buyers may have a significant impact on book sales overall.

Love books? Check out Read Tuesday, a Black Friday event just for books (all authors can sign up for free): website, Facebook page, Twitter

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Volume 1 (formatting/publishing) and Volume 2 (packaging/marketing), Facebook page, Twitter

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