Since early 2012, my team and I have helped to launch 50 books, mostly business/leadership titles. We’ve worked with a variety of authors, with a combination of first time and veteran authors. We’ve done a mix of traditionally published and self-published titles. We even launched one book, Leaders Open Doors by Bill Treasurer, twice: once when it was self-published (iUniverse) and again when it was picked up by a traditional publisher (ATD.) Typically, we are hired by each individual author, but we have also been directly hired by a publisher on several projects.
In the early days, we focused primarily on social media publicity. In mid-2013, we added digital publicity to the mix. Along the way, we’ve been incorporating past learning to become more effective and efficient over time, supporting our authors in reaching the widest possible audiences with their messages while reaching their big picture goals. (Here are some early lessons we learned in launching 7 books.)
I’ve spent some time reflecting about the most important ideas I’ve learned about book marketing through these experiences. While these lessons are specific to the types of books we promote, I hope authors in other genres will find value here as well.
I’ll share the bad news first.
Selling business books is difficult. New books release every day; it’s a noisy and crowded space. First-time authors, without well-established online brands and networks, will invest more than they expect in publicity and will see a return far smaller than they hope for. Even repeat authors are often disappointed by book sales results.
We’ve seen greater success for first-time authors who choose to publish with a traditional publisher, partially because a traditional publisher gives additional credibility to these debut authors and also because publishers have greater access to distribution channels than self-published authors typically do.
We also saw a stunning exception to this lesson in the marketing spearheaded by Alexandra Watkins on her book, Hello, My Name is Awesome. By the time she hired us to work on her book, she had been executing some stealth pre-marketing, building excitement and momentum for her launch for an entire year before her pub date. Her results — exposure to top-tier clients for her business, along with strong book sales — have been tremendous.
Most authors will never see a dollar for dollar return on book publicity investment from book sales. Very few authors ever make up their investment in book publicity on book sales alone. Creating the online influence necessary for massive book sales is an investment in years — not months. Successful people invest heavily, with both time and money, over long periods of time.
Balancing publicity spend to equal book sales is impossible. The math just doesn’t work. The only way to make peace with investing in marketing and publicity is to realize that your return will come from other areas: speaking fees, consulting fees, and other service offerings. As we have gathered more data through many book launches, I do the best I can to set reasonable expectations for book sales with authors. However, the truth is that most numbers are disappointing to most authors, even the ones publishers would laud as among the top sellers in any given time period.
Here is some better news.
Investing long-term in building a network online makes a measurable difference. Yesterday, an online acquaintance launched a book. I don’t know this guy well, but he’s published more than a dozen business books. I noticed yesterday that his book was ranking around 100 on Amazon on its release day, despite the fact that the new cover, as far as I can tell, is not on his main website nor his social channels. I asked this friend the secret. His answer? No secret. He’s been sharing content online for ten years and has an email list of engaged contacts numbering nearly 100K. He shared the news of his book release with those people. No secret. Only focused, consistent sharing of value over time, which resulted in people who buy his books when he releases them.
It’s simple and difficult all at once. Getting traction to sell books and reach more people with content is an endeavor that could take decades. The more books you write, and the more you add value for the people who buy and read them, the more you will see results for subsequent book releases.
For those who don’t have an expansive network, the best strategy is partnering with others. Every author has some already existing network of friends and colleagues. One of our first priorities is in reaching out to those networks, no matter the size, to mobilize those important people in sharing our clients’ books. We encourage clients to make specific asks of those people, and most times people are very gracious and generous in supporting our clients’ book launches.
Additionally, one of the unique approaches we employ with clients is to leverage our company network and connections on behalf of our authors. In this way, we can accelerate our clients’ connection building by introducing them to our networks. Our Team Buzz Builder network has been a tremendous asset to many first time authors; these individuals voluntarily read, review, and share our authors’ books, extending the reach of every campaign.
We focus our efforts to create the best possible outcome for every author. Although it may seem like bad news that selling business books is difficult and requires significant investment of time and money, investing in getting your book out into the world is far preferred to the alternative — writing a book and NOT promoting it. Every book promotion is a long-term effort. As I’ve written before, quoting a publisher friend, if you are going to invest time to write a book, you need to be married to the message, which implies a long-term commitment to sharing the book with the world. What is a long-term commitment, if not an undertaking that requires discipline, dedication — sacrifice, even.
Through partnering with authors to launch 50 books, we have outlined (and continue to improve upon) a process that works. While results vary, depending upon a client’s past experiences, we are confident that our processes make a big difference in helping our clients achieve their desired results over time.
Our 50th book launch is celebrating a new take on a business classic, The New One Minute Manager. Find out more or buy copies today!