What Is Book Marketing Anyway?

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

marketing, books, book marketing, publicity, authorsHaving run publishing businesses for 11 years, you would assume that I would know the answer to that seemingly basic question. But, speaking honestly, I’m not sure that I do. And I’m not sure that many other publishers do, either.

This isn’t a criticism of publishers’ marketing campaigns—there are clearly some very successful ones—but instead something a bit more fundamental. Having started Legend Press from my flat in Stoke Newington, London, I used to be a regular at the post office, carrying my box of review copies. Eleven years on, we may not be carrying the box, but as a publisher we still send out the review copies to an albeit smaller list of national literary journalists.

I won’t list all the other activities we have carried out across our businesses over the last decade, but from events and print and digital mail-outs, to promotional materials and adverts—and having an author dress up as Lord Lucan and stand on a plinth in Trafalgar Square—we have never been shy about trying absolutely anything to get our books noticed.

However, after all this time, this year feels like the first occasion when I have sat down with Lucy, our publicity director, and we’ve said, “Yes, this is what we and others have always done, but are these activities still effective, and what actually works in today’s market?”

Of course, we can compare book sales to particular activities, look for spikes in sales, etc. But this would all be anecdotal (and I’m aware that I’m grouping marketing and publicity together for the sake of this article). Everyone loves national reviews, but do these have any impact on sales, or are they more useful to get the attention of retail buyers? What actual value do the different forms of social media bring to a publishing business? There are hundreds of further questions I could throw out, but they all circle around where are marketing time and resources actually best used?

There is also a wider point here—which I have written about elsewhere so I won’t cover it again—that publishers don’t yet understand the most important person to their business well enough: their customer. Until we as an industry do, answering the question of what is book marketing is extremely challenging. And to answer it with measure of accuracy is nearly impossible.

However, trying to question everything we do, have always done and figure out what are actually the most effective tactics, brought us to a common denominator—before even considering specifics—which was discoverability. In a market in which the battle is solely for the customer’s attention, competing against every single other item that may capture that attention, efficient and complete discoverability is essential.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how talented the writer is, how beautifully the book is packaged, what price and format it is in. If the product is not 1) directly in front of the customer, 2) in their core attention at that moment and 3) available for immediate purchase, the customer will not buy it.

We came to the conclusion that everything else should come afterward. What activities will maximize these three points occurring simultaneously? For marketing, nothing else matters.

This also widened the opportunities and challenges we have: we decided we needed to look at metadata, listings, blurbs and purchase links, readerships, overlapping coverage effects, partnerships, trend-building. Sending out a box of books suddenly seemed like something we definitely must do, but just one piece of the marketing puzzle.

Defining what is proper book marketing is not going to be an easy or quick process. And if we feel we are getting closer, we may well have to cope with another market change. But asking the fundamental question of what is book marketing is a good start. And as we get closer, we will be putting books into the attention of more people, and that won’t only help sales figures, but the entire evolution and future of the book industry.

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17 thoughts on “What Is Book Marketing Anyway?

  1. Ashley Durrer

    Great article Daniel. I think we are definitely at a stage in publishing where we need to critically look at how we market books, deliver them directly to readers while creating new and effective channels for sales growth for both authors and publishers. I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops!

    1. Tom ChalmersTom Chalmers Post author

      Thanks Ashley and very true – never been a better time to stop doing what we’ve always done and completely reassess how to best market book for readers.

  2. Scott Lorenz

    Great points about book marketing in 2016.
    This in particular, is spot on: “If the product is not 1) directly in front of the customer, 2) in their core attention at that moment and 3) available for immediate purchase, the customer will not buy it.”

    The big issue? There’s no ‘recipe’ for book marketing. If there were one then all the big publishing houses would simply publish ‘bestsellers’ and no others.They could get rid of their book shredding machines and print money!

    There are many great success stories in the indie pub world. The story about how THE MARTIAN became successful is one I wrote about on my blog http://www.The-Book-Publicist.com
    http://bit.ly/The-Martian-Story All authors should read it.

    1. Tom ChalmersTom Chalmers Post author

      Thanks Scott – one advantage of there being no recipe is that it opens the ways for small companies and individuals to make a great mark and achieve major success through brilliant creativity, and agree there are many standout examples from the indie publishing sector.

  3. Susan Neuhaus

    You’ve done a beautiful job of laying out the challenges to book marketers today.
    Most of my clients are in the “B to I” (Books-to-Institutions) space, where purchase decisions are not as immediate as the Books-to-Readers selling cycle. There, opinion leaders like trade publications and reviews have traditionally play a large role.
    Have you seen any changes in marketing books to institutions like schools and libraries?

    1. Tom ChalmersTom Chalmers Post author

      Thanks Sue, much appreciated. I think marketing is easier the closer you are to the person you’re marketing to and so marketing to institutions rather than individuals can be challenging. Many will state the traditional publications are where they look, but I would start by breaking then down in individual entities and profiling what appeals individually to them, understanding their hierarchy, what they have done recently to chime quickly with that to get the required attention.

  4. Steve Prior

    Point 3 – available for immediate purchase – should be much easier for ebooks than print. In fact, it ought to be trivial.
    But having got the reader’s attention you want to be able to take them directly to the book on their preferred platform.
    As soon as you say, “You can find this at any good retailer . . .” you are increasing the friction.
    Conversely, if you just link to a single retailer you are missing opportunities, more so in an increasingly globalised world.

    1. Tom ChalmersTom Chalmers Post author

      Thanks Steve and an interesting point – they need an immediate purchase option so you either have to guess the most common preferred route or offer a choice which extends the reaction time and so lessens the conversion rate. Maybe you should come up with an app to solve that and make a fortune…

  5. Bruce Watson

    You hit the nail on the head. Why then, in the US at least, do so few publishers do anything more than ship review copies, and perhaps pump out a few Tweets? Perhaps I sound like a disgruntled author but almost every author I know shares the same opinion — that publishers now leave the marketing to the author. Unaccustomed as we are.

  6. Raj Savalia


    Thanks for your blog post. I am just starting out with short story writing and hope to develop some novels over the next 2-3 years. To this end, I will begin taking long-form fiction writing classes next year. However, I am currently working in another field and as such am taking a business marketing course. As such, I had some questions related to eBooks and marketing. First, which website(s) would you suggest when one is first publishing short stories to generate the most reader interest? My plan was to begin with short fantasy or sci-fi stories and build out from there.

    Also, you made a point of mentioning “If the product is not 1) directly in front of the customer, 2) in their core attention at that moment and 3) available for immediate purchase, the customer will not buy it.” Do you think there are any current mobile apps that allow a broad range of readers to sample books and then purchase the full product? Would a mobile eBook app be a useful marketing tool for a writer who is just starting out? Any feedback would be appreciated, thanks.


    1. Tom ChalmersTom Chalmers Post author

      Thanks Raj – not familiar enough with short story sites to confidently recommend one but I would suggest one with a big community, Wattpad, Smashwords and others come to mind whether accurate or not, as more readers looking at your work, providing feedback and talking about it the better.

      Lots of site that provide samples ahead of purchase, for instant Google Play, through Amazon LookInside etc. Not many stats on how effective they are but now a core offering in the digital market.

    1. Tom ChalmersTom Chalmers Post author

      Thanks Kristen and agree – in fact I would say what worked five years ago has close to zero chance of working today. Through the digital age the market has evolved beyond recognition.



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