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