Friday, March 18, 2011

Does Book Marketing Work?

From the desk of Tamela Buhrke

Okay, time for cold, hard facts. Many of us are out there tweeting, posting, and frantically building a presence in the internet world. So the big question is whether any of it is working? Is it selling books?

As usual, the answers are mixed. If you write a horrible book, you can market the you-know-what out of it, and your results will often (but not always) be tepid. On the other hand, the best book in the world won’t sell if no one knows it's there.

For those with a strong book and a marketing plan, there is good news. Studies show that book marketing will improve sales. According to a study by Wellesley Hills Group, authors who hired a marketing or promotion company to promote their book sold more than twice as many books as those who relied on their publisher’s marketing. The study also showed that the internet was the most successful vehicle for selling books. Getting press in a trade magazine came in second. Book signings were deemed ineffective.

So if internet marketing is the most effective, then which internet tools should we use? I don't know about you, but I sometimes feel like a hamster in a social media ball, rolling from this social network to that. Often, it is hard to know which efforts are paying off. Evidently that is true for most authors. A study by FSB Associates, which tracked the Twitter chatter of 20 authors then compared it to their Amazon sales, found mixed results. Sometimes the Twitter chatter created buzz, and the book sales soared, but just as often it didn’t work. However, there were some consistent benefits. The use of Twitter increased all the author’s website rankings on Google and often created a much stronger brand for the author. Additional research will be needed to determine why some social chatter created more sales than others.

What about online advertisements? Mashable recently did an interesting study of Facebook ads. They found that folks between 40 - 65 were the age bracket most likely to click on the ads, so if you are targeting a younger or older audience then ads might be less effective for you. Though overall, ads with products that were considered “fun” did better. So fiction would have an easier time over nonfiction.

The whole field of internet marketing is so new. It will be awhile before we have concrete answers on what techniques work best. However, studies show that, overall, internet marketing is working for authors. Use the social networks to get your name and your books into the public eye and then monitor what networks are best for your particular circumstance.

Most of all, be patient. Seth Godin, the Grand Poobah of marketing, said that "the best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out." Marketing takes time. If you are in this for the long-haul, then the time will be worth the effort.


“Book Marketing Statistics” Author Insider. 2006
“Study: Twitter Chatter Sells Books, Sometimes.” The Huffington Post August 11, 2010
“Do Facebook Ads Sell Books?” Book Cover Designer. March 09, 2011

"Advice for authors" Seth Godin. August 02, 2006


Shannon said...

Thanks, Tamela. This is the question for most of us. It takes so much time to create and maintain an online presence and I never know if it's time well spent. Most days, instead of posting something interesting, I'd like to flash a bumper sticker that says: I'd Rather Be Writing.

Tamela Buhrke said...

You are welcome!
"I'd Rather Be Writing" ~ Isn't that the truth!
That's why it is important for us to monitor what we do to see if it is working. I think it is both reassuring to see that internet marketing helps to increase sales and disconcerting to see how random the results are.

The bottom-line is that we need to keep an eye on our sales in relation to our media campaigns. Figure out what is work and what isn't. That will vary from writer to writer.

j.a. kazimer said...


That was a great post. Thank you so much. So if one wanted to hire outside PR, do you have suggestions?

Tamela Buhrke said...

That is a great question! It often depends on where the author is in their marketing and what their budget is. You can find coaching that helps you do-it-yourself for less money, or hire a marketing/pr firm that will do everything for you with a heftier price tag.
My suggestion is to do your research. Determine where your strengths and weaknesses are and find a marketing partner that fits your specific needs.
Many times your agent or editor can help you assess your marketing needs and recommend a good PR firm.

Nathan Lowell said...

I think there's a problem with the way most people use the internet to market books. The contextual frame of ROI, while marginally effective, is also the least efficient and - arguably - most expensive way of looking at what's happening in social media.

Godin makes a good point about starting to three years in advance but I think his framing in the context of "marketing" is flawed for the same reason.

For those who've forgotten the history here and missed the Cluetrain, today's markets are conversations. Ads, follower counts, friend lists, and all the rest are pointless if you're not having conversations - not forming the relationships with your readers.

There's a reason that the PR firms and marketing influence studies show mixed results. They study how the internet reacts under the rules of old -- broadcast advertising media -- rules. While they *do* apply, they're also not the most effective way of having a conversation because they're one-way.

Many of the writers I talk to who are exhausted from the run around in social media report that they just can't keep promoting, promoting, promoting all the time. That's not terribly surprising, because that's exhausting and the returns are sketchy and uncertain.

I follow the "1000 true fans" strategy. My goal is to find 1000 true fans and to create a relationship with them. Talk about stuff with them. Their stuff. My stuff. Other people's stuff. To engage in the larger discourse with them. I will tell them if/when I have a new book, story, podcast out -- usually once. A post on the blog, a tweet on twitter, a status message on Facebook. Once.

After that, the community can talk about it all they like.

This strategy flies in the face of "tell everybody you know" and "repeat the message at least three (seven, twenty) times."

It also means I can tell people "Hi, just have a few minutes to natter before I dig into my next project. How's things?"

The promotion fatigue never becomes a problem because I never promote.

Your mileage may vary.

Tamela Buhrke said...

I always love your comments. You've definitely learned how to use social media in a way that is successful for you.

I'd never heard of the 1000 true fans theory, but that sounds like a great way to build. I've never put much stock in those companies who promise you 10,000+ Twitter or Facebook followers. I'd rather have 100 huge fans.

I also think that you provide more than conversation to your followers, you provide value. You make your readers feel important. As the evidence points out, even when it didn't directly lead to sales, it still built brand for the author. That means loyalty. In the quest for sales some people forget that loyalty is a long-term benefit that speaks to more than just the current sales numbers.

Social media is one of the best ways I can think of to build readership loyalty - because it is the best way to tell your readers you are loyal to them as well.

Nathan Lowell said...


And yes, I think you're right about the loyalty thing. It's a two-way street if it's done right, but I've found it to be hugely successful in terms of building up my audience.

Moreover, ultimately it's less time consuming and more satisfactory than the other options.

Brent Wescott said...

This is very interesting, as I am knew to the social networking, just beginning to query and get noticed. I'm blogging and Facebooking, but I haven't used Twitter. I'm curious about how it's used to make connections. My first impression is that it's more nonsense than most of the random posting on Facebook. Any advice about Twitter?
It Just Got Interesting

Tamela Buhrke said...

Hi Brent,
We've done a number of blog posts on how to use Twitter and how it can benefit authors. Here's a list:

I hope these help get you launched into the fun and sometimes crazy world of Twitter.

Nathan Lowell said...


Twitter is a strange place. If you've got low tolerance for "nonsense" then you might not find it useful.

I've used several analogies when describing twitter ... a river, a garden, a cocktail party. I think the comparison's hold. It's not a reservoir, or a resource, or broadcast channel. The nature of the beast is that you have to be interesting enough for people to want to see what you say. Getting to that point -- being interesting -- is sometimes a challenge.

There are some good links in Tamela's answer, and I think starting there, getting involved with some of the groups like #litchat or #amwriting as a start might be a way to jumpstart your involvement, if you're interested in pursuing it.

For me it's an invaluable link to my audiences and a tremendous tool for communication. It's made a huge difference in my ability to develop and sustain my global audience.

And yeah. Sometimes it's nonsense.

Murr Brewster said...

Somewhere in the above I caught the notion that spare communication is the most effective, because people tune out excessive self-promotion. Since I do, that makes sense to me. On the other hand, Twitter is kinda the opposite of spare communication. Not that I know personally: I don't even have a cell phone.

Oh well, it's a good thing I don't have to make a living at this. And yet I get caught up in growing my audience too.