Finding the Best Way to Sell Your Book: Non-Fiction

Academics, experts, spokespeople, business owners–many of them publish non-fiction books.  To look at these books as one giant group of promotable content packs is to ignore the fact that there is likely a “best way” to sell your book.  There is not a set of “book media” who generically cover anything that is made between paper covers.  And there is no giant pool of people who are awaiting the next “book”.  There is much more to the story.  How the book is structured and what it is about will determine how you sell it.  Some books are idea driven, others are more “how-to” focused.  Some are both.  Do you know which one applies to you?

Selling Ideas

Is it an idea book, a how-to or both?  It is one thing to pitch a mystery novel or a book on weight loss.  It is an entirely different approach if what you want to sell is a new concept or a new spin on something we all know.  Let’s break it down with one of the more difficult “idea” categories using some of my favorite tools from economics class.

Faux Title Study I: Selling The How-to Book

Dominating the Widget Market for Investors”

Let’s say you are publicizing a book about investing in the widget market.  Your book describes the market, it’s history, sample strategies, tips, potential outcomes, etc.  It is a prescriptive book that can help people make money from widgets, and in general help them learn more about the stock market.

You would likely employ a strategy that included:

  • a “top ten strategies/tips” list
  • soliciting radio interviews
  • pitching long lead magazines and soft financial publications for the average investor,
  • trying to get on a morning TV show or other talk show that features self-improvement topics
  • outreach to digital networks about making money in the market

With this book you have a clear direction and advice you can impart.  You are also directing your message to digital and traditional communities that want to know how to improve their financial situations. Now let’s look at the other side of the coin.

Faux Title Study 2: Selling The Big Idea Book

“Dominating the Widget Market in a Changing World”

This book is similar to the first in that the author talks about the market and history of the widget industry.  He will also probably share some case studies of investors both successful and unsuccessful as a way of illustrating the changes.  Theories of the future of widgets and why things are or are not improving will be in the book.  The conclusion may be more gray than black/white and the author will present a picture of what things are going to look like.  He may also suggest ways we might adjust to allow for a more (or less) volatile environment.

What Makes These Books Different?

I’m sure you are getting where I am going with this.  Title 1 is a clearer “how-to” offering whereas Title 2 is based on a hypothesis and theory based on research and/or data.  There may be some takeaways that suggest what to do, but they will be implied rather than listed as “tips”.

Clearly these are simplistic examples, but I run into this all the time.  The thing is, we almost always want to try to promote the theory the same way we would promote the prescriptive, and it just doesn’t work.  First of all, authors who are writing about theory usually have a combination of academic and applied credentials.  They generally don’t want to give people “advice”.  The kind of interview where “tips” are the goal is often awkward for this kind of person.

The other author loves giving workshops and presentations about how to do things better. For her topic, how we got here isn’t as important as what we are going to do about it.

It is challenging to make these distinctions, but it is important.  If you do, you will be much more focused.  You will see your path to selling your ideas and achieving your goals.

Why is Your Digital Personal Brand Important in 2021?

Why should you care about your digital personal brand?  It’s not just your reputation, it is also the 21st century platform that enables you to work, socialize, sell a product, and plan and achieve goals. I was speaking with an author recently who publishes a book every year.  Prior to 2017 he says his books would sell 2,000 + copies in paperback.  Since then, he is lucky if he sells 200.  What happened?  Did his fans abruptly change their minds about his books?  Was he blackballed from Facebook? Since he is a self-published author, his primary means of selling was online, but somehow it was as if he had disappeared from cyberspace.

How do you disappear in cyberspace?

Sometime in the last five years between changing algorithms, and a critical mass of over three billion people on social media, the rules changed.  When once you could post a few times a week on a platform, build a reasonable audience, and become more popular, now you have to have a brand and a plan.  Enter CoVid, the constant stream of bad news and politics, stores shut down, and more people online than ever before, doing everything from work to school to entertainment.   Do you think this is temporary? Nope.  Even when more of us venture outside of our homes,  experts say the move to digital was fast-tracked by necessity, and much of it is here to stay.

How does a digital personal brand work?

Imagine that you are a high school science teacher by day and host a podcast on sci fi entertainment by night (or any other time).  As a teacher you go to school, see students, engage with colleagues and parents, and have a reputation as an effective educator.  You tell people about your podcast and you gain a few downloads from your connections, but nothing that will justify the time it takes to put your shows together.  How can you solve this problem and make your podcast successful?

If you had a digital personal brand with a presence on social media platforms and a business page for your podcast, you would have a base from which to start growing an audience.  You could utilize Instagram and Facebook to post your audio and link to iTunes and other streaming services.  You could research people interested in your topic and connect with them to get listeners as well as potential guests and topics for your show.  As you build your audience you could offer promotions and incentives for them to provide content for you to repost, tagging the original user.  Then you will show up in that user’s network with exposure to all of their friends and followers, and so on, and so on.(Anyone remember that Faberge commercial for shampoo?)

Why do you need to put YOU first to get noticed?

The science teacher may think creating her podcast is the hard part, but it isn’t.  The first step is having the content.  Then she needs to plan on how she is going to be in front of people who are spending time in the digital space.   Brian Solis says that we have become a society of digital narcissists.  To make that premise work to your advantage, you will need to figure out who you are; who you want to be; what you are promoting; and how you are going to communicate all of this in a consistent, branded manner on digital media.

 

Social Media 101: 4 Reasons Why Buying Followers is a Bad Idea

buying followers
This office dog is confused and upset about why he is seeing so many disturbing spam followers on a Twitter account that is supposed to be family friendly!

A recent article (February 1st) on BuzzFeed said that the Newsweek Media Group has been buying followers and manipulating traffic on some of their websites, and that they are being accused of ad fraud.  The ad fraud part of this story is not my area, but I do have something to say about the other part—buying followers—as it relates to marketing and branding using social media platforms.

There was a time when having 200,000 Twitter followers looked impressive to the naked eye, but those days are long gone.  Now it isn’t very difficult to look through someone’s following on various platforms to find out that many of those 200,000 are spam bots and other kinds of cheap “friends”.  In fact, the people who have more modest numbers of active followers, who engage with them, and build more solid relationships over time, could have the upper hand in social media marketing.

Here are some reasons why buying followers is a bad idea:

  1. The internet is not an alien universe.  The people using the internet and social media are just that—people.  And the rules of engagement apply just as they would at a cocktail party or a business conference.  If you want to grow as an influencer on social media, your audience needs to feel like you are a real person —not a virtual identity with no substance, which brings me to the next point.
  2. Trust is more important than ever. The internet, the very tool you want to use to market your products and ideas, has eroded trust in its own population.  This is partly due to the “bad apples” in the bunch who have figured out how to buy and sell cotton candy entities and canned content.  If someone takes more than a cursory look at who is following you and they find porn (true story) in the form of bots, it will not make a good impression (unless that is what you are selling).
  3. Relationships rule! When there is trust, the chance for a relationship to grow increases.  In a relationship with good communication, the other person believes what you have to say, appreciates your advice and counsel, and may even talk about you with others in a positive way.
  4. Protect the brand. Would you wear dirty clothes to a job interview?  Why sully your brand with ineffective and questionable marketing practices, like buying a fake community?

Perhaps we think that, because we are typing on a keyboard or a phone in our own private spaces, that our anonymity allows us to behave in any manner we want.  Well, it doesn’t.  Companies who engage in buying followers or traffic in order to beef up their potential advertising power may not be doing something illegal, but it is certainly unethical.  If an individual wants to be an influencer, it needs to be clear that community and engagement are a priority.  If bots are all we see, we assume that you aren’t real either.

Check out our other social media blog posts here.

Amazon Books? Four reasons why booksellers can remain calm

Amazon Books
From my visit at the Amazon Books location at the The Shops at Columbus Circle.

It is ironic, and for some it may seem odd, that in the midst of decades of brick-and-mortar bookstores closing their doors, a hugely successful e-tailer like Amazon would decide to venture into the concrete bookstore business with Amazon Books.  Or is it?

I have seen the demise of Borders/Waldenbooks, Joseph Beth Booksellers, and the rise and fall of Barnes & Noble stores; the feuds between the independents and the chains when wonderful stores like BookPeople in Austin, TX thought they were doomed; when Costco and other giant stores started selling large quantities of bestsellers at deep discounts, perhaps underselling the competition; and the power of e-commerce, with Amazon presiding over the field.  Every change in the book business makes the publishing community anxious. Clearly, with some businesses succeeding and others failing, there is a need to be able to roll with the punches.  But perhaps if we take a wide angle view of things we might be able to hold onto a few constants that will create paths of opportunity and assure people that although some things look different, the basic precepts of the marketplace and sales still prevail.

  1. Brick-and-mortar bookstores are not dying.  Yes, chains like Borders are long gone and Barnes & Noble may not be able to support a store every ten miles, but independents are going strong.  According to this article on Quartz, between 2009 and 2015 the number of independent bookstores increased by 35%.
  2. E-book sales are falling flat.  Many sources have been reporting that e-books are falling out of their previous favor.  Let’s face it, devices may be convenient but they have their issues.  Batteries lose their charge and if you don’t have an active WiFi connection you can’t download a new book whenever you want one.  And, if you are reading for content, it’s very difficult to highlight sections and go back to them in the same manner as you would mark or dog-ear a page you need to reference later.
  3. Selling in person is better than selling online.  I attribute this principle to the increase in the success of independents over the past several years.   Real readers, who actually support the majority of the book business front and back list, like to be able to browse and get recommendations for books.  They also like to hang out with other like-minded individuals.  The innovations in indie stores that now offer seating, coffee, parties, and more, have brought customers in and kept this business sector alive.
  4. Amazon Books, while competing in bookstore form, is not doing things like everyone else.  Amazon became a huge success online, and it makes sense that it would not try to duplicate what others have already done on the ground.  Why should it?  I recently visited one of their Amazon Books stores, and it was not like most of the ones I frequent. As a reader, I probably wouldn’t shop there on a regular basis.  The main reason was that there was a smaller number of titles available.  For indie presses and authors this was a benefit because the inventory was a more curated list that covered the usual suspects but also featured books from unknown publishers.  And, because curating titles meant that additional shelf space was available, the books were primarily face out, which can be a boon for publishers without a lot of marketing dollars to spend.  I could also forgo the other products that the store had for sale, like coffee makers and gadgets.  These things diluted the atmosphere and were a distraction.

I got the distinct impression that the Amazon Books location was trying to market to Millennials, which is a big “buzz” word for everyone in any industry these days.  The funny thing is that I meet a lot of younger people who fit this bill, and the ones I know who are real readers prefer the same traditional bookstores I’ve loved forever.  Maybe rather than believing we need to rethink everything we’ve ever known in this business because of change, we should try to anticipate, adapt, and remind people of the core elements of books and buying books that many people share.  It might eliminate some of the hysteria so we can all get back to business (and reading of course).

Have you been to an Amazon Books? Tell us your thoughts on Twitter.

Publicity 101: Your Publicity Calendar

publicity calendarWhen it comes to your public relations campaign and your publicity calendar, what is important to remember is that the campaign starts before the book, with proper preparation and set up. You want to be able to take advantage of every opportunity, so being organized and having access to all the information you need is going to give you an edge over the competition.

Some dates to mark on your publicity calendar (besides your publication date) are:

Events and appearances: Record the dates for any readings or speaking engagements where you can promote or sell your book. Start as early as the six-month mark so you can have a postcard or business card made to pass out to audiences or potential contacts.

Pitching Magazines: In general, there is a four-month lead time for book coverage in glossy magazines, and even longer for features. You can try finding out on the magazines’ websites what their requirements are, but in the absence of any information, plan to approach editors four months ahead of your official publication/media date.

Pitching National Broadcast: Usually three months is enough time for most shows, but talk shows like The Dr. Oz Show or Steve Harvey could tape your segment and not air it for months. You don’t have complete control over this, but I recommend you get in touch with these outlets as soon as your materials, like your press kit and review copies, are ready.

Pitching Radio: Radio tends to book between two to six weeks ahead of time, and then there are those stations that will ask you to be on tomorrow. I like to start my radio work about four to six weeks ahead of time and if I’m contacting the station too early, I make a note to follow up at a later date.

The months following your publication date are for building on the media you get, making appearances at outlets or events, and new pitches. Keeping a written publicity calendar on paper, or in Outlook that dings when you have an upcoming event or deadline, is going to make your process a lot easier…and more effective!