How to Market Your Book in a Pandemic, Election Season

What does book marketing in the 2020s pandemic, election season look like? Many authors and publishers, big and small, are struggling right now and every time we think we have beaten whac-a-mole, another critter pops up after the buzzer rings.  In the CMPR newsletter this month I promised a blog article on ways to make progress in book marketing this very different kind of season.  I am going to present these suggestions based on my disaster experience and marketing in the industry first.  Then, if you read on you can find out where these ideas are coming from.  In essence, I am saving the publishing lesson for last.  If it is of interest read on, or just collect the to-do list.  It is totally up to you.

How to Market Your Book in a Pandemic, Election Season

I have been sharing my thoughts and opinions on this season since the spring.  We all knew it was coming, and we all know that livelihoods depend on the strength of fall sales.  I can not speak to how the big five will handle these challenges as they have access to resources most indies do not.  Also, by virtue of their size, these businesses do not have the same flexibility to pivot and adjust.  The good news is, if you are an indie, publisher or author, as of right now September 14, 2020, these are my suggestions based on my experience with disasters and knowledge of marketing in the industry.

  1. Do not “launch” your book.  You can launch a boat, but you really can not launch a book, especially in this market.  It is important to take the long view and implement publicity and marketing strategies over a period of six months from the time your book is available for sale.  It is nice to have the fanfare associated with a big pub date party and a list of interviews a page long, but that is not the reality today.
  2. Do not try to market your book like you think you are supposed to.  This is a tough one, but it is important.  Every book may have a category it falls into, but it is also one-of-a-kind, based on the writer.  When you think about how to get the word out, think about ten people you know who would love to read it.  Then find out where they are in the digital landscape, what they do, how they consume, media, etc.  Then go and get ’em.
  3. Make your book available on different platforms individually.  You need to have the book listed with Ingram in order to have credibility and availability for bookstores and libraries.  In addition, upload your title directly on KDP (Amazon).  The upload, if executed after your set up your Ingram title should supersede it.  This will provide larger royalties to you if you use standard discount amounts (55% on Ingram/40% on Amazon).  Also check out which offers sales direct to consumers in POD form as well as Book Baby, both good quality, reputable resources.
  4. Use a pdf of your book for reviewers and media, but also have some printed copies available.  So many people are not working in their offices, but that does not always mean they prefer to read pdfs versus print books.  Have a few hard copies on hand.  I recommend 25 – 35 just in case.
  5. Research all online media opportunities that cover your topics.  The mainstream media is saturated for many topics, especially fiction, but if you spend the time researching and curating a contact list across social media, blogs, and podcasts, you will find ways to spread the word.  The more searchable your book is, the better off you are for selling as well as additional media interest.
  6. Call your local bookstores for a virtual event.  Check-in with the booksellers in your area to see if they would like to have a virtual visit with you where they sell autographed copies or some other promotional goodie.
  7. When possible tie-in your subject to today’s news stories.  If you have a book that can be tied to any of the major news topics today or something niche-oriented that has it’s own dedicated media outlets, pitch it.  Some publications have actually said they are only covering fun stories or CoVid–paradox or not.

Fall 2020s Perfect Storm for Book Publishing

The publishing industry is an old one filled with artistic souls, attention seekers, and regular business people who are always looking at the bottom line.  Add to the mix the world of digital and ebooks and the next thing you know publishers are certain that print books will be long gone by the year 20 something.  Guess what? Readers got tired of their devices, or they decided some books were better in person than on a screen.  So in recent years, print book sales have hit an upswing, while the ebook revolution has calmed down.  During the pandemic, election season, print book sales have increased even more.

Paper and Printing

But who could have predicted a supply chain catastrophe like the one we are having?  Not only is paper in short supply, but there are only two major printers in the U.S.  Reduced staff and other factors are slowing down the printing process, so there is no option to get your books expedited.  If you are lucky you will get them in a couple of weeks.  Stores are getting 1/2 orders instead of wholes while the printers try to satisfy demand in some egalitarian way.

Media Relations?

Now enter book marketing in the 2020s pandemic, election season.  We know that elections take over the news cycle which makes it hard to get a word in edgewise.  This fall we have a pandemic election which means the airwaves have CoVid 19 and politics to cover.  AND there are the protests, certainly bringing attention to an important issue, but not great for media coverage for books.  It’s the trifecta of media relations challenges.

Traditional and Indie Collide

And so, traditional publishers have tried to pivot during these times by changing their publication schedules.  So many big books planned for April, May, June, and July were postponed to Fall 2020.  And to protect themselves, these companies worked out a plan with the POD guys, so that they could get books printed quickly in the event of a shortfall.  As a result, the traditional book world has collided with the indie book world that has built its successes on POD technology.

Now the little guy is finding that Amazon has a two, three, or four-week delivery date for his title(s).  Ordering a number of hardcovers or paperbacks can take up to a month or more.   But do not think that traditional publishers are having an easy time of it either.  When some titles were rescheduled for Fall 2020, others had to be pushed to 2021.  Losing some of the big books will no doubt be a hit on the bottom line this year.

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Social Media 101: 8 Things I learned This Summer

where is your audience?I have written many blogs over the years on branding, personal brand, messaging, and best practices for social media.   However, as good as I am at giving advice and instruction to others, I am not as good at applying it to myself.  This summer I took a deep dive into social media and personal branding to see what I could do for my business(es).  This is what I learned.

1. We are in a marathon, not a sprint.  I have been saying this for years and yet people come to me and want to build their fans and followers by the hundreds every month.  It just does not work that way, especially when you are building organically.

2.“Snackable” content is not useful.  Although there are companies out there selling cheap social media services based on uniform, but consistent posting, generic content is not effective.  There are too many people on social these days for any of us to blend in.

3. You need a plan.  Without a strategy and a plan, your social media efforts will not get great results.  You might gain some traction here and there, but it will not last and you will not grow your brand.  And when you are developing your plan you need to spend the time to find…

4. Your target audience.  It is of primary importance that you have a clear picture of your targets and where they are.  One of the things I found for myself is that the people I want to reach are accomplished professionals.  While it is fun to post animal pictures on Instagram and Facebook, that content on those platforms is not going to help me reach my goals.  More focused information and insights on LinkedIn and Twitter are better options for my business.

5. The vast capabilities of the platforms.  Before I started hiring people to do social, I did it on my own.  The leaps and bounds that these platforms have taken since then are awesome.  It literally seems like if you dream it, you can do it.  Video, graphics, live tv, ads, templates, analysis—there are so many tools that can help you put together a great campaign.

6. Fear is not your friend.  Entering the social media space requires a certain amount of risk-taking, especially if you are promoting your personal brand.  Do you like talking about yourself?  Putting yourself out there?  Tooting your own horn?  Well, get used to it, because that is what you will have to do.  I love promoting other people and products.  It is much tougher to do it for myself.

7. Eventually, we all need to pay for ads.  I have been tracking my posts as well as those of some of my competitors.  The engagement for business-related content seems to be consistent for most of us and it is not very impressive.  My analysis suggests that it is the number of impressions we are getting or the reach of our content, that is lacking.  As I said, it is very crowded out there and you need great content, but you also need to have the opportunity to be heard.  Paid ads will get you greater exposure.

8. It takes a lot of time.  The number of hours it takes to curate content, develop strategies, plan your calendar, schedule posts, monitor your results, shift strategies, develop new plans, and repeat, is significant.  I really underestimated what it takes to do a thorough job, and I know there is still more to do.  Unless your brand and business are dependent upon the success of social media marketing, you may choose to scale your work accordingly.

Here are some resources where you can learn more on your own: Hootsuite, Hubspot, Canva 


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What Does it Cost to Hire a Publicist or Digital Marketing Consultant?

If you are an individual or a small business, the question of what does it cost to hire a publicist or digital marketing consultant is an important one.  If you are just looking for an intern to post for you on Facebook and Instagram and you aren’t in need of a professional strategist, plan, campaign, etc., then this may be more than you need.  If you are investing in your business, career, product launch, or all of the above, then read on.

Several years ago I wrote a blog about hiring a publicist and it continues to generate traffic and interest.  Although the goals of these jobs are the same, the tools we use and the way we go about getting the job done has changed.  Instead of becoming less demanding as a result of a shrinking traditional media landscape, our jobs have grown.  In order to be successful we have to grow communities, sell to target audiences, conduct events virtually and in person, and get press attention every time we hit a goal.   The cost to hire a publicist or marketing consultant is going to be based on the level of experience of the person/team and the amount of time your project is going to take.  The more experience, skills, and services you want, the larger the budget.

What Does it Cost to Hire a Digital Marketing Consultant

I specialize in individualized brands, which include authors, experts, academics, thought leaders, and specialists of any kind.  Most of these people develop their images on social media in order to gain the credibility they need to sell something or be featured in the mainstream media.  The best way to do this these days is through social media.  There are so many firms out there offering social media services it is very difficult to know what to pay or what you should get.  Here are a few services to look at when you are deciding who to hire:

Plan and Strategy: Whether you are already on social media and are not getting the results you want, or you are completely new to this world, a strategy and plan are important.  A lot of people will worry about posting more and creating cool content without understanding how much their efforts are achieving.  You need to know that in order to make a difference and accomplish your goals.  Firms that offer these services should be spending at least four to six weeks working on your plan and strategy and additional time teaching you how to implement it.  The cost: $10,000 – 20,000.

Monthly Content Development and Posting:  This job requires a range of things from writing blogs to designing graphics and composing posts on multiple platforms.  It will require materials from you including photos, boilerplate copy for your business, and any slogans you use.  Video content can come from you directly in the form of single, in-person commentary, or be developed further by your marketing team.  This may also include running ads.  Posting will include a content calendar, scheduling, and analysis.  The range of costs: $600/month for a single campaign on one platform – $2,500+/month on multiple platforms.  The cost is dependent on the number of platforms and the amount of content that needs to be produced and scheduled.

What Does it Cost to Hire a Publicist?

I’m sure if you are Lady Gaga you are spending many thousands a month to have a PR team run your brand.  At that level you have someone listening and monitoring your brand on social media, planning, posting, blocking press and news stories, granting interviews, and more.

For our purposes, we are going to stick with a more general level of service and cost.  Again, there are many service options and people who offer them.  I differentiate them in a couple of ways “plug n’ play” and “customized campaigns”.

“Plug n’ Play”: These services are usually very reasonable, but they are limited.  If you are looking for someone to accomplish a part of the job for you, like offering a list of media contacts or pitching a set number of outlets, this would work for you.  The costs: For a limited campaign or service: $hundreds to purchase lists; $5000+ to be pitched to a specific list of contacts and scheduled for reviews or interviews over a short period of time (6 – 14 weeks).

Customized Campaigns: A campaign like this could involve regional and national media, bloggers, influencer targetting, event planning, national media, and speaking engagements.  Depending on whoever else is on your team it could also involve social media and brand management and marketing.  If you are looking for long term public relations for yourself and your brand the costs are usually set monthly for a contracted period.  If you are planning a single product launch or book launch then the campaign is usually set up as a “project” and charged accordingly.  The costs: $3,500 – 5,000/month for a retainer/contract, $20,000+/project.

Whether you are looking to grow your brand, business, or product, it is important to have a plan and a way to execute it.  Hiring an expert is an investment.  Being informed about the services and costs will help you determine what you will pay to have done and what you will do on your own.

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Marketing is Not Public Relations


Right away I am going to lay it out there to say that these two practices are not the same and the line is not blurring.  Marketing and public relations are not becoming one discipline and I am going to tell you why.

Marketing is not Public Relations

According to the American Marketing Association, Marketing is defined as “the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”   Your strategies and objectives in marketing are ideally supposed to lead to a sale of something that has “value for customers”.  Public relations is “the art or science of establishing and promoting a favorable relationship with the public, ” according to Yahoo.  I prefer to say it like this: pr is about getting the word out through appropriate messaging across many channels.  First, you create the story or message you want to broadcast, and then, via traditional and digital media, you propagate the information.

It is clear that by definition these two are not the same in terms of their intentions and outcomes.  It is also easy to see why people get confused.  But the issue is not about either discipline.  It is about the tools we use to do the job.

No Digital PR?

A bunch of years ago everything became digital and digital marketing was born.  Was there an equivalent in the public relations world? No digital pr?  This is where the problem started when marketers began thinking they were pr experts and vice versa.  In actuality, the functions of marketing and public relations are what they have always been, with the exception that we all need to know how to function effectively in a digital world.

We need to know how to tweet, post, use hashtags, analyze our efforts, and create opportunities to build relationships.  The difference between marketing and pr here is that marketing wants to bring in a paying customer, whereas public relations is trying to create an image, impression, or relationship.  When pr has built the audience and forged the relationships then marketing comes in for the kill to get that product sold.  Public relations is a craft about words and pictures that tell a story about a brand.  Marketing wants you to buy that brand, go to that concert, rent that hotel room, etc.

Company/Individual = Product

Recently I came across an article that substantiates my point:   In it, the writer, a pr person, was discussing the travel industry and rental properties.  She says there is more crossover between marketing and pr, but there is a very good reason why it looks that way.  She says, “as technology has connected not only us much more deeply with each department’s previously distinct audiences but also those audiences with each other, the line between marketing and PR has blurred. This is especially true in the vacation rental industry where the company is the product when you are recruiting new owners to your program.”

This does not mean that the line has blurred.  This is a result straight from the internet that has to do with “celebrity”.  It applies to artists, authors, musicians, and individually branded businesses.  Our society has a culture where your level of celebrity or fame equals the amount of influence you have.  When the person or entity behind the product is the public image, success becomes dependent upon that person’s relationship with an audience.  This is how it works: PR shapes the brand and image using messaging and imaging and then marketing joins in with advertising and direct mail to encourage a sale.  Did I say it already? Marketing and pr are not the same.

Working Together

What is absolutely true is that it has become even more important for marketing and pr to work together.  The problem is sometimes there is a turf war between the two.  Everyone wants to use the fun tools and tricks available in the digital marketing toolbox.  Fine.  There is more than enough work to go around.   We need to understand the differences in what we do so that we can work effectively to promote our people and products.  They say it takes a village, you know.

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