June 5, 2019 by Diana Urban
At last week’s BookExpo 2019, the biggest annual publishing conference in the US, there were several educational panels featuring publishing professionals and book marketers. These industry thought leaders were buzzing about a wide variety of topics this year, from marketing debut authors to working with indie bookstores.
We’re excited to share some of the top book promotion trends and tips here for anyone who couldn’t attend BookExpo 2019!
1. Publishers are promoting big debuts early
For big debuts, marketing might start a year, or even a year-and-a-half, before launch. First, publishers send advanced reader copies (ARCs) to booksellers and librarians, even if they’re bound manuscripts. This is beneficial for two main reasons:
1. Sending bound manuscripts to a curated list makes people in the industry feel like they’re part of this book’s publishing process. This can create more enthusiasm, since they feel more invested in the process, and foster word-of-mouth promotion.
2. Early feedback can lead publishers to change the description and marketing copy to better reflect how readers are connecting — and want to connect — with a book. For example, if readers are especially engaging with a particular character or plot point, the marketing team may edit the book’s description and marketing copy to focus on those elements in the lead-up to launch.
Next, publishers send ARCs to consumers — whether via events like BookCon, online giveaways, or a publicist’s curated list of influencers and bloggers. Several publishers mentioned sending the galleys in waves, rather than all at once, so that each week new reviews appear online. This helps create repeat impressions for consumers over time. One interesting note: A publicist’s first instinct may be to go wide when sending ARCs, but that doesn’t work on every book. Being selective about relevant publications and bloggers can be a better approach for more polarizing books in order to solicit multiple perspectives evenly.
Thanks to panelists Rachel Chou, VP Associate Publisher at Celadon Books; Kaitlin Harri, Senior Marketing Director at William Morrow; Alex Nicolajsen, Director of Social Media & Digital Sales at Kensington; Dana Trocker, Marketing Director at Atria Books for these takeaways.
2. Publicists are making ARCs delightful to receive
When sending advanced reader copies, personalization and presentation can make a big difference. To grab the attention of booksellers, librarians, influencers, media outlets, and so on, including a personal note as to why you think the recipient will love this specific title can help. It may even convince them to read!
Fancy packaging also sends the message: “this is a big book that you should pay attention to.” You want people to open an ARC package and be delighted with the experience — it will make them more eager to talk about it on social media.
When the publicists at Celadon Books mailed galleys for the breakout hit The Silent Patient, they sent it to booksellers and librarians along with a personalized note. Later, they sent packages to influencers and bloggers that included props they could use when posting pictures to Instagram. This made the book pop in the #bookstagram hashtag and built early buzz.
3. Publishers are using display ads to promote debut books
Driving preorders and early sales for debut books can be challenging without the author having a built-in audience. But display advertising platforms like BookBub Ads let publishers target a fine-tuned audience based on comparable authors and subgenres, which helps publishers reach the readers most likely to be interested in those debut books. This gives them the flexibility to allocate their budget in ways that most effectively drive sales, rather than spending on broader campaigns for which the results are difficult to track.
For example, according to Alex Nicolajsen, Kensington launches a lot of smaller debut books, and they start running paid ads early using platforms like BookBub Ads and Facebook ads. Their budget allocations across these advertising platforms vary by genre, and Alex runs tests to see which genre is working best on each platform. She tweaks the budget accordingly, and continues testing different targeting and creative on each platform. 4. Publicity campaigns should start six months ahead of launch
According to a panel with the book publicity firm Media Connect, authors should work on building and growing their platform at all times, but they also shared a timeline authors can use in the months leading up to each individual book launch. They recommended determining a publicity goal early so that you can focus your time and effort on the outreach that will help you achieve that goal. This might seem obvious, but it can help you avoid being scattered or overwhelmed. Here is an example publicity timeline:
6+ months prior to book launch:
• Create an author website.
• Brainstorm ideas and craft a publicity plan.
5 months prior to book launch:
• Develop a press kit and media pitches.
• Pull together a media list to send ARCs to.
• Start to get blurbs from other authors. (Note: Other publishers recommended doing this much earlier than five months before launch!) 4 months prior to book launch:
• Send ARCs to long-lead media (e.g. magazines, morning TV shows).
• Select and schedule book signings and appearances.
• Research the media you plan on approaching to personalize pitches.
3 months prior to book launch:
• Follow up on long-lead media (e.g. morning TV shows usually book three months out). • Continue to query bookstores and speaking opportunities.
• Write opinion editorials on your areas of expertise, even if only tangentially related to your book. (This can open up broadcast opportunities as well.)
2 months prior to book launch:
• Start scheduling radio and non-morning show TV interviews.
• Approach online book reviewers.
• Reach out to local media for interview opportunities.
1 month prior to book launch:
• Finish ARC follow-up.
• Contact more online reviewers.
• Reach out to bloggers, daily newspapers, newswires, and weekly publications.
Thanks to panelists Brian Feinblum, Deborah Kohan, Paul Sliker, Stephen Matteo, and Jacqueline Mahalick, all from the book publicity firm Media Connect, for these takeaways.
5. Niche marketing effectively drives sales
Your promotional efforts — whether you’re running display ads or soliciting interview opportunities — should be all about reaching the most relevant audience possible, rather than trying to get the most impressions possible. For example, appearing on a niche podcast could end up selling more copies of a book than securing an interview on national TV, according to the panel from Media Connect. It’s all about reaching the right readers with the right message!
According to Alex Nicolajsen at Kensington, the most important thing at the start of any campaign is identifying your target audience. Research what those readers are reading, and where they’re spending their time online. This will let you select the right niche channels and target your advertising campaigns to readers more effectively.
6. Authors are collaborating directly with indie bookstores
Bookstore events have been a great way for authors to connect with local communities on a more personal level. To help authors better take advantage of these opportunities and make these events as successful as possible, a panel of booksellers shared some fantastic tips for running bookstore events.
- Build relationships with bookstores early
Booksellers prefer to host events for authors with whom they already have a relationship. They want to know that you’ll continue promoting the store after your event — a relationship should be a two-way street! So work on building those relationships and being a loyal patron at each of your local bookstores well in advance of when you’ll need to approach them about an event. (And if you’re not a local author, be prepared to explain why the event would be successful for you and for the store.)
- Use events to personally connect with readers
Instead of thinking of bookstore events as a way to promote yourself and your book, think of it as a way to connect with readers. Don’t just do a reading — instead, talk about your experience writing the book, and leave plenty of time for Q&A with the audience. If you have people coming to the event who haven’t seen you in years and want to catch up, the event isn’t the time to catch up with them! Give all of the readers and attendees equal attention. And when the event ends, stay late and spend time with the readers who came out to the event specifically for you. That personal touch goes a long way. For example, author David Sedaris is known for spending hours talking to fans. Fight the urge to run off to dinner with old friends in town!
- Continue supporting the bookstore after the event
It’s important to continue supporting the bookstore after the event, both as an act of goodwill, and to maintain the relationship so you can host future events there. Once the event ends, thank the bookstore staff, even if the turnout wasn’t what you had hoped. Buy a book or product from the store to show your support. If they have a bar, stick around to get to know staff (and the readers who stay late!). Afterwards, share photos of the event on social media, and direct people to the store for signed copies, linking to the store’s website. Finally, send them a handwritten note to express your gratitude.
Thanks to panelists Kelly Estep from Carmichael’s Bookstore, Jenny Cohen from Waucoma Bookstore, Alyson Turner from Source Booksellers, and Jake Chumsky-Whitlock from Solid State Books for these takeaways.
7. Predictions for publishing in 2025
Margot Atwell, Senior Director of Publishing at Kickstarter, made five interesting predictions about the state of publishing by 2025. She also shared her thoughts on how publishers can ensure a sustainable writing and publishing ecosystem moving forward.
1. Publishers will hire and publish more diversely. However, there’s a lot of work to do — 13% of children’s books published in the last 24 years featured multicultural content, and only 7% of new children’s books in 2017 were written by POC authors. Moving forward, publishers should diversify their publishing staff, take risks on different books, and put resources behind books that represent people from marginalized backgrounds.
2. Publishers will flee expensive cities. They’ll become more spread out, with new literary hubs cropping up in more affordable cities. Their employees will work remotely, online. This shift will lead to a lot of innovation for reaching readers as well.
3. Publishers will become more community-driven. They’ll find ways to connect with readers beyond the page, such as on Instagram and YouTube. Publishers should invest and innovate in multimedia campaigns to lead conversations and delight readers.
4. Publishers will use data to guide their thinking. Margot recommended that the industry de-prioritize platforms that lock out publishers and authors from accessing data to their own consumers and discovery patterns.
5. Publishers will work on different types of content. Readers are interested in subscribing to digital content providers like Serial Box and Patreon, and publishers should determine how to vary their revenue streams with subscription services.