Understanding Marketing and Public Relations in the Book Publishing World
In the book publishing world having a strong marketing and public relations (PR) plan is an imperative part of an author’s success. This rule runs across the board, whether the author is traditionally or independently published. Without a thoughtful marketing strategy, chances are a book will never be seen by the perfect readers for the specific genre. Authors need a strong platform that can be found via an easily accessible, readable, and professional website. And authors can build a following through social media, book reviews, blog posts, magazine and newspaper articles, radio and podcast interviews, and of course, word of mouth.
Having A Defined Strategy
In this post, I’m focusing on the importance of marketing and having a defined strategy.
Depending on budget, an indie author or small publishing house will choose to do a majority of their marketing through social media and advertise on platforms such as Facebook, BookBub, and Amazon Advertising. Others might employ a PR company to get their name (and their book) out into the world. But not all PR firms are created equal. One form of advertising may work better for one author than another, the same is true for marketing and PR companies.
Author Marketing Experts
I first met Penny when I hired AME to help me promote book two in my series, The Devil And The Muse. I found Penny and her entire team (a special shout out to Amy) to be extremely professional and quick to return emails, which in any business means a gold star from me! But more importantly, Penny was on my side; she wanted my book and me to be successful.
In an industry where hordes of people fling information about “how to be successful in the indie publishing world,” Penny is a straight shooter. She doesn’t sugar coat anything but rather tells it like it is and explains the costs clearly. Almost two years later, Penny and I speak regularly about the ups, downs, and trends of the publishing world.
I heard Penny speak at the Independent Book Publishers Association‘s (IBPA) PubU event in Austin, Texas, last year, and at the 805 Writer’s Conference in Thousand Oaks, California. Both times, for various reasons, Penny was faced with internet and power issues, none of which were her fault, and yet she sailed through her lectures with humor, grace, and the practice of a pro because that’s what she is—a professional in her field. AME has a rating of “Excellent” with the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).
Unlike other marketing companies, Penny holds an ace card—she’s also an author of both fiction and non-fiction. I caught up with Penny and asked her a few questions about the book publishing industry, marketing and PR, and her writing career.
Interview With Penny Sansevieri
MJB: Hi Penny, I’m going to jump right into the questions! Can you tell us about your background in marketing and PR?
PS: Absolutely! My background was always corporate-centered – so product launches, product promotions, that kind of a thing.
MJB: Were you always in the book publishing PR world?
PS: No, in fact, though I’d done some freelance writing during my time in corporate America, I was never “in” publishing per se. I made the transition when I started the business, and this was after I’d indie published two fiction titles and had started doing some side-hustle work consulting with other authors.
MJB: What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of the indie publishing world?
PS: The strengths or real benefits are that it’s really leveled the playing field, in terms of authors being able to get published. And that’s a great benefit. A number of years ago The New York Times published a statistic that cited 81% of Americans have a book they want to write, so there are a lot of story-tellers out there. The challenge really is that now it’s a matter of quality and authors must bring their A-game, because if there’s one big weakness in the industry right now, it’s that not enough authors are bringing their A-game.
I see a lot of shortcuts being taken, to fast-track books into the system. This is never a good idea because in the end shortcuts don’t sell books.
MJB: What do you see as the strengths and weaknesses of the traditional publishing world?
PS: Well, I think the biggest problem is the fact that it’s hard for them to move quickly – and I mean with trends. Yes, often publishers will do “drop-in” titles for things that are super hot in the news and very current. We’re seeing this a lot with all of the political books being published right now. But as a general rule, it’s difficult for the majority of them, both because of their size and the way these companies are structured, to move quickly with trends, like the eBook tsunami that began several years ago. It took the majority of traditional publishers nearly two years to jump onto this trend. Much of that has to do with how far out they publish (18 months, in general), so that makes it a bit prohibitive for them.
One of the main strengths is the quality of books – which is paramount these days. Yes, you’ll certainly *always* find a typo here and there with traditionally published books, but most are gone through carefully. Covers are designed to suit the specific audience and are vetted carefully as well.
The other benefit is their distribution. Granted bookstore shelf space is shrinking (as are the number of bookstores) but unless an indie author has some sort of aggressive backlist or marketing budget it’s very difficult for them to gain access to shelf space and certainly airport bookstores.
Public Relations And Marketing
MJB: Can you explain the job description of a PR and marketing person?
PS: Marketing and publicity used to be two very different jobs and we used to keep them separate, but because of how marketing and book publicity, in general, has changed over the years the terms have become very blended. As a marketing and PR person, my job is to create campaigns for authors that are just the exact right blend of the two. For example, some authors need more PR and less marketing – while other authors need more marketing than they do PR. So that’s step one.
One of the biggest parts of my job is actually staying on top of changes in the industry, changes in the author’s genre, and what’s changing around their topic as we’re pitching them. It all moves so fast now and things change quickly. So while I’d like to say “my job is about pitching the author and getting them exposure” yes that’s 100% true, but it’s also about getting them the *right* kind of exposure, because in a world where a million titles are published each year, this becomes increasingly more difficult.
So the right kind of exposure, that benefits the book, the author, and the author’s long-term goals, is my entire job – and all that that entails!
On Writing And Readers
MJB: Tell us about your own titles. Do you currently only write non-fiction?
PS: I used to write fiction, once upon a time – but yes I largely focus on non-fiction books. My books are written super prescriptive, designed to walk an author through a process, whether that’s Amazon marketing, holiday marketing, or just getting their feet wet in this whole publishing process. My recent books are 5 Minute Book Marketing for Authors, How to Sell Books by the Truckload on Amazon, How to Revise and Re-Release Your Book, and 50 Ways to Sell a Sleigh-Load of Books for the Holidays!
MJB: Under the “Strategies” section of your company website amarketingexpert.com there is the following paragraph, “So we don’t focus on what works for us, or what feeds egos. We focus on which book marketing strategies get exposure because exposure sells books! Readers are what make a book successful, so AME is always leading the way in following (and testing!) emerging book promotion ideas for authors that reach real readers who buy and recommend books.” Can you break down each sentence and explain, please?
PS: Well, so this is really about the reader – which, ironically, a lot of authors forget or neglect altogether. Our marketing starts and ends with the reader: how to find them, how to market to them, and how to get them to buy. So when we have an author who comes to us and says: “I just want to be on TV” I’ll look at that and decide if TV is right for their audience. If it’s not, I’ll tell them and also tell them why it’s not. The author can then decide if we’re a good match. So that’s what I mean by we don’t feed egos. We feed readers. Because that’s how sales happen
MJB: How do you see the recent changes in the Amazon advertising platform—suggested bids, for starters—affecting both fiction and non-fiction publishers?
PS: Amazon ads are a big revenue stream for Amazon, not quite on the level of Google AdWords but still big. I think that one of the reasons we’re seeing so many recent changes is that they’re trying to remain competitive with other advertising platforms. Are the changes good? Well, they are and aren’t. They’re allowing authors to refine their search terms even further, but because of this newly revised platform, authors using this advertising medium need to be very clear on the market they are targeting. By this I mean, you don’t just want to target “mystery” buyers – because the new system is requiring that you refine them even further.
So, digging into your genre by using the subgenre and aligning yourself with other/similar titles in a very narrow way. Previously the ads dashboard let you target very broadly, and while you can still do that – what I’ve seen is the broader you go, the more money you waste.
Another example of this are the impressions. Previously I was seeing impressions in excess of 400,000 and sometimes as high as 650,000, now we’re seeing impressions like 28,000 but if you’re plotting your ads correctly, the lack of impressions does not correlate with the lack of sales – because the ads are showing up to a more focused group, so the clicks, or impressions you’re getting aren’t broad, they’re narrow and more focused on the actual reader.
MJB: Let’s talk about book reviews. Are they important? And what are your thoughts on the ever decreasing book reviews from Amazon?
PS: Reviews are important – I understand the challenges but the fact remains that 95% of books are sold word of mouth – reviews go a long way to fulfilling that sales mark. I think the majority of readers do read reviews and are often swayed by them.
Regarding the decreasing reviews, I’m not sure that this is true for books – I know it’s true for products on Amazon. I’ve seen this in strange ways – for example, a product that has 40-odd reviews all by the same person. So I’m not sure why Amazon clamps down so hard on books and not products. Maybe it’s because there are so many books published each day (around 4500) or maybe it’s because there are so many companies set up exclusively to “trick” the Amazon book system.
If anything, I see more and more reviews on Amazon by legitimate reviewers that are getting pulled, which is disconcerting. What I’d suggest in this case is that the author keeps tabs on the number of reviews they have by screen capturing the book page every few days. Reviews can be restored, but they should be restored by the reviewer, not the author.
School Years in Belgium
MJB: Tell us about your ten years in Belgium. Were classes at the school you attended taught in English? Was it in Belgium that your love of reading flourished?
PS: I’m so grateful for the experience of growing up there, and I adored going to school. I went to grade school and middle/high school in Belgium and their school system had a profound impact on me. First off, the languages these kids need to learn is pretty amazing. By the time a kid gets out of grade school there, they know five languages. But also the schooling is so vastly different because it’s all day and they have a much more frequent exam period than we do here. When I returned to the US, I was told that finishing high school in Belgium is equivalent to three years of college in the US, so you can imagine how intense their school system is.
I was really drawn to marketing and copywriting when I was in Belgium. But oddly my love for reading really flourished there, but not because I was reading Dutch/Flemish but because I was reading English to keep up with the language because the experience of growing up there is so immersive, I didn’t want to lose it. I also started writing there, mostly fiction short stories and poetry.
Adjunct Professor at NYU
MJB: As an adjunct professor at NYU, what are the main points you teach in your classes?
PS: I work with students to help them understand how publishing works – meaning trade publishing vs. indie publishing and help the student decide on their options. The class runs six weeks and the first two are dedicated to publishing, the final four though are focused on marketing.
MJB: This quote from your website is perhaps the author mantra. “Sometimes you have to believe in yourself when no one else does, and believe in your book when no one else is listening.” Is this from self-experience?
PS: Yes, because that’s how I started my business. And you have to be your own best fan, first, foremost and always. Yes, it’s great to have people support you, but if you don’t believe in what you’re doing no one else will.
Future of the Book Publishing Industry
MJB: What changes do you see for the future of the book publishing industry, both in the near and distant future?
PS: For one, I think you’re going to see more and more authors doing indie publishing. While traditional/trade publishing will never go away, I believe that you’ll see a more collaborative effort between indie authors and trade publishing. The thing is, traditional publishers should never go away. I know that sounds odd from someone who loves the indie world so much, but trade publishers are very good at understanding book trends, and even defining book trends. They have distribution channels which are insanely valuable, and they also know how to produce great looking books – which is something that continues to be a big problem for indie authors.
So I think you’ll see more and more authors building their indie platforms the right way and getting deals from trade publishers. By the same token, I think you’ll start to see more trade publishers being open to working with indie authors, perhaps in a hybrid type of format. We’re seeing this already, but I think when the trade publishers dive into this it will really begin to bring a lot of opportunity to the market.
For Amazon, I think that they’re going to become more aggressive about their book publishing arms – both their indie publishing side and traditional. We’ve already seen this by folding Createspace into KDP, but I think we’ll see more of this as KDP starts to offer more (paid) aggressive options like an ARC service, and maybe even a marketing arm.
Additionally, I think that at some point, their audiobook arm via ACX will get folded into the KDP system, too.
MJB: How can Author Marketing Experts help indie authors?
PS: By promoting them in smart ways to get authors more visibility. We’re all about the right kind of visibility or discovery. We do this by creating campaigns that are designed to impact reader visibility. The campaigns are a combination of publicity and marketing. A lot of authors say that “discovery” is a problem, and it’s really not. You can get discovered all day long, but the reason most indie authors don’t sell more than 100 books is that they aren’t focused on the right kind of discovery. That’s what we focus on. Smart, reader-focused marketing and publicity.
MJB: Thanks, Penny for taking the time to chat about marketing and PR in the book publishing world.
To learn more about Penny and AME go to https://www.amarketingexpert.com
You can follow Penny on social media for tips on marketing and see what her trusty and much-loved sidekick “Cosmo” is up to!