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Online Marketing for Book Publishers:
10 Practical Strategies

by Steve O'Keefe

Presented at Stanford Professional Publishing Program
Monday, July 16, 2007

Every publisher finds a different route to the waterfall. In 15 years promoting books online, I've had to navigate many different channels to find new rivers to readers. One barrier is that many book buyers are not online. One advantage is that most authors are. Today, the web has become authorcentric. Publishers can inexpensively harness author know-how and enthusiasm and tether it to publisher marketing savvy and technology to generate cost-effective online marketing campaigns. Here are ten of the best channels I've found -- most dug by someone else at considerable expense.

1. Author Empowerment
The author is an unpaid member of the marketing team. Money spent assisting the author in marketing the book is money well spent. Help as many authors as you can, as fast as you can. Sign them to longer contracts to amortize the cost. The public does not want to hear intermediaries anymore -- editors, publicists, assistants, journalists, reviewers are out; the web wants direct access to the author. But the authors don't have the time or skills necessary to connect with readers. You must help them.

2. Advance Review Copy, or "ARC" Campaign
Think of modern publishing as a three-stage rocket. Stage one is self-publishing, where the book and author get started -- watch for good stuff to surface. Stage two is the ARC mailing -- which has become so big it has its own stage. I know of one title that had a 50,000 ARC print run! Offer ARCs in exchange for blurbs that you can print on the back cover, post online, or use in separate promotions. Everyone's doing it. Just don't email a PDF of an e-book if you expect the electronic rights to have any monetary value.

3. Online Press Kit
Make sure you take time to get the basics right -- and in the right format: News Release, About the Author, About the Book, Endorsements, Reviews, Table of Contents, Excerpt, hi-res and low-res full-color images of author and book (no more B&W unless it's art). This stuff goes everywhere and if you get it wrong, it looks bad everywhere. For drama, add a sample interview, story leads, author audio, author video, etc. Get it off your hard drive and online where everyone can use it.

4. Disposable Book Blog
If the author has a blog, great. You should still build a separate blog for the book -- unless your contract prohibits or the author also has a book blog (in which case, support it). The blog is the next book. There's gobs of great content locked in blogs waiting for sharp editors to extract it, package it, and sell it to non-Internet people (a.k.a., "the people who buy books"). Copyright your book blogs. Warm them up (30-90 days), run them while the book is hot (30-90 days -- or forever), then merge them into the author's blog or the publisher's archive. Hire a blogger to post a news summary every day. If the author participates, great; if not, no problem. You stay at the top of the search engines for those topics while the book is in stores. Don't risk a big book going to market without a cheap blog to back it up.

5. Blog Ads
Yes, it's advertising, and any advertising that doesn't reward the viewer for the time spent is foolish. But display advertising on blogs is a good buy. In many cases, the most affordable blogs are run by the authors of tomorrow, so you're doing a little author development with your ad budget while supporting good blogs in your target market. It makes the blogs look prettier (less text, more cover art). And publishers report: it sells books! Lock up long-term contracts on blogs that test well and push as many different books as possible through the ad space.

6. Search Advertising You have to be clever to make it work, but it's worth learning if you are a large publisher because you can amortize the learning curve over many books. Self-published authors can rarely make search advertising pay because of the time required to manage the account. It works like a commodities exchange, fluctuating daily and sometimes wildly. For big books, try to make sure your keywords are covered. Don't buy ads if Amazon or others are already buying them for you.

7. Amazon Enhancements
Amazon people are very clever, and Amazon has a lot of data on weird stuff like the favorite book of people who buy KitchenAid mixers. In general, their programs are money makers. I rarely hear from dissatisfied marketers. (Publishers is another matter.) It's a grave mistake to not pay attention to your grooming at Amazon. I recently found a client's book, which sold over a million copies, with only two reviews. Another large publisher lacked cover art for dozens of books. You don't have to go overboard, but make sure your books look respectable and experiment with the marketing programs.

8. Amazon Marketplace
Open one immediately. People like to shop where they have an account. For the most part, that's Amazon, Barnes & Noble online, Netflix, Wal-Mart, eBay, iTunes -- you get the drift. One bookseller -- whose business was shrinking at 11% per year thanks to Amazon -- increased her sales 50 percent per month by opening an Amazon Marketplace store. Use their shopping cart against them! You'll love it. Marketplace accounts are especially good for moving returns, hurts, excess inventory, and remainders -- including unused ARCs.

9. Web Video
You need it to compete, period. Big books need big video, little books need little video. Video leads people to books just as Oprah leads people to books. More and more ad space is becoming video-friendly; plain, stiff book cover ads are starting to look stale. People want motion -- even if there's no sound. Consider Ken Burns-style "moving covers" instead of flat stills. Animate your display ads. Experiment with video trailers. Authors communicate in a glance -- good video is very fast. Make sure you don't slow it down with strict copyright.

10. Branded Shows
The top authors are taking up positions on theme web portals; you should support them and amortize the costs with multi-book deals. Then, the author is your brand and you build a show around your author -- first at the portal, then something you can take to other portals, to online book clubs, online libraries, online schools (a.k.a., "the people who buy books") -- a travelin' show, a circus. When your author moves around, they can repeat the same show many times. When you own a brand blog, you can bring in new authors each week: a stationary circus. Copyright it, re-package it, and sell it as books to people who don't know the web.

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