Every book passes through many hands before arriving at your local bookstore or library. We’ve developed a six-part series, How Does Publishing Work?, to shed light on a book’s journey to publication. From developing stories and characters, to editing and illustration, through to the publishing and marketing stage, this series takes a look at all the different people and processes involved in bringing your favourite stories to life.
In part five of our How Does Publishing Work? series, we broke down the moving pieces that bring a book from the printing press to your shopping basket. In our sixth and final installment, we’ll give you a glimpse at the creative efforts that generate awareness and excitement about a brand-new book.
What Goes Into Book Marketing and Publicity?
Marketing is all about getting the word out, and you might be surprised by how difficult that can be for any new product or service—including books! In fact, marketing a new title can take as long or longer than editing and printing the actual book. Early in a book’s development, the marketing team begins their planning and research. They find the best ways to get the book in front of interested readers. This includes coordinating promotions across many platforms, from social media posts to live events.
Promotion That Sparks Emotion
When promoting a new title, spreading awareness alone doesn’t quite cut it. The marketing team’s biggest challenge is capturing the attention of the book’s intended audience and getting them excited about the story before they’ve read the first page. The average person sees 4,000 to 10,000 advertisements per day, so breaking through the information overload is tough!
We spoke to Kirsten Phillips, Director of Marketing at Portage & Main Press/HighWater Press, to find out how the marketing team makes it happen.
Planning Starts During Production
Strategic planning is absolutely critical to the success of a marketing campaign. It takes time, resources, and the coordination of many people for these promotions to be successful, so the publisher’s marketing team starts as early as possible.
“As soon as the manuscript is in and the marketing and promotion team has had a chance to review it, the planning begins,” says Kirsten.
Once the team has a good sense of the book, they work on short- and long-term planning, working backward from the publication date. The team pinpoints important benchmarks at various stages before, during, and after publication: one year prior, six months prior, three months prior, at the time of publication, and post-release. For example, one benchmark is finalizing the book cover (an important promotional asset!) one year before publication.
Connecting With the Right Audience
For promotions to be successful, they need to resonate with the right readers. Before a marketer can decide how best to market a book, they need to identify those readers. Naturally, genre can tell them a little about readers’ interests, but the team digs deeper for more specific information.
“The audience that will read or buy the books within a genre is what makes the biggest difference in our decision making,” Kirsten explains. “For example, a children’s title isn’t necessarily marketed to children but to the grandparent, parent, or another adult that would be buying books for a child.”
Similarly, marketers are looking at who exactly the title appeals to. What specifics about the reader make them the ideal fit to purchase this book? Kirsten offers a great example.
“A book for educators may have a target audience of grade 4 teachers, not just all teachers,” she says. “And a graphic novel may be promoted to teachers because of its historical content that fits nicely into the social studies curriculum.”
Each book’s marketing campaign is designed to appeal to readers based on these unique factors, along with other efforts that are standard for every publication.
“There are important steps taken for all books, regardless of genre,” Kirsten says. “For example, we release metadata for every book to help readers find it in bookstores or from online retailers.”
Creating a Campaign
A marketing campaign includes all the organized actions to promote a particular product or service—in this case, our brand-new book.
“Probably the most recognized marketing activity for a new book is a book launch held at a bookstore.” ” Kirsten says. “Although it’s a nice opportunity, it is just one option in a long list of possible activities that are used for marketing a book..”
The marketing team at Portage & Main Press/HighWater Press uses a combination of of the following strategies as part of their campaign, depending on the book’s audience:
- Posting on Social media (e.g., cover reveals and giveaways)
- Buying paid advertising (e.g., Facebook ads, ads in local newspapers or the audience’s favourite publications)
- Sending out advanced reading copies (ARCs) to reviewers and media outlets for written reviews and other special coverage
- Encouraging the book’s creators to spread the word through their own social media, interviews, and live appearances
- Submitting to literary awards
- Pitching authors to events, like writers’ festivals and comic conventions, to participate in panel discussions and other appearances
- Sending out press releases
- Looking for cross-promotional opportunities with people or companies that share the same audience
- Creating digital content like videos and GIFs
- Developing content for the publisher’s e-newsletter
- Updating websites, including special promotional pages or news items
- Creating blog posts (like this one!)
Once the team has settled on the right campaign strategies, they outline specifics of how each action is best used to reach readers.
“For example, in the marketing plan for our graphic novel This Place: 150 Years Retold, we applied for and encouraged creators to be on panel discussions at their local book festivals, comic conventions, and art festivals,” says Kirsten. “Another example, a press release to a media outlet might be customized to include that the author is local to the area, making the book more meaningful to their readership.”
Publishing and Publicity
How can you get the attention of thousands of people at the same time? Contact the media! Publicity is all about media coverage—including print, TV, or digital news outlets, as well as niche media like magazines and podcasts. We chatted with publicist Sarah Dunn at ZG Stories to understand how publicity influences the success of a new release.
PMP/HWP: What are the different roles involved in generating publicity for a new release?
SD: There are many tasks that a publicist will undertake in order to obtain coverage of a book. Several months before the book is released, we like to talk to the author to get their thoughts and ideas about who will be interested in reading this book and how to reach them.
We will also put together a press release that grabs the attention of the media by clearly outlining what is unique, timely, and newsworthy about this particular title, and also includes relevant details such as the publication date, ISBN, and author bio.
We come up with a list of media contacts that are most likely to be interested in the book based on our previous interactions with them, as well as research, and send them pitches and review copies. Throughout our correspondence, we try to continually think of new reasons why they should write about the book or interview the author.
PMP/HWP: What role is the author expected to play in publicizing their book?
SD: An author’s involvement in the publicity varies depending on the author and the type of book. For some titles, the author is a big part of the media’s interest. If an author has written a book on a subject that is currently a hot topic, we’re more likely to get radio and TV interviews for that release than for a beautifully written and illustrated picture book. But there are outlets devoted to book reviews, which don’t require much effort on the part of the author.
Regardless of the type of book, it’s always helpful when an author alerts their contacts about a release. Obviously, one of the easiest ways to do so is by using social media. Many authors will do a cover reveal, link to online retailers where people can pre-order the title, remind their contacts of the publication date, and share a bit of news about reviews, interviews, and events.
PMP/HWP: How do publishers attract media attention for a book or author?
SD: Publishers will do whatever they can to attract attention for a book. We know that there are limited slots for coverage and media outlets are disappearing, so we have to make the media’s job as easy as possible. This can mean including sample interview questions in press kits or pitches, connecting the themes and content of the book to current events or important anniversaries, and providing “evidence” that the book or author is worthy of the attention by highlighting awards and accolades and including review quotes or links to previous interviews.
For each release, promotions and publicity typically ramp up during the late stages of production and peak when the book finally hits bookstore shelves. Of course, the hype doesn’t end there! Successful books stay in print for a long time, and many books are even re-released with new editions featuring bonuses, like new cover art or updated content. With this in mind, a publisher’s marketing team will continue to think about creative ways to promote their titles on an ongoing basis.
That concludes our How Does Publishing Work? series! We hope these six parts have brought you some new insights on the many steps—and jobs!—behind every title on your bookshelves. Make sure to follow us on Twitter or Facebook to stay up to date on the newest releases to make it through each stage of the publishing journey.
Read the other posts in the How Does Publishing Work? series for a detailed look into the people and processes that bring your favourite books to life: