Book Marketing Trends

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

I’ve been visiting a number of publishing houses lately, often accompanied by one of my clients. Brainstorming content, strategic career planning, and marketing plans took center stage in most of our meetings.

These sessions prove endlessly insightful. I learn what’s working for a publisher, what genres they’re expanding into and which are contracting for them. But one book marketing trend stood out to me from everything else I learned in my recent travels.

Marketing Meeting Protocol

Invariably in these meetings, I saw a switch from how our marketing discussions used to go. In the past, my client would present his or her marketing plan for an upcoming release. It showcased the author’s marketing efforts and included specific requests of ways the publisher’s marketing team could support the plan. (The author and I would work on the plan together to maximize the author’s marketing process and social media connections.)

The marketing team would, at that point, make commitments.  Those included materials they could supply and which time-consuming aspects of marketing they would take off the author’s hands. Then the marketing staff would pull out their unique promotion plan for the author’s title.

But this year, I noted a change in how the meetings unfolded. After the author went over his promo plans, the marketing team handed out their plan, which was a boiler-plate template. They then committed to aggressive ways they would supplement the course the author had set.

Developing a Muscular Marketing Plan

At first I was dismayed to see all the standard social-media support but nothing new or a major financial commitment. All the currently tried-and-true promotion with no additional commitments was presented in the half-page long marketing plan. (My clients had put together documents that varied from 5 to 10 pages.)

But then I realized that the publishing team had come to the meeting anticipating that they would spend most of their budgeted time and money on magnifying the author’s efforts. The publishing house wasn’t choosing to take the lead in marketing. Instead they viewed themselves as part of the author’s marketing team. So they asked themselves how they could use their strengths to, in essence, be a megaphone for the author. Everyone looked to the author’s marketing plan as the real template for how the book would be promoted. That’s the opposite of how marketing has worked in the past.

Several years ago, authors hadn’t developed much marketing muscle. They looked to the publishing house to bring its muscular marketing prowess to bear. If the marketing staff didn’t have much of a budget to work with, or if the determination had been made that the book needed to find its own way into readers’ hands. The project was pretty much sunk from the get-go. But today, publishers expect authors to have a finely-toned, muscular ability to reach potential readers.

A Doomsday Marketing Concept?

You might at this point conclude that the proponents of self-publishing have been right all along. If the author has to do all the marketing, he just as well become his own publisher. But the publishing house isn’t making less of an investment; instead, it’s being targeted to coordinate with the author’s efforts.

The publisher’s marketing budget might include author media training in preparation for an all-out effort to garner major interviews. Or the budget might have room to create an arty calendar for those who sign up for the author’s newsletter. A retractable, exhibit-sized banner that promotes the book could be part of the publisher’s investment because the author speaks at major events. The publisher might have a significant list of ministries that the author’s book would be of interest to. Using list, which the publisher worked hard to collect, to sell the book is to the author’s benefit. Or the publisher’s special sales rep might work with the author to sell the book into hospital gift stores.

The author and the publisher are pooling resources in ways that haven’t been as carefully coordinated previously. Our world increasingly lives online, and we’re seeing the depletion of bookstores. That translates to publishers and authors both needing to be ready to lift heavier marketing weights to get in shape for the challenges of successfully promoting that next book release.

In what ways do you think this approach is good news? In what ways is it bad news?


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14 Responses

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  1. Thank you for sharing this insight, Janet. This is both a scary and heartening thing to me.

    As a newbie to this world, the thought of my marketing plan being the sole template for success of my book promotion is scary. However, knowing it is a weakness for me, I have been constantly watching what my fellow authors are doing to market and evaluating what seems successful. I’ve been trying to keep a list of the strategies that seemed doable and successful. It is definitely enlightening and I hope it will, in turn, make my own marketing strategy stronger.

    That being said, though. I know I was hoping a publisher would be able to give a little bit of guidance for what is working and not working in the current market. To me, they seem infinitely wiser and more experienced and I hoped to learn from those who have walked the road before me.

    However, if it works more like a partnership where we are bouncing ideas off one another and working off each other’s strengths and strengthening each other’s weaknesses, I think it sounds like a wise idea, and like how the real business world works.

    I have the blessing of sharing an office with my husband who works in a clinical research organization. To hear all the strategies that go into planning a bid for a research project is astounding. Everyone is expected to come to the table with their strengths and to work together to make even their weaknesses better. It can be a hard process that comes with many bumps, but the projects become stronger and more successful with that kind of partnership. I don’t see why it should be any different for an author/publisher relationship.

    Is it scary to have to have a strength in something other than writing? Definitely. But building the marketing muscle will build a better relationship, and who doesn’t want a better relationship with their publisher and better sales for the book?

    • Janet Grant says:

      Crystal, you are so right that this method actually enables both the author and the publisher to bring their strengths to the relationship. And that means the author needs to do some heavy weight lifting in prep for that next book release.

  2. When I read ‘half-page marketing plan’, I thought, wow, this is a BAD idea. I mean, marketing is a profession, for Pete’s sake…and while it can be successfully ‘worked’ by those with little experience but great energy and sincerity, for the most part it depends on an understanding of how the consumer marketplace actually functions, and what hooks need to be landed to make a person part with a portion of their disposable income.
    * It may function for the publishers in the short term, in what I suspect is still a time of transition, but in a mature market that uses a dominantly author-to-purchaser paradigm it’s going to fail, because most authors will simply not have the ability (for example) to track shifts in search algorithms used by social media platforms, and thus ‘ride the trending wave’. (SEO is another area that changes quickly, and can easily become a deal-killer.)
    * It’ll take a pro to do that, and I’ll bet that in a few years we’ll see publishers give, along with a bare-bones marketing plan, a list of marketing ‘professional partners’ whom the author will be urged (and expected) to employ.
    * It’s what I’d do if I were a publisher, and what I’d do if I were an author.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Andrew, publishers are actively building email lists that differentiate audiences, and many employ techies who keep up on algorithms and SEO. They utilize both to know how to position the titles online.

  3. Pat Iacuzzi says:

    In a classroom, teachers have to “sell” an idea (the lesson) to the most number of people they can. There are three techniques people use to learn (or combinations) and teachers employ. Visual–(reading directions on the board, books or computers) Auditory–where directions are given verbally (to interpret the written directions). And Tactile, where the two are combined in an active demonstration, and students are then allowed to try it themselves.
    They say Word-of-Mouth is still a strong marketing tool; (exs.:Peter & Paul) and who better to do it than the “teacher” (author) by reaching out directly to their “students” (public) using these three methods of engagement. In any case, we’ve got a good Teacher standing by us as we build ourselves up for our muscular marketing plan.Thanks for this, Janet. A timely heads-up to consider and prepare.

  4. Considering the rapid changes in the marketplace, this makes sense, Janet. I would rather have marketing support tilted towards my strengths than a cookie-cutter plan that forces me into an ill-fitting format.

  5. Daphne Woodall says:

    This is good info to have. Marketing can be scary but I look back in my 30’s and I had forgot how I contacted local tv personalities and a well known university coach in the name of helping our company employee United Way Campaign. They donated signed gifts, agreed to golf game with winner and visited our UW talent show because I asked. If you believe in something it’s easy to think outside of the box and step out of your comfort zone. I have lots of ideas for marketing my story. Now to finish the book!

  6. “…plans are useless, but planning is everything.” – General Dwight Eisenhower
    * It seems to me that this dictum can be applied here:
    1) Your marketing plans should be as detailed as they can be, with dates, timelines, and ‘actions on’ – how you will respond to potential opportunities.
    2) Nothing will go according to plan. Your marketing efforts will look lie they’re failing, or like they’re succeeding beyond your wildest hopes, or they can look like they are taking you into another direction altogether, like focusing on you instead of your book.
    3) Keep in mind the objective – selling as many copies of the book as you can.
    4) Build in ways to evaluate different marketing ‘attacks’, i.e, Facebook Live, Instagram, Pinterest, media, direct contact via email lists.Keep records!
    5) Focus on avenues that show the greatest return, NOT what seems to be potential. Potential’s chimerical, and subject to operator emotion and bias. Support what is proving to work.
    6) Don’t get discouraged, and NEVER let discouragement creep into your onlinepreence. A good general worries alone, in his tent.
    7) Give your street team a continual flow of praise, encouragement, and thanks; these are the food and fuel and ammo they need to fight for you.
    8) Never, ever rest on your laurels. A book is a battle; your career is the war.

  7. Thanks for this timely information, and I am so jazzed about it. Being that social butterfly extrovert that loves to interact with people is right up my alley. This is seen in the marketing plan of the proposal I am just putting the finishing touches on. Also, having the background of being an artist, I love to come up with unique, fun, and engaging events and products. To me, it would be awesome to collaborate with a publisher’s marketing team, and make the most of it. I do know I love a challenge especially when it requires thinking outside the box.

  8. A very interesting turn of strategy. As others have said, on one hand, it is a bit scary for us, as authors, because our marketing plan needs to carry that much more weight. But at the same time, this might work out better. Because it will give the author the power to use their strengths to a better advantage. I feel like many times the publishers found themselves working in a different direction than the author, pulling against each other. This way, the publisher and author will be sure to put their efforts into the same vein, and the results will be stronger. It will be interesting to see how this works out.

    Thanks for sharing this tidbit with us, Janet.

  9. I’ve tried all day to leave a comment here. I guess my computer and this site aren’t getting along very well today. 🙁
    I so appreciated this post, Janet. It sounds like this new trend, where the author and the publisher are working together in this way, could be very beneficial for both parties. As long as the author has a do-able marketing plan, and is willing to possibly step outside the comfort zone a bit. And as long as the publisher is willing to put their “Muscle” behind the author’s plan. If either party doesn’t follow through, both parties lose. It sounds like there will be trust required on both sides.

    • Janet Grant says:

      Jeanne, I was sorry to hear that you had so much trouble getting onto our site. It’s been acting up lately. Sigh. Thanks for persevering and for making the point that both parties are committing to one another. But authors always have to put trust into the publisher’s marketing team; there isn’t much in the way of an alternative.