Before I launched my book, a career memoir about working in advertising and marketing as a creative, I read dozens of advice pieces on Medium and elsewhere for tips on getting started and tools. I’m sure you have too.
Building up to the launch, I realized that while I had a loose project plan of activities, I hadn’t put down on paper an audience and channel strategy that I would normally do for my own clients to market their products.
So I took a few minutes and created this simple grid of key audiences mapped to owned, paid, and earned channels with tactics. I recommend others do as well.
My goal was to see if: one, if I have all my bases covered; and two, track progress and performance. This would help me judge what works best in terms of investment of time, sweat, and money and shift tactics as needed post-launch. With book publishing, you need to consider the long-term.
Positioned as half-memoir, half-guidebook for careers, I knew potential readers of my book, Bronze Seeks Silver, would be the many people I’ve worked with over the years, others with similar careers, and students entering the industry. What I also disccovered is a huge community of writers (who buy each others books) and avid readers who consume ebooks, especially freebies, and then write reviews that fuel the self-publishing industry.
This gave me six priority audiences to target and engage: friends and family; past and current colleagues; broader industry folks; students; avid readers; and fellow writers.
If you’re a marketer or publicist, you know this common framing of marketing channels: Owned (channels under your control, including your web site, email list, social channels); Paid (channels you pay to appear on with advertising or sponsorship); and Earned (channels you pitch to be mentioned or appear on such as op-eds, podcast appearances, events, and reviews). There are other ways to organize your channels, but I found this the clearest for my purposes.
Owned — Your Base Needs to Be Big
Social: I’ve been in digital marketing since its early years, so it hit me hard that my social followings were good but not great. On Twitter at book launch, I had about 2,800 followers, which isn’t big enough for scale nor impressive among my set of marketing peers. While my Twitter following is now past 3,000 and I post frequently about the book, it’s been organic Linkedin posts and dialogue tagging previous colleagues as well as direct messages to my network driving a the biggest volume of book sales. Facebook is prime in reaching friends and family; many of them have been buying the book and their ‘likes’ amplify news of it to an extended audience. A handful have said that they have purchased the book for their relatives interested in careers in advertising. Very flattering.
Email: There are articles and articles about the value of email lists, and you should read every one. Choosing Mailchimp as a platform, I built my list from scratch and started with weekly updates, now shifting to monthly post-launch. Frankly, I wish that I had started earlier with teasers, giveaways, and more effort. This list is a base to promote sale of the book, solicit crucial reviews, and keep a community updated on progress. It’s also a foundational database for future writing you publish or other products (ebooks, courses, training, newsletter, programs) you might come develop. What what I’ve seen, the magic number of a good mailing list is 1,000, though I’m more concerned with the value of the people on it.
Other properties: I host and produce two podcasts, Cidiot and Rising. I’ve created promos for the book on both shows, although if I should have executed this pre-launch which would have contributed to building my email list for launch (see above). Other folks, such as Book Launchers, have recommended posting video clips on YouTube about your book, which helps drive organic traffic. This sounded good to me, so I spent an entire afternoon creating this channel and playlist, shooting this series. So far, each video is averaging five to seven views. I think the idea is sound, but something is clearly wrong on my end.
Paid—It’s True That 50% of Your Advertising Is Wasted
Giveaways: The conventional wisdsom seems to be to do lots of giveaways to drive velocity in Amazon’s algorithm. I paid $119 to do a giveaway of the ebook version over a month on Goodreads and earned a few reviews, but saw no discernible bump in sales, though I suspect it helped my Amazon ranking in a few categories.
Self-Publishing Author Networks: I paid $49 to join Whizzbooks and $25 for membership to Independent Authors Networks. The main benefit to me was that both would repeatedly tweet about my book, which they did. And did. And kept doing. At first, it was fun to see my book promoted, but the posts were so generic in message and un-targeted in audience, it seemed like a total waste of time for a career nonfiction book. Perhaps this tactic is better for a genre fiction. For me, it felt like it was tarnishing my image a bit and didn’t seem to have any tangible results except the feeling I was out there. I finally asked one of the organizations to just stop tweeting it.
Paid Advertising: I’m still cracking the code of this, but this seems to be a wise move. I’ve run two different advertising campaigns on Amazon, one focused on keywords and one intercepting other related book titles. I recommend this free course from Dave Chesson of Kindlepreneur; two hours in a sitting and you’ll know how to start. I’ve also tried advertising on BookBub, which has a famous reputation but feel like my money has gone down the drain since I don’t think I’ve figured it out. I haven’t tried Facebook since I’ve had poor success marketing my podcasts there, and I wanted to try Linkedin but their UX for individual users is so bad, I haven’t been able to resolve some identity issues and can’t move it forward.
Paid Sponsorship: Distinct from advertising is an ad-like note in a newsletter or on a podcast. I ran a placement in a few publications, including executive career newsletter ExecThread, and saw an immediate uptick in sales. It was pricey but effective.
Earned—The Hardest Halo To Build, But Worth It
As a writer, I’m used to pitching pieces to publications so I was comfortable doing this myself while others may want to hire an experienced publicist.
Reviews: These are important, whether they’re from friends, colleagues, industry pubs, or big names in your field. I’ve seen a direct correlation between using testimonials and quotes and book sales. I’ve pursued a mix of all, which have helped drive results on Amazon and also earned quotes from trade publications and individuals that I can use in promotion on owned (social media or email blasts). Here’s a recent one by Maria Ainsely Blackman on Medium. I’m waiting on two big ones, one through Reedsy Discovery and another through Book Life (part of Publisher’s Weekly).
Op-Eds: To date, I have pitched more than 20 publications to write columns not about the book per se, but about my subject area of advertising and what I learned from writing the book, which is essentially my resume backwards. So far, I’ve published more than 10 pieces in various marketing pubs and sites, including Medium. The topics have included a summary of lessons from jobs, why everyone should write down their career, and even recommended tools. Admittedly, I don’t see a strong direct correlation to book sales on the day the piece is published, but each one has been valuable currency for promotion on social media (by me and others) and meaningful in reputation building, and potentially a “long tail” of authority.
Appearances: Launching during the pandemic, a book tour was obviously not practical, but there are plenty of opportunities to speak to groups remotely. This has required pitching as well, but I’ve been a guest on five podcasts so far, as well as some student events. Like op-eds, these are a great way to deliver your “story” in another way but more interactive with a live audience. For each, I’ve created special guest discount codes and links for the various audiences ( 80%-100% off) on my Gumroad store, which has given a little bump when I promoted them right.
Rating Channel Performance
On the far right of the grid, you can see a 0–5 rating of the tactic’s return on direct sales. There are few high performers (e.g., Amazon advertising, Linkedin posts and direct messages), probably due to poor tracking and also mixed results on my first efforts at bat.
The discipline of doing this, however subjective, is worthwhile to me. Over time, I expect to refine these ratings, improve the performance of certain tactics, and build on what works.
What’s of course also true is that indirect sales matter, and some channels are better for reputation and audience-building for the long term as a writer. Based on reach and potential impact, the far-right column on “Reputation” starts to measure that.
My New Year’s Resolution: Reboot, Refocus, and Refine
Clearly, I’m doing a lot. I think my strategy is basically sound, while my execution can sure use refinement. It’s likely I’m not spending enough time on each tactic, making it work as hard as it could. It’s possible also I’m spreading myself too thin, but I like the experimentation so am willing to risk time and money for the hands-on education.
What I go back to are the basics: My email list is terrible (too small and not nurtured enough). I should redouble efforts here with a base and build out a valuable channel for not only this book, but the next one. Paid advertising can work (I’ve built a 30-year career here) and I need to refine my targeting, and potentially, my message.
Audiences are precious, and whichever channels we use to engage them, we should understand what they want from us and what we can uniquely deliver.