Back in the old days, publishers would send authors out on book tours, spending large amounts of money to promote books. Nowadays, it’s up to the author to do most of the promotion. LJ Cohen  is here to help us learn marketing for our books. Welcome LJ!
On NPR’s Here and Now from May 1st, they ran a story about Burger King trying to capture the success of their wildly popular and viral “subservient chicken” advertisement campaign from ten years ago. Now, I don’t eat fast food, and I’m not an advertising executive, but I found the segment fascinating and immediately saw how it related to books, book marketing, and book sales.
From the transcript: http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2014/05/01/subservient-chicken-returns  of the conversation between John Carroll, Here & Now’s media analyst, and Jeremy Hobson:
HOBSON: So, John, take us into the world of advertising now. Is it possible to manufacture buzz?
CARROLL: It’s possible, but it’s really tough. There’s a lot of serendipity involved in this, and you never know what’s going to grab people, and what’s not. And what’s going to accelerate it and what’s not. Every marketer in the universe wants a viral campaign.
CARROLL: They go to their ad agencies and say, make me a viral campaign. It’s really difficult to do, because you never know what combination of circumstances is going to make something take off.
Just as the big advertising executives have no idea which of their campaigns will capture that essential spark and go viral, the publishing companies don’t know which books will be smash hits and which will quietly slink away to remainder bins. It has almost nothing to do with the amount of advertising money thrown at a book (even though those numbers are skewed as books from well known and successful authors will get higher advertising budgets than books from relatively unknown writers), or by the kind of advertisement and ad campaigns attached to books, or by social media presence of the authors.
Some of the ‘lightning in a bottle’ successes include the first Harry Potter book (a word of mouth/sleeper hit) and The Red Tent, which became a huge success due to hand selling at indie bookstores. Those successes had little to do with the publishers who brought out those books in the first place or the authors themselves, though both capitalized on the buzz that got created.
The statistics tell us that the vast majority of traditionally published books never earn out their advances. And advances for mid-list writers have gone down in recent years. What that confirms for me is that no one knows which books are going to catch the brass ring. Anyone who says they do is lying.
No one knows.
That includes agents, editors, marketing folks, sales forces, and book stores. But here’s the interesting thing: Authors operate as if there is a secret code and someone has the key. I see this at play in both traditionally published and indie published authors. They start blogs, pay for blog tours and giveaways, banner advertisements, join twitter and create facebook pages, tweet as their characters, pray for reviews (and sometimes pay for them), get sucked into hours on social media, and generally do all the things that pull them away from what they love best – writing.
I wish I could say I was immune, but I’m not. When I first started writing seriously, with an eye toward publication, I was raising two young children and had a 25 hour a week physical therapy private practice. I had very limited time to write and it was measured in 30 minute increments: lunch time, waiting for a music lesson to end, in the waiting room at a doctor’s appointment. And (this was 10 years ago) not only were there fewer online distractions, because I was just starting out and had nothing published, no one expected me to have this public persona. I didn’t have the pressure to be witty and articulate to attract reader interest. I didn’t have to spend a cent on promoting myself. During those years, I was able to write about a book a year.
Fast forward to the present. My children are grown – the youngest will be leaving for college in a few months. I am no longer practicing as a physical therapist, so have many times the free hours I had a decade ago. But because I have books in the marketplace, I feel the pressure to maintain a public presence on social media. I blog. I’m active on Google Plus. I have a twitter account. Guess how many books I can write a year now? Yup. A single book.
For me, the problem with believing that I can actively market my work to create sales gets in the way of the one thing I can do to generate more sales: write more books.
So what’s the frustrated author to do?
I can’t tell anyone else whether and how to spend their time and their money on promotion. I can only tell you what I have decided. And that is to focus on my writing and on creating authentic relationships with both other writers and readers. Not because I will sell to them, but because I genuinely crave the kinds of conversations that center around my passion for storytelling.
It is those relationships that matter. Given the right circumstances, a lot of hard work, and a little luck and timing, those relationships just may end up making one of my stories a viral run-away hit.
In the meanwhile, I have writing to do.
Book marketing questions? Ask away!
Join us on Thursday for Pat Haggerty’s Creating a WordPress Author Site in Four Easy Lessons – postponed from Tuesday
LJ Cohen is the writing persona of Lisa Janice Cohen, poet, novelist, blogger, local food enthusiast, Doctor Who fan, and relentless optimist. Lisa lives just outside of Boston with her family, two dogs (only one of which actually ever listens to her) and the occasional international student. She is represented by Nephele Tempest of The Knight Agency. When not doing battle with a stubborn Jack Russell Terrier mix, Lisa can be found working on the next novel, which often looks a lot like daydreaming. Her latest release is FUTURE TENSE, a YA contemporary fantasy.