Marketing Your Book 101

If you’ve been writing for any lengthy period of time, you’re familiar with the catch twenty-two of publishing: you want to write your book your way, but you also want it to sell. Sometimes, those two desires don’t run parallel. Sacrifices are made, compromises drawn, lines in the sand erased.

In this month’s “Marketing Your Book 101”, marketing/promotion guru Erik Deckers offers up some advice on how to sell you book without selling your soul.

How Much Influence Should Marketability Have on Your Work?
By Erik Deckers

Want to get a writer good and riled up? Do one of two things: 1) Ask where they stand on the Oxford comma; 2) Ask about the marketability of their book.

I can’t help you with the Oxford comma, but I can tell you quite a bit about a book’s marketability.

Marketability is often the last thing many authors want to think about. They want their art to stand on its own, and to write the stories they want to write, not what the masses want.

But marketability is often the first thing many publishers consider. They want to know how many people might want it, and how well you can market it.

In my first book proposal, I had to answer a few questions about whether there were books similar to mine, the size of my social media following, and whether I had an email newsletter list.

(Careful readers will note the Oxford comma in the previous sentence.)

Because the book was about social media and personal branding, my co-author, Kyle, and I both had a decent social media following, he had a sizable email newsletter list, and there were almost no books about personal branding. So we scored high on marketability, which we learned later went a long way in getting that book deal.

Yay, book marketability!

For us, marketability was a combination of whether a lot of people would buy the book, and how well we could promote it.

The book market for social media in general was already being tapped out. Kyle and I had written a book about Twitter marketing the previous year, but this was new territory for us. If we hadn’t come up with a new idea that appealed to a large crowd, we never would have gotten the deal.

But my previous success has not meant automatic deals later on. I’ve proposed other book ideas since then, but the social media book market has just about run its course. If I want to write another book, I need to come up with a brand new idea.

Book marketability sucks.

How Much Do Publishers Think About Marketability?
First, just know that publishers do look at the marketability of your work, almost as much as they look at the quality of your work. And that goes into the decision of whether they’ll publish your book or not.

Don’t get me wrong. You could have 1 million Twitter followers, but if your work isn’t that great, it will never be published. (Still, if you have 1 million loyal Twitter followers, do you really need a publisher? Self-publish that sucker!)

You may have written the greatest story about teenage vampire wizards who fight zombies, but since that one has already been done to death (I hope!), you’re not going to get a lot of love from traditional publishers.

The marketability of a book is not just about the size of your social networks, it includes whether the book will be interesting to the largest number of people. When we wrote Branding Yourself in 2010, it was only the second book of its kind. But in the last several years, there have been a few hundred titles published on social media and its various sub-topics, so our publishers knew they had to strike fast. We were in the right place at the right time.

Having said that, I’ve read some pretty mediocre books published by people with big fat social networks, and it’s easy to see how much consideration the social networks were given. (Hint: way, way too much.)

So Should Marketability Affect Your Content Choices?
Yes and no.

No, it should not, because you should be free to write the book you want, and people should buy it because it’s good, not because it’s what the masses want. On the other hand. . .

Yes, it should, because your publisher (ideally) knows what the public wants. If you can give it to them, you’ll sell lots of copies, and you’ll go on book tours where your publisher will put you up in the finest discount hotels and eat at the finest fast-casual restaurant chains. On the other hand. . .

No, it shouldn’t, because you have options! You can skip the whole traditional publishing route, and self-publish on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo. (Again, note the Oxford comma.) You can market your own book, or sell print-on-demand copies at book fairs and community fairs. On the other hand. . .

Yes, it should, because you can win the greatest number of readers if you pay attention to what the public likes, and try to keep up. On the other hand. . .

No, it shouldn’t, because there’s an audience for nearly everything you can imagine (and even those things you can’t. Don’t go looking for those though. Just don’t.). Just because there’s not a huge audience doesn’t mean there’s not an audience. Even an audience of 1,000 is a good audience. On the other hand. . .

Yes, it should, because your publisher can get you into the bookstores, especially the large chain(s), which means great exposure to a wider audience. On the other hand. . .

No, it shouldn’t, because you’re going to be doing most, if not all, of the marketing, and yet you’re only going to get a small royalty from your publisher. But if you self-publish, you get a much larger royalty.

Ultimately—I hate these kind of indecisive answers—it comes down to what you want to do, where you think your book is going to go. If you want to write a commercially successful book that gets you invited to Killer Nashville as a keynote speaker, and your book is sold in the Barnes & Noble room, then consider your content and marketability very strongly.

But if you don’t want to be beholden to others, to let someone else dictate your story choices, or you just plain want more money than publishers offer, then marketability be damned!

Your book’s—sorry, your books’—success will depend on you and how hard you’re willing to work.

Erik Deckers headshot 1065x1065Erik Deckers owns a content marketing agency in Indianapolis, and is the co-author of four books on social media. He is also a professional speaker and newspaper humor columnist, and was named a 2016 writer-in-residence at the Kerouac House Project.

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