Book Marketing: A Reader’s Perspective
As our technology grows and mutates into millions of different forms, readers are getting bombarded by the many new and different marketing efforts of publishers. Some are better than others, some are more fun than others, and some seem to be a total waste of money. What I will attempt to do is give you my perspective on the various book marketing methods I have encountered. I encourage you to mention any I have missed, and to give your own perspective on the ones I didn’t. I am not a marketer or knowledgeable about marketing myself (except by proxy because I am a book reviewer and blogger). And there was that one brief stint at a tech firm that lasted just months. So what I say here will betray my ignorance of marketing, but I think the exercise of seeing the effect of marketing on a reader is a useful exercise nonetheless. Its effect on you is likely different, and I invite your commentary on the subject.
This is one of the most obvious of marketing methods. Any book cover which is not appealing, whether it be in design or content, is a near immediate turnoff. As a book buyer, I am more likely to buy a book whose cover is visible than one for which only the spine is visible, except in the cases of books in a series or by authors I am looking for. Books whose covers are appealing and visible get the most attention from me at the bookstore, rating at least some handling before I return it to the shelf.
If an anthology, a list of the big name authors on the front is an especially huge draw for me. If I don’t know the names, I might give it a pass. John Joseph Adams’ cover for Wastelands is a good example of this, and the cover for Eclipse Two is a bad one, even though both anthologies are worth the read.
This is truly an eye of the beholder sort of marketing, as anything creepy or horrifying is going to be put down by me, whereas other readers will be drawn to it. But as long as the cover image and the contents mesh, and the artist has drawn an appealing image and the cover designer has laid it out well, then the book still attracts. For instance, Stephen Hunt’s The Court of the Air has a very minimalistic cover, but it is informative and appealing. On the other hand, books by Stephen King, with their very minimal covers and overdone skulls, etc. will have no appeal for me. But I do acknowledge that it is appropriate for the genre.
The effect of a book cover on a person is super subjective, but any reader should acknowledge that a cover is one of the best ways to convince them to read it. As a part of marketing, the book cover is essential.
The Cover Blurb
This can be rather a hit and miss method. Some book cover blurbs try to give nothing away about the book, and some give too much. Some relate information that does not really grasp the scope of the book (for instance, the blurb on Trudi Canavan’s The Magician’s Apprentice comes nowhere close. It focus on one character when the story is actually a multi-perspective tale) and others give away the story. As a reader, I find that a book blurb that gives a sufficient lead-in to the story, identifies the primary characters and setting, and closes with a cliffhanger. If the book blurb can get me into the first chapter of the novel, I will most likely walk out of the story with a copy in hand. If the blurb is vague, having only a few sentences or errs on the side of information overload, then the novel is returned to the shelf. However, this does work in conjunction with the cover to increase the appeal, and when the two mesh well, then novel gets more than a cursory glance.
Unless the author is one I have previously read, any quote is virtually meaningless. I think that is why readers so often see quotes from authors who make the NYT bestseller list, or are authors who are at the top of that particular subgenre. On the flip side lack of meaning is given to any quote from an author who gives them out like candy. A promotion from certain authors is given out so often any reasonably prolific reader knows the quote giver cannot have read the book, and yet still managed to do their own writing. At that point, you know the publisher asked for a quote and got it, even if the book was only skimmed or partially read.
The Press Release
This is useful. I prefer that such things be released only electronically in order to save trees, but press releases are quite informative. They contain author information, a synopsis of the book (usually even better than the cover blurb) and more quotes from authors. However, such things are often hard to find, being buried on a company website, or only released in print form with copies of the Advance Reader Copy. So while this is a good promotional tool, it finds too little use, especially on the internet, where it would do the most good.
The Book Review
Probably the best and most interesting place to find out about a book is the book review. (And I’m not just saying that because I am a reviewer.) Whether it is Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, Library Journal, book blogger, or review on a social media site, book reviews are the single most convincing method of marketing I have experienced. When a reviewer takes time and effort to write a review, I get a deep-seated need to read that book for myself, even when the review is bad, because I absolutely must know if my own reactions are different. And if he or she is an amateur reviewer, the review is even more important, as the established reviewers tend to be too analytic, esoteric, or showy. Amateurs suffer less from vanity, and so their reviews have an honest feeling to them, no matter their conclusions. And often, they are. If the review is good, the reviewer’s excitement about a novel becomes infectious. Yes, even Amazon reviews can be helpful, especially since they are easy to access.
Book reviews have the added advantage of being easily accessible through internet capable cell-phones, but are less time intensive to download, since they are primarily text. I have on more than one occasion used my Blackberry to find a review of a book as I was looking at it in the bookstore.
The book review is essentially the new form of word-of-mouth, and as someone who used to move in circles where fiction I enjoyed was rarely read by others, book reviews functioned as my friend’s recommendation. I don’t know these people personally, as in face to face, but who they are comes through their reviews, and provides the needed word-of-mouth when your physical community is uninterested.
The Book Trailer
When it comes to book trailers, the effectiveness of their marketing depends a lot on the presentation. Obviously, the trailer for popular author Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book is going to be of a higher quality than say, one that a small press puts out. This is simply the effect of money. Readers, who are also TV viewers, have high expectations of visual media, and for SF and Fantasy readers who are often technophiles too, this expectation is exponentially increased. Taking all this into account, I still find that while book trailers are entertaining, their effectiveness as a marketing tool is limited. Their reach is smaller than text, for one, and on a personal level, even the live action trailers that I prefer tend to not have enough information about the work. Yes, they are visually and auditory treats, but they are not informative. And even though with the iPhone such videos are more easily accessible, when standing in the library or at the bookstore, I am first going to look for text, not video, to help me decide on a book.
The TV Spot
The TV spot is completely and utterly a waste of publisher money. Though closely affiliated with the book trailer, these tend to be much shorter and only appear randomly on TV. Besides which, because of the prohibitive cost, only a very few authors get them, usually ones that are already successful.
I’m afraid that this only works in big cities with large transit systems. Of course, most billboards are only going to be for books that will hit the NYT Bestseller list without trying. You that live in big cities like New York, Los Angeles or even downtown Atlanta might find these to be effective methods, but for me, who has lived mostly in suburbia, billboards with books on them get a glance but not much else.
An interesting anecdote that relates to this is a story about a recent drive I had from Atlanta to Orlando. Along the way, on I-75, I happened to glance over and see a billboard for a novel that was obviously self-published. The billboard showed the cover (on which the title was hard to see) and mentioned the book was available on Amazon. That’s it. It wasn’t very helpful. And while I remember the book looked to be a Da Vinci Code sort of book, but for the life of me I can’t remember the title. Effective in getting my attention it was, but its placement in rural America and lack of information made it forgettable except for its strangeness.
Internet ads are a very convincing marketing method. When I see an ad for a book at a blog or website, more often than not I click it, especially if it flashes. My eye is drawn to bright lights and pretty colors, I have to say. Since I spend so much time on the internet, I will often see the same ad twice, and even if I didn’t click it before, I will likely click it the next time I see it, especially if it is on a site related to books I like to read.
The Author Website
Sorry, but unless I am already familiar with an author, it is unlikely I will be using the website as a launch pad for reading. The author’s site is good for fan retention, not for creating new ones, except in cases where free fiction is being offered, especially full novels. Everyone appreciates something for free, even in good times, so the offering of free books is an excellent promotional tool. I cite the success of Tor.com’s own “Watch the Skies” promotional just a short time ago, before this site went live. By giving away books and art, I think this site gathered many more potential readers than it otherwise would have. The same holds true for the author sites.
The Author Interview
Knowing who the author is as a person, what kind of writing they do, what their authorial intent is in a book is a method of marketing that I actually seek out. I want to know who these authors are as people, how they think and what makes them tick. Knowing these things helps me make judgments about their work. I simply cannot, as a reader, let a work stand apart from the author, no matter how well written. So when I can, I try to read interviews with an author of a book I am interested in, but not too sure about buying.
If I already own a copy, I love going to these. However, these are often poorly announced or marketed, and simply end up being a way for writers to keep fans, much like their websites, rather than gain new ones. If the reading/signing is in a genre I enjoy however, I will make the trip for the same reason I read the author interview, to get to know the author as a person, and to get an opportunity to hear them read their own work. Their enthusiasm for their book will generally excite me enough to buy it. John Scalzi (with Mary Robinette Kowal in this case) is the best example I know of how to do this well.
Booths at book conventions are great. I love to stop by and talk with the person running the booth, even if they are just an employee. Oftentimes, they are just as excited about their books as I am, in a truly heartfelt way, and getting to talk books with them is fun. My own trip to Dragon*Con last year was so much fun because I had opportunity to meet people in and around the booths. Add to that the opportunity for a face to face with an author and conventions and publisher booths is the most enjoyable from of marketing. Sadly, conventions are limited in number, and authors and publishers time is limited. The two timelines rarely coincide. This results in only some conventions having the types of booths that make marketing effective. Conventions have a limited effectiveness due to geography and quantity, though I find them to be one of the best places to learn about books.
This is an obvious extension of the author interview, but even better. This lets the reader into the daily life of the author, and although it is not quite as informative as the interview, the send of intimacy it promulgates is helpful. In fact, several authors I would not have read if I found it in the bookstore are now on my to-be-read list because of Twitter. I would like to see someone create a way to have an interview of authors through use of Twitter. I think it would be really fun to see, and it would allow the interview to cover a lot of ground, if more than one person was allowed to join the conversation. I would tune into it, at least to read, even if I did not participate.
Author participation in forums has similar results, though I would also hope that this did not detract from writing time.
And of course Twitter can be used creatively for promotion too, as in the case of Jeff Somers, who is twittering his short story, “The Black Boxes.”
Various Internet Promotions
One example of this would be the way that Orbit put together Orc mail for the promotion of Stan Nicholl’s Orcs. The widget could be placed on any website, and users could send emails that would be “read” aloud by the Orc. Though this was a fun thing, it certainly did not convince me to buy the work. Even the widget for the new Star Trek only kept me occupied for a short time. Interesting and fun, yes, but good marketing? Not so much considering the time involved in coding.
On a related note, creating a free internet game based on a book is more effective in my mind, as I would certainly play it, and it would keep the idea of the book at the forefront of my mind for as long as I played it, most likely long enough to make me want to read the book on which it is based. This is a relatively unexplored area of marketing, probably because of its cost prohibitive nature.
This gets me just about every time. If I fail to win a book in a giveaway, I am highly likely to buy it later. The excitement and anticipation makes of being a possible winner makes it nigh on impossible for me not to buy the book when I lose.
I think ultimately the conclusion has to be that all of these things together work on the mind of me as a reader to influence my book buying decisions. You see, some methods peak my interest, others are useful in the bookstore, and some others make me think highly of the author, and so I want to seek out books by them. No one method is most convincing (though book reviews come close) but each and every one has some effect. It is the cumulative nature of that effect that results in a book purchase. I think that likely this is the same for you, but I would bet money that the marketing method which has the most effect is different. Care to share?