When trying to decide if a book marketing strategy is worth doing, consider this in terms of a cost-benefit analysis. What you hope to determine is whether the costs are worth the prospective benefits.
Even if the marketing technique is free, it still costs time. Time is money. You don’t want to spend several hours per week doing marketing work that yields very little in return. So you must factor both money and time into the costs.
Benefits very often aren’t measured in immediate sales. Marketing that helps new members of your target audience discover your book or which improves or furthers your branding efforts has value, too. Some sales from continued branding efforts may not come for months.
There are also other possible costs (besides money and time) and benefits (besides sales, discovery, and branding).
For example, a marketing strategy that places books into the hands of people outside of your target audience might be more likely to draw negative reviews, since these readers may not really appreciate and understand the genre. Similarly, giving your book away for free might draw a negative review from a customer who didn’t take time to read the description and therefore didn’t get what was expected. A few negative reviews help to provide balance and sometimes have a positive effect on sales, but too many negative reviews can deter sales.
On the other hand, some marketing strategies may be likely to result in positive reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations. The more customers who read your book and like it, the more good reviews and word-of-mouth sales you may receive. When the readers are in your target audience or are bloggers who frequently review books in your genre on their blogs, for example, this improves these prospects.
Another thing to factor into cost-benefit analysis is the quality of the product and packaging. The packaging includes the title, blurb, Look Inside, and customer reviews. The better the packaging looks, the more this will help to magnify the benefits of effective marketing; the worse the packaging looks, the fewer benefits any marketing will reap. Similarly, a better book is more likely to receive good reviews and recommendations, while a poor book that receives many low-star reviews will inhibit sales.
Even a seemingly small thing like the title can impact this. A title that’s short and easy to remember is more likely to earn word-of-mouth sales. Just imagine this: “Oh, that reminds me of a great book that I read once. Oh, too bad I can’t remember the title of it.”
Realize that some marketing strategies may be reaching the same members of your target audience. Very often this is okay because it takes repetition for branding to become effective, but it’s still something to consider.
When you’re thinking about costs, you should be thinking:
- How much money will you need to spend on this marketing strategy?
- How much time will you need to spend doing this marketing?
- What impact will this have on your author image? Anything you might do to brand yourself with a negative image can be a hefty cost.
- Might this cause people to buy the book without realizing what they’re getting? For a free book promotion, for example, this could be the case. If so, these customers are more likely to express frustration if the book doesn’t meet their (sometimes unreasonable) expectations.
- Is there any reason for customers to feel that the book is unprofessional? Poor editing, formatting, or storyline, for example, may result in bad reviews.
For benefits, you can’t calculate how many sales you will derive. Many of the sales may not be realized for several months. Instead, you should be thinking:
- How many new members of my target audience will this reach? Don’t waste your time with marketing efforts that aren’t geared toward your target audience.
- Will the interaction be personal or impersonal? Will it be engaging, or momentary? Personal, engaging interactions make a much stronger, lasting impression. Impersonal and momentary interactions are only worthwhile in very large numbers.
- Does this come across as self-promotion, advertising, or salesmanship, or does this work like discovery and branding? Most people have an aversion to the former, but respond well to the latter.
- Is this likely to generate thoughtful reviews from members of your target audience or bloggers in your genre?
- Are you putting the book in the hands of highly social people in your target audience who may, if they like the book, spread the word in person or on Facebook or Twitter?
- How strongly do you believe in your book? The better your book is cover to cover, the more it enhances these benefits through possible reviews and recommendations.
- Have you written a series where the book is good enough to induce purchases in subsequent volumes? If so, prospective sales of the later volumes can significantly enhance the benefits.
Example 1. Should you invest in professional cover design?
Costs: How much will you pay for the service? Divide the financial cost by the per-book royalty to see how many copies you must sell just to break even. How much time will you invest looking for a designer and then interacting with the designer throughout the process?
Benefits: How much will the cover improve over what you could do yourself? Will you sell most of your books in person or at Amazon? Your cover is far more important at Amazon. Will the cover attract your target audience? How well will the cover stand out among other thumbnails in your genre? Are the blurb and Look Inside effective enough to seal the deal? Will the book live up to the expectations? Is there a large market for your book idea? You can search for other books similar to yours and see how well they are selling.
Example 2. Should you invest in bookmarks?
Costs: How much will you pay for the bookmarks? How much time will you invest looking for a company to make them, developing a design, and distributing them?
Benefits: Will they be appealing enough for people to use them? If they look like advertisements, no; if they only mention your title and name, but mostly have appealing images, yes. Will they be distributed primarily among new members of your target audience? Seeking feedback on the bookmark design may be helpful.
Example 3. Should you give your book away for free?
Costs: Every book that you give away is a royalty that you won’t earn. If you give away paperbacks, it also costs you money to print the books.
Benefits: Are most of the recipients in your target audience? What are your prospects for word-of-mouth sales? Do you have other books that may interest the customers if they enjoy your book? Giving away the first book of a series may help to sell subsequent books in the series, provided that the first book is very good.
Example 4. Should you write an article that relates to the content of your book?
Costs: How much time will it take to research magazines, newspapers, and websites that are a good fit for your target audience? How long will it take to write the article? How much time will you spend on submissions? What are the prospects for having your article accepted? If you have relevant expertise and experience with the subject matter, this greatly improves your chances. Also, there are very many websites online. Finally, in the worst-case scenario, you can always post the article on your own blog or other website.
Benefits: What is the circulation of the magazine or newspaper, or the frequency of site views of the website? What percentage of this audience is a good fit for your book? Will your name and the title of your book be visible at the bottom of your article? This helps with discovery and branding.
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For each marketing strategy that you consider, make two lists – one for costs and another for benefits. Is this geared mainly toward your target audience? That should be one of your main questions. Remember that discovery and branding among your target audience are very helpful long-term benefits. Another main question is: Will this seem more like advertising or discovery? A marketing strategy is worth adopting when benefits outweigh the costs (and not just slightly).
Let me mention one more important benefit. For many authors, this may outweigh many of the other benefits. It’s not just about sales, is it? Many of us write for other reasons besides money. Even if we didn’t write for money, we still appreciate those royalty checks. (You might ask, if you’re not in it for the money, why not give it away for free? Maybe we want our work to be valued. If we give it away for free, many people who may have read our books might feel that if it’s free, it isn’t worth reading.)
If money isn’t your only motivation, there are some other benefits to consider. There is the benefit of sharing your work with others, telling your story, having your work appreciated, spreading knowledge, etc. But if you think about it, these really amount to the same thing as sales: The more books you sell, the more your work is shared with others, the more knowledge you spread, etc.
What I had in mind is a benefit that doesn’t correlate with sales. That’s the benefit of the marketing endeavor itself. For example, blogging is something that all writers should do even if a cost-benefit analysis says that it’s not worth doing. As writers, blogging is a useful creative outlet. We can explore new techniques, try a different voice, develop a new character, receive feedback, reduce stress by getting stuff off our chests (but beware that what you say could negatively impact your author branding), etc. There are many positive benefits of blogging that make it worthwhile even if this effort doesn’t result in a single new sale.
Another example is performing community service. If you write a self-help book, you may be able to get discovered by members of your target audience through your involvement in related community service. Even if this doesn’t make sense from a cost-benefit analysis in terms of sales, though, there are many other benefits of community service that may make it worthwhile.
For other marketing strategies, you might also consider if there are valuable benefits other than just sales that may make it outweigh the costs.
Don’t market for the sales. Be passionate about your writing and market to share your passion. Don’t market just to share your passion. Be passionate about the marketing strategy itself – e.g. be passionate about blogging, writing an article, or doing a book reading. When others indirectly see your passion, it has a positive impact on sales (but don’t be boastful, overconfident, or talk about your book too frequently, as these things deter sales).
Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers