Book Marketing, 3 Case Studies

Publishing-125-2One of the reasons why I often talk about how culture and identity relate is that in many parts of the world "what's in it for me" is not a consideration people start with — it's an outcome of delivering on promises.

For example, a strong brand is not what the marketer does, it's what the market responds to, the prize Steve Jobs referred to in the 1997 WWDC Q&A:

[…] The press is going to have a lag time. And the best thing we can do about the press is to embrace them, do the best we can to educate them about the strategy. But we need to keep our eye on the prize.

And that is turning out some great products, communicating directly with our customers the best we can. Getting the community of people that are going to make this stuff successful like yourselves in the loop, so you know everything and is marching forward, one foot in front of the other.

Mark Earls recently said, there are two big considerations the current treatment of self in behavioral economics overlooks:

  1. most humans live most of their life responding to the ideas, feelings and behavior of those around them
  2. those others are not fixed but in flux because they (too) are responding to those around them

Trading as a network means building a context around successful connections where reciprocity means being flexible at comprehending situations and putting things together in ways that are more appropriate.

This mind shift is a useful frame of reference to see why things work and what you can do to close the gap when things don't go the way you planned.

Take book marketing as a test case.

I thought it would be fun to take a look at what worked and what could be done differently by skimming through three studies in separate categories.

Think of it like a political campaign

HowtoBeBlackWhen the subject matter of the book lends itself to it. This was Baratunde Thurston's approach in planning marketing for his book, How To Be Black, which has sold more than 15,000 copies since its release in January of this year, hitting the New York Times bestseller list.

As Thurston said in this interview at O'Reilly Radar, authors are doing a lot of heavy lifting:

We asked ourselves: Can we create a sense of movement that has other people seeing themselves in a book about me?

There was a process to arrive at the plan, and it equaled me coming up with the marketing.

[…] There was a big research phase, talking to people I know or was introduced to […]

We also identified the high-value donors — people who are going to deliver a bunch of votes or cash. I went through all my contacts manually, about 4,500 people, and scrubbed that down to about 1,800 real people. I tagged them lightly, looking at them in terms of relevance. And then I started reaching out to them one by one.

The personal outreach is one of the most overlooked and yet crucial aspects of book marketing. If you've ever wondered why some books make the cut here, this is the strongest reason why. Make it personal even when you don't know the other person well by being open and creative.

Thurston is a gifted writer who counts editorial at The Onion among his credits, and a fun person to boot. We met briefly at the RWW conference last June. Whenever I speak at conferences, I introduce myself saying I was made in Italy.

That is a potential entry point for a connection with me on identity and how our story shapes how we interact. Another quick way to connect is to run a search on someone's blog (guess what you find here?) looking for keywords.

Leverage social media marketing

UncertaintyJonathan Fields has been blogging for a long time and is very familiar with using the tools to support marketing and teaching others how to do it.

With the launch of his new book, Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt Into Fuel for Brilliance, he decided to take things to an entirely different level, test a bunch of new strategies, and bring video strongly into the picture.

As he revealed in the step by step reconstruction of his plan at Copyblogger:

The big challenge was to create something that was visually stunning, but also was really smart and effective from a response-driven marketing point of view. I’d seen a lot of book mini-sites and, while some were very polished, they were also really ineffective at driving visitors to a particular call-to-action.

Fields made the story presentation so compelling that it was easy to follow the call to action. Pre-ordering a bundle was a no-brainer for a connector like me. And here's the lesson for you: when you think about what you want people to do, make it easy for them to be themselves.

The biggest take away in why the tactics in this case study worked is: build something remarkable, and have fun finding creative ways to share it with the world. I had fun with my story about uncertainty.

12 lessons learned while marketing the "The 4-Hour Body"

4Hour BodyThe strongest reason why I love this case study is the exchange between Tim Ferriss and Charlie Hoehn at the top.

If this is how you approach your internship inquiries, you get the job, which is what happened to Hoehn who said it best: actually seeing would help me comprehend more fully.

This case study is particularly useful on a number of fronts — The 4-Hour Body is not your typical business book for one, and Ferriss, who I met several years ago when he keynoted Mediabistro Circus, has an unconventional approach to everything.

Most intriguing among them are:

#12. Outrage over Amazon reviews: A lot of people just couldn’t imagine how we were able to get more than 140 reviews (over one hundred 5-stars) in the first 24 hours without paying for them. The reality is not as sexy as you’d think.

#9. "He who cares less, wins": Most people don’t have the ability to negotiate effectively, simply because they’re not put in enough situations that call for it.

#7. Have irresistible incentives: Offering $4,000,000 in bonus gifts for a book launch is online marketing on steroids. […] resulted in more than 15,000 pre-orders over the span of three days.

#4. Carpet-Bombing the Internet: Brief Periods of Intense Noise-Making. […] If you look closely at how many bloggers helped Tim promote the book, you’ll realize it would have been impossible to do if he’d approached them in a sleazy “Pitch my book to your audience!”-kind of way.

 #1. Write and amazing, definite book: The hard part is producing worthwhile content, and holding your writing to a higher standard than everyone else on the playing field.

At the time of this writing, the book has 1,701 reviews. Timing the future as in having the right timing is just as important as the quality of your promotional efforts.

Spending the extra time and money on the right things like the book itself, and video trailer, as well as relying on meaningful relationships developed over time paid off.

Hoehn observes that most online marketers have a short attention span, a weak filter, and an inability to communicate face-to-face. The post has 175 comments, 363 likes, and 313 tweets. The best part, it is 6,179 words and has the best comment rules I have seen to date:

Comment Rules: Remember what Fonzie was like? Cool. That's how we're gonna be — cool. Critical is fine, but if you're rude, we'll delete your stuff. Please use your PERSONAL name or initials and not your business name and do not put your website in the comment text, as both come off like spam. Have fun and thanks for adding to the conversation!

Outreach lessons

This post covers a lot of ground. I'm also watching the Likenomics pre-release activities by Rohit Bhargava, which launches officially on May 22. In this post, Bhargava reveals why it's important to authors that people buy the book only at certain times.

Deliver on your promises.

Closing the gap between what you say and what you do, thinking long term, and being in it for the long haul make you signal vs. noise.

These authors in the examples have all been active online, sharing with their communities, and building good karma.

Pick a subject that matters.

If you don't believe in your material, in how it will make a difference, you're not going to put in the work necessary to make the product remarkable.

If relationships are an afterthought and your approach is a "what's in it for me" kind of thing, don't bother sending your limp pitch to me. This is not the place for you.

Do your research.

Yes, names are good keywords. It's quite embarrassing to reach out to someone who has already written about your book, for example.

That has happened to publicists who reached out to me on behalf of authors when I had already written reviews.


For useful and fluff-free resources to help you get published, I recommend this How to Write, Sell, and Publish Your Book Guide.



For a proposal delivered with confidence, contact me today.