Marketing, Promotion and Books
Marketing is often a dirty word amongst creative types and even the public in general. There is the optic that marketing involves trying to convince people to buy something whether they want it or not.
The act of promoting something for sale is not marketing, it is only one aspect of marketing. It is promotion. And while promotion is a major part of your marketing mix, there are three other major aspects to marketing.
That's right, promotion is the last part of the marketing mix. Marketing doesn't start with promotion. So lets look at the three items in question, at least as a brief overview (more detail is obviously possible, but this is a forum post, not a book on marketing books, which I could do also).
Product – for most of us this is a foregone conclusion. Our product is a book. But what exactly is going into this book, the format of the book, and so on – those are things you should think about too, and not just once you've written it. If you are trying to sell books, then you should do some research on what sells and what doesn't sell. What format do people prefer? Does your topic work well as an ebook (ePub, mobi), or will it be very formatting-dependent (in which case PDF is your only option for electronic sales), or are you only going to sell it in print? How big is it? Do people want to buy a 4,320 page magnum opus or should you make sure that it is edited down to something smaller? LuLu is all about product options, so I'll let you do your research on what will work for you. How the product looks is part of this, and is of key importance. If you maintain a consistent brand identity, then you make it easier for repeat customers to find new products as you release them. So if you are looking at releasing multiple books, take the time to make sure that you like the look and feel of the first book, because you should be sticking to that look and feel (“trade dress”) for the rest of the product line. But remember not to stick to LuLu's options – because LuLu only provides one of your places of sale. So, on the topic of place...
Place – this is where you will be selling the book in question. Direct sales through your website, through various online stores, or even direct sales from you in person are all possible, as are brick-and-mortar stores. Get to know your market and where your customers will shop. The immediate thought for many is that the more channels you use to get your product out, the better. However this is a fallacy. More channels can result in channel conflict, where you end up competing against yourself. For example, if you know you are selling a niche product to a small group of consumers who are well-educated about their purchases, then having two channels that sell the same product where one makes you less money than the other doesn't actually help you much, and can potentially seriously impact your profit margin if you are dealing with a very limited market of consumers. LuLu is the obvious place for most of you reading this – they provide you with a storefront, handle transactions for you, and can even act as a go-between to other storefronts (if you are willing to receive less profit per unit sold). But if your research shows that your product is one that will be well-received by the market and which will sell thousands instead of hundreds of copies in print, then using LuLu as your channel strategy can be a weakness. Caveat Emptor.
Price – this is a science in and of itself. Figuring out elasticity of demand, profit margins and so on. There are a variety of strategies here from market penetration (low price in order to get larger sales numbers) to skimming (high price, lower sales, but much higher profit per unit in order to recoup the investment in the product). Your minimum price point is set by the cost of production of the item, so selling through LuLu sets your minimum price point pretty high compared to a traditional product in most book fields (well, except for textbooks and other reference materials). This means that a market penetration strategy would probably cut you down to almost no profit per unit sold. Changing your pricing scheme is also tied into the promotion angle, as you can promote a price cut or an imminent price increase and hopefully leverage it into more sales.
Promotion – aha, this is where most people start and end their thoughts on marketing. Promotion is made up of several sub-fields again, and include such things as public relations, publicity, direct sales, branding, and so on. The general goal of promotion is to educate the market about the product, to increase demand for said, and to differentiate the product. Promotion should reflect a consistent image and show exactly how the product will fulfil a need or want in the target market and to show off the product's unique selling points. I promote primarily through my website as well as some minor direct selling, but this is because I'm selling to a small community of generally well-educated consumers.
There are a lot of ways to promote a book – but I'm going to focus on books that we are selling through LuLu specifically. The main place to promote your book is NOT LuLu. LuLu (and amazon, etc, if you are using extended distribution) are your points of sale – yes, you should do your best to make sure they are presented at their best on these sites (good blurbs, good demos, links to the better reviews you have received, a sharp and catching cover image, etc), but don't even consider this to be the full extent of your promotional mix.
Get out there. Promote the book on your blog. Don't have one? You should. Promote it on social media sites like twitter, facebook, google+ and so on. Now read that again. Promote. Not spam and advertise. Promotion is a lot more than advertising, in fact the best promotion you can get is editorial promotion – where you get someone else to promote your book for you. Show off how awesome it is, and then encourage those who also think it is awesome to tell their friends about it. This is known as micro-marketing – promotion through the use of editorialized social media. When Author X steps up and raves about how good his book is, people tend to ignore it because the raving seems self-serving. Now, when Reviewer Y steps up and does the same, a lot more people take notice. But honestly the real trick with micro-marketing is not Reviewer Y, but to create Fan Z. Fan Z already has a following on-line and isn't known for promoting products, so when Fan Z does start to mention how cool a product is, it has at least twice the impact of Reviewer Y's promotion.
When you promote using social media, be subtle. I don't go into the forums of my target community promoting my book. Instead I go in and discuss what's being discussed. I contribute. I help. I become a member of the community. And I make sure that my account and signature include a link to my blog and my blog promotes my product. Make the community want to support you because you support them instead of begging for their money. Do this wherever social media happens – reddit, facebook, fetlife, google+, etc. But stick to the ones that suit your subject and your knowledge field – otherwise you'll find that you are spending more time in the community than you are working on your next book.
Remember to promote positively. Don't go around ragging on other products, claiming they are not as good as yours. Promote the awesomeness of your product, don't try to use bully tactics to push down the competition. It looks bitter and unpleasant and turns a lot of people away. And remember that you are ALWAYS promoting yourself. So everything you say on forums and other social media (including here) reflects on how people will perceive you, and by extension how they perceive your product.