So you sold your book. You signed the contract, and maybe even began your edits. Publication day looms in the far-away-and-yet-still-too-soon future.
In most cases, your book has already made it beyond the hands of your agent and your editor. Designers, production teams, publicists, marketers—there’s a whole army of people working to make your book launch a success.
So let’s talk about marketing, that crucial piece that many authors begin considering even before they send their first query letter. Endless information and advice is available online about how YOU can market your book—blogging, social media utilization, etc—but what about your publisher? Where do they fit in?
Assisting me in this post will be Katrina Kruse, senior marketing manager at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Katrina has worked in publishing for 20 years (closer to 30 if you include her bookselling days) and marketed a myriad of works, from fiction to reference material to cookbooks.
To help illustrate this process as plainly as possibly (keeping in mind that things may vary from house to house), we’ll be discussing the marketing that goes into a hypothetical fictional work: SLUSH, a gripping mystery about an intern who notices troubling parallels between a manuscript she finds in a publishing house slush pile and a rash of disturbing crimes.
Thanks for the help, Katrina! So: SLUSH. How do you find out that this book has been added to the upcoming list, and what are some of the initial steps you’d take when it comes to marketing it?
K: I’d first find out about SLUSH a few days before our launch meetings, where editors share information about books for an upcoming season. I’ll read a synopsis of the book, a sample chapter or two, and an in-depth author interview before listening to the editor pitch the book and make us all excited.
For SLUSH, we would start with deciding how many ARCs (Advance Reading Copies) to print. These are used by sales, publicity, and marketing, and are one of the key ways of getting the word out early.
Another preliminary item I take care of is translating the publication information sheets into sales speak, so that our sales reps can be prepared to sell the book.
How do you decide what kind of marketing goes into a certain book?
K: After launch, I find out what sort of budget I have to work with, and start researching ideas for how to promote the book. We also have a meeting with the whole marketing team, because other people sometimes have great ideas too. Additionally, I’d talk to the author, so that we can all be on the same page when it comes to messaging.
Personally, I also like to read the manuscript to see if it will spark some creative ideas. For example, since SLUSH takes place in a publishing house, we might produce pens or tote bags as promotional items.
What kind of limitations do you run into?
K: Probably the biggest limitation for any book is budget.
How is a book’s marketing budget determined? And what are some examples of what that budget gets spent on?
K: A book’s marketing budget is determined by the advanced first printing projection, and will often be adjusted throughout the publishing process (if, for example, the book really starts taking off).
Big budget marketing ideas might be ad campaigns or author tours. An ad in a major print publication can start at $10,000 and easily go over $100,000. For tours, we’d need to budget for flights, hotels, transportation on the ground, and food. (And let’s not forget that many people in this industry can imbibe a fair amount!)
Lower budget ideas include postcards, pins, mounted blow-ups of the book jacket, and small giveaways.
REALLY low budget ideas (in terms of money, not time—something important to keep in mind) could include arc giveaways on Goodreads or email campaigns to targeted mailing lists.
(I’m jumping in to comment on this: many authors would be surprised to find out how much design and production time a seemingly “small” or “cheap” marketing item can take (for example, a digital-only download for their website). Not to say don’t share a creative idea or ask for something, but two questions I’d encourage any author requesting a marketing piece to consider is “How long will this REALLY take to produce?” and “Will this realistically lead to spreading the word about or selling more of my books?”)
So, what’s a typical marketing cycle?
K: In a typical cycle, I would hear about SLUSH about a year before it hits the shelves. I would get a budget and create a marketing plan about 10 months out. At this time I would have at least read part of the book.
Next, we hone the message to create TI (title information) sheets, as well as presentations for our sales reps (so they can become as excited about SLUSH as we are).
We also work on perfecting back copy for Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) of the book. (ARCs are printed approximately five or six months out to give adequate time for reviews.) When ARCs are in hand, we do mailings to bookstores and the media.
Marketing kicks into high gear two to three months leading up publication—booking and designing ads, mailing ARCs, crafting social media ideas, and trying to generate consumer pre-orders.
Once the ball is rolling, what kind of speed bumps can a book’s marketing run into?
K: When we make our budgets we are still a ways out from publication and, as the fiscal year moves along, budgets tend to get cut. Or, a retailer may want to place a large order, but only if a certain set of conditions are met (like a specific advertising program).
Finally, there’s the unexpected. An interview, segment, or article can always be bumped in lieu of a more interesting story or major world event.
Oh my goodness, SLUSH won a major award in its genre! How does that affect it’s marketing?
K: We go back and make sure all accounts know about the award and blanket social media with the information. Often times, we also run more ads for the book.
Is there anything an author can do to assist their marketing manager?
K: Good communication is a great first step. Spend the time before your novel publishes building up your social media accounts. Share any marketing ideas you might have. Don’t be bashful; let your friends know that you have a book coming out. Email your acquaintances, too. And while you may want to give everyone you know a copy, remember that the goal is to sell books.
What’s the weirdest marketing material you’ve ever produced for a book?
K: Not my creation, but when I was a sales rep for a computer book publisher, they created branded flannel boxer shorts. They were insanely popular!
Thanks, Katrina! That’s a great overview, and I hope it has been informative for the readers. For reference, we’ve also included a sample TI sheet for SLUSH: SLUSH_Sample_TIsheet
Of course, many authors decide to do some of their own marketing and giveaways. In the coming months, Katrina and I will be compiling lists of marketing pieces (and sources) for authors’ personal use, including ideas for all budgets!