On Request: Marketing Your Book

So you’ve written a book, and gotten someone to publish it, you’re done, right?

It turns out that, though it depends on the professional incentives around your particular situation, in general, no, you’re not nearly done. You have just started a new chapter. Even without the book/chapter pun.

A friend of mine requested a post on book marketing, and that seemed like a good idea, since knowing how to publish a book and knowing how to promote one are two different arts.

Most (not all, but most) academic books are generally only marginally profitable – think, date night, once a year. If you’re lucky, date weekend, once a year.

Promoting you book is not about making money, though that might be a nice side effect. It is about getting people to buy your book, to read you book, to assign you book, and to cite your book.

Why? Well, I’m presuming the why matches why you published the book in the first place – that you have some professional incentives to construct a CV, develop a professional reputation, make your name, have the opportunity to publish more books, make it easier to publish a second book, etc.

The harder question is how to promote your book. You want to make sure that people notice your book without over-saturating the market or annoying people. Below the fold are some tips. 1. Cooperate with your publisher’s marketing attempts. 

You will get a marketing form from your publisher. It will ask you to write an abstract, keywords, and information about the audience of the book. They will also ask you for some annoying information, like the journals that might review your book, disaggregated by country, with physical addresses to send the book.

Take the time to look those up. Seriously. Be thorough. See which journals, generalist or specialist, review books, and the address to which books should be sent. This is important, because snail mail is the way that journals that review books get them, and these surveys are how the publisher knows where to send the snail mail.

The most annoying sections of publisher surveys are often the most important – the journals one is an example. Others include courses that the book might be assigned in and likely first assigners. If you spend some time making a list of five to ten courses, with professor names (of permanent faculty), it is likely to pay off. Don’t be above talking to people about this before you put their names and courses on the list – it is a good way to get colleagues who are likely to assign your book a free copy to consider it.

A third section that is important to pay attention to is the prize section. It will ask about prizes that your book might be eligible for in the field. If you do not know of any, list the APSA and ISA general book prizes (or similar for your field), as well as the book prizes for the relevant sections. Also google a subject word or two and “book prize.” Provide the publisher as much information as you can about each book prize. You may feel egotistical about this, but don’t. First, everyone does it. Second, and somewhat ironically, the most important part of getting nominated for a book prize is not winning. Winning is nice, don’t get me wrong. But every good book does not win every, or even any prize. The point of getting nominated for book prizes is actually to get the people on the award committee to read your book and know about it. Very rarely do you have the opportunity to obligate a number of senior scholars to learn what is innovative about your work – in fact, dissertation defenses, book awards, and tenure letters seem to be the only times. So take advantage and get yourself nominated for as many book prizes as your book is relevant to.

Fourth, fill out the section about what conferences you will be going to and what talks you will give. The publisher is more likely to target your marketing at places you have a higher profile.

2. Your marketing relationship with your publisher does not end with the form.

There is a marketing person at the publisher. They will generally introduce themselves to you, but, if they don’t, ask your editor. Your editor is not responsible for book promotion, so find out who is. When you have that person’s contact information, email them when you find out about new prizes, get new talks, or find out new information about a journal that might review the book. Hell, email them to remind them about upcoming conferences that you will be at, or to ask them if they have finished the nomination for that book prize. Your marketing person is the one person it is ok to annoy about your book. S/he has an interest in it selling, and the promotion you want to do will help that.

3. Do not rely solely on the publisher’s marketing to promote your book. 

However interested the publisher is in your book, you are more interested. However knowledgeable the publisher is about your field, you know more. With few exceptions, you will have more direct impact on the success or failure of the marketing of your book than the publisher. Given this, make sure you feel primary responsibility for the marketing of your book.

4. Social media and electronic communication matters. 

This is not a normative statement. If you have big normative problems with it, feel free not to do it. But, it matters.

Start simple. But your book title and a link to it in your email signature. Mine would read:

Laura Sjoberg, Ph.D., J.D. [line break] Associate Professor, Political Science [line break] University of Florida [line break] 

New: Women as Wartime Rapists: Beyond Sensationalism and Stereotypes 

This alerts people to whom you have regular academic communication with that your book is forthcoming or out.

Second, step it up a little. Tell some people about your book. Email the department in which you got your Ph.D. if its your first book, and always email the department in which you work. Email your college alumni magazine.

After emailing, try the internet. Claim your book on Amazon and Google Scholar. Make sure its on your webpage, and, if different, your bio page at your place of work. Make a blog post, either on the publisher’s blog or your own blog, or, if neither work, as a guest post on another blog.

Then, brave social media. Facebook the link to your book, and ask your close friends to “share” it. A day or so later, do that to the blog post. Also, tweet it, and get friends (preferably the ones with the most followers) to retweet it. If you’re younger than 35, Instagram it too.

5. Electronic communications aren’t the be all and end all of the book marketing world. 

Social media will give breadth, but you also need both depth and buzz. This sort of promotion starts before the book comes out. Propose abstracts to conferences abstracts conferences around the time the book comes out about the subject of the book, even if your research has moved on. Mention the book at the panel. All the better if others do the same. See if you people know are willing put together book panels, even at smaller conference. Book launch talks are all the better. Don’t pay to travel somewhere yourself, and many places won’t pay for you to come give a book talk. But, when you are going to be somewhere anyway, email someone you know locally and volunteer. Each book talk engages a lot of readers.

Talk about the book in other talks and papers as relevant. Note that I said “when relevant” – don’t insert it into a conversation when irrelevant. That will make you seem like a tool. Don’t be a tool.

5. Make sure the book gets reviewed. 

This is a metric that matters professionally for some directly. Some use reviews as a measure of the quality of books. Even if you are not working at an institution that does so, more reviews = more readers = more citations. And we always like that. So, if I convinced you that it is good to have your book reviewed, how do you do it?

First, follow up on making sure your publisher sent out the review copies of your book. Second, follow up with the journals and make sure that they got the book and are sending it out for review. Third, figure out which journals commission all of their reviews and which journals allow proposals for review. Get people in your networks to propose to review for the journals that allow proposals. Finally, remember that journals are not the only place that books can be reviewed – blogs do review posts as well. Pursue  those.

6. Cite yourself. 

Again, this is not a normative argument. If you object, don’t do it. But research suggests that self-citation does increase the visibility of work. Self-citations of books in articles gives article-readers a heads-up that the book exists if they have not otherwise come across it. It also creates a name for you in the area of the book, or strengthens those associations if they already existed.

7. Don’t be annoying. 

Self-promotion matters, and everyone does it, and everyone has to. It helps us know about work out there that’s like ours. It is ok to do. But don’t be obnoxious. This is a quick list of things that might be obnoxious:

  • posting the link on facebook, twitter, and instagram ten times instead of two
  • asking people for talks, panels, or reviews after they’ve expressed no interest or explicitly said no
  • go around volunteering to sign your book (parents and non-academic friends might be an exception
  • get competitive with other books – this is not a zero-sum game
  • try and get poor grad students to buy your $150 book
  • blog-spam – five posts in five days, for example.

If you don’t know if something is annoying, ask an academic friend. Or me. I think my judgment is ok. But I suppose that is for my audiences to decide.