These days it’s a given that authors will be expected to take part in the marketing of their books. But, navigating the world of book marketing is no easy task for an author, and there are no hard and fast rules for them to follow.
Which is why it was such a pleasure to hear how one particular publisher’s marketing team has taken the lead in helping authors help them. In part three (the last part) of our behind the scenes look into the world of book marketing, publicity and advertising, I asked Ashleigh Gardner, Manager of Digital Development at The Dundurn Group, all about Dundurn’s innovative author marketing program, dubbed “The Author Countdown.”
KM: Can you sum up in a few sentences what your author countdown is?
AG: Starting on a bi-weekly basis — and increasing in frequency as the publication date nears — our authors are automatically sent a customized e-mail from us. Some of the messages are tutorials, some are informative to let the authors know what stage we’re at in-house, and some are just showing them some fun things that other authors are doing.
KM: What inspired you to create the author countdown program?
AG: Shortly after I started at Dundurn, close friends of mine found out they were expecting a baby. They signed up for those automated weekly e-mails that let them know what’s going on, and what they need to do based on their due date.
I loved hearing their updates each week and it was an easy jump to see the possibilities to inform authors. So many people refer to their books as their children, and there is so much worry and insecurity about the process and misdirected energy. When an author first signs, especially first-time authors, they want to do everything all at once. Our Countdown helps break down the process into manageable chunks so that both our team and the author get the information that they need when they need it.
KM: What kinds of info do you send to the author’s each week?
AG: Some weeks it’s just useful information, like a staff roster that lets you know who to contact with what questions. Other weeks it’s tutorials on popular social media sites, like Twitter and Facebook. We have some that give them direct tasks to aid our efforts. We’ve recently added some that are targeted to a smaller group, so only authors within a certain subject get a message that’s relevant to them.
KM: How have Dundurn’s authors responded to the countdown – are they all enthusiastic, do some object to being tasked with marketing responsibilities?
AG: Almost everyone is enthusiastic and it’s definitely helped communication. While some authors in the past have had the belief that their only job is to write the book, I think that’s definitely changing and not something I’ve experienced much of in my position. Almost everyone is going online for information these days — authors included. And with the attention the mainstream media is paying to author promotion online, it’s easier to get them on board.
As publisher we can (and do!) as much as we can for our books — but readers trust the author more than the publisher. They’re the authority, they’re the creators, and they’re the ones that the fans want to interact with.
KM: Have you made any changes to the countdown program based on author feedback?
AG: Definitely! Some of our authors have come back with more questions and, where the answers can be general, they often become their own message to everybody. We also have some authors who have been inspired to do really creative promotion from the letters and then we add their examples in for everyone to see.
It’s also been changed by outside influences. A good blog post or a new site launch can inspire a new countdown message. Meghan at Booknet Canada has recently posted some fantastic Social Media How To’s on their website. After reading those I incorporated some of their tips and added the links to our suggested reading.
KM: Can you give an example of a Dundurn author who done a really good of promoting their book? Did they need a lot of coaching? Did they just jump in and start promoting?
AG: The authors who are the best at social media are the best self-promoters, period. It’s only new tools for the same jobs. One of our savviest authors online, Jill Edmondson, is also the most creative with promotion offline.
I find most authors need help with the technical issues, and have a few questions about the culture of certain sites and how they work. Once they see a few examples and get comfortable, they’re often able to jump in and make it their own.
KM: Can you give an example where social media marketing just didn’t seem to work for the title or author?
AG: There have been some places where I didn’t think we’d have a big response online and I was proven wrong!
I think that as far as specific books go, you can find a place online for any title. The internet has made it so easy for communities to gather, it’s easier to find groups that are interested in our content. And, with good search engine optimization, it’s never been easier for them to find you!
Where social media marketing doesn’t work is where the author is resistant. It’s hard to create enthusiasm online for a book when the author is impersonal and hesitant to interact with their audience. A lot of older authors have fears of losing their privacy when it comes to online networking and I think it’s important to remember that you’re in control of what you put out there. You don’t have to be personal, but be personable.
KM: What one piece of advice would you give to publicists/marketing staff who are trying to get their authors to promote their books via social media?
AG: For the most part, work in baby steps. I think a lot of authors are overwhelmed thinking that they need to be on every site with a million followers and it paralyzes them into doing nothing. It’s so much better to strategically choose a few projects and do them well than to have an out-of-date profile on every site you can find. I usually have authors start with a Facebook Fan Page because these days almost everyone they know will be on Facebook and that instant growth and feedback is great for momentum.
KM: What one piece of advice would you give to authors about taking on the social media marketing of their books?
AG: Watch first, then act. Start reading the blog of an author you admire. Become a fan of lots of Facebook pages so you can decide what’s working and what isn’t. Sign up for every eNewsletter to see what the competition is doing.
And, most of all, have an idea of who you’re doing it for. Know who your reader is, where they are online, and what they’re interested in.