We were delighted to attend the Bookseller’s Marketing & Publicity Conference in London last week, so here is a rundown of the sessions from the day. From audience building to promoting reading as an activity, tiny indie budgets to getting the most from emails, all areas of publicity and marketing were covered.
Anna Fielding of Emerald Street, a daily email for 150,000 professional women, shared what they’ve learned about growing a reading community. They’ve defined their moment, creating a virtual equivalent of sitting down with a newspaper for 10 minutes with a cup of tea. They keep their emails bitesize to accommodate time constraints, and note to remember that readers are viewers first: make your content appeal to them otherwise they’ll scroll past. Study your data, but then ignore it. Use your editorial discretion to work out what’s best. And stand out from the crowd – calmly. Be a welcome presence in a shouty, deal-fuelled inbox.
Next, Sara Lloyd of Pan Macmillan talks through the C word – well, five of them, about growing. You need to know your core proposition and understand how consumption is changing. Complacency is not option. Celebrations of surviving are redundant, as digital isn’t going away. You need to keep up. To the circle of publishing, we need to break out and find new audiences. Change is inevitable – mobile, personalisation, video, UGC – everything is moving forward. And lastly, canaries. Younger people are canaries – watch what they do, what apps they’re using, how they interact – it’s the best way to learn and adapt.
Next, Jaz Lacey-Campbell and Vicki Watson of Canongate talk through Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive campaign, where they kept his words at its heart. His writing – its honesty and approach – was what made the book, so it was integral to how they promoted it. They didn’t rely on reviews, but always made it his voice that shaped what people heard. They partnered with mental health charities, and sent a large number of proofs to people they knew had enjoyed Matt’s previous work. It’s about balance: on busy months, pay less for marketing, on quieter months pay more. But always, always, keep Matt’s voice at the forefront.
Totes Amazing by Pursuit and Profile Books’ James Spackman looks at trade marketing conventions and getting suck in certain habits. If you brainstorm for long enough in publishing, you will come up with tote bags. A lot of what’s sent to a bookseller goes straight in the recycling – there’s just too much. Be targeted, know what you’re sending will be of interest to who you send it to, have sleek design to catch their eye and show you’re invested in the book. A lot of trade marketing is done by habit rather wastefully, but the good stuff really does work. Put the time into doing the good stuff right.
Emma Bravo and Sam Baker of Pan Macmillan and The Pool respectively talk about collaboration. Unsurprisingly, it’s like a good marriage: reciprocity of a shared vision, generosity, some after work flirty drinks. They have an open, honest and authentic relationship with their customers. It’s easier, in a sense, to just take out an ad space in The Pool, but their partnership allows for brilliant content and an excellent working relationship to genuinely engage with readers.
Anna Bissell and Sarah Benton of HarperCollins discuss the Goat Approach. It’s what they took with their debut The Trouble With Goats and Sheep. When you discover a gem on your list, you need to focus. They had a task force and sought to make the biggest splash – their proof was bold, and in the end the cover stayed largely similar. They wanted people to discover it and not have it pushed on them. They only put money into the campaign when they reached certain goals. It was about engagement and using social media to go far, but it is heavily time consuming. To prioritise one book so heavily, others may not get as much of a push – but these are decisions all publishers have to make. To summarise? Be more goat. Be special and stand out.
BigMouth Book Events‘ Becky Fincham discussed getting the most out of your book events. Why will someone read voraciously but not come to an event? There’s an uncertainty over what’s expected of them. You need to create the same feeling and connection at your event as people get when reading. You have to put the audience first. Keep the book at the core of the event and have discourse around it. Set the scene. She suggests hosting your own events like Penguin or Faber, it puts your brand out there and you also get to set the agenda.
What the book industry can learn from other industries is discussed by Jen Callahan Packer, Chris McCrudden and Albert Hogan, whose backgrounds are with Sky, BBC, Universal and Midas PR, and all either work, or have worked, in the books industry. The budgets are the key difference from TV and movies, though music is where the greatest parallels lie. It’s noted that publishing is great on an individual campaign level, but needs to do more in promoting reading as an activity above all else. Audible are the prime example: they not only promote their own brand, but they’ve raised the profile of listening as an experience. Publishing needs to make some noise and be provocative – TV isn’t afraid to be, and neither should we.
Penguin Random House‘s Zainab Juma talks about sending better email; it’s a static and closed media, so you need to get creative. Be a considerate dinner party guest when invited into someone’s inbox – there are rules of engagement. Don’t turn up with unexpected gusts, or uninvited. Don’t dispose of your social media leftovers. Always change. Be innovate with design, time, frequency, calls to action, subject line, copy length. Play around and have fun – make your emails part of the story.
Katie Roden of Seven League draws from her experience in the sports world for turning your readers into fans. You need to care as much as they do, share their passion. Be relevant – budgets are tight, so don’t do blanket campaigns. Make sure you’re engaging with the right people and doing it well. Always be there for them – mobile is the starting point for everything that you do, so get everyone in a meeting to search your brand on their top three apps and see how you do. Give them the right stuff in the right place: one piece of content will never work across all platforms. And finally, show your fans love and respect. If someone is interested enough to sign up to your email – make it worth it.
Rebecca Gray and Julia Pidduck of W&N discuss their experience with the Belgravia App, which saw Downton Abbey’s Julian Fellowes’ story delivered in bitesize instalments via app, merging the age-old art of storytelling with cutting edge technology. First, they had to consider the audience; Downton fans were natural, but the data of those who signed up proved invaluable in branching out. They had to build the world of Belgravia online, taking people on a journey. They had content that people wanted to like and share, and soon they had 30,000 email sign-ups, and 23,000 likes on Facebook. They met skeptics in the press, but they went to them and showed them the app; don’t expect people to meet you half way if they don’t get it, change your approach until it works, even if it means going to them and putting the app in their hand.
Indie author Mark Dawson gives a crash course on how he’s made himself a bestseller by smart online marketing. First, target a warm audience, one that shares interests with those who would enjoy your work. Build a targeted community – authors must have a Facebook page, but building a community that would like you and other authors builds a bigger audience that you can target with your ads. Focus on mailing list growth – you have to give them something. The days are gone when people will follow you for no reason, but get them to sign up and immediately offer them an upsell page, usually a discount on a book of yours. Recruit a street team who can proof your work, and also offer them a ‘soft launch’. It means hundreds of legitimate buys on Amazon and usually great reviews, so when you properly launch your book the feedback helps push it further. Finally, use Facebook video. They’re trying to compete with Youtube so the organic reach is huge. It’s there to be used, so use it.
Next, there’s a showcase on indie budgets in marketing, and here are two. Verso‘s Sarah Shin and Jennifer Tighe discussed selling a freely available and controversial text – the Scum Manifesto. They offered 50% off their other books for those who bought it; they preempted backlash by critically and historically discussing the text, both its problematic elements and the good parts. They were in control of the story. Always start a conversation, don’t shut it down.
Serpent’s Tail‘s Anna-Marie Fitzgerald and Flora Willis chatted about I Love Dick, the 20 year old story that was given a revamp. “It feels good to say, and better to tweet a picture of,” they explain. It’s a playful and creative campaign that people simply want to share. A Guardian article calling it a must-read right before publication led to major reviews and press, but social media remained key to their campaign: it was all about getting people sharing and talking about their book.
Lastly for this round-up, Cathy Rentzenbrink and Jessie Burton (The Miniaturist) discussed the author experience. Jessie wrote a blog earlier this year regarding mental health that raised important points for conversation: you don’t expect to be anxious about a sense of achievement, but you start to feel fraudulent. You use all your confidence to get to the point of being published that you can feel alienated afterwards. It’s easy to say yes to everything as a first-timer, but you’re not necessarily ready to be a name or a product. You just need to remember why you started writing at all times, that’s what’s most important.
A very insightful day for those involved in marketing and publicity in the book industry.