Is It Worth Partnering With A Book Marketer?
Since starting Reedsy, I’ve heard time and again that “what authors need most help with is marketing.” But that’s akin to saying startups like us primarily need help with fundraising; to me, it’s a startup founder’s job to raise funds when the company needs them, just as it’s a writer’s task to sell his or her book. Sure, help would be appreciated, but going as far as outsourcing? The best startups don’t do that.
Of course, I can see the case for bringing on a marketing specialist, particularly when an author is not technically savvy or familiar with social networks and communities. Still, this raises the question: who is best placed to promote an author’s work? If promotion isn’t done by the creator himself, isn’t there a chance the message will get lost?
Book marketer: it begins with strategy
“It begins with strategy,” says Gould. “I have very little idea about how to strategize a book selling campaign. That’s where Mike comes in. From the very beginning, we discussed my goals as a writer, and the sorts of books I like to write. From that, Mike can not only give me advice on which readers I should be reaching out to but also suggestions on how to reach them. Together we are in the process of developing an overall strategy that should help get my name out and define me as a writer with a distinct style and voice.”
I’ve gotten to know quite a few authors just like Jonathan: they blog on a regular basis, spend time on Twitter and Facebook, do Goodreads giveaways, and write to bloggers and reviewers. But not everyone takes time to assess their objectives with each of these marketing tasks.
A good book marketer can (or should) help you identify your target audience, find ways to reach out to it, and measure the results of your efforts in each marketing “channel” so you can focus on the ones that work. You end up doing the work (reaching out to reviewers, interacting with readers, etc.), so it doesn’t endanger your brand image or your relationship-building. And you know why you’re doing what you’re doing.
Mike Doane explains: “I think a lot of authors […] do those things they’re supposed to do without knowing the reasons why. ‘I blog once a week’ is not a strategy, it’s a tactic. What’s even worse is not being able to measure the outcomes, let alone produce outcomes to measure. This is my job. I’m supposed to help Jonathan understand why he’s using the tactics he’s using, plus find new tactics and help him test them.”
Essentially, that’s what a “marketing plan” is all about, and there is a certain skill to putting one together that not every author has taken the time to learn. That said, there is a vast amount of content out there around “book marketing”, whether in the form of blog posts, podcasts, webinars, online courses, or even books. Our initial thought was that there is no reason why an author couldn’t learn this on his own (while in contrast, specialized skills like editing and design can take years to learn and perfect). So I asked several authors on forums: what does hiring a personal book marketer bring that you couldn’t achieve on your own with enough time and effort?
Personalized advice, moral support, and an extra pair of legs
As indie author and marketing consultant Debbie Young told me: “Authors often have very unrealistic expectations of how hard it’s going to be to market a book. Too often authors get discouraged and stop trying to market at all, but with a little direction and encouragement of the kind I’m able to offer, they discover that actually there is a lot they can do after all, and they are re-enthused to do it.”
The degree of moral support a personalized marketing consultant can give you might actually be the most valuable part of that collaboration. The same way a good content editor can help you gain confidence in your craft, a good book marketer should be able to teach you how to promote your book in a more confident and effective way.
Plus, as Jonathan puts it, “It’s nice to have an extra pair of legs when it comes to chasing promotional opportunities such as guest posts, interviews, or paid promotions.” This touches on the subject of personal VAs (Virtual Assistants), which was brilliantly covered on Joanna Penn’s blog recently.
Flat fee remuneration or royalty-share?
Of course, this extra pair of legs doesn’t come for free. And how much (or even how) you should pay for marketing help is a slightly controversial question.
Jonathan and Mike have contracted on a royalty-share basis. This is something that you rarely see for editing or design services, but is a much more frequent occurrence in narration (audiobook) or translation services.
The logic behind it is pretty simple: a marketer’s only job is to generate sales for your books, so it makes sense to index the marketer’s remuneration on the results of their work. However, in nearly every other marketing-related profession, such as publicity, flat fees are the norm. I don’t know of one good book publicist who works on a royalty-share basis. Mike explains why: “Any author-publicist contract that’s based around sales is foolish. It’s like those SEO companies that promise a #1 position on Google for a given keyword. That’s extremely hard to deliver, especially on a budget. Publicists can’t promise things like reviews or sales. There are just too many factors involved.”
As marketers develop deeper, longer-lasting relationships with the authors they partner with, royalty-share might make more sense for them than for publicists or SEO specialists. Whether it makes sense to the author is another question, and one that largely depends on sales, budget-consciousness and risk-aversion. Mike suggested to me that he would like to see a flexible model where authors and marketers can choose to work together on a mix of fee and royalty-share.
This would have the advantage of keeping a bonus element (royalty) to incentivize the book marketer, while assuring that he gets paid a decent remuneration even if the book fails to sell well. There is no guarantee in book marketing and asking the marketer to assume all the risk makes little sense. In that sense, a hybrid model is certainly worth exploring.
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