How to Promote a Memoir – An Interview with Justin Renard
A few weeks ago, we opened Reedsy to book marketers. We’ve now got some really amazing people there, so we thought, let’s interview them and open some of their awesome marketing knowledge to the public. We’re starting with Justin Renard, a book marketer who worked at Penguin and Amazon and who has led over 10 bestselling campaigns across 50+ books. A fair number of these were memoirs, so this is what we focus on in this interview.
What marketing channels have you found to be most successful when it comes to promoting narrative non-fiction work? For example you seem to use a lot of promotional videos.
Start with your subject matter. I gravitate to tapping into the hook or interest area of a narrative non-fiction work to determine the best channel, or to your point format, to connect with an audience. Non-fiction tends to have topical elements that can enable you to find potential readers in a number of different places be they specialist publications, social communities or organizations seeking to connect with their audience by exposing them to meaningful content.
For example, when working with an author on a memoir about living with Type 1 Diabetes, already there are numerous outlets serving the diabetic community, organizations or tech start-ups with blogs that would love to interview a published author on their personal story, and similarly you can target this audience in places like Facebook.
Video serves as a great tool since it helps people connect with the author and/or their story quickly and emotively, and since so many of us are engaging in various social networks, there is a great opportunity to compel viewers to consider the work. Pro Tip: With Facebook’s recent push into video, you get great CPC on video ads (at least for now).
Memoirs can be quite personal, how do you go about finding an audience that will relate to or be interested in the story?
Quoting Beyonce here: “Who runs the world? Girls.” This is my mantra when it comes to seeking an audience for memoir. Statistically, book-reading women still outnumber book-reading men (just ask PEW researchers). There are numerous communities, great and small, of women connecting with other women through shared experiences who might be interested in your book (regardless of author or subject).
So whenever I encounter a memoir, I start by considering the author (who he or she is and where his/her peers might be) and secondly the story or experience itself (what type of woman would this story appeal to). Then I start looking around for where that woman might be connecting with others.
For a memoir I worked on about a young woman coming clean to her fiancé about her family’s hoarding past and her own personal struggles, I looked to xojane.com. There we connected with a community of women about the same age as the author, who were keen to learn and engage with the author’s experiences since it really did mirror many of the other sorts of true confessions shared on that site.
I’m not saying ignore 50% of the population, only I’ve just found more success in focusing on the better bet.
You've worked with authors who are already established in the public eye but what would you suggest for unknown authors who are trying to share their stories? Do you feel that trying to establish a personal brand is key?
Absolutely, but building a brand from scratch takes a long time, and it is sometimes hard to differentiate. It can be as much if not more work than writing that great wonderful memoir itself. So the question is rather, “What if I wrote the book, but forgot about the brand part?” This is where one can try to get a little help from others with friends. And by that I mean, seek out influencers that speak to the communities you are seeking to gain exposure with and see if you can leverage their reach and salience to help tell your story.
If you are in a niche space, you’d be surprised at how friendly social media mavens out there are to working with great content, and finding compelling stories to tell their readers (they are social mavens after all; they are born to connect). And once you start to get traction, you can use that to try and pitch broader reaching bloggers and media. It is still incremental work, but it can shortcut getting the word out.
Many people say that traditional publishers don’t do much "marketing" for their newer authors, meaning authors should expect to take on much of that responsibility themselves. Having worked with bigger publishing houses and independently, what is your take on that?
It is both right, not right and slightly irrelevant. What marketing means in publishing today is totally different than what it did 20, 10 even 5 years ago. It used to mean all sorts of things—fancy sales presentations to book buyers, paid in-store promotions, co-op promotional slots online, author websites, billboards, etc. Many of that still happens, and yes it is largely skewed towards the top 10% of authors at big houses, but with the advent of social media, content marketing and the shrinking of a diverse book retail space there’s been a steady shift of power that’s traveled from from publishers to booksellers to readers, and now it’s kind of up for grabs.
My take is that the formerly silo’d roles of editing, marketing, publicity and sales will converge into a sort of content packaging that requires a mixture of strengths in all areas, adding new complexity that relies on data to determine a publishing or marketing strategy. Some publishers are getting smart and taking back some of that power by building their own media channels to connect with readers and book buyers (programs that all their authors can benefit from almost democratically). Similarly, some authors are getting savvier and building mini-publishing ventures turning to traditionally e-commerce digital marketers that specialize in Facebook ads, and some booksellers are publishing their own books.
Everything is much murkier than it used to be. It boils down to the same thing for everyone: buy, beg, borrow or build your way into an engaged community, then tell a great, compelling story. And then optimize it.
In light of this do you think it is now easier for self-published authors to successfully market their own work through social media advertising, email marketing, and all the of the simple and accessible techniques available?
Yes, but it requires a completely different mindset. To be effective at any advertising you need a budget. To be effective at email marketing, you need an email list. To to be effective in social, you need help from the masses (which means convincing them to act). It is all 100% more accessible, learnable, but certainly not meant for everyone. Anyone, not just authors, can basically use the same tools (even the big publishers) and they do.
I think the most obvious analogy is that each book is like a start-up. If anything, an entrepreneurial author would do well to check out the same books or websites start-up founders are reading these days. Many, if not all, of the same rules apply—test, iterate, optimize.
What would be your top marketing tip for indie authors who have a very small budget for marketing?
Network. Set aside time to connect with anyone and everyone that can help you capture reach and scale your efforts affordably. If you are writing a book about edible insects, find someone who is as passionate about it as you, but perhaps who took the time to start blogging about it already. Make a new friend.
Want to work with Justin? You can ask him for information and quotes here.
Now, over to you: what other channels have you found to be effective to promote your memoir? What about other genres? Let us know your thoughts —or any question for Justin— in the comments below!