Pushing and Pulling Your Book

The marketing and promotion of books differs somewhat from other forms of product marketing, but not as much as you might think. Basic marketing principles, which work for toothpaste and automobiles, also work for books.

The greatest changes in publishing over the last 10-20 years have been brought on by the Internet, which unlocked a previously difficult and expensive connection directly to readers, making it reasonably simple and inexpensive to communicate directly to book buyers.

Prior to this, publishers would concentrate on making a splash at a publishing trade show or getting as many retailers as possible to carry as many copies as possible of a particular book, hoping the buyer traffic already present in the stores would buy the books on display.

This is known as “push” marketing.

The complement to “push” marketing is called “pull” marketing, which has always been present, but has been made far more achievable with the Internet and everything the Internet does well.

Decades ago, “pull” marketing was very expensive. Motivating a consumer to buy a certain product was the purpose of every advertising agency and company marketing department.

Countless billions of dollars have been spent over the last century, trying to create demand for products. Most mass media (radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, billboards, etc.) is sustained through advertising revenues.

Publishers were no different and years ago paid handsomely for their “pull” marketing characterized by advertising and publicity efforts.

Christian magazines were strongly supported by book and Bible advertising. The decline of print magazines was in no small measure related to Christian publishers moving advertising dollars out of magazines and into other efforts.

Today, social media is comparatively inexpensive and effective creating the “pull” and so it is no surprise marketing campaigns featuring heavy doses of social media are a cornerstone for both traditional and self-published books.

Bookstore tours and events were once considered a core activity for authors. It married the “push” of the bookstore display to the “pull” of the author’s notoriety.  Over the course of my publishing career, I’ve been present at bookstore appearances by authors which drew anywhere from a couple dozen to a thousand or more people.

But even in their heyday, bookstore events could go either way. Dozens of factors working in favor or against the event could spell success or failure.  Books never arriving from the distributor or bad weather making everyone stay home make events risky to plan. It’s happened.

Today, with fewer bookstores and so much of book sales happening online, authors need to rethink how they spend their time promoting.

Most authors would love to have publishers create all sort of push for their book. But pushing alone will never get a book into the hands of consumers.

This is why traditional publishers and successful self-published authors focus so much time on the author platform connecting with potential buyers, pulling their books through a physical retail store or Amazon, or anywhere carrying their books.

Only a few publishers have their own direct-selling channels (Harlequin for one) and bring any significant number of reader connections to the effort of marketing a particular book.  Publishers have connections to sales channels; the author owns the connection to readers. Which again points back to the necessity for an author to collect possible buyers through their efforts…the author platform.

Not trying to extend the metaphor too far, notice how the terms “push” and “pull” are headed in the same direction? There is no tug-of-war going on between publisher and author, but two parts of the same effort.

Each party in a successful publishing venture has a role to play. Even in the simplest self-publishing models, Amazon can only do so much. The author must bring buyers to the table.

Knowing where one leaves off and the other picks up should be helpful in figuring out how best to make it work together and sell more books, which is what everyone is trying to do.


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