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.


15 Responses to Pushing and Pulling Your Book

  1. Karen Sargent April 18, 2017 at 5:25 am #

    Dan, this is an insightful explanation. My debut launched two weeks ago, and in the past year since I signed, I learned the truths about platform that agents blog about so frequently. One of the most significant truths is the importance of building relationships with readers. Relationship building takes work…a lot of work…just like any other healthy relationship in our lives. But it makes all the difference. I have a wonderful publisher who could not be more supportive, but I shudder to think what my initial sales numbers would have been if I had relied solely on the push. All the pulling is paying off, but I have to confess, my arms are a little weary. 🙂

  2. Kirsten Panachyda April 18, 2017 at 6:10 am #

    Thanks for this explanation. I particularly appreciate your perspective that the Internet has “unlocked a previously difficult and expensive connection.” I tend to harbor a little resentment about social media, and need to be reminded that it is a privilege to build relationships with our readers so directly.
    Sometimes doing pull marketing can feel a little, well… pushy. So coming back to the relationship building concept helps a great deal. That is motivating.

  3. Glenda April 18, 2017 at 6:45 am #

    You’ve given me lots more to think about…

    True story-While my hubby was pushing and I was pulling a hulking coffee table
    to clear our living room for an extensive painting project our Chocolate Lab crept behind me.

    I stopped to avoid tripping on/hurting her but my hubby’s momentum continued. My big-toe-nail lifted off the pad and all work suspended for an
    emergency visit to a local Urgent Care facility.

    It took over a year for the “avulsion” to fully heal.

    Definitely, don’t want a repeat of that in the publishing world!

    Thank you. 🙂

  4. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser April 18, 2017 at 6:52 am #

    I think we’re very lucky, as authors, to be in this position.

    1) Engagement with readers is a wonderful thing, not only on a personal level, but also in understanding their hopes and fears, the things which make them pick up a book in the first place.

    2) Working with a publisher to provide the pull to complement their push gives some insight into how the book is seen in-house, and what its commercial strengths are when viewed by professionals. I think most authors would find that quite valuable.

    3) The author is no longer “at the mercy of”. A strong pull can at least partially make up for a failed push. It happened in the past; it’s called word-of-mouth. A film called “The Boondock Saints” splashed into the cinematic pond a few years back and sank, but not without trace. Enough fans cared about this move that “made going to church cool” that it emerged as a cult classic, and then found its way back into the mainstream (our small-town library has the DVD!). There has already been one sequel.

    It is perhaps worthwhile to say that pull takes many arms, working together in concert and for a common love, to be truly effective.

    • Glenda April 18, 2017 at 7:42 am #

      You made some great points, Andrew. Pondering them more today…

      The first to think reader first. Or first things first. 🙂

      My two grown sons have the Boondock Saints on DVD. Appreciate knowing the backstory of the film.

      Pulling together/teamwork prereq’s for the common love for expanded effectiveness…
      Yes. Well, said.

  5. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser April 18, 2017 at 7:18 am #

    It is perhaps good for those who pull to keep in mind a Zen proverb:

    “In a barn free of mice, even the quickest cat will soon starve.”

    • Carol Ashby April 18, 2017 at 2:22 pm #

      I’m going to remember this one, Andrew.

  6. Bill Hendricks April 18, 2017 at 8:08 am #

    Of the two approaches, I think “pull” is probably the preferred.

    When a grocery store sees that the $6.99 packages of strawberries are starting to get too ripe, they stick the strawberry display at the front door with a sign that reads, “Special! Strawberries for $1.99 each! Today only!” That’s push marketing.

    By contrast, when I go to the movie theater, I can smell the popcorn all the way outside the theater, and I start drooling! By the time I get in there, I gladly end up paying $7.50 for a bag of popcorn that probably cost the theater all of 28¢ to make. That’s pull marketing.

    In the ideal, we authors should produce work that is so appealing to our particular readers that they’d pay almost anything to get ahold of it (that’s the ideal, anyway). Having done that, our task becomes to do whatever we have to do—with or without a publisher—to let people who like the aroma of our product know where and how to get it.

    In short, pull ’em in by offering to satisfy a want.

  7. Courtney Ellis April 18, 2017 at 9:03 am #

    Super helpful explanations and insights, Dan!

  8. Sheri Dean Parmelee April 18, 2017 at 9:36 am #

    Dan, one thing about toothpaste and automobiles is that people need those products. We don’t have to sell people on buying them, just which one they will pick. I guess what you are saying is that people need books (at least in my opinion!) but we still need to get them in the store and then to pick up our book. There’s the rub!

    • Dan Balow April 18, 2017 at 10:10 am #

      Pull Marketing = awakening a need or desire for something.

      • Tisha Martin March 16, 2018 at 6:25 pm #

        This is an encouraging comment, thank you, Dan. Everyone needs *something*. It’s our job to figure out what it is and give them what they want.

  9. Edward Lane April 18, 2017 at 9:47 am #

    Excellent article!

Get New Posts by Email

Get New Posts by Email

Each article is packed with helpful info and encouragement for writers. You can unsubscribe at any time with one click. 

You have Successfully Subscribed!