Relationships can be hugely important in book publishing, and often these relationships begin with the author. Whether it’s an author’s relationship to his or her followers, a group of influencers, or particular brands, these connections can significantly impact the success of a book. This article explores some of these connections, citing examples of relationship-driven campaigns that worked. I should note that although these strategies were used for cookbooks, the ideas are applicable to all genres, with a bit of creativity and flexibility.
Don’t Forget About Followers
Consumers are faced with countless purchasing decisions every day—we’re not competing just with other books. What’s going to motivate someone to spend $30 on your book instead of on dinner or drinks or movie tickets? If you said “relationships,” then you guessed one reason.
If you have a platform or a network of followers, engage them! Relationships between an author and his or her fans can influence consumer purchasing decisions.
Case study: the Skinnytaste Cookbook cover crowd-source
Last fall, I worked on The Skinnytaste Cookbook by blogger and home cook Gina Homolka. Gina has been actively engaging her followers since her site launched in 2008, and they were hungry for her book. When it came time to choose a cover, we decided to let her fans vote. Within a couple of days, we had more than twelve thousand votes. Not only did the vote confirm the cover for us, but those twelve thousand people felt as if they had played a part in advancing the publishing process for the book, in which they now had a greater rooting interest. And they had!
This was one of many strategies we used to engage Gina’s followers, and the effort paid off. The Skinnytaste Cookbook ended up being a huge bestseller and remains on the New York Times list nearly a year later.
Key “followers” takeaways
1. Talk to your followers. If they have questions, answer them. If they express gratitude or love, thank them. You don’t have to reply to every comment, but reply to some. Your interaction will become more of a conversation than a one-way exchange, which can be really powerful.
2. Engage fans early via book announcements, cover crowd-sourcing, cover reveals, and calls for quotes. These all help your followers feel as if they’ve played a part in the creation of your product.
The Impact of Influencers
You don’t need a popular website or a huge social media presence to promote your book online—but you do need to seek the support of those who do. Get your book in the hands of these influencers—major bloggers, tastemakers, and celebrities—who can help spread buzz. For practical tips on reaching influencers, watch last month’s author webinar.
Case study: Sunday Suppers on Instagram
Last fall, our team developed an Instagram campaign for Sunday Suppers, a cookbook by Karen Mordechai based on her Sunday Suppers dinner series, which brings people together to connect over food. Since the book features several different suppers, we decided to ask influencers to create beautiful meals of their own and share them on Instagram.
With support from the author and some book-related goodies, we found twenty-five people with substantial audiences to post about the book. The campaign took off, and before long, people who weren’t involved in the original campaign began posting photos of their own Sunday Suppers. The hashtag #sundaysuppersthecookbook now has almost seven hundred posts, and millions of likes.
Key “influencer” takeaways
1. Start thinking about influencers early. Keep a list of names and addresses.
2. Don’t be afraid to ask people to support you!
3. Give influencers a date range when you would like them to post about the book, perhaps a week before to a week after on-sale.
4. Swag always helps, especially if it includes special book-related items as well as the book
5. Plan to return the love, including retweeting, regramming, or reposting influencer mentions to drive traffic their way.
Betting on Brands
Brands can be powerful promotional partners for a book. It’s worth reaching out to organizations such as big corporations, subscription services, restaurants, hotels, and nail salons, to name a few. In general, the bigger the brand, the harder it is to get their attention—unless there’s a pre-existing connection with the author—but even working with someone small can be worthwhile to spread word about your book. Your publishing team can help you identify good partners and work with you to reach out to them.
When considering brands, don’t rule anything out! If a notable brand or object is mentioned in your book, try to make a connection. If no specific brands come to mind, think about how or where a customer might engage with your book. Is it a mellow read? Reach out to a tea company. Best enjoyed with a glass of wine? See if you can get your book on the hang-tag of a wine bottle. If a friend owns a coffee shop, see if they’ll carry or display your book. The opportunities are endless; you just need to think of them!
Case study: Hellmann’s / Trisha’s Table
Last year, we partnered with Hellmann’s on a promotion for Trisha’s Table. Trisha Yearwood had been working with Hellmann’s for years, and in exchange for a mention in the cookbook and online support from Trisha, Walmart included copies of the book in Hellmann’s displays.
In addition to retailers, consider hotels, nail salons, and restaurants—any of these could be open to displaying your book. Other sorts of brand promotion could include:
- Promoting books on a product’s packaging (such as on the hang-tags on a bottle of wine or tin of tea)
- Including a book or excerpt in a subscription box
- Offering a brand’s audience an excerpt or other content in exchange for promotion
- Offering your book as part of a giveaway, or offering their product as a giveaway to your fans
Key “brand” takeaways
1. As with influencers, write down all the relationships you have, and share them early with your editor or marketer.
2. Don’t rule anything out! If there’s a brand you’d like to work with, your publishing team can often help open doors.
3. Books are social currency, which is valuable to brands and their audiences. So be creative and reach out with confidence!
Carly Gorga is the Assistant Director of Marketing for Clarkson Potter, part of the Crown Publishing Group.