Book marketing tips for self-published authors


Publishing veteran Carl Lennertz, on BlueInk Review’s blog, discusses the difference between between book marketing and publicity and where self-published authors should spend their money.

Carl has worked in the book and publishing industries his entire adult life; beginning in bookstores after college then becoming a sales rep for Random House. He spent 16 years working for Random House, mainly as the Marketing Director for Knopf, Vintage, and Pantheon. Lennertz went on to become Associate Publisher of Little, Brown and Company and Vice President of Retail Marketing at HarperCollins.

Lennertz was the Director of Book Sense for four years, and was most recently the Executive Director of World Book Night in the U.S., a nonprofit program for those in need. In his many years in publishing, he worked with James Patterson, Anne Rice, Ann Patchett, and Michael Connelly, and published his own book with Harmony, a division of Random House.

What exactly is the difference between marketing and publicity?

In my opinion, publicity partners with marketing, but marketing sets the message and the budget. When the head of marketing meets with the head of publicity, discussing the strategy for the book as colleagues, Publicity will say, “This is a very media-genic author, she has a great following around the country, she is great for radio, TV, etc.” Then the Marketing person might say, “Great, we will set aside money for the plane ticket to New York to be on a morning talk show,” or “We’ll set aside money for maybe a satellite radio tour…”

The marketing person then also has to set the agenda with the sales department and get books into stores. The marketing team allocates money for promotion, display, features on websites, and concurrently publicity gets the free media coverage. Marketing and publicity have the same goals, but just use a different – yet parallel – process.

How do you set the message of your marketing campaign?

The short answer, which I start with on day one, is to be true to the book’s contents. Describe them honestly. Make appropriate comparisons. Have the title, subtitle, and book copy reflect the book passionately but honestly. Little or no hype, be organic. All good marketing comes from the author’s own words. But yes, at a publishing house, spreadsheets rule.

If you are a self-published author and your budget is limited, where is it important to spend your money?

If you can’t afford much, do social media. Facebook is free. And, think local. I am continually amazed by the number of self-published authors who do not even frequent their local bookstores. It’s amazing to me. My number one piece of advice, above everything: Visit your local bookstore. The independent bookstores are carrying self-published books of local interest. They are doing events. I spoke to a bookseller in New York a few months ago and he sells dozens of self-published books involving local history.

I am also amazed by how many self-published authors only list Amazon as the bookseller. List all the websites where your book can be found: Amazon,, Indie Bound, local bookstores, etc. An independent bookstore can sell hundreds of a self-published author’s book if the author understands the bookstore’s business model. The bookstore is not going to support that self-published author if that author only lists Amazon [as the place where the book can be purchased].

Some authors think marketing is some magic, expensive thing, but even dropping your book off at the local paper is marketing. Even the people in traditional publishing houses are spending time individually emailing media, calling bookstores and papers, writing a press release. It is not this machine that just cranks out stuff and things magically happen. It goes book by book, message by message.

How should a self-published author approach a bookstore? What does that relationship look like?

Just walk in and be a customer. As far as getting your book on the shelf, just walk in and ask, but it sure would help if (the author) made a purchase from the store at the same time. You support them; they support you. If the book has a very focused regional appeal, I can’t imagine it’s hard to drop your book off at the local bookstore. And, by the way, the number one way to get attention in your local newspaper is to do an event, reading, or signing at the local store. You get inches and inches of free coverage just by being in the calendar section. Any author can do that if they establish a relationship with the store.

Who do you talk to specifically?

Anybody. You begin a conversation. You could ask for the manager or the owner, but (if it’s the owner), know that they’re probably going to be busier. But engage any bookseller in the store and see what happens. In a high-tech world, people think everything is supposed to be sort of automatic and impersonal, but it’s still very personal. Make friends.

What do you think is more important: the quality of the book or the quality of the marketing?

The quality of the book. A good book that isn’t marketed won’t sell and a bad book that is marketed probably will sell at least some copies, but you can only market a bad book once. People aren’t going to come back. There was a famous case study from the late ‘80s about a new, I think it was a South Korean, car that had a huge ad campaign and the car sold really well for a year, but the car sucked and now the company is gone, gone within five years. The ad campaign was brilliant, but the cars sucked.

What are your thoughts on reviews as tools in marketing?

Any review by an objective third party is good for the book. But think about the target market. I sent a novel to the nonfiction editor of The Washington Post once. I was in a rush. I wasn’t thinking. Of course it never got reviewed.

I am working with an author who does astrological mysteries, and he got 38 reviews for his first book because he and his publisher understood that they weren’t going to worry about The New York Times or The Washington Post, but they went after every mystery and astrological blogger that there was. Those 38 people all talked about it. One had (only) 500 followers and one had 1,500 followers, but it got noticed and it sold. He had 38 blurbs to put on his second book.

If you write a book about hunting, you’ve got to contact hunting magazines. I don’t mean to sound condescending, but I am amazed sometimes how authors are surprised when they send the book “everywhere” and they get nothing.

I work with a small press and anytime one of our books gets reviewed anywhere — Ann Arbor, Boulder, etc. — the next week we’ll get three to five emails from other reviewers. Reviewers read reviews because there are so many books out. A reviewer has a stack of books in front of them, and they want to know which ones to take their time on. They are making decisions based on the cover and the back copy.

Also, as a side note, the number one marketing for a book is the flap or back copy. That is the book’s message. And, the number one mistake I see is going too long on the flap or back copy. Authors over-describe their own book. Focus on your market. Don’t be all things to all people.

What if a review comes back negative?

The author should shut up and move on. This one author I work with who is very sensitive, of the 32 reviews he received, two were negative, and he said, “I have to write them back and correct them. They misunderstood the book.” I just said, “There is nothing good that is going to come from you doing that. You’re going to write them back and thank them for their honest and candid opinion and note that you will keep it in mind for the next book.” Sometimes you’re going to get a bad review. If the criticism is valid, then the author should incorporate it into his or her next work. There’s nothing else to be done.

Any last thoughts?

There has never been a better time to be self-published. There are lots of production platforms to produce the book. The POD (print on demand) books look great! Twice in the last year, I got a book from a bookstore and then one from Ingram POD and put them side by side. I honestly could not tell the difference. That was a problem 10 or 20 years ago. The self-published books looked (terrible). Now, they look good.

There’s also a term I don’t use enough that I should use much more: niche-marketing. There is a blog and magazine for everything. If your book falls in that category, that’s where you want to be.

Go to a bookstore. Look at books similar to the book you are writing and decide whether you want to be like them or different. Either way though, know what they are and what they look like.

There’s a reader for every book, and it’s just a matter of finding that reader. It’s important to regulate your expectations; you’re not going to be a best seller right away. I see with all authors, traditionally published or self published, that they are impatient. I think some people look at a bestseller list and wonder how did that person get on the list. Well, that is their 15th book or their 10th book. In a famous example, James Patterson got 38 rejection letters. It took Anne Tyler until her fifth book to have a best-seller. You look at all those names and have to realize it takes time.