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Each week I get a local classifieds newspaper in my mailbox, what is commonly referred to as a penny saver newspaper. I like to flip through it each week, to see what sort of things are being advertised, a habit I picked up back when I ran a vintage shop on Etsy and would search the classifieds looking for estate auctions, rummage sales and promising yard sales where I could hunt for inventory to resell. My local paper has a feature where folks can send in thumbs up and thumbs down free ads to thank people for kind gestures or point out when they felt someone acted like a jerk. These are often amusing, and these days that’s mostly why I ready through my weekly penny saver.
Recently while breezing through it, an ad caught my attention. I will not post it here nor call out the author by name, lest I become the subject of the next thumbs-down ad. What you need to to know is that the ad stated that this individual had recently wrote and published a children’s picture book on a particular topic and invited those who were interested to send a text message. It was sandwiched between ads of people trying to sell used tires and yard sale announcements, because one other quirk of my local penny saver is that with the exception of the employment ads, they do not separate the classified advertisements into sections.
The Challenge of Advertising Books
When it comes to advertising books, too many authors take a sort of Field of Dreams approach and subscribe to the philosophy that if they build an ad the orders will come flowing in. Maybe you’ll get lucky and this is exactly what will happen, but chances are this is not the case.
Advertising is a complex subject that long tomes have been written about, and those interested in going into advertising as a career study extensively. It’s far more than I can cover in a single blog post, but in a nutshell effective advertising points out a problem that the target consumer has, and presents the advertised product as a solution. We can all see how easy this could be to do with a traditional item like a cleaning product: Hard water leaving mineral stains on your tub? Cleaning product X makes removing mineral stains a breeze. Buy in the next hour and we’ll throw in a bonus bottle of toilet bowl cleaner.
If you’ve written a non-fiction book it very well may solve a problem someone has. For example let’s say you’ve written a book about how to save money by making cleaning products at home. You might have advertising copy that says: Tired of wasting money on overpriced cleaners that don’t remove stubborn mineral stains? Learn how to have a sparkling clean bathroom for a fraction of the price in How to Make Your Own Home Cleaning Products.
With the exception of memoir, most nonfiction books can be marketed using the identify the problem and offer the solution advertising strategy. Even history books to an extent can be marketed using this strategy by pointing out some fact or historical tidbit that readers did not know and offering the promise of satisfying their curiosity about an area where their knowledge is deficient.
Fiction might seem like a bit more of a challenge, because its purpose is not to teach or solve problems. Its purpose is to give people a chance to escape for awhile from their problems. The thing is, this is the purpose of all fiction. So, on the surface, your solution is not a unique one. Why should they pick your book over any other? Often the solution is not to set yourself apart, or at least not to set yourself apart too much. That is, readers will choose your book if they think it is going to be similar to another book that they’ve enjoyed.
This is why major publishing houses invest so much effort in getting blurbs from established authors when they are launching a new book. The thinking being that if a reader likes books written by Stephen King and they see that Stephen King really enjoyed this new book that has just come out, then they too might enjoy it. It’s also the reason that the more successful and popular an author becomes, the larger their name becomes on the cover of their books. This isn’t a vanity thing, it’s because at a certain point readers are more inclined to pick up a book they know will be good based on other books they’ve read.
Book Advertising Basics
I’ve used the word readers a few times, and when it comes to advertising your book, at its most basic level, this is who you’re advertising to. It’s estimated in the past year, 25 percent of the population has not read a single book. So, 75 percent of the population is technically a reader, but a significant number of this 75 percent do not read books for leisure, instead reading for school or work assignments. These non-leisure-readers are not your target audience when it comes to advertising your book. You only want to advertise to people who read for fun, and more ideally to people who buy books. Because alas there are a significant number of readers who have not bought a single new book in the past year.
Thankfully, when it comes to advertising books, we can break down our target customers into even smaller groups. Not every author nor every genre is enjoyed by all readers. So, when it comes to advertising your books, the strategy is to reach readers who are going to like the books you write, which means finding the readers of authors whose style most closely matches your own. Or at the very least finding readers who read books in the genre in which you write.
There are some different strategies for doing so, which will have to be the subject for another post, but know that when it comes to advertising your books, targeting those individuals who are statistically most likely to buy your book is key.
Why Newspapers Are Not a Good Fit for Advertising Books
And this is why a classified ad in a small local newspaper is probably not going to sell any copies of your book. When it comes to print media advertising you pay based on the publication’s total readership. When it comes to something like a penny saver paper that gets mailed for free to households within a set area, readership numbers are not going to be super accurate, because while I usually flip through the paper each week, there are probably way more people who immediately toss their copy in the recycling bin.
But even if every last one of the people who received a copy of the little paper read it front to back, the chances of you generating any sales from your little ad are slim. A plain text classified ad means you need to try to convey what your book is about and who it is for in a couple of quick sentences. Then you have to hope that someone reading the ad likes these sorts of books, and likes them enough to take the time to try and track down a copy of your book.
The author trying to sell their book in my local paper had an even more difficult challenge. The book in question was a picture book, so that limits your audience, and, as the name implies, picture books are visual mediums, so something especially difficult to sell with a text-based ad. The topic of the picture book was a niche subject. This is actually a good thing, (more on that in a bit) but not so good when we’re talking about newspaper advertisements. As it happened the niche subject was a certain breed of dog. And according to the American Kennel Club this breed of dog ranks 22nd in popularity in the US.
So, the author would need for their ad to reach someone who has this particular breed of dog and also has a young child or is someone who would buy books for a young child. But it gets worse. Because the author does not give a website or a store name where those who are interested can buy their book, but instead invites interested parties to send a text message for more information. I’m trying to imagine the dog-owning parent of a young child who lives in my sparsely populated area who has the sort of time to send a text message to a stranger asking for more information about a book. Maybe someone will actually respond to the ad, but I doubt it. And if they do, are they actually going to buy a copy of the book?
No matter how you look at it, adveristing anything but perhaps a book with hyper local appeal in the newspaper seems like a losing proposition.
Better Places to Advertise Your Book
The irony for the author whose ill-fated ad caught my attention is that their book seems tailor-made for internet advertising. Its only real drawback from an internet ad perspective is that it’s a picture book which is generally a format bought almost entirely in print format, and the most successful internet book ads are those that can sell loads and loads of ebooks. Still, thanks to its niche subject matter I do believe that an attractive internet advertisement about this picture book with the right targeting would succeed.
If I were the author of this book, what I would do would be to craft an attractive advertisement that showed an image of the book along with a short snippet of text to entice readers to find out more, then I would target this ad so that it was only getting shown to people who were owners of this particular breed of dog and who also were the parent of a young child. And thankfully with Facebook, and other internet platforms, this should be relatively easy to do. Depending on how well the Facebook ad performed I might expand it to other platforms as well.
I would also look for other ways to promote the book online. Using Google I would find bloggers who were also passionate owners of the 22nd most popular dog breed in the country and reach out to them to see if they were interested in having me write a guest post for their blog, doing an author interview with me or hosting a giveaway for a signed copy of one of my books. Such a strategy might not work as well as targeted social media ads, but it’s got to work a lot better than a classified ad.
Now, if you haven’t written a book about a specific dog breed, don’t despair. It’s still relatively easy to market your book. Instead of targeting by people who are interested in a certain type of dog, you’re going to be marketing to people who like certain authors, the ones whose books are most like your own. It will be trickier to get guest posts and author interviews on different book blogs, but this is something that you can pay for by using different blog tour services.
You might also consider marketing using specialty sites whose users are pretty much all readers such as Goodreads and BookBub. It certainly makes more sense than blindly hoping your classified ad will magically reach the perfect buyer of your book.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. As I mentioned earlier if you’ve written a very regionalized local history book, a newspaper classified ad may be the way to go. Or maybe you’ve written a book about how people can earn extra money each month by buying and reselling items posted for sale in the classifieds section of the newspaper. Hey, when they find out they can make some money with something they’re already doing, they just might decide they need to learn more!
If you are interested in advertising your books online there are a lot of excellent resources out there. Some that I’ve found to be of value are the books Help! My Facebook Ads Suck by Michael Cooper and Mal Cooper and Bookbubs Ads Expert by David Gaughran. And if you’re serious about becoming an expert in advertising your books signing up for Mark Dawson’s Advertising for Authors course the next time it opens up would be a step in the right direction.