What Are Your Goals? The Fine Line Between Publicity and Sales

Books are made on word-of-mouth.
At least those books that receive critical acclaim or top the bestseller charts. Think The Help or The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and countless others.

This is more than publicity. This is the unquantifiable magic of human capital. No matter how much you spend, it can’t really be predicted.

To any agent or marketer, sales are an essential metric, because if you care about an author’s career, you have pay close attention to how his or her books perform. Even in deciding whether to represent a writer or not, one of an agent’s initial considerations — though many agents take on projects because they simply love a piece of material – is the proposal’s “salability.” No matter how nationally acclaimed, an author’s career in today’s bottom-line culture hinges on whether his or her books sell. And so my strategy has always been to find the publicity that drives results, and align these objectives.

Below are our some of my findings–subjective, but perhaps applicable:

Straight publicity and platform strategies that will well-expose you but may only minimally sell your book:

1) One big essay or profile (essay best to demonstrate your writing ability)
2) A creative “reel” or book trailer circulated on smaller sites, and possibly get picked up by bigger sites largely for traffic-driving purposes **with potential to go viral and sell the book
3) Smaller magazine or online features to offer credibility in your byline and build platform and visibility
4) Local television and radio

By comparison, here are marketing strategies that help to sell your book:

1) Placement of excerpts (widespread, or placements on several more elite influential sites or blogs)
2) Reviews, reviews, reviews: contests and giveaways to inspire word of mouth and book sales
3) Speaking and events (often more targeted/narrow and more challenging avenue, but helpful for word-of-mouth in a relevant community, credibility, guaranteed book sales)
4) Personal connections and dialogue with relevant bloggers on Twitter, etc.
5) Column or ongoing writing relationship with magazines and online publications

These strategies are not without error or experiment, and in the vein of human capital, it relies on an author’s own energy and self-will as much as that of his or her marketer.

No one doubts both sales and publicity initiatives together are important, but it’s important to know your goals first, and focus your energies accordingly.

——Understanding that revealing these findings may seem antithetical to business, why give the information away? I suppose the way I see it, we, meaning all of us who care about publishing, just can’t be territorial if we’d like to see longevity in an industry we care about. There is much more to be said on the topic of aligning sales and publicity. I encourage any further thoughts by posting here, or you email me with any questions you have.

Michele Sullivan

Michele Sullivan is the President of Caterpillar Foundation, the philanthropy arm of heavy equipment giant Caterpillar Corporation that has contributed over 685 million dollars worldwide to alleviate poverty. She has been named as one of the Top 50 Most Powerful Women in U.S. Philanthropy and has served as a U.S. delegate to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women. Sullivan's forthcoming title LOOKING UP (HarperCollins) expands on her popular TED talk "Asking for help is a strength, not a weakness," highlighting the importance of perspective, making the first move, finding one's village, and learning to ask for help in life and business.