What I Think I Know About Publishing Marketing…


(The ‘It’s All About Me’ bit)

I worked for an academic publisher for 25 years. My duties during that time included sales consultant, key account manager, regional sales manager, Direct Marketing Manager and, for the most prolonged period, Global Head of Digital Marketing. As Head of Digital, I oversaw a team that looked after CRM, Online Events, Email and Social Marketing, Web development and maintenance and Customer Support.

I created more than 300 local and global on and offline campaigns. My team provided digital support on over 1000 campaigns ranging from niche products to key series and stand-alone titles that have sold over 100 million copies.

I hold a Post Grad Diploma in Digital and Direct Marketing (IDM) and a Masters’s level Diploma in Strategy and Innovation from Oxford University.

Since 2020, I have co-run Virtual Noir at the Bar with Vic Watson, where we have hosted over 300 fiction authors on our online show, and co-created Bay Tales with Vic, where we have run online shows, managed book launch events and, earlier this year, ran our first physical show here in the North East.

Why This Article?

It has intrigued me how ‘mainstream’ publishers market – as a consumer, as a partner, and from talking to many authors who seem bemused by the process. While it is impossible to talk about one way of ‘marketing’ – it varies massively depending on lists, budget, organisation and aims. I thought it might be interesting to share some of the things we did in academic publishing for our titles and authors.


(Because everyone loves a list)

To try and achieve some brevity, I’ve selected seven initial areas to consider (and ignored cliches around ‘deadly sins’) If anyone reads this or wants to know more, let me know, and I’ll expand to other topics.

I will use some marketing jargon, but I will keep it to a minimum and explain it as I go…

1.    Life Cycle/ Priority Products

Let’s start here because this is at the forefront of a sales and marketing strategy. Then we’ll move on to tactical elements

Any product has a life cycle. Marketing activity can affect how long that lasts and how long it can be extended. Examples include product adaptation (format, rejacketing, new author introduction), pricing, advertised place, and promotion type.  

The following is an illustration of the Technology Adoption Life Cycle. It’s pretty much true of most products and services.

The five stages of the consumer adoption process are awareness, interest, evaluation, trial, and adoption

How this is handled could be an entire article on its own. But ‘Look Inside‘ to see a few sample pages is not enough – that requires finding the book in the first place.

The key questions are: how does a publisher make readers aware the book is there? How do they build interest, allow evaluation and trial and encourage adoption?

Using a virtual book launch as an example:

  • Awareness: Advertise the event to appropriate people and make it easy for them to attend.
  • Interest: make the content appealing and highlight the author/ work
  • Evaluation: and Trial: give the potential customer a chance to see/ hear the book – through the author reading/ discussing and reading a sample via links after the event
  • Adoption: make it easy for them to buy via links to websites or bookshops. If there is an additional incentive to buy now (signed copy/ attendee offer etc.), all the better

What makes a book a ‘priority’?

Let’s consider another classic, well-known marketing model: The Boston Matrix.

Products (and sorry to be crass – but for the article, let’s ignore literary worth and artistic effort for a moment and call books’ products’. Although in the case of the Boston Matrix, we could also, even more reductively, call authors the ‘product’. Sorry.)

Ignoring whether we can ‘grow the pie’, let’s consider the market – in terms of share and growth.

A publisher has a range of products. Not all products are equal: in terms of sales potential or marketing spend.

The publisher’s challenge is knowing which are Stars, Cash Cows, Question Marks and Dogs.

Dog products: Low sales, low growth. The obvious and typical action is to remove these from your list. But they do have a place: niche sales with little promotion and therefore cost required. (in other industries, this might be replacement parts for end-of-line products – still needed by a few.)

Question marks: As the name suggests, relatively unknown quantities that need high investment to push them. Unfortunately for the ‘average’ author, many publishers fill their ‘question mark’ quota with celebrity titles…assuming it will reduce the ‘question’.

Star products: these are the market leaders. At the end of the day, these are the ones that (should) generate more return on investment. But they often require high ongoing investment to maintain them.

Cash cows: these are mature products. They keep selling and do so without too much investment required.  

Two things to note:

  1. Products move from category to category. A star may become a cash cow. A question mark may quickly become a dog.
  2. Different companies will allocate different marketing spend percentages to categories.

The question is – where are you or your book in your publisher’s portfolio? If you’re not where you think you should be, does the publisher have any thoughts or desire on how to change that?

The Practical Stuff

I could talk all day about strategy. About a company’s vision and values. Their mission. Their brand. But for this article, I will look at a few things I spent my career working on. These are my opinions only and worth precisely what you paid for them.

2. Knowing your audience and being able to talk to them.

Does your publisher have a CRM system? (A Customer Relationship Management system). Do they know who their customers are? Chances are they do: as far as retailers are concerned. That is, their B2B (Business to Business) customers.

 But what information do they have for B2C (Business to Consumer)? Maybe they have an online newsletter sign-up option. They’ll most likely have a social media presence. But how do they talk to them? And what do they talk to them about?

In my old role, we had a complete CRM system (and do not, for a moment, underestimate how difficult and expensive this is to create, maintain and use well.)

Segmented by multiple organisation types and by individuals. And each of those individuals had detail about the areas they were interested in. That could be segmented and used for differentiated campaigns. This meant three things:

  1. They were not being contacted too frequently
  2. When they were contacted, it was about something they were interested in
  3. Depending on activity and characteristics, they could be chosen for different promotions.

The result? The open and click rate was more than twice the publishing industry average.

The mainstream publishing newsletters I’ve received since signing up? Few ask about my preferences. Even fewer seem to take any notice of those preferences. And fewer still stray from their ‘star’ or ‘question mark’ promotions.

One of the oldest and falsest claims is that email is dead/dying. It’s not: if it’s used well.

3. Where is the marketing spend going?

Traditionally there are two types of marketing (there are many variations now, but let’s keep this simple for brevity)

Above the Line versus Below the Line.

Above the Line marketing is mass marketing (TV, Radio, Billboards, Print Ads) aimed at increasing awareness and measured by reach/ frequency. It is expensive and challenging to measure precisely.

Below the Line marketing includes email, SEO, Social Media, content marketing and events. It is (or can be) targeted to individuals, is measurable, drives individual responses and actions, and is highly adaptable.

But mainstream publishers love their Above the Line. It’s sexier. It’s easier to say, ‘we got a front page advert on x (even if circulation figures of X are minimal and not seen by the public)

There are, undoubtedly, some great ATL campaigns out there. But they’ll be limited to a handful of ‘stars’ and ‘question marks’ because it’s expensive.

I’ve seen some excellent BTL campaigns from big publishers over the last few years and some very talented marketers. But I’ve also seen too many campaigns on BTL platforms executed as though they were ATL: neither using the opportunity nor benefits available.

My team used to send out well over a thousand email campaigns a year. But because we had a well-segmented list, robust governance protocol and very creative marketeers, we ensured no one was over-emailed and everyone received timely, appropriate, and authentic messages. Hence, twice the industry response rate.)

 (My team probably got sick to death of this mantra. But it worked.)

4. Social Media:

Some of the big publishers have substantial social media following. I mean, a million plus levels of substantial.

We had 300k on Facebook, 100k on Twitter. (Our CRM-built list had well over a million.)

But take a look at what they put out and the reaction they get to the posts. I’d suggest that if you’re putting out a tweet to over 1.5 million followers and you’re getting less than 20 likes, something isn’t working.

But I see it all the time.

Followers are not everything (and I speak with no bitterness as someone who has only a thousand on my personal account).

Do mainstream publishers have a social media strategy?

A content strategy?

Or are they just pushing out the same advert on all platforms? Too often. Yes.

5. Online Events:

In the publishing company I worked in, we ran our first virtual event nine years ago. (2013)

When the lockdown started, I was astonished by how few mainstream publishers had run or knew how to run a virtual event.

At Virtual Noir at the Bar, we had over 300 authors – from unpublished to global superstars appear during our 28-week run. Before everyone became ‘zoom aware’, we provided training – documents and online sessions.

Like social media, virtual events are not ‘cheap’ options and certainly not ‘free’.

They can if done professionally, reach a wider audience than any physical event. Allow for interaction. Enable calls to action to buy. And build relationships.

But they do not work in isolation. And my experience, as a consumer, is that all too often, they are poorly executed, poorly advertised and poorly followed up.

And too often available only for those ‘stars’ or ‘question marks’.

They do not work in isolation. They must work with email, social media, the web, and your customer list. And they must be thought out: to be done for a reason, not just ‘because’.

It’s as if all this ties together somehow, isn’t it?

6. Author Support:

Here, I can only go by what mainstream fiction authors have told me and compare it to what I know we did for authors in my own publishing experience.

Many authors think their work is done when they get a book published by a mainstream publisher. That they can sit back and let the marketing geniuses take over.

Many of those same authors have told me they’ve been shocked by how much they find out they must do themselves.

And how they don’t have the first clue about marketing.

Here are five simple things we did:

  1. Within that CRM system? We had authors flagged and updated them on promotional plans. Not just theirs – but the broader strategy. So that things didn’t clash or contradict in their own activity.  
  2. Provided help sheets on how to set up their social media channel(s) regarding security, professionalism and content suggestions.
  3. Provided online ‘introductions to marketing’ sessions for them – individually and as a group of similar-type authors. It was a chance for them to learn/ ask questions/ compare and contrast among themselves.
  4. Created templates for them to use and adapt for their use online
  5. Let them meet the wider team – not just their point person, but others. This allowed them to understand more about who did what and what that meant for them and their titles.

7. Success

I’ll finish here with a question:

What does success look like?

In my previous role, we had several ‘success criteria’ including but going beyond sales and the bean counting exercise of how many opens/ clicks/ visits/ views.

  • What was our customer satisfaction score for what we were doing?
  • What was our author satisfaction score for what we were doing?
  • What was our team satisfaction score for how we were doing things?
  • What was the wider business’ feeling on how we were running marketing activity?

If our customers weren’t happy, we didn’t get the sales

If our authors weren’t happy, we didn’t keep them

If our team members weren’t happy and we didn’t know why we didn’t keep them

If the wider business wasn’t happy, what could we change to make things work better?

Are the mainstream publishers doing this? I have no idea.

I’ve helped a number of them with promotional events. They’ve gone well, judging by attendance and comments.

But at the end of the day, my experience and knowledge may be irrelevant to mainstream publishers.

Personally? I think it makes sense.

For customer experience. For author experience and improving businesses.

Want to talk to me about marketing? Drop me an email at simonbewick2018@gmail.com

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