Marketing books in the time of Kindle

November 24, 2012

in books, marketing

Have you noticed how over the last few years Book Trailers, a sort of cousin to Movie Trailers has taken a center role in the marketing campaign to promote upcoming books (usually by tech savvy authors, but not only)?

I’ve been following this trend with interest trying to answer the following question: how has the marketing of books — those activities that make a publication stand out in a sea of digital and print books churned by the industry ever day/month/year — changed with the advent of the web, social media and other new media?

(not so secretly, I’ve been wanting to — event offered to — publish a book for some time now and as a marketer I’ve been constantly thinking on “how would I promote this book-that-I-have-yet-to-write”).

While many of the means detailed below have been in use in one form or another for several years, it looks like producing a book video trailer  has become a systematic step in the promotion (or event before that, during the funding phase) of a books on a wide range of fields, no longer limited to technology.

The most used tactics to promote a book

Video trailer

The book trailer aims to do the same as movie’s short teasers: present the main actors, argument and some exciting scenes in order to move you to make a purchase. An important difference with movies is in the storytelling structure, at least for non-fiction books. Hardly ever a movie preview will tell you what the conclusion of the story is while books tend to start with a hypothesis (in the case of non-fiction texts) and the reader is interested in finding more about it by buying the book (support, how it could be useful for her, etc).

For example, in the vide below, author Steven Johnson explains what the whole book is about, what the hypothesis is and a few of the reasons supporting it. Nonetheless, you’re not less interested in buying the book because of this.

There are even a few book trailer specific search engines like Bookcaster and tons of companies offering specialized in making them (just Google Book Video Trailer).


Using blogs to support a book is not new — Chris Anderson was doing it back in 2004-2009 for his books The Long Tail and Free. In Anderson’s case, it probably happened by chance that a blog he had created to expand on an article written in 2004 on Wired magazine on the concept of the “long tail” later became a platform to support the research and promotion of a book he published in 2006 (the aformentioned The Long Tail).

One of the biggest challenges of using a blog to support a book is what happens after the book has launched and the author’s interest have moved onto a different topic. Maybe a rich community has been created around the blog based on their interest in that specific topic, but how can the author migrate that community in a coherent way to her next project? On a first thought, it might seem more appropriate to create an author’s blog to promote the books but if the author is not well known, it;s reasonable to keep the focus on the theme and not the person. In Anderson’s case, the blog went into hiatus in December 2009 after the publication of The Long Tail’s successor, Free. His following book, Makers, focused on a theme not related to the previous ones and it wouldn’t have made sense to house them under the same theme-driven website.


The crowd-funding platform Kickstarter has been a revolutionary force for several passion-driven projects, a few of which have been books. While the main goal of Kickstarter is to fund a project, the author of the project has to actively market it to achieve this goal. This includes a set of best practices (making an engaging video, writing frequent updates, interacting with current and potential backers, promoting it on social media, etc) that rapidly become innocuous so it stimulates the author to keep creative and trying new things.

Some examples:

The author has to create a marketing campaign that is effective enough to achieve the minimum funding required, which requires her to create the most engaging (viral) marketing campaign possible… with the advantage that she hasn’t yet compromised the resources involved in producing the product and the marketing techniques tend to be rather low-cost. If the product doesn’t get funded, well, that’s sort of proof that there wasn’t an current market for it (or the marketing sucked so nobody would have purchased it anyway).

It’s interesting to see big names using Kickstarter too — that is, people with an existing strong community or that could have an easier access to other kinds of traditional funding. I guess that by avoiding an intermediation with their readers, they can keep their creative direction as free as possible from outside interruptions. A recent case has been that of bestselling business author Seth Godin and his The Icarus Deception project, which required 40,000 USD and got 287,000+ USD in funding.

In the introduction text of the project Godin writes “Please help me show my publisher, the bookstores and anyone with a book worth writing that it’s possible to start a project with a show of support on Kickstarter.”


Free Digital Distribution (limited or continuous) and  Sample Chapters

“Obscurity is a far greater threat to authors and creative artists than piracy.” Tim O’Reilly

That phrase  is often quoted by science fiction writer Cory Doctorow as an explanation to why he offers his own books for free in digital form. Also, he says that by giving away digital copies of his books for free he actually sells more printed units, contributing to his bottom line.

Now that in several markets the number of e-books sold has trumped that of printed ones, and that in a near future printed books could become an exception dedicated to special occasions and not just the kind of novels you read just once, I wonder if Doctorow will rethink his policy of giving away his books for free (being Doctorow a writer, I assume that getting payed for his books is one of the ways with which he pays his bills).

Since Amazon has started selling digital books for its Kindle e-readers, they’ve been offering the possibility of downloading a free sample (often one chapter) of any of the books available. This allows the reader to get a “feel” about the book before buying it which can complement the feeling obtained by reading the reviews of other readers.

Social Media

This is a no-brainer and many authors engage with their readers (current or potential) via social media like Facebook or Twitter. For example author Warren Berger launched his Twitter account @glimmerguy back in 2009 when he was writing/had just published the the book Glimmer (later renamed to CAD Monkeys, Dinosaur Babies, and T-Shaped People: Inside the World of Design Thinking and How It Can Spark Creativity and Innovation). Now that he’s working on his next title (A More Beautiful Question), the account sounds less relevant (actually, he could change his Twitter handle to his own name).

Recently, author Daniel Pink tweeted about the book trailer to his upcoming book, To Sell is Human.

This is the video he was tweeting about:


Live Book Readings

Book readings are not a new trend, and might as well have been one of the oldest marketing tools in the book world. What has happened though is that in a media world fueled by TED Talks (yes, I know, I’m speaking about just one slice of the world), authors have been encouraged to present live. Some examples from the tech and design world:

  • TED and TEDx Talks. Not all authors have the opportunity to be recruited to be recruited as a TED Speaker. Nonetheless, since the TEDx series of events became widespread, more and more authors have been able to give an 18-minute presentation on a TED-like stage.
  • Authors@Google is a series of lectures that take place in Google’s offices around the globe. Having the chance to listen and ask questions to various different types of writers is one of the several benefits that Google offers to their employees.
  • Pecha Kucha and Ignite talks (very short presentations, less than 6 minutes) have also been a great stage to indirectly promote a book as have many other conferences.
  • At the huge tech-music-film festival South by Southwest (SXSW), book readings have become a fixed part of the program and by conveniently placing the bookstore just out of the room where the readings take place, I picked up quite a few titles just out of impulse.
  • A specific presentation to a group of influential people. Last week I’ve got an invitation by a soon-to-be-author to a “‘Lab’ that brings together close friends, mentors, and subject-matter experts in an intimate setting to discuss the main ideas of the book concept and how they relate to various fields – and your work.”, which sounds as an excellent way to make an influential group of people to discover the book in advance and kickstart the public discussion about it.

The interesting thing about giving a presentation is that several authors do it before they write the book as a way to pitch their ideas to an audience and see their reaction, verify what sticks and what doesn’t, get feedback and later traction, thus becoming more of a market research.

Other Tactics

Following the success of his previous two books (The 4-Hour Workweek and The 4-Hour Body) Tim Ferriss has recently published The 4-Hour Chef under Amazon’s new publishing arm, creating some controversy among traditional book sellers which see Amazon as an enemy and will avoid selling the book in their shops. Ferriss has always been quite savvy in promoting his books using several of the tactics mentioned above (blogs, social media, use of Ad Word campaigns on Google to test different book titles, delivering presentations and offering free samples). Now, apart from launching a video trailer for the book, he has established a partnership with digital file-sharing site BitTorrent, which has 160 million monthly active users, to distribute the book (read: With Amazon Publishing Stonewalled By Retailers, Tim Ferriss Taps BitTorrent To Market His New Book).

You might like or not his books (I’m currently reading The 4-Hour Chef, probably a review will follow shortly) but in any case you can’t deny that Tim Ferriss is a good model to follow if you want to learn the most effective marketing actions to sell your book.

Update 1: Tim Ferriss shared The 4-Hour Chef Launch — Marketing/PR Summary of Week One, where he sumarizes several of the marketing actions and partnerships made for the book launch

Update 2: If you’re writing a book on tech related topics or attractive to the tech community, consider asking and answering questions on that topic on, which has a very cohesive community and seems to be rather untapped by authors.

BitTorrent page promoting Tim Ferriss’ new book

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