Report: What’s Your Story? How Do You Market Authors and their Books?

Posted by Justine Solomons on 3 May 2019, in Event reports, News

Words by Chris Russell, photos by Craig Simmonds

In an increasingly crowded marketplace, authors are constantly searching for the most effective ways to market their books. For its April event, Byte the Book returned to Covent Garden’s h Club to tackle this topic with a four-strong panel, comprising chair Hermione Ireland (Little, Brown), literary agent Julia Silk (Kingsford Campbell), publicist Truda Spruyt (Four Communications) and author/publisher Kit Caless (Influx Press).

Our panel from left to right: Hermione Ireland (chair), Julia Silk, Truda Spruyt and Kit Caless

Hermione opened the floor with a single question: what is the most important thing an author can do to market their books? “Build a community online,” responded Julia, a keen social media advocate who attributes much of her career progression to the networking power of Twitter. “But remember,” she added, “it’s not about selling your product so much as it’s about promoting yourself. Randomly tweeting your book link at people is rarely a good idea”. Interestingly, Kit entered the conversation from the opposite perspective, theorising that we may be at a tipping point for authors on social media. “I think it was very relevant five years ago,” he said, “but maybe not so much now, or in the next five to ten years”.


Another packed house at the h Club

What practical marketing tips, continued Hermione, did the panellists have for authors? “Seek external help,” advised Truda, “but don’t wait until your book is already out, because it’ll be too late. Approach people three to six months before publication”. Julia, meanwhile, extolled the virtues of local bookshops, particularly for literary fiction authors. “Locate twenty or thirty bookshops in your local area,” she suggested, “and visit them in turn. Even if you only manage to sell five books in each, you’ll have achieved a decent chunk of sales”. Kit raised the issue of price points, referencing his own book, Spoon’s Carpets, as a case study. When pricing Spoon’s Carpets: An Appreciation — a tongue-in-cheek celebration of the carpets found in Wetherspoon’s pubs across the UK — Kit was careful to consider his audience. “You can’t have a book about Wetherspoon’s that costs more than three pints in a ‘Spoon’s pub, so I fought hard to keep the price point low”.

Plenty of great networking as always

Related to price points, the panel also discussed the significance of digital algorithms and meta-data. “Meta-data is hugely important,” stressed Julia, “and in fact, some big publishers have whole basements full of tech people working on these things”. Truda pointed out that Facebook advertising has become much more targeted and effective in the last few years — a fact that many publishers and self-published authors are using to their advantage — and Amazon’s micro-categories were also praised, since ranking highly in these niche categories can boost a book’s visibility in the more mainstream charts.

We learned a lot and had fun too!

Next, an author in the audience, currently around five months from publication, asked the panel what he should be discussing with his publisher at an upcoming marketing meeting. “Ask for communication,” replied Julia. “If you don’t know what to expect or what’s expected of you, you can end up feeling as if promises haven’t been fulfilled”. Finally, in a soundbite that was on Twitter within seconds, she added: “Publishing is alchemy at every stage. You never know quite what’s going to happen”.

You can access full video footage of the event here.

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