How to Market a Non-Fiction Book

by Travel Writing World
how to market a non-fiction book

It is necessary for authors to know how to market a non-fiction book nowadays. Book marketing isn’t just for self-published authors either. Traditionally published authors also need to promote and market their non-fiction books. Today we’re going to discuss what book marketing is, why all authors need to market and promote their work, and two approaches authors of non-fiction books can take to market their books.

This article is long, but it is packed with the top tips and strategies on how to market a non-fiction book. Authors of all types of non-fiction books, not just travel books, may find it helpful.

What is book marketing?

Marketing is often defined as the act of promoting and selling something. For authors, it involves getting exposure and attention on your work. Think: media appearances, author interviews, book tours (real or virtual), guest posts, etc.

But some authors have a negative association with marketing, a term that calls to mind shameless self-promoters and shills. For good reason, the internet is a space crawling with snake-oil salesmen and people vying to separate you from your money.

There is something romantic about the idea of the “starving artist,” for whom money will not sully the purity of human artistic expression. I get it; I love the whole starving artist romance too, but most people authors and artists I know don’t live in early 20th-century Montmartre and would rather “make it” or, at least, “make a living” and earn enough income to live and continue their creative pursuits. 

Add to this negative association the complications of the so-called attention economy. In time when attention is one of the most precious commodities, knowing how to promote and market a book is important for all authors, whether they self-publish or publish with big NYC publishers.

Who needs to market their non-fiction books?

Every author needs to know how to market their books. It doesn’t matter if you’ve self-published your book or Penguin Random House published it, marketing is something all authors cannot avoid.

There is a misconception that getting published by a big NYC publisher means the publisher does all the marketing and promotion. While they might help authors secure promotional opportunities, the fact of the matter is that traditionally published authors still need to do the heavy lifting. They must still make media appearances, give author interviews, go on book tours (real or virtual), write related articles, and do nearly everything else an indie author must do to promote and sell books. 

And this is expected of traditionally published authors. Many big houses publish non-fiction books because their authors already have an established author platform and, hopefully, an engaged audience eager to spend money on whatever the author writes. Plus, why would agents and publishers expect to see a marketing and promotion section in a book proposal if the author will not help sell the book? 

In a recent interview, Jonathan Slaght mentioned he has given some 60 talks via Zoom talks in about 9 months to support his book Owls of the Eastern Ice (FSG 2020). If an author published by a respected division of one of the big five publishers—Macmillan in this case—still needs to promote a book, chances are that authors who self publish or are published by smaller presses will need to as well.

If a traditionally published author is lucky enough to have an in-house publicist, you cannot count on them always hustling for you. When the next book season rolls around, publicists and marketing staff can’t continue to support your book because they need to work on a new catalog. 

What is on offer, the book or the author?

Have you ever seen museum visitors pay more attention to the information labels next to the works of art than the works of art themselves? I have. It is as if the artist is often more important than the individual works of art. No wonder, for works of art are sometimes referred to by the artist’s name rather than their titles. A work is “a Picasso” or “a Monet.” Movies and books are also referred to as “the new Daniel Craig movie” and “that new Stephen King book.”

We are often enticed to consume something like a work of art, a movie, or a book not just because the content is interesting, but also because of the creative persona behind the work. This behavior illustrates the power of personal branding and an author platform

Whether you like it or not, every public-facing creation is an act of marketing for an individual work of creation or for the creative persona behind it. In other words, everything an author does in the public sphere has a marketing potential for their new book and for their author platform. Let me explain. 

On the one hand, if you’re giving a talk about a new book you’ve written, you’re marketing that specific book. You want to entice potential readers to purchase your book. On the other hand, you—the author—are also marketing your “brand,” your “author platform,” and yourself as an author. No? Every book you write, every article you publish, every talk you give, every tweet you send, every blog you post, every public-facing creation can be a marketing act.

By thinking about how an author can be a “brand,” marketing and creative efforts can be more powerful over the long run, like compounding interest. Thus, the most important act of marketing for a non-fiction author is to write a wonderful book. The second most important act of marketing is to write another.

The two games of marketing non-fiction books

Savvy book marketers and authors think about marketing in two distinct ways, which I call the short game and the long game of marketing. 

Most people think about the short game when they think of marketing. They think about things like book tours, podcast interviews, advertising, and appearing in traditional media. These efforts tend to happen during the book launch period: in the months leading up to, around, and immediately after a book’s publication date. 

These efforts, if done well, should drive a flurry of sales. But what happens when the author stops promoting, when they can no longer sustain a media blitz? Sales can slow to a trickle… that is, without a long-game marketing strategy. 

Playing the long game in book marketing is all about platform building. It is creating an independent body of creative work, an author website with an email magnet, and writing more books. 

In the long marketing game, results are not immediately felt. Like a snowball rolling down a hill, the long marketing game helps the author’s platform grow over time. 

Playing the long game ensures that you will continue to sell books when the flurry of activity and attention near the publication date is over. Whereas the short game can be seen as a sprint, the long game can be seen as a marathon. 

Playing the short game of marketing

The short game involves marketing and promotion during the book launch that aims to drive awareness about a specific book and direct sales. The short game is usually played around the launch of your book, in the months leading up to and after the book’s publication. 

Short-game marketing is as important as it is time-consuming. Many authors clear their schedules so that they can focus on a media blitz of being interviewed on podcasts, writing articles, doing readings, and answering book Q&As. 

Starting early is imperative. Doing short-game marketing a month before the launch of your book will not give you enough time to build a buzz or implement all the strategies you will learn below. Start planning at least 6 months in advance—yes, it does sound early, but starting early will help you have enough time to do it all.

The first thing you should do is create a landing page on your author website about your book. Your book’s landing page should at least have an image of your book cover, your book’s synopsis or blurb, some testimonials from others (the more clout, the better), some testimonials from average readers (if you have any, perhaps pulled from Amazon, Goodreads, Net Galley, and other sites), and conspicuous “buy” buttons that are affiliate links to various marketplaces (Amazon, Bookshop, etc.) for visitors to purchase the book. These purchase links can be affiliate links, which will help you get a few extra pennies if book sells using the link.

I highly recommend that you offer a “reader magnet” of some sort, like a sample chapter, extra material, or behind-the-scenes content on your book’s landing page so that you can start collecting email addresses of people interested in your book. This will come in handy when playing the long game.

If you are self-publishing the book, enable pre-orders of your book on sites like Amazon. A strong pre-order campaign can help your book gain best-seller status on Amazon or at least get some visibility at the top of the charts on release day. Consider setting a short-term pre-order window like two weeks to one month. Pre-orders can be especially helpful if you already have a following, a strong author platform, email list, or social media presence. 

A strategy some authors use to market their books is to write articles on similar topics for established publications. This has a compounding effect as their book gets a media mention and exposure to new audiences. And getting paid for the article certainly doesn’t hurt. Pitching and writing articles, however, takes a bit of time and energy. 

Don’t be above writing guest blog posts and articles for established blogs on topics related to your book. While blogs may not pay, a guest post on a well-visited niche site can cause a steady stream of traffic and visibility.  

Consider asking early readers, your street team, and the top book bloggers to write honest reviews. Reach out to as many readers as you can, whose opinion you trust, and ask them to leave honest reviews on relevant marketplaces for free advanced copies of the book. Social proof (peersuasion) is real—you will be more inclined to purchase a book that has many positive reviews. 

Reach out to the media, podcasters, and bloggers to schedule author interviews timed around the launch of your book. Schedule this as far in advance as possible. If running a podcast has taught us anything, sending a “hey my book will be published later this month” email doesn’t work well when shows are scheduled months in advance.

Holding virtual events is also helpful, especially during a pandemic and for international readers. If you do virtual events, consider offering potential readers an incentive to buy your book. For example, offer to send them a signed book plate they can stick on the inside cover of their book if they buy a copy. Types of virtual events include taking part in webinars put on by bookstores, speaking for organizations, taking part in library events and readings, speaking at online festivals, etc.

After your book launches, and when the pandemic is behind us, consider going on a physical book tour. This could be small and around your region, or large and around your country. This will take some organizing and some cash for transportation and accommodation. Consider reaching out to literary organizations, libraries, and independent bookstores in the cities and town you hope to visit. 

Consider connecting with others on social media, or talking with book bloggers, book clubs, and book influencers about opportunities to work together.

Last, consider getting paid advertisements on sites like Amazon and Facebook, or using ebook promo sites.

Playing the long game of marketing

In this new digital world, book marketing begins even before you write the first word of your manuscript. It does so because book marketing is intimately connected to your author platform

What is an author platform? It is complicated, but suffice it to say that an author platform is an author’s independent body of creative work. Are you writing about or somehow publicly engaged in the topic you want to write about? Do you have a visible interest on the topic? Are you publishing articles or blog posts about your subject? Are you producing work? An author platform is also related to a writer’s ability to reach audiences and sell books per Jane Friedman

We wrote a lengthy article on building an author platform, so be sure to check it out.

The best thing you can do to play the long game of marketing is to write another book. Building a backlist of books or a body of work takes time. But it works wonders for visibility and reach. This step is also the foundational block in building your author platform.

Some authors work at content marketing as a long-game marketing strategy. Content marketing involves creating free content (a blog or a podcast, for example) that draws people to a website or an ecosystem. Though the author creates and offers free content, they also have a “premium” product (like a book) on offer related to the free content. Thus, content marketing works a bit like advertising without having to pay per click or view. Though, this takes a bit of time and persistence.

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Last Updated on 17 May 2021 by Travel Writing World

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Terry lister 22 August 2021 - 4:20 pm

Thanks for your article. I have a very simple question: how can l find the promotion sites that work best for travel books?

Jeremy Bassetti 22 August 2021 - 6:59 pm

Hi, Terry. Good question. I am not aware of any book promo sites that focus on travel, but some of the larger sites/email lists have a travel section/category. Free Booksy has one, though I cannot vouch for its efficacy. You might want to check promo sites that have ‘non fiction’ categories. Book Bub (the king) has ‘general nonfiction’ and ‘biography / memoir’ categories, which may be helpful. This is a good topic to research, actually. Thanks for the suggestion. If you come across any information, please circle back and let us know. Okay?


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