Navigating the modern business of book publishing

Using books as a marketing tool, not a marketing flier

The Toast Marketing Board - Satirical Book Advertising

The Toast Marketing Board Advertisement – “Something Rotten” Jasper Fforde satirises in-book advertisements beautifully in his Thursday Next Series

Have you seen the stats on how many advertisements we are subjected to every day? The studies vary widely but the actual number is academic; we don’t need a survey to tell us that we are being bombarded by advertising like never before. And as the psychological and technical sophistication of marketing increases, so to does the sensitivity of our own ad-detectors and infomercial filters. It’s no wonder we’re cynical about what we hear and read – we live in a world saturated with sales copy, product-placement and cash-for-comment. It comes through our tv, radio, magazines, newspapers, movies, games, email, internet, phones, letterboxes, clothing, billboards, sports, public transport, and even public toilets! One of the only safe havens left are books. What other  media allows you to immerse yourself for hours, even days at a time without ever once sneaking in a word from a sponsor or turning over space to paid advertising?

The fact that books remain almost exclusively ad-free is one of the reasons that they are one of the most trusted and respected sources of information available to us. There are already a few examples of product placement and sponsorship creeping in to some books (anyone ever read a cookbook with brand name ingredients in every recipe?) but on the whole readers should rightly feel that books contain the ideas and opinions of the author alone, not the agenda of a cashed up sponsor.

The ad-free status of books is something that I strongly believe should be preserved in book publishing, both for the integrity of books as a media and for the ongoing success of the industry as a whole. This is an increasingly potent point of difference and the trust between authors and readers is an invaluable asset which publisher and authors betray at their peril. One only needs to look at the constant tension between the editorial and advertising departments in newspaper and magazine publishers to realise that commercial interests can often trump journalistic (or authorial) integrity.

Why do books make great marketing tools?

How books help build an author’s brand and grow their business – from “Using Books as a Marketing Tool” Presentation

Given my beliefs in the matter it may seem counter-intuitive that I gave a presentation on Using Books as a Marketing Tool as guest speaker at the Small Business Breakthrough Seminar on the weekend. How can I sermonise about authorial integrity in book publishing and then turn around and encourage small business owners to write and publish a book for the purpose of marketing themselves?

The answer lies in the difference between seeking to lift your own profile by publishing a book as opposed to including overt promotional material or advertisements in the actual copy of the book. As I made very clear to my audience at the Small Business Seminar, an author’s success in the former will be severely hampered by appearing to do the latter – even if it is their own business they are promoting. This is because any hint of a commercial agenda will set off a reader’s aforementioned ad-detectors and infomercial filters, devaluing your book and its content and hindering sales.

When a reader purchases your book you not only receive payment for your work, you are also granted the rare privilege to speak directly to them at a length and depth enjoyed virtually nowhere else. It’s a unique opportunity to share your ideas and showcase you expertise that exists largely because of the mutual understanding between author and reader that a book contains knowledge for knowledge’s sake. If your words are authentic, generous and engaging they are more likely to resonate with the reader and win their loyalty. This customer will be far more likely to seek out your other products and pass on word-of-mouth than if they’d simply read a marketing flier or paid advertisement.

Unlike these other overt marketing materials, a book is a product in its own right and so it functions as a marketing tool in a different way. As a commercial product, book readers are already customers when they read a book so the marketing focus is on retaining the customer rather than winning them. In other words, great books foster brand loyalty. This is just like any other product. Apple, for example, is  one of the most loyally followed brands in the world and, while it may win new customers through clever marketing, it keeps them through the quality of its products. Make your book the best product it can be and the quality of your ideas and writing will be all the promotion you and your business will need.

That isn’t to say you can’t let your reader’s know about your other products and services in your book – it’s sensible to give your new fans a way to to find out more – you just need to refrain from doing it in the main content of your book. Instead, you can mention your business in the author blurb or on one of the back pages of the book. You should also always direct readers to your website where they will be able to find out more information.

So, if you are considering writing a book to help lift your profile and promote your business, by all means go for it! But remember, a book needs to sell well if it is to succeed as marketing tool and that means it has to impress readers and create word-of-mouth. Here are the three main points to keep in mind when using a book as a marketing tool:

  • Be authentic and generous with the information in your book – if you don’t wow your readers with your ideas you won’t win their respect and loyalty
  • Don’t raise your reader’s ad-detectors and infomercial filters by treating the content of your book as sales copy for your other products (or worse, as paid space for third party advertising) – don’t betray your reader’s trust!
  • It is ok to give your readers information about your other business, but do it in the author blurb or at the end of the book and always direct readers to your website

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1 Response »


  1. Is in-book advertising inevitable? | Fiction et al

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About Richard

Richard Bilkey has been selling, marketing and distributing books for over ten years, managing independent bookshops, a major online retailer and, most recently, one of Australia's largest Independent Book Distributors, Brumby Books.

Contact Richard directly at
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