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The Do's and Don'ts of Digital Marketing

By Carl Weiss
Courtesy of Flickr

Unlike all you Millennials out there, I still remember a world that did not revolve around the smartphone and the Internet.  Way back in the dark days before the turn of the century, publishing hadn’t changed all that much in the past 150 years since the Gutenberg Bible was first published.  Back in the 20th Century, publishing relied on the printed word.  That meant cutting down trees, hiring printers and staging book tours to promote your latest novel or self-help book.  In short, it required a lot of effort to achieve a minimal result.  Unless your book was picked up by a major publishing house, the odds of getting it into bookstores (which were all brick and mortar) was slim to none.  Even worse, the expense of printing and promoting any book back then was staggering. 

Then came the Internet – Online book publishing didn’t get started until the last few years of the 20th Century. didn’t even incorporate until 1994.  Far from an overnight success, the online bookseller reported a net loss of $32.6 million in 1997, $124.5 million in 1998 and $567 million in 2001.  The company didn’t show a profit until 2005, and that was only a paltry $35 million.  While today the company is a $10 billion a year behemoth, it was a long, hard eleven-year uphill battle to profitability. 

While there was clearly a need for online publishing twenty years ago, the Internet still hadn’t spawned most of the online marketing tools that make online promotion viable today.  Sure, there were websites and zines back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, but none of them had the kind of viral reach that made promoting a book online a slam dunk.  Much of the web we take for granted today didn’t exist until well into the 21st Century.  Facebook didn’t start until 2004, Twitter wasn’t online until 2006, and YouTube didn’t start sharing videos until 2005.  Instagram was begun in 2010 and Snapchat was started in 2011. 

Image courtesy wikipedia
Digital Publishing – Today’s worldwide web is awash with a myriad of ways to publish and promote books.  Want to save some trees?  It’s a snap to publish an eBook. Even if you’re bound and determined to go the hardbound route, there are numerous options offered by digital publishers nowadays.  Where in the past, self-publishing meant writing a big check and leasing a storage unit to store a thousand of copies of your book, today you can do small print runs or even print books on demand, one copy at a time.

Digital Promotion - Looking to promote your book online?  There are almost too many ways of getting the word out.  There are book blogs that review books and promote authors.  There are online radio shows eager to interview published authors, even those who are just starting out.  Some of these bloggers and podcasters provide access for free to authors, while others charge a fee.  Either way, these portals are worth considering since they have an established audience of readers.

DIY Book Marketing – Of course there’s always the do it yourself route.  If you have a lot of social followers, they can be leveraged to help you get the word out about your book. Social posts are a great way to get the ball rolling.  These efforts don’t always translate directly into sales, but it’s a start.  So too is blogging and online video, provided you can get readers and viewers to take a look.   In short, if you hope to sell books, you need to tell the world about it.  Just don’t expect miracles, because it’s most likely going to cost you some money to sell some copies. 
Image courtesy pixabay

Pay to Play – Here’s where many people get in trouble.  Paid online advertising is a great way to increase your book’s exposure to the world at large.  However, unless you know what you’re doing, it can be a costly and not always successful way to sell your books.  That’s because there are several flies in the paid online advertising ointment:

     1.    Which paid promotion is right for you? – Just as with most things online today, when it comes to paid advertising, there are simply too many choices.  Everyone from online book publishers to social networks to search engines offer paid promotions of all kinds.  This makes it difficult for most authors to decide which advertiser to choose. 

     2.    How well do you know your audience? – Another stumbling block that many authors discover is that they don’t know their audience well enough to be able to drill down to the readers they really need to target.  Ask yourself this question, “Who is this book designed to reach?”  If your answer is “Everybody,” you’ve missed the mark.  Being that online marketing is global in reach, if you don’t want to go broke promoting your book to the masses, you need to identify and target your core demographic.

     3.    What do you offer that nobody else does? - Once you categorize your ideal audience, you must then entice them to give your book a go.  The way to do this is with an offer (and it has to be more than an offer to buy your book).  Until your book achieves bestseller status, the onus is on you to encourage people to read it.  This is extremely difficult if you have no professional standing or celebrity status.  Do you know how many books get published online every day? Thousands.  Trying to break out of the herd is no easy task.  That’s why you need to take a tip from business marketers in order to encourage book sales by offering your readers something special.

Too many online authors concentrate on building a brand.  Let me tell you right up front, that building a brand and selling books are two different things.  Unless you have a recognizable name, spending money to build your “brand” is going to be an exercise in futility.  Better to focus on generating a buzz about your book and what it offers readers that nobody else does. Leave branding to the big boys.

Image courtesy flickr
What is a realistic budget? – Marketing is like gambling in that there are no sure bets.  When people ask me what’s a realistic budget to promote a book or a business, I ask them, “How much can you afford to lose?”  Even the best promotions are likely to cost time and money to get right.  You aren’t likely to hit a home run your first time at the plate.  Big businesses test market ads and products all the time to determine the best route to sales success.  Most business owners and authors assume that if you spend money on advertising the world will beat a path to their door.  It doesn’t work that way.  In fact, it doesn’t work at all if you don’t take the time to quantify your objectives and goals before you start throwing money at the problem.

     5.    What are your objectives? – Tony Robbins sums it up this way. “If you want better results, ask better questions.”  By that he means if you want to win at business or bookselling, you need to know where the train is headed before you roll out of the depot.  The only way to do that is to create a plan that details every aspect of your audience, your marketing methods, your goals and your budget.

     6.    What’s a win? – If your idea of a win is simply to sell more books, then don’t be disappointed if you wind up spending $5,000 to sell five books.

Image courtesy flickr
     7.    It isn’t all about you. – If you really want to make your mark as an author, you need to focus on your audience instead of yourself.  To paraphrase JFK, “Ask not what the country can do for your book.  Ask what your book can do for the country.”  If you want to cut through the static and make your mark as a bestselling author, you need to point out how your book benefits the readers before you tell them what you bring to the table.

     8.    What are you prepared to do to succeed? – If you want your books to succeed, take a lesson from Amazon and learn how to play the long game instead of the short game.  Sure, Jeff Bezos’ business bled a ton of money for the first ten years.  But he had the wherewithal to realize if he stayed the course, he would eventually succeed.

Unlike Jeff, too many authors come to the table expecting the world to beat a path to their door.  When the path turns into a thicket, they’re quick to turn tail and run away instead of breaking out the machete to start hacking their way through to the other side.  If you hope to make it as a successful author in this day and age, you need to do more than publish books online.  You need to roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty.  If you aren’t writing weekly blogs and daily social posts, emailing portal operators, radio and tv station managers and journalists, then your dream of being a bestselling author is likely to remain just that.  If you want to have your dream come true, take off your author hat for the time being and put on your marketing hat.  
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Carl Weiss is Co-Host of Working the Web to Win, an award-winning online marketing company based in Jacksonville, Florida.


  1. Hello Admin

    An excessive number of online creators focus on building a brand. Let me reveal to you front and center, that building a brand and selling books are two distinct things. Except if you have a conspicuous name, going through cash to manufacture your "image" will be a pointless activity. Better to concentrate on producing a buzz about your book and what it offers perusers that no one else does. Leave marking to the enormous young men.

    Thanks & Regard

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