Book Marketing: It’s About Data, Not Promotion [Smart Set]

Smart Set

Welcome to the weekly The Smart Set, where I curate new smart reads about the publishing and media industry. I also point to issues and questions raised, and welcome you to respond or ask your own questions in the comments.

“To seek: to embrace the questions, be wary of answers.”

—Terry Tempest Williams

Scared Money Never Wins by Chris McVeigh

After attending an industry event in London, consultant Chris McVeigh argues that marketing in traditional book publishing in broken and largely fails authors. He writes:

It isn’t broken because the people working in marketing departments are stupid or lazy, it’s broken because they’re under-resourced, badly trained and over-stretched. There are too many books coming across their desks every month for anything more than a cursory, tick box approach to be taken for the majority of titles. In the face of incredibly tough market conditions which have seen competition and technological disruption from almost every direction – many publishers have lost their way and lost their nerve. As an industry I think we’ve become timid and our marketing reflects that. 

McVeigh goes on to say that publishers are excellent at promotion when they realize they have a hit on their hands, but that good marketing has nothing to do with promotion. He defines it as data-driven: “It demands a fundamental understanding of data and statistics. It’s often boring. Tediously so. Hours spent hunched over spread-sheets tracking tiny changes to sales copy or plotting graphs of google rankings -v- keyword selection.” Read the full post.

Thoughts & questions:

  • After reading McVeigh’s post, I think all of us are wondering: Where do we go to learn this kind of marketing? Who is doing this training? And/or who can we hire to do what he’s describing? He promises another post that will perhaps offer insight.
  • I do know of one outfit that is focused on data-driven marketing: Logical Marketing, a partnership between Pete McCarthy and Mike Shatzkin. It would be wonderful if they offered a boot camp on this topic. I’d be first in line.

Nostalgia and Newspapers by Clay Shirky

Shirky, a well-known figure in digital publishing/futurist circles, doesn’t often write blog posts, but when he does, you immediately see evidence of it on social media, with people responding, sharing, and debating. Last week, Shirky pointed a finger at adults who are “lying” to young people (specifically college students studying journalism/media) about the future of print. He writes:

The most important fight in journalism today isn’t between short vs. long-form publications, or fast vs. thorough newsrooms, or even incumbents vs. start-ups. The most important fight is between realists and nostalgists. …

A year or so ago, I was a guest lecturer in NYU’s Intro to Journalism class, 200 or so sophomores interested in adding journalism as a second major. (We don’t allow students to major in journalism alone, for the obvious reason.) One of the students had been dispatched to interview me in front of the class, and two or three questions in, she asked “So how do we save print?”

I was speechless for a moment, then exploded, telling her that print was in terminal decline and that everyone in the class needed to understand this if they were thinking of journalism as a major or a profession.

Read the full post.

Thoughts & questions:

  • I detect some of the same nostalgia at work in book publishing, as many people emphasize the “leveling off” that has occurred with ebook sales/adoption. However, as with newspapers/magazines, print books too are in terminal decline.

Self-published books + library distribution: a selection of pieces

In the last few months, more channels have opened up for self-published authors to get their ebooks distributed and available within library systems. However, even for someone like myself, I find it really hard to drill down to the facts of what’s possible for authors and how these systems work. Here are a few places to catch up on what’s happening:

Thoughts & questions:

  • If you have any experience with distribution to libraries—or know of helpful articles—please leave a comment!
Posted in Smart Set.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the co-founder and editor of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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I was at UPublishU when McCarty said he doesn’t read any book he markets. As a marketer, I found this astonishing. Not impressed. I think this mythical data marketing guru might need to be from another industry or Amazon.

Lexa Cain

Chris McVeigh’s article was excellent. Thanks for featuring and linking to it!

Dale Phillips
Dale Phillips

Jane, I’ve been able to place both print and ebooks into libraries. Sometimes it’s a matter of simply asking politely (in person or via email)- with professional-looking books, a press kit, and ISBNs, they can quickly look you up and decide. I usually sweeten the deal with an offer to come give a talk to their patrons or book clubs, and as a paid speaker with the Sisters in Crime, I have some cred there. Meeting librarians helps immensely, as you might guess. After taking part in both the Boston Book Festival and New England Librarians Association conference last Fall,… Read more »


[…] Welcome to the weekly The Smart Set, where I curate new smart reads about the publishing and media industry. I also point to issues and questions raised, and welcome you to respond or ask your own questions in the comments.  […]

Laurence O'Bryan

Thanks Jane for a link to Chris’s take on the headless marketing chickens at trad publishers. The casualties among marketing assistants will pile up, as the Big 5 retreat to their bestseller castles and the field is left open for indies to spread across the land. I recommend visiting to see where showcasing is going and following Hugh Howey for what the stats are telling us.

Ray Thompson
Ray Thompson

I am one of those out of touch writers that believe ideas should come first to which thinking beings respond and business follows. Although I am regularly told that marketing is king, all you need is a scoop of “good content”. I am grateful for the indie publishing model but believe we have the same dilemma as before. How do we find and promote worthwhile literature and information. This post is an encouraging sign that some people are thinking about it. I should also point out that this problem exists in all the creative endeavors. It’s not a new problem… Read more »


[…] After attending an industry event in London, consultant Chris McVeigh argues that marketing in traditional book publishing in broken and largely fails authors. He writes: It isn't broken because the people working in marketing …  […]