A guest post from Feeding the Elephant: A Forum for Scholarly Communications.
Guest post by Rosemary Sekora, publicity manager, University of Nebraska Press
“I have a relationship with this scholarly society, and they would have done a free ad in the conference program; did you reach out to them?”
“Why didn’t you submit my book to this award?”
“This journal is the perfect place to review my book—how come they didn’t receive a copy?”
There’s a way to avoid these panicked after-publication-date questions: the marketing questionnaire. This form can seem long and tedious, and it may even include questions that seem rather elementary to you, but the information it requests is crucial to your press’s marketing department. It is step one in the communication process that will enable the marketing department to market your book. And when it comes to marketing, communication is everything.
You may find yourself asking, “But shouldn’t the press market the book? I’m not a marketer.” But in today’s crowded marketplace, academic publishers have to rely on authors’ promoting their new books. With hundreds of thousands of new books published every year in the United States alone, it takes effort to stand out and reach the right reader. Having thoughtful author input in advance can make all the difference; it will put your press in the best position to market and promote your book. Your scholarly expertise is important but so is sharing that expertise with the right audience.
By filling in the marketing questionnaire thoroughly and carefully, you provide enough information about you and what’s important for your new book that a marketing department can immediately get a sense of the review outlets, ad opportunities, conferences, awards, and more that they should pursue from your input.
As much as it’s a crucial tool for the marketing department, the questionnaire should also be your working guide on promotion. It should provide some promotion inspiration!
As much as it’s a crucial tool for the marketing department, the questionnaire should also be your working guide on promotion. It should provide some promotion inspiration! As you go through these questions, you may realize you have more connections and opportunities than you think. It’s a great exercise to use the questionnaire to begin planning your conference travel and making lists of smaller organizations to get in touch with that would share information about your book or invite you to speak at a future meeting. Larger academic conferences require panel submissions in advance, but smaller organizations may invite you to speak at their next meeting. Relatedly, the pandemic has changed conferences and book events forever. Virtual options are not going away anytime soon and luckily have created new opportunities for authors to reach a wider audience. You may be able to speak at an event virtually that you otherwise wouldn’t have attended in-person.
Of course, the questionnaire may include questions that you feel don’t apply to you or your book promotion goals. That’s ok! Be honest and answer as best you can. If you don’t wish to travel to conferences, you don’t have to. There are other ways to promote your book to your networks. Social media offers the opportunity to promote your book and connect with others in your field. Like virtual events, social media platforms can provide the tools to connect to a larger audience from all over the world. Not social media savvy? Don’t worry, your publisher is likely on three or four platforms and will post about your book. Marketing departments are also likely to provide tips and tricks for social media platforms if you want to get started.
Other aspects of the marketing questionnaire are more informational. A press may ask you for a short description of the book, key selling points, or your research process. A shortened description of your book could be used in a publicist’s pitch to the media. How would you describe your book to an older member of the family? What are the most important aspects of your book? These questions should help frame some of your answers. Key selling points are really just another way of saying, “Why should someone read your book?” Your answers, even if you feel like they are incomplete, will help a marketing department understand your book more. Every piece of information is helpful.
Sometimes publishers will ask for assistance in securing pre-publication blurbs; others might rely on peer-reader reviews to quote from instead. This process varies from press to press, so I encourage you to get in touch with your editor or marketing contact with questions as soon as possible to know what you’re responsible for—if anything! At my press, we check reader reports first for quotable lines and only need two or three blurbs for our purposes.
A few brief tips for filling out the questionnaire:
Don’t assume anything is obvious to press staff. The marketing person responsible for promoting your book may be new to your area of scholarship or learning about the book publication process for the first time. List all opportunities and ideas.
Do be specific. The more details you provide, the better. List journals that review books in your field. List professors (with their emails) who would consider the book for course adoption. Tell us about book award opportunities from scholarly societies. If you have emails or mailing addresses for potential reviewers, include those too!
Don’t assume that just because you are providing these suggestions that it’s a done deal. Marketing is a partnership between the press and the author. For example, a press may have a limited quantity of review copies to send. When I’m corresponding with an author about their review copy list, I send a draft list of where I’m sending a copy of the book and they can let me know any additions or edits to that list. Oftentimes we can avoid a duplication or send a PDF instead of a hard copy.
Do ask questions and follow up with the marketing staff.
It’s okay to dream broadly! While it is unlikely your book will be featured on NPR’s Morning Edition or The Daily with Trevor Noah, we welcome ideas about various communities inside and outside of academia who might have outlets that can help promote your book.
You’ve worked hard to finish your book and succeed in publishing it. Now let’s work together to ensure that the book finds its readers!
Rosemary Sekora is the publicity manager at the University of Nebraska Press. She is on the board of the Nebraska Literary Heritage Association and coordinated the Nebraska Book Festival for four years. She holds a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and will graduate this August with her masters in creative writing.
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