Advertising a book is a tricky thing. It’s completely different to how you would market any other type of media such as music or film, or anything else you might see an advert for – a holiday, a vacuum, a nice hat, and so on and so forth. So why exactly is advertising a book so bloody tricky? Books have been around for ages – surely by now someone has worked out how to advertise them effectively? Well, no – not really.
On the rare occasion that I see a TV ad for a book, I find it very odd. I remember the last one I saw was for Dan Brown’s new novel a few months ago. All the advert really did was show the book’s cover over some dramatic music. It didn’t say what it was about or offer much in the way of a reason to buy it – apparently the fact that it was written by the author of The Da Vinci Code was reason enough. You can watch it here if you like – though you’d be wasting twenty five seconds of your time that you could spend listening to the opening bars of Pure Shores.
The reason the Dan Brown advert sort of worked, though, is because it did everything it needed to. It told you that the author of The Da Vinci Code had a new book out. It assumes that that’s enough information for you to rush out and buy it – and for scores of people, that definitely was all the information they needed. But what about lesser known authors? A TV ad like this would never work. If you’re flogging a film, you can show a montage of the best scenes spliced with some exciting dialogue to give the viewer a real taste of what to expect. You can’t do that with a book. You can’t translate the text into visual media when everyone will imagine the characters, the setting and the events differently. Equally, you can’t read out snippets from the text. Not only would it be too time consuming, but it would sound ridiculous out of context. All in all, unless you’re as big and rich as Dan Brown, TV advertising is a no go for authors.
Similar problems arise when you consider other types of advertising, though. Loads of stuff, from holidays to washing machines are advertised on billboards – but this throws up just the same problems as TV adverts. Sure, you can show the cover of your book, and if the cover is really great, that might be enough to garner a few sales – but you’re limited to the extent that you can tell your reader what the book’s really about, and at the end of the day, that’s what’s going to sell it. With a washing machine, for example, you can show a snazzy image and maybe note a few features it has, and that’s all there is to it. A washing machine doesn’t have to tell a story – a book does.
Music is an odd example because more often the not, you hear a song in its entirety before you buy it. This makes sense – on average a song lasts about 3 and a half minutes, and unlike a book or a film, you’re likely to play it again and again and again – it’s only sensible that you make sure you like it before you part with your money. Holidays can be tricky too, in that they aren’t selling a product as such, but more of an experience. Still, a few shots of a generically good looking couple mooning around on a beach is generally all it takes to draw some interest. Books, on the other hand – where do you even start? They’re just lumps of bound paper, it’s hard to make them seem sexy.
Musicians generally stream their tracks so you can listen to them for free. If you like the track, maybe they’ll charge you to buy it. It makes sense, because people are happy to spend a few minutes listening to a song that they may or may not like. They wouldn’t be so happy to spend a few hours slugging through a book they only decided to read because it was free. And at the end of it they’d probably leave a shitty review on Amazon too – a death-blow to an up-and-coming writer.
So how can you effectively market a book? Sure you can list it on book blogs and harp on about it on Twitter, but this isn’t hugely effective, and it only reaches a limited audience. Frankly, I’m not sure, and I doubt anyone else is either. In my experience, the best thing you can do is try and win some good reviews and hope your mates will try and convince their friends to read it too. Until someone thinks of a better idea – that’s all I’ve got.
How do you think books should be advertised? Got any pro tips? Leave a comment below!