In some Olympic sports, you can be considered over-the-hill by age 22. Luckily, this is hardly the case in most professions: I just turned 50 and feel in my prime as a book promoter and marketer. But books are more like Olympians: Once you get three months beyond the publication date, a book’s shelf life could be in danger. What can – or should – you do to market books that are aging in the eyes of bookstores, the media, and readers?
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Since I began working with authors nearly three decades ago, I’ve certainly witnessed many changes in how books are promoted, packaged, and sold. One such change is that a book’s window of “newness” – that valuable window of time when a book is seen as shiny and new – has been greatly reduced in the current publishing climate. The good news? There are more options and resources than ever before to market past-ripe books.
Though fiction generally doesn’t become irrelevant, inaccurate, or outdated months or even years after being published, it’s only considered “new” for the first eight to 12 weeks after it hits stores or launches online. Most nonfiction books also do not immediately lose their accuracy or relevance just because three months have passed since publication.
If you have a book that’s older than three months, you have the following promotional options:
- Do nothing and let the book die – or hope it organically gets discovered and generates word-of-mouth traction by some spontaneous miracle.
- Employ a social media strategy.
- Utilize select traditional media in a targeted way.
- Go on a free or paid speaking tour.
- Advertise your book.
- Work with other authors to cross-promote each other’s titles.
- Give the book away to lure sales of your other books or products.
Whatever you decide to do will be based on these obvious factors:
- Your needs/desires to continue promoting the book.
- The time and resources you have available.
- Your belief the book will succeed with continued promotion.
- Whether you have better career options than to promote this book, such as utilizing your time to write new books.
You also need to determine why the book didn’t sell as much as you thought it would or why it failed to generate more reviews and media coverage. Is there something deficient about the book that can be corrected in future promotional efforts?
If so, many authors reprint an aging book, and sometimes revise and repackage it. So what can you do to improve your book?
- Revise the title or subtitle.
- Change the cover and/or revise the back cover copy.
- Add in testimonials and quotes from the media.
- Get a big name to do a foreword or introduction.
- Update facts/statistics in the book.
- Fix what critics found to be a weakness or shortcoming.
- Put a sticker on the cover to acknowledge any awards the book has won.
- Include photos or illustrations to enhance the text.
- Add a chapter (or chapters) – or remove one if it was criticized.
- Use better-quality paper.
- Change the price.
Not only will many of these changes make your book better and up-to-date, they will make it eligible for a new copyright and possibly a new ISBN. Now your book can be pushed again as either new or as a fully revised edition.
If you choose to update your book, you should consider implementing the following strategies:
- Repackage your book as a series with other similarly themed titles you’ve written.
- Highlight the book’s initial success or significance and then push what is new in the latest edition.
- Connect with authors in your genre and see if you can cross-promote each other’s book.
- Revamp your website to give it a fresh feel that corresponds with the relaunched book; update your social media channels as well.
- Consider coming out with an audiobook version, which can help you find a new audience.
Sometimes authors with older books decide to write a spin-off version. For instance, I know an author of a general parenting book who decided to make a version of that same manuscript for the faith market. Even though he really didn’t change more than 10 to 15 percent of the original manuscript for the new version, he started getting renewed attention for the older original book as well.
Even if the first title didn’t sell terribly well, it doesn’t mean continuing a series or writing a related book is completely off the table. Sometimes a sequel can become more successful than the original book, causing fans to seek out and purchase the first book after enjoying a newer title.
Another strategy is to sell a book’s foreign printing rights in other countries. The book may sell well in a smaller country where the competition is lower, in which case you can say the book is an international best-seller and put a label on the reprint of your English-language version.
Older books can also be marketed in a way that ties them into current events, honorary days, special anniversaries, holidays, or a unique milestone. The media and consumer need a reason to care or pay attention to what you have to offer, and these timely events can create a clear connection to your work.
It’s essential to not let your own affection for your work cloud your vision of what your book needs in order to sell. Writers will always think the world of their books, and it can be hard for a creator to identify why all that hard work isn’t inspiring media attention and sales. Consider bringing in an outside expert to help pinpoint where your book is failing.
And remember: old or new, certain marketing principles must always take place in a successful promotional campaign. As an author, you need to have something to talk about. Period. Ask yourself: Why would a stranger care about this book? If you feel like all the book’s talking points are exhausted, use your own history or backstory as a starting place. You now have history on your side: If your book came out three years ago, what’s happened in the world or in your life since then?
So your book is old. So what?
What’s old is new. Market it that way.
Brian Feinblum has been the chief marketing officer at Media-Connect.com, a leading book publicity firm, for the last 18 years, and he’s also penned more than 2,300 blog posts at BookMarketingBuzzblog.blogspot.com.