Promoting your book (or other product): what marketing REALLY means

I agonised for a long time when a very bitchy and pompous (and dishonest, as it turned out) editor I was working with sneered at me for only writing a few chapters on ‘marketing‘ in my forthcoming book, How To Write A Brilliant Nonfiction Book. article on the four Ps of marketingSurely he knew that marketing is something you do in parallel with creating the book’s concept, right from the start, even – to an extent – with fiction? With his two redbrick university degrees and the conviction that he knew everything?

Nope, he didn’t. What his scathing barbs did achieve, however, was to make me conscious of the fact that I needed to emphasise the real meaning – and importance – of marketing in my book, so I have done just that. The number of times I’ve had to bite my tongue when someone talks about ‘marketing’ when they mean ‘marketing communications‘ or ‘promotion’ adds up to many hundreds.

article on the four Ps of marketing

It has got so bad now that even I caved in a few years ago when I was writing ad copy, and had to talk in terms of ‘content marketing…’ even though the truth is you use content as a marketing communications tool … the ‘marketing‘ bit happens, or should happen, a lot earlier.

Now for the thousandth time: marketing is getting right whatever your book (or other product) is and what it does for its users. Promotion is telling people about it and how they will benefit from owning it – just a small proportion of the whole marketing exercise.

One of the problems I used to see with some of my clients – especially smaller businesses – was that because they didn’t ‘get’ what marketing needs to be, they would jump straight into the promotional interpretation of ‘marketing.’ Unless you’re very lucky, it’s like building a 7-bedroom house on a raft floating down a river. It doesn’t matter how glitzy the product; is if it’s not built on the right foundations it probably will sink.

The four ‘Ps’ of marketing and how all four are essential

The following run-down is loosely based on my son’s marketing module when he was doing a degree in economics at DeMontfort University (he got a 1st – yay!) As it was many moons since I had studied economics and marketing I was pleased to see that the basics hadn’t changed.

Here, not surprisingly, I have used a nonfiction book as the sample product. Much as literary nerds would wipe their brows in anguish at the thought, a nonfiction book is a product like any other, especially when people write about their business, therapies, coaching and other life-work related topics.

Product: Establishing your topic, your target audience, what to write about, etc. Whether what you have to say is worth saying. Whether what you have to offer has enough to satisfy readers’ “what’s in it for me?” Whether the way you share your information maximises those expectations.

Price: Not as important as it is with a commodity like baked beans or car accessories, but all the same your book needs to fit into the right price point: low enough to be affordable, but expensive enough to show it has value. Comparing your book’s content/value with those of other similar books should give you some helpful guidance. Whatever you do, don’t under-price. And don’t be taken in by these Amazon Kindle scams whereby you offer your book at a ridiculously low price for X hours or days just so it hits its category’s ‘number one’ spot. Few people will take that seriously now, thank Heavens.

Place: How and where the book will be distributed and available for sale. It’s pretty simple. If your book doesn’t necessarily have a broad general consumer or Business To Business (B2B) appeal but you have good contacts out there in the real world, self-publish. If your book is likely to appeal to a wide consumer or B2B audience and you haven’t got much of an author platform yourself yet, put up proposals to traditional publishers and see what happens. If all else fails you can always save up a bit and self-publish later; but if your topic is really good you could get a publishing deal that’s good news not so much in royalties, but in broader distribution.

Promotion: Aha – at last we get to what most people today think is marketing, when of course it’s marketing communications, ergo promotion. Suddenly you begin to see the reality – and the difference.

article on the four Ps of marketing

Yes, writing and publishing nonfiction books is a business consideration

Being totally harsh and commercial, I believe you need to look upon the marketing of your book in terms of where and how you are going to get the best return on investment (ROI). Depending on what you do and where you do it, you might find that you’re able to sell far more books ‘back of room’ when you give a speech or presentation, or included in the price of delegate packs when you give a workshop or conference, than you will if you spend hundreds of pounds, dollars, euros etc. on Google or social media ads.

This is particularly relevant if you have a good agreement with an assisted self-publisher, because apart from a small handling charge you should be able to buy copies of your book at cost – at a much lower cost to you than they would be at the ‘author’s discount’ from a traditional publisher.

If you already have a social media or other following and your book will be about your main business/special interest topic you really need to start the promotional process long before the book is out there.

Plan the promotion’s timing carefully

Mind you, don’t make the mistake a friend of mine did when promoting his second crime thriller book (which is brilliant, by the way) by starting a ‘teaser campaign’ about the characters, plot, etc., before he had written more than a few chapters. His ‘book pre-launch’ campaign went on for about two years and it’s only because his (second) book is even better than his first that his fans didn’t go “oh for Heaven’s sake, crap or get off the pot.”

Different experts have differing ideas on how long before publication you should start trailing your book via your email list, social media etc. Often you won’t have a lot of choice: your publication date may well be dictated by a traditional publisher to fit in with their publishing calendar. Don’t worry too much, as traditional publishers plan book launches a very long way ahead so there’s likely to be plenty of time for you to start the promotion machine rolling.

article on the four Ps of marketingIf you are going with a traditional publisher it makes a lot of sense for you to liaise closely with their marketing (still, sometimes, quaintly called ‘publicity’) people so your efforts are coordinated. However don’t expect them to do very much other than issue a press release or two and perhaps give your book a bit of coverage on their social media channels. The rest is up to you.

Remember to keep your eye on the ROI

Whenever you decide to start, ensure that you understand exactly where and how you will achieve the best possible ROI for your efforts. If this amounts to social media promotion clicking through to Amazon, maybe backed up by Google, Facebook and other social media advertising or editorial activity, start trailing teasers about your book as soon as possible once you have a publication date established.

Also start giving people on your mailing list some tasters from the book – perhaps some key tips. You might even be able to offer them a sample chapter to download, as an introduction to the book.

The whole objective here is to establish a growing enthusiasm for your book so that when it finally becomes available, people will want to hurry over to Amazon and buy it or pre-order it. This enthusiasm is sometimes called your ‘author platform,’ or at least the basis for it. If your book is linked to your business or other occupation you’re likely to have quite a useful author platform already, in terms of people aware of who you are and what you do.


Whatever product you want to develop – a book, a service, a piece of software, a course or thousands more – start by getting the first three ‘Ps’ of marketing right. If you skip them you’re likely to end up with that big house floating down the river, or worse still, a solution looking for a problem.

Adapted from Suzan’s forthcoming title, “How To Write A Brilliant Nonfiction Book,” to be published later in 2020 by BetterBooksMedia.