Independent Publishing


Last month, we cleared your marketing schedule of all the tasks that waste your time. This month, I am going to show you how to perform effective outreach that will build an audience for your books without taking up valuable writing time.

What is outreach?

The term outreach is used to describe a range of marketing activities, so for the sake of clarity, this is how I define outreach: Outreach is any activity designed to direct people interested in the type of books you write further down your book marketing funnel. These marketing activities must satisfy one criterion to be outreach: Does it link to either your website or to a bio that links to your website? If the answer is ‘no’, then it’s not called outreach—it’s called wasting your time.

In the US, self-publishing grew at a rate of 40% in 2018, with more than one million books self-published for the second year in a row, according to a report published by Bowker.

More than 1.6 million self-published print and ebooks with registered ISBNs were published in the US in 2018, up from just over one million published in 2017. The vast majority of these (1.42 million) were published via Amazon’s CreateSpace, followed by Smashwords (about 72,000) and Lulu Press (about 67,000).

Since 2013 the number of ISBNs assigned to self-published titles has grown from 461,438. ‘This trend is likely to continue as the quality of many self-published works now rivals that of traditionally published titles,’ the report says. ‘Authors now have access to a wide range of professional services, from editing to cover design, to help ensure that the highest standards are met. With these resources, coupled with the online marketing and distribution tools now available, self-publishing authors are positioned for success as never before.’

When asked to nominate the biggest challenge facing marketers today, publishing consultant Rachael McDiarmid says her answer often surprises: ‘My tip for all marketers is to know your metadata—it’s all about bibliographic data, search and discoverability, and ensuring the supply chain has accurate information about your books. Only then can you market successfully.’ Andrea Hanke chats to McDiarmid about her best book marketing tips.

Your book’s metadata is the data that describes your book. It includes things like the book’s title and description, ISBN number, author info, price, publication date and format. Ensuring your metadata is accurate and consistent helps readers, booksellers and librarians know they’re making the right choice when they’re considering your book for purchase.

‘Ask any bookseller, library or library supplier what poor (“dirty”) metadata means for them—i.e. incorrect covers, old author bios, wrong book titles, no description—and they will tell you how many times they skip to the next book,’ says McDiarmid. ‘They don’t want to waste time investigating something you should have provided them with in the first place. If you want people to buy your books, give them as much information as possible to help them with their purchasing decisions.’

McDiarmid says that even in traditional publishing houses confusion over who is responsible for metadata is one of the biggest problems. ‘If you talk to marketing they think it’s the publishing team, if you talk to operations they think it’s marketing, if you talk to sales they think it’s IT—just mention ONIX and see where the discussion takes you! Metadata is the responsibility of everyone in the organisation and each person has a core role to play.’

So how should marketers (and self-published authors) get involved? By checking the metadata that is sent to the book trade, says McDiarmid. ‘Marketing staff should understand that what goes out in the ONIX and Excel spreadsheets to the book trade is essentially their book catalogue.’ They should ensure the metadata matches their promotional material and pay particular attention to the descriptions and subject classifications, ‘questioning whether the book is in the right product category and how they could add to the data to make it more meaningful for customers’.

In general, McDiarmid believes marketers today need to be much more savvy about the supply chain. ‘Product/inventory management is key,’ she says. ‘Managing customer requirements, supply and service expectations impacts the marketing and communications message. There’s no use having the best marketing campaign in the world if you can’t supply the books!’

McDiarmid says that despite the growth in digital marketing, there are still opportunities across various sales channels, including booksellers, specialist resellers, libraries, library suppliers and the author. However, it’s important to remember that not all books will have a market in bricks-and-mortar shops, as buyers are often focused on seeing the bigger publishers and distributors, and have little space on their shelves for titles from smaller presses.

Publishers also need to be aware of the changes to their customer base over the years,  including the closure of many specialist re-sellers and library and educational suppliers, as well as the move to online ordering. According to McDiarmid, ‘Online booksellers have become key accounts across publishers, which of course circles back to [the importance of] product/inventory management and metadata workflows.’

Rachael McDiarmid has worked in the Australian book trade for nearly 30 years, including roles in marketing, sales, senior management and library supply and book distribution. For the past five years she has been providing consulting and outsourcing solutions to large and small publishers through her business RM Marketing Services.