If you’re going to write an academic book, you need to be prepared to do some marketing. Otherwise it will sink, without so much as a bubble, deep into the ocean of published academic books. Of course if all you need is the publication on your CV, then don’t waste your time on marketing. But if you’ve written something you actually want people to read and use, you need to get to grips with the whole marketing thing.
There are three main categories of sole-authored academic book: monograph, textbook, and trade book. A monograph usually has quite a narrow topic, perhaps just one research project. Its audience will be small, primarily academic peers and perhaps a few doctoral students, and its royalties will be low or non-existent. A textbook is probably for undergraduates, maybe also early stage postgraduates, with a potential audience of millions and, if you’re lucky, significant royalties. A trade book is anywhere in between. You need to know which yours is to help you figure out who your readers might be and so how to market your book.
Your publisher’s marketing department should help you. After all, it’s in their interest to sell as many copies of your book as possible. But they can only help up to a point, because they have a lot of other books to try to sell as well as yours. It’s worth having a chat with them, and finding out what they can and can’t do to help you. For example, they should:
- Post information about your book online well ahead of its publication date
- Market your book to relevant retailers, including bookshops and online retailers, and wholesalers, and to academic libraries
- Include your book in their catalogue and on their flyers for specific events such as conferences in your field
- Send out review copies, including to people you find who are willing to write reviews or can otherwise promote the book to a significant number of people
- Take your book to academic conferences, display it along with other books on their stand, and offer a conference discount.
- Promote your book via their e-newsletter and social media channels
- Give you a jpeg of the cover for your own use
- Make flyers for you to take to conferences and seminars
Realistically, though, a lot of this will happen around the time of publication. They won’t ignore your book thereafter, but they simply can’t push all of their books all of the time. So, if you want your book to be widely read and used, you need to market it too.
I have no background or training in marketing; I’ve been learning on the job since my first research methods book came out in 2012. I’ve been lucky to have had terrific support from the marketing department at my lovely publisher, Policy Press, though I know not every academic writer has this experience. I have learned some things you can do to help raise awareness of your book. These include:
- Add information about the book to your email signature
- Add information about the book to any web pages featuring you, such as your profile on your employer’s website and your LinkedIn page
- Send information about the book to any e-lists you subscribe to
- Send information about the book to your professional association(s) to include in their e-newsletter
- Ask your employer for help publicising your book through their website, newsletter, and other publicity channels
- Write one or more blog posts featuring the book for blogs with big readerships in your field, and publicise the blog post(s) at and after publication through your social media channels
- Create a video about the book or some aspect of the book, upload to YouTube or Vimeo and publicise through your social media channels
- Create a podcast about the book or some aspect of the book, upload and publicise through your social media channels
- Publicise the book itself through social media – don’t keep saying ‘buy my book’, but promote any good reviews or positive comments you receive
- Write an article for the mainstream media based on, or featuring, your book
- Make sure your book cover appears on any PowerPoint or other presentation you give, and mention it in the presentation
Then there’s the more unofficial kind of marketing. This blog is, in one sense, a marketing tool. It’s other things too – a place to keep my professional musings, for a start – but marketing is part of its purpose. This is marketing by providing something of value (or at least doing my best to do so!). Another method I use is to mail signed bookplates to people who have bought copies of my books. That’s counter-intuitive marketing: in theory, I should be wooing people who haven’t yet bought copies. But I think it can help, because it will improve the likelihood of people talking to others about my work.
Another unofficial kind is marketing through networks. This is unpredictable and you always need to be alert for opportunities. For example, at an academic event recently I met a Prof from a university where I don’t have any contacts. We were talking about graphic novels in research, and I remarked that I’d written about that in my last book on creative research methods. The Prof was interested and asked me to email over details of my book. I did so a few days later, and received a reply saying, ‘Thank you for this. I will raise it with other staff for dissertations as it looks useful.’ So that should at least have sold a copy or two for their library, and with luck it’ll make its way onto more course lists.
I need to figure out what else to do, though, because my royalties this year were lower than last year: £1,236.70 as against £1,627.20. That’s quite a drop, and disappointing in a year when I published a second edition and had lots of positive feedback on both books. There are two tried-and-tested ways of increasing royalties that I know of. One is to write more books, and I’m working on that. The other is to do more marketing: not only for my books, but also for the journal articles I’ve written and co-written. More on marketing those next week.
Thank you for writing this post. My academic book is coming in March and I’ve starting promoting it through my Instagram account. Its very expensive, so its unlikely many regular consumers will buy it. That seems a healthy amount of royalties though, all things considered! Did you give out chapters or e-copies for reviews for Good Reads? I’m thinking about that angle at present.
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Hi Sarah, I left it to my publisher to give out copies for review, it’s their job really. They’re not keen on letting single chapters out into the wild but they are usually OK with e-books. Sounds as though your book will be marketed to academic libraries. I have found that getting reviews for academic books is very difficult, but it’s certainly worth a try. Relevant content on social media can help market your book – I use this blog and YouTube but that’s a bit old skool now; I hear some people are doing well on TikTok. The mainstream media can be useful too if you can get pieces in e.g. the Huffington Post or the Guardian’s ‘Comment Is Free’ section, or a relevant high profile blog. Good luck!