Brown M&Ms, or What Van Halen Can Teach You About Book Marketing

Van Halen used to insist that concert venues have bowls of M&Ms without the brown ones. If there were brown M&Ms, the venue hadn't read the contract and other things were likely overlooked too.
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There's a story that circulated heavily back when Van Halen was still actively touring. The story was part of the whole "Aren't they divas" that fan mags used to love to kvetch about. It started when Van Halen insisted that the concert venue have a bowl of M&Ms in their dressing room but remove all the brown ones. Turns out it wasn't a diva-act at all. Eddie Van Halen was a perfectionist and the band had extensive lighting and sound requirements for each performance. Eddie knew that if he checked the bowl and there were brown M&M's that likely the venue hadn't read the contract and things that would directly affect the show were likely overlooked as well. Really a brilliant move. With one simple clause inserted he could be alerted to a potential problem before it affected their show. So how does this relate to book marketing? Well, my question is: what are your brown M&Ms? Or better yet, what are some key things that are in place to help you know if your marketing is working, or if it isn't?

So often, we plod along, marketing and marketing and then when our royalty check arrives we find that our sales are paltry at best and assume that our marketing isn't working. Measuring success in sales is not a good barometer for success. Why? If you need clarification of this you should read my piece on Why (Some) Authors Fail. Find other triggers. Let's look at a few.

First off, let's look at some numbers. No, not book sales, other numbers. How is your Twitter account doing? How much traffic are you getting to your Facebook Fan Page? What about your website? Do you notice any trends in your work as it correlates to your traffic and/or Twitter sign ups? Keep in mind that if you're blogging, twittering, and Facebooking (is that a word?) and you're not increasing traffic then something is wrong. In other words, brown M&Ms everywhere.

What about speaking or book events? If you do these ask yourself how successful they are. Do you get lots of newsletter sign-ups when you do these? Do you make lots of sales? If not, why do you even bother? More brown M&Ms.

Your website: if you're getting traffic, what are they doing when they land there? Nothing? You have more brown M&Ms than you know what to do with. Your website is your 24/7 sales tool and if it's not working for you, it's working against you.

They key focus here is that you need to find a good, solid set of triggers. If those triggers aren't responding, or in some cases are, then you know that you have a bigger problem. Make sure that you're doing periodic "sound checks" to make sure your marketing campaign is operating at its peak and most of all, make darned sure there are no brown M&Ms.

Measuring Results

Now, let's look at how to measure results. It's one thing to be aware of all of these issues, it's quite another to figure out how to track them.

First off, let's look at Twitter. There are a bunch of Twitter analytic tools (meaning tools that help you analyze your Twitter traffic, sign-ups, etc). My favorite is:, but if you're looking for a variety, here's a great list to chose from:

Speaking events: so how do you know if your events aren't working? Well, let's do a quick check in. First off, do you feel like you're getting good leads from the event? Are people buying your book? Are you getting asked back? Does speaking help to sell other products or services? When I speak, it's not always about selling my book, through my book is my business card, it's really about introducing new authors to our company. Ask yourself if you're doing this for the fame of doing a speaking gig or if they are really paying off for you. It could also be that you're not doing enough promotion to support the event. For example, if you're doing an event in a bookstore you should always try and promote the event to the local media as well as any local lists you have.

Website: if you have analytics on your site (and you should) take a look at traffic patterns on specific days that you push content such as each time you blog, or daily as you post to Twitter. You need to look at "unique visitors" as well as where they're coming from. An analytics report will show how and where the traffic is finding you. For example, you might read the report and see that 30% of your traffic is finding you through your Twitter account. What does this tell you? It tells you that you need to spend more time on Twitter because 30% is a very high number. Having a look at traffic will really help you understand the places you're getting traffic from and then when you discover this, you can create a road map to follow in the future. You can dump the useless stuff and do more of what matters.

The Van Halen story is a great one and can be applied to virtually any industry you're in. Setting up systems so you can be alerted to problems before they arise is always smart and will save you not only time, but valuable marketing dollars as well.

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