Books will always be great branding tools, positioning an expert with potential to be a household name, but the rules have changed and a new marketing paradigm is taking precedent; social media experts with high volume platforms are fueling book deals.
Books have historically been great branding tools throughout generations, establishing authors and experts as household names. They are an affordable, accessible product, a collector's item, a fun topic for television, a radio interview and a great feature for any digital or print magazine.
As the CEO of a branding and public relations agency, I have had the opportunity to help several authors launch their books. My agency, The Salup Group, has recently worked with cookbook author and allergy-free food expert, Elizabeth Gordon, of Allergy Free Desserts (Wiley), career expert and lifestyle personality, Nicole Williams, on Girl On Top (Hachette), and dating expert and on-air personality, Whitney Casey, on The Man Plan (Penguin) to publicize their books, advise on brand strategy, and spread the word through social media. None of these authors had a social media platform prior to launching their books but were able to garner lucrative book deals thanks to their expertise, unique value proposition, and existing national on-air platforms.
But the publishing landscape is quickly changing and a new crop of authors are front and center.
With the rise of social media, we have seen an increase in the variety of personalities and brands that have developed large audiences. Anyone with a Blogger account and an interesting angle has the capacity to generate content and cultivate a sizeable following. As a result of this trend in developing personal digital brands through blogs and social media sites, there has been a shift in the types of new authors that publishing companies are seeking. No longer is the sole requisite for garnering a book deal simply a unique idea; individuals must bring their own leverageable audience to the table, whether through a social media fanbase on Twitter of Facebook, or through followers of a content site like a personal blog. This has had the effect of both widening and narrowing the types of individuals able to successfully attract publishing agencies.
On the one hand, we have seen a proliferation of books come from non-experts, or people who might not normally be considered authorities on a particular topic or industry. These authors range from celebrities with mega platforms to avid social media marketing experts. Instead, people who have built an audience through digital means have the capacity to produce a book related to their area of interest, whether it be dating advice or cooking guides or a celebrity with a huge fanbase and following, with a focused hobby and no expertise on the topic. Either way, these "platforms" represent bottom line sales for publishers. On the other hand, the publishing industry has made it more challenging for the average individual to attract offers, as they now look for potential authors that bring consumer audiences along with them.
All of this has worked to forge an inextricable link between author and personal brand developer. There is much to be gained for authors who can develop a social media savvy, and perhaps more importantly, there are now more channels opened up for those who have mastered the art of blogging and social media communications. Five or ten years ago it would not have made sense for a blog-enthusiast to consider turning a personal project into a national book campaign; however, now there are tangible resources available to help establish a real, monetizable audience. Because only the top-selling books generate high-level income value, authors need to have a strong marketing and branding plan in place prior to the release, in order to best capitalize on their success.
This is where the social media community becomes a viable asset; if you have already put in the work to build a digital community of fans and followers around the country (and even internationally), then you have a built-in source of consumers from which to generate revenue. No longer does an author have to spend lucrative amounts of money on regional ad campaigns and marketing initiatives to drive consumers. Instead, much of this work can be done prior to the book deal/release in the way of blogging and utilizing social media apparatus. In this way, writers must expand their topical knowledge to incorporate the necessary skills related to leveraging social media tools. Now, aspiring personalities have to manage social media accounts in a way that provides original content on a consistent basis, engaging their digital community with tips, stories, and expert guidance. Below are some tips on how to get started.
• Identify your value proposition: What unique content and skills do you offer as a personal brand?
• Find your own voice; what's the tone and how does that relate to your audience?
• Create a 3-5 year "personal business plan" mapping out your goals and strategy.
• Build a social media marketing strategy for yourself that you follow daily: blogging once or twice a week, posting strategic content, community building and engagement through Hootsuite for Twitter, "Likes," Article posting, and wall commenting on Facebook, and contributing your opinion to articles on third party sites.
• Understand your target audience and what their needs are, what they want to learn about, what they want to hear, where do they live, where are they going online, what are they reading, what are similar brands.
I was able to speak with a book agent and publishing industry expert, Maura Teitelbaum of Abrams Artists, about these questions, in an effort to explicate some of the new components of the changing book-publishing world. Maura had much to say with respect to the new interconnected relationship between publishing and social media marketing and branding:
Q: How have the criteria for viable, marketable authors changed with the rise of social media?
A: Publishers are looking very carefully at your facebook and twitter numbers and how effectively you are using those tools to reach a community
Q: Has there been an increase in non-expert, non-celebrity writers, perhaps people who have been able to build an audience through blogging or other social media outlets?
A: Definitely, although TV helps a lot more. You see many reality stars putting out books on weight loss, cooking, and self help topics. They have a media following, but not necessarily a formal education in the area.
Q: What do you see as the future of book publishing as it relates to further incorporating social media marketing and branding?
A: Books are becoming more brand incorporated and social media is a key element to building a brand and reaching its audience. More and more books will stem from a preexisting brand. So in the past a book may have been a start to building a brand, now it will most likely grow out of some solid platform.
Based on Maura's comments, it is clear that there has been a marked shift in the publishing world, as agencies are utilizing social media audiences more readily. As this trend continues to grow, it will no longer be optional for individuals seeking book deals to develop their online personality and brand. Instead, we will see a stronger effort from topical experts and personalities to focus their time and resources towards brand development and social media, in order to cultivate the largest possible marketable audience.
You can follow The Salup Group @TheSalupGroup, Elizabeth Gordon @AllergyFreeLife, Nicole Williams @thegirlontop, Whitney Casey @whitneycasey on Twitter.