Creative Marketing with Bookmarks

Effectively promoting a book takes dedication and effort—and not just a little effort, a lot of effort.

There are more books available today than at any other time in history. Some estimate that Amazon has over 11 million titles available for purchase on its site with a new book added every five minutes. With so many books competing for readers’ attention, creative efforts are necessary to grab that attention.

I am always on the lookout for creative marketing ideas. I like to pass these ideas on to authors, so that you can either copy the idea or use it to get your own creative juices flowing for out-of-the-box marketing ideas for your own books. I frequently highlight innovative ideas that I come across on this blog and a number are listed in my book Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace.

Recently, I ran across an author who suggested that since bookmarks are cheap to produce (you can purchase a thousand bookmarks for under $100), that authors should make use of them in their book promotion activities. This author said that he had printed a number of bookmarks with the image of his book and a little information about it, along with the URL of his book’s website. He then offered a stack of these bookmarks to his local public library.

This author figured that since public libraries have tight budgets, they can’t afford to purchase trinkets to give to patrons. So, offering his bookmarks as a freebie that his local library could give to their patrons was a win-win proposition.

This sounds like a good idea. Since many people still read print books, bookmarks are a great handout. However, many public libraries might be reluctant to accept a bookmark for a book that promotes Christianity and/or is not available for checkout in their library system. So, where else might Christian authors use bookmarks to promote their books?
Here are four ideas I came up with.

  1. Offer your bookmarks to your local church’s library or bookstore to give to patrons.
  2. If you have a book for children or young adults, offer your bookmarks to local Christian schools to give to the students in whatever grades your book is geared to.
  3. If you have a book geared for seniors, offer your bookmarks to your local senior center to give to seniors who frequent the center.
  4. Put a stack of your bookmarks in your local Little Free Library for your neighbors to use.

If you have more ideas on how Christian authors can use bookmarks to promote a book, please share them.

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Are You Capturing Hearts?

He failed to win my heart.

I had just completed reading a full-page biography of a Christian author. His bio looked like a listing of who’s who in the Christian world. This gentleman had worked with numerous Christian organizations and for well-known Christian leaders. He had spoken at numerous Christian gatherings and penned a couple books. Yet, the author failed to win my heart because reading his bio felt like I was reading a résumé.

At the close of reading this Christian author’s bio, I had no clue what he was passionate about or what his message was. All I knew was that he hung around some well-known people and places.

To engage people, you must connect with them on an emotional level. As an author, even your author bio should conjure emotions in the reader. What you are passionate about must shine through for a connection to be made. You must win the heart of readers so they are drawn to know more about you and your message or books.

When crafting your author bio, consider these three important elements:

1. It’s Not About You.

Sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? After all, it’s your bio. It is your bio, but it should not just be about you. After all, few people care where you live, how long you have been married (unless it relates to your book’s topic), or how many pets you own.

Ultimately, your bio is a tool to tell the reader about yourself. Yet, more importantly, it is a means to let readers know how what you are or do relates to who they are and what they do or want to do. Your bio is a tool to draw readers in to capture their hearts.

2. Let Your Personality Shine Through.

Your author bio should reflect your personality. Readers should feel they know you a little more when done reading your bio. If you write with humor, be playful in your bio. If you write about your personal struggles, be transparent. Share your passion.

3. Include Your Relevant Expertise.

Use your author bio to tell your readers the expertise you possess to write on the topics your books cover. This requires a difficult balance. You want to build credibility without overtly bragging. Provide just enough information to let your readers know you possess the knowledge and experience to speak with authority on the subject. Keep it relevant.

People do business with the people they like and trust. The goal of your author bio is to help people like and trust you. Use your author bio to create an emotional connection with your readers and book sales will follow.

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Photo courtesy of Jakob Owens.

Are You Staying True to Your Calling?

I have often heard it said that the church is one of the most segregated institutions in the United States. I sometimes wonder if the Christian publishing industry is helping or hurting this issue.

I recently met an author who wrote a Christian novel set in Africa. When she tried to pitch the idea to editors and literary agents for a traditional Christian publishing contract, they told her they did not think they could sell a novel set in Africa—that setting was not a popular read.

So, feeling called of God to produce the novel, the author independently published her story. Her cover art contained a picture of an African-American man and woman. This author then began showing the published book to other Christian publishing industry experts to talk about marketing the book. She got the same message from almost every expert.

She was told to not expect to sell many copies of her book due to the cover art including African-American people. The experts advised that she take off the images of the people on the cover to help the book sell better.

As this author relayed this story to me, it made me think that, for the most part, the traditional Christian publishing industry is not concerned about racial integration in the body of Christ. Rather, publishing houses are a business. As a business, their top priority is profit. The one question they ask when considering a book is, “How many copies can we sell?” If they don’t think it will sell enough copies to meet their financial requirements, they pass it up.

Traditional publishing’s mission is not about challenging the status quo and daring people to confront difficult issues within the body of Christ. After all, some of the largest Christian publishing houses are now owned by secular publishing conglomerates. Rather, traditional publishing houses are businesses. As such, they focus on the bottom line.

I am thankful for Indie publishing. While indie authors and publishers need to be wise in their publishing and marketing efforts, how many copies a book will sell does not need to be the foremost priority. Rather, indie authors and publishers can be led by their mission and what God is calling them to do.

Interestingly, a new study by the American Bible Society showed that African-Americans are more engaged with the Bible than any other group. Among this racial group, 71 percent are friendly toward or engaged with the Bible compared to just 58 percent of all Americans. If Christians of non-African heritage will be turned away by this author’s book’s cover, she may still have a vibrant audience in among African-American Christians.

What about you. Have you gotten off track? Has your attitude become one that mainly focuses on the number of books you can sell rather than on staying true to your mission and the calling that God has placed in your heart?

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Photo courtesy of John-Mark Smith.

Are You Too Busy?

Americans are busy. We wear our busyness as a badge of honor. One study found that we Americans associate “busyness” with high social status.

So, busyness looks good. But is busyness really good for us?

I recently took a personal prayer retreat. I had been meaning to do this for over a year, but alas, I was too busy. I finally made it a priority, cleared room in my schedule, and went. I am glad I did. It was refreshing and too awesome to put into words. I definitely communed with God.

At the retreat center, I spoke with the directors. Their desire is for people to come to their center and hear from God. They talked about how many people who came to their retreat reported that they never heard from God. We had a wonderful conversation about how we often don’t hear from God because we simply are too busy.

We don’t make room to allow him to grab our attention and speak to us. Because spending time with God is not our priority, we fumble about our lives without his direction and blessing and wonder why things don’t work out.

Sadly, I have seen a similar busyness trend among members of Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA). I have been told this year by a few members that they are just too busy to read the information that CSPA provides.

The purpose of CSPA’s information is threefold:

  1. To keep our members up-to-date on industry standards.
  2. To provide ideas for marketing Christian books to increase exposure and sales.
  3. To offer services that save our members money.

At Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA), we understand that our members are busy. That is one reason for joining the organization. You can trust CSPA to provide you the information you need to stay up-to-date on industry standards. On your own, you would have to spend more time reading numerous industry blogs and journals to stay on top of this ever-changing industry.

If you are too busy to stay up-to-date on industry trends and standards, are you really able to produce the best quality books? Are you able to market them effectively?

If you are producing Christian materials, you want your books to reflect God’s glory.
One way to do this is to not be too busy to receive the information you need to stay relevant to produce quality books. After all, we are to work as though working for the Lord, and God wants your best.

Don’t get so busy that you neglect your soul or your calling.

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First Impressions Matter

The door opens and out walk two men. One is wearing a disheveled t-shirt, jeans, and well-worn sneakers. The other is dressed in nice slacks, a dress shirt, and loafers. Both are lawyers. Which one would you choose to represent you?

Most of us would pick the attorney with the professional appearance. Because, regardless of how much people like to say the opposite, appearance is important. Appearance signals care and attention, which sends the message to our brain that the person is competent.

Don’t underestimate a first impression. According to a 2011 study by Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, people assess a person’s competence and trustworthiness in a quarter of a second (250 milliseconds) based solely on how the person looks.

The same is true for your book. People judge your book based on its appearance. Often, they will decide, on appearance alone, whether your book is trustworthy and worth their time and money.

I recently received a handful of books from a well-known Christian vanity press (which shall remain unnamed). I was shocked to see that the books varied in quality and appearance with some having a distinctly unprofessional look based on industry standards. None of the books sported a back cover that met industry standards. These books did not carry a printed retail price or a BISAC code. The interior of one of the books looked like it was designed in the 1970s. Another’s interior sported poor margins with words running into the gutter.

I was saddened to see that a supposedly Christian self-publishing house was charging authors good money for books that were sub par in terms of meeting industry standards for interior layout and cover design. Producing shoddy books in the name of Christ sheds a poor light on Christianity.

Your book’s appearance is your foremost marketing tool. People who read books know what a book is supposed to look like based on all the industry-standard books they have consumed. If your book does not fit this standard, it will be judged and found lacking. In addition, as a Christian book, you want your book to reflect the glory of God. Having a professional-quality design is important in this pursuit.

Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) feels that this issue is so important that we have developed an on-demand seminar, How to Create a Professional-Looking Book, as well as a Checklist for Publishing a Professional-Looking Book to help our members publish books that meet industry standards and create a good first impression. With CSPA’s summer membership special of $120 for membership through December 2018, you can join now and get access to this great information to help you make sure your books send the message that they are competent and trustworthy.

People will make a quick judgment about your book based on its appearance. Make sure that your book’s appearance reflects favorably on its content. If you want to sell more books, readers must view your book as competent and trustworthy.

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Photo courtesy of Alice Achterhof