How to Use Associations for Book Marketing and Sales

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September 2014
by Linda Carlson

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Associations—the ones your prospective customers belong to and the ones you’re eligible for—offer a variety of promotional opportunities for your books, some for as little as the cost of a review copy or a luncheon meeting.

Solutions Business WordsYou can discreetly pass out book flyers when you’re attending a college alumni association event, submit an announcement to a professional association’s Facebook page, solicit a review in a trade association newsletter, or rent an association’s mailing list for a direct response campaign. You can speak about a book at meetings of your homeowners association, neighborhood chamber of commerce, or local civic groups; donate an autographed copy for the PTA auction at your child’s school; or sell books from a rented table at a fraternal group’s holiday fair.

Both authors and publishers can take advantage of opportunities to introduce themselves at meetings of the regional affiliates of IBPA, the American Booksellers Association and related groups. Both can target the associations whose members are their most important customers, whether those be teachers, historians, psychologists, dieticians, doctors, gardeners, railway buffs, or bed-and-breakfast proprietors. And, of course, both authors and publishers can promote books at book events for the general public.

Starting with easy and inexpensive, here’s how books can be marketed and sold through associations.

Major Social Media Opportunities

Groups with pages on Facebook, LinkedIn, and similar social media usually let their members post announcements on those pages, especially if the announcements are phrased as information rather than as sales pitches. Even associations that carefully control posts will probably let you post a request for help with a book or information about a speech you’re making if you’re a member, and many groups allow anyone to join, although those sponsored by associations are more likely to be “private,” with applicants screened for membership.

Larry Edwards at San Diego’s Wigeon Publishing used his Lake Washington High School alumni Facebook page to promote book signings in the Seattle area for his Dare I Call It Murder? “I know that some people who remembered me or my parents came to book signings and, after reading the book, recommended it to others,” he reports. “And when I was researching online gaming for my new book, I asked for examples with an eblast to members of my business school class via the alumni website. That way, I circulated a heads-up notice about the book without sounding promotional, and I got an example to use.” Some groups also have regular “brag about your book” days.

Any of your posts to association pages (as to other pages) on social media sites can include invitations to follow your social media posts, such as those on Twitter and Pinterest, increasing the potential audience for your information.

To locate Facebook pages for associations you’ve targeted, click from websites (which you can often find listed under “Professional associations based in the United States” and “List of industry trade groups in the United States” in Wikipedia) or use a term such as “Find all pages named ‘society for …’” in the Facebook search box. A search I did turned up hundreds of such pages, although not all were likely to be helpful for book marketing.

Other search terms I found useful on Facebook are: “Find all pages named ‘association of …,’ ‘American association of …,’ ‘institute of …,’ and ‘alumni associations colleges and universities.’”

If you ask readers to “like” your Facebook page or your page created for a new title, you’ll build a group of people who will automatically be notified when you post to that page.

To pinpoint relevant LinkedIn groups, you can use the “Find a group” search box on the right of the main LinkedIn page. When I typed in “publishing,” the names of more than 3,000 groups came up, including “Society for Scholarly Publishing,” “Social Media for Publishing Professionals,” and “Columbia Publishing Course.”

9 Other Association Avenues to Readers

Besides using Facebook pages and LinkedIn for associations, do a global search for membership organizations of all kinds with a term as simple as, “National Association …” You’ll discover there’s an organization for almost everyone, from actuaries, acupuncturists, Asian-American professionals, and African-American accountants, to pet-sitters and process servers, swine veterinarians, science writers, and women in construction.

With the search results, you can target officers and such staff members as the executive director, newsletter editor, and the conference/education coordinator about specific possibilities. I start by creating a general message that I can then easily tailor to each organization’s focus and to any specific opportunity I’m pursuing.

Consider any or all of the following.

LISTSERVS

Associations of many sorts have listservs. In the library world, for instance, you can find thousands of websites associated with such forums as the Music Library Association’s discussion, the Medical Library Association’s e-mail list, and the listservs sponsored by state library associations and those for special and school librarians when you check the Library of Congress’s Library and Information Science: A Guide to Online Resources and search Google for “library association listserv.”

PUBLICATIONS

Read the newsletters of selected associations (online copies are often available to nonmembers) to determine whether they publish reviews and other book-related material and, if so, what the criteria are. Some association publications cover relevant books by any author or publisher; some review titles of any kind by members, and some do not review self-published titles.

If you’re writing to offer a review copy or an article, start by checking submission requirements. Then be sure to mention any relevant connections (your degree and class for an alumni publication, the name and location of the chapter you belong to for a professional or trade association, or work you’ve done in the profession or industry). One example: When I contacted the National Association of Female Executives about a newsletter article, I mentioned that I’d been featured in its magazine in connection with an earlier book; the response was an immediate invitation to submit a short article.

GATHERINGS

Associations’ conferences and conventions often have dozens of speakers, with three or more doing concurrent breakout sessions after morning and luncheon keynotes. Getting invited to present may require a detailed proposal; you may be expected to pay for conference registration, and you’ll almost certainly have to cover your own travel expenses.

In many cases, your book will be sold only at the conference bookstore; you will not be allowed to promote it during your talk, and your audience may be small if the conference features many concurrent sessions. On the other hand, you will have your name and a brief bio in the conference program that everyone gets, and you can—and should—include at least a sentence about yourself and your book in your session handout (that’s part of the reason to have a handout).

A less expensive option is speaking at your branch libraries’ Friends of the Library events and at the meetings of local chapters of alumni, business, civic, and special interest groups. The chambers of commerce in neighborhoods and small cities, Rotary and Kiwanis groups, women’s business groups, and writers’ associations are examples of organizations that may welcome a brief presentation on the business of publishing, the challenges of writing, or the topic of your book.

These groups often do not pay their speakers, but they may allow you to sell books, and your talk will be publicized in at least one newsletter issue. If you’re lucky, there’ll be both advance publicity and a report on your talk. A presentation at a library guarantees that there will be at least a copy or two of your book on the shelves.

WEBINARS

Online programs and classes, which entail lower costs, are available to many associations’ members, and sometimes to the general public as well. Webinars that include demonstrations (of art projects, woodworking, or quilting, for example) may be very elaborate, with all sessions taped in a studio; obviously, these will involve significant preparation, travel, and possibly hours in front of a camera. Other webinars are much simpler, using Skype or a conference-calling program with audio and slides created with Power Point or as PDFs.

Be aware that associations don’t usually pay for online presentations; in fact, some expect you to pay them for the opportunity. On the plus side, webinars may involve far more exposure than you get while you’re “on the air.” Ideally, the completed webinar will be archived on an association’s website so that you can refer prospective clients and book buyers to it—and get testimonials and sales as a result. Another advantage: Once you’ve done one webinar, you can revise the material to offer it to other organizations, and use all or part of it on your own website and possibly on YouTube.

FUNDRAISERS

Donate copies of your book—or a copy of your book and a one-hour consultation. Either offer will get you listed in a fundraiser’s program, and if the fundraiser is a silent auction your book or the gift certificate for a consultation will be on display. (Avoid donating a single book to be included in a gift basket because you won’t get the same kind of publicity or exposure.)

MEMBER BENEFIT PROGRAMS

25thingsIf you can identify who needs your book or who wants your book, you’re prepared to approach associations about purchasing it to resell at a special price or distribute free to members. You might even license your content to a group, or create a second cover for your book with the association’s name on it.

Advocacy and support organizations such as the American Cancer Society and the American Diabetes Association sell books on health topics on their websites. Other associations buy books for training purposes. For instance, the Military Child Education Coalition buys hundreds of copies of the Parenting Press book 25 Things to Do When Grandpa Passes Away, Mom and Dad Get Divorced or the Dog Dies: Activities to Help Children Suffering Loss or Change. Even with deployments being reduced, the Coalition was responsible for 55 percent of the purchases of this 2003 title in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2014.

MAILINGS

Most associations have lists of their members that include postal addresses, and many also have e-mail contact information for at least some members. Some groups make these lists generally available for a fee. For instance, you can get a set of labels for the 120 stores that are members of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association for $75. And via organizations such as IBPA, you can take advantage of mailings both to members and to industry contacts important to members, which in IBPA’s case will include librarians and media people.

ADS

Many associations sell ads in their newsletters and on their websites, and/or solicit sponsorships for their publications and events. Some require that you submit a book for approval before accepting any ad; others offer a free small ad to each member each year. “Sponsorships” may buy you a display ad that can feature a picture and description of a book, or simply a listing of your company name with its logo.

Rates vary significantly. They may be based on the circulation for a publication, on readership as measured by Alexa and Google Analytics for a website, or on the perceived buying power of the readership. Ads in Ivy League alumni bulletins probably will cost more than those for state colleges, and rates for library association ads are certainly higher than those for writers’ group newsletters.

Jeff Minard, the general manager of William Carey Library, a Christian press based in Pasadena, CA, advertises in the journals of relevant professional associations, and he has a tongue-in-cheek suggestion for getting the best placement for ads regardless of their size: “Have some association leaders as your authors!”

You can reduce what you spend on advertising in association publications (and others) while extending awareness of your books by exploring alternatives to paying for ads. For example, you might trade an article or question-and-answer column for ad space. Many of us can easily create articles from material in our books and handle questions related to it.

CONFERENCE AND CONVENTION EXHIBITS

The Saturday you spend at a farmers’ association street market, selling books under an awning, may cost you less than $100 in table rental, although you may have to bring your own table—and awning. You won’t have to provide your own table at a trade show run by an ABA or American Library Association affiliate, but rates will be higher. For example, if you register today for the Wisconsin Library Association’s November conference, you’ll pay $775 for your nonmember booth (and somewhat less if your press is nonprofit).

Sales at exhibits seldom cover the costs of exhibiting, but occasionally you can reap long-term benefits, such as a bulk sale or foreign rights sale to someone you meet at your booth. As Theresa Moore, a self-publisher at Antellus in Sherman Oaks, CA, points out, the still-sagging economy continues to affect both attendance and sales. “The traffic was good this year at Wondercon Anaheim, which is a big conference devoted to media and comic books, but sales were dismal,” she says. “I ended up handing out flyers hoping that people would buy online. It was clear that the economy was responsible for the poor sales, since the hotels and parking lots got a lot of the buyers’ money. No one in my section fared any better.”

To increase traffic to your booth, consider what Minard does at MissioNexus, a conference for religious presses. Because many of the conference speakers are authors whose publishers do not exhibit, Minard handles those authors’ books as well as books from his company. “It can be an effort to keep the money separated,” he reports, “but it results in more mentions of the books and my table from the podium, and it draws more people to my exhibit.” He doesn’t charge these authors for selling their books, but charging a commission would partially defray exhibit costs.

Large gatherings offer other opportunities for promotion. Sponsorship of a meal or coffee break might mean name awareness for a publisher. And more economical options, such as having your exhibit staff wear T-shirts imprinted with book covers and giving out “goody bags,” allow title-specific advertising. For example, you can have 200 flyers stuffed in the swag bags distributed at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association’s September conference for $125 plus the cost of the flyers.

In short, there are dozens of ways to use associations in your marketing. If you’re an author working with a publisher, you can promote both your title and yourself as an expert by working through associations to supplement what your publisher does. And you can do it on a very limited budget, which is also important to self-publishers with only one title or just a few. For those of you in companies that have marketing departments or use independent publicists, taking advantage of association opportunities can significantly enhance the impact of the bigger-budget promotions.

Book Business Groups

Publishing trade associations you can use for networking and to promote your books include the 21 IBPA affiliates listed at ibpa-online.org/resources/affiliates/.

Bookstore associations you can use include the nine American Booksellers Association affiliates:


Linda Carlson (lindacarlson.com) writes for the IBPA Independent from Seattle, where she is currently using associations to promote the new Advertising with Small Budgets for Big Results. Her first webinar for an association is archived and accessible on a complimentary basis at aspp.com/events-programming/webinars/.

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