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Sudbury Publishing Group Finds Promotional Opportunities in Their Own Backyard

Thursday, October 8, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Christopher Locke
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Charity auctions, movie theater advertising, retail, events, and podcasts are just some of the marketing strategies undertaken by Author/Marketer Jill C. Baker (center bottom) and her husband, Publisher/Editor Jonathan W. Baker (bottom right), in the first year of their independent publishing company, Sudbury Publishing Group.

Marketing is consistently one of the topics that IBPA members say they need the most assistance with, so IBPA was intrigued when Sudbury Publishing Group Author/Marketer Jill C. Baker said that she’d love to share some of the clever and successful marketing ideas she and her husband, Publisher/Editor Jonathan W. Baker, employed the first year of their independent publishing company.

As you’ll see, some of these tactics include in-person events, so even though right now the COVID-19 health crisis prevents those tactics from being safe, there are a lot of helpful ideas shared. IBPA hopes other independent publishers will be inspired to come up with their own strategic ideas based on the following:

RETAIL January/February 2019

Jeanie Quirk, owner of The Antique Exchange in Sudbury.

Jill: Compared to getting shelf space in brick and mortar bookstores, it is much easier to target local outlets that match your theme. Jon likes to dabble in antiques, so while chatting with the proprietor of a local antique shop, he mentioned our first book, Tory Roof. The owner, Jeanie Quirk, was delighted to showcase the book on her counter and single-handedly sold quite a few copies. What made this fitting is that part of the story takes place in Colonial America, set in a vintage building much like The Antique Exchange of Sudbury. I also put books into the Wayland Depot, a consignment shop (in an historic railway station) whose proceeds benefit a neighboring community.

Jonathan: When I stopped by the antique shop to browse, we were basically “shooting the breeze.” I mentioned we were working on some books, and Jeanie Quirk, the proprietor, said she had previously held book signings at her shop. There was no presentation, hard pitch, or questions about sales. When I saw she was interested, I went out to the car and brought in a copy of our first book, Tory Roof. (Always carry books in your car but wrap them so the covers don’t scuff.) She said she’d gladly take a few to try and offered to place them right on her counter. She wasn’t looking to make a profit as much as to help us and have a conversation-starter with her clients.

Jill: I made a little sign, put it in a frame, and autographed the copies. Anything to make things easier for her. We sold one on the spot. And as promised, I gave her some social media recognition. We check in periodically and replenish the inventory. We have always believed in building relationships rather than making a quick sale, so that’s how we approach independent book publishing. There needs to be mutual advantages.

IBPA: Have you had success with other retailers as well?

Jill: I think it’s fun to be open to serendipity because you never know when the world will offer a gift. For example, I had set up a meeting with Rebecca Weeks, a Board Member at the Sudbury Historical Society. She was spearheading a gift shop initiative for their renovated space in an old parsonage. When she offered to give me a tour, I readily agreed, since the setting of my first book is, in part, in Colonial America. I knew from my research something about vintage houses, so on a lark, I asked her, half-jokingly, if they had found any old shoes in the walls. She looked at me, stunned, and walked me to a cabinet that contained a concealment shoe. (These were shoes worn by owners and placed into crevices to supposedly protect occupants from evil spirits.) This shoe was likely near 300 years old. I mentioned that I had written about concealment shoes in Tory Roof, and she was very intrigued. I gave her a copy of my first two books, and she expressed interest in buying them. Soon afterward, she emailed to thank me, explaining that she used my information in giving a tour to town Selectmen. Several weeks later, she bought a quantity of both books for the store.

PODCAST March/April 2019

Jonathan: Jill belongs to a “TweetUp” group, and one of the founders, Bob Cargill, (a well-respected copywriter and marketer) has a podcast. He invited her to be a guest and asked an enthusiastic reader (also a marketer), Scott Myles, to join. In addition to generating 8,000 direct downloads of the podcast, they used Social Media to expand visibility during the following weeks.

Bob Cargill, Jill C. Baker and Scott Myles.

IBPA: This seems like it garnered great exposure for the book so do you have any tips for how indie publishers can land podcast interviews, or media interviews?

Jill: For someone who has worked in media, I’ve not done a great job at pursuing interviews, but I didn’t feel it was a good investment of time until I had a trilogy under my belt. Also, so much editorial content is now syndicated, pushed by big publishing houses, that I didn’t think I could stand out. Instead, I’ve focused on networking which is less labor-intensive and far more enjoyable.

For example, I met the podcast host, Bob Cargill, through that small “TweetUp” group that meets once a month. Many of these people are social media wizards and are also in a regional direct marketing association. Through this channel, I’ve met fellow writers, editors, marketers, and readers, picking up tips along the way.

Jonathan: Sudbury Publishing Group has also joined several publishing organizations, including IBPA, and we’ve attended a few book fairs and author events. Exposure and idea sharing are far more constructive than sitting on the couch, and can lead to other things.

Jill: To this end, my best advice is to not wait for something to happen. Make it happen. Be pro-active. Blog. Guest blog. Launch your own podcast using a platform like Podbean. When I was a guest on Bob Cargill’s podcast, we basically recorded it on a mobile phone at a coffee shop—no elaborate equipment or studio required.

For professional exposure that you can control, don’t overlook LinkedIn Pulse. It’s free and easy to post an article on this professional platform, and the only caution I offer is that it should have a business bent and not be self-serving. I’ve used this venue to showcase other authors, which gives them a boost and in turn, builds my credibility and web traffic. For example: Several years ago, I met author Connie Johnson Hambley at a mystery writers’ gala, and we discovered we had grown up close to each other. She was very generous in sharing her resources, so I wanted to reciprocate. I wrote a LinkedIn article called “Hard Riders: Women Who Take the Reins”, comparing her to a jockey (they both loved horses), which in turn, also supported a videographer friend. (To me, getting 650 views was a win.) When my first book launched, she invited me to guest blog on her site and through her, I landed a guest blog with Karen Aroian, a wonderful developmental editor who Connie recommended for my first book. Last year, after meeting two paranormal genre writers, I decided to interview them for an off-beat post called “What are the Odds of Randomly Meeting Two People Who Document the Supernatural?” I’ve since learned, they both have podcasts, so a path is laid, as I use a bit of paranormal, particularly time travel, in my books.

EVENTS – Summer/Early Fall 2019

Jill C. Baker at the Sudbury Colonial Faire and Fife & Drum Muster.

Jill: To establish an industry presence, we participated in the New England Authors Expo during the summer which motivated us to produce elements for a trade show booth. But what really boosted sales was having a booth at the annual Colonial Muster at Longfellow’s Wayside Inn. This event features marching fife & drum corps, re-enactment groups, and a crafts fair—all in keeping with the subject of Book No. 1 which introduces the main character to a 1765 Revolutionary War agitator.

Without electricity, we could not run our PowerPoint loop of visualized book excerpts, so we converted them to print for visitors to peruse. Many of the photos were captured at previous musters, which added to the conversation.

MOVIE THEATER ADVERTISING October, November, December 2019

Jonathan: In the fall, I noticed that a local movie theater was offering a deal on pre-show advertising: 3 months for the price of two. Our assumption had been that on-screen advertising was cost-prohibitive, but it was not. We locked in a 3-month buy, recognizing the value of a captive audience. We figured it didn’t matter where book sales originated – at home or across the country.

Jill: It felt good supporting a local business and working with the general manager was a pleasure. Once I converted the screen ratios to design measures, it was easy to prepare the art in Quark and convert to RGB PNGS. We used the opportunity to test 2 different ads per flight as we had to accommodate 2 different screen sizes. The strategy was to first introduce me as a local author, then to promote the book content, then to sell holiday gift subscriptions.

CHARITY AUCTIONS November/December 2019

Jill: To support the community and expand visibility, SPG has been participating in fundraising auctions. Donors typically receive a blurb and logo in the auction catalog and as well as onsite recognition. Sudbury Publishing Group did that with HOPE Sudbury, a nonprofit group that funds emergency needs. Because books generate only modest proceeds, the event organizers were smart in pairing some of the books with wine. The auction was run online in tandem with a school talent show, which generated additional interest.

More Questions with Sudbury Publishing Group Author/Marketer Jill C. Baker

IBPA: Some of the above marketing tactics were in-person events, so do you have any suggestions for how independent publishers can adjust their marketing tactics to fit the current conditions for the COVID-19 health crisis?

Jill: First, assure your contacts that you’ll be there on the other side. We told ours right away: “please keep us on your mailing list” and “we’ll resume our ad buy when we get back to normal.” That has allowed us to enjoy an advertising make-good at the theater and continue communication with town fair organizers.

Second, use the time to improve your online presence. We’ve expanded our profiles, previews, and news on sites like BookLife, Goodreads, Reedsy Discovery, and Winning Writers. Reedsy Discovery is nice because your books stay there for sampling, even beyond the initial “upvote” and review timeframe. While I didn’t land a review for the first 2 titles, I did get newsletter publicity as a “best book launched that week.” Happily, our newest release, Absent, landed a great review, which has been integrated with other platforms. Cross-promotion across platforms and with your website is important, as is following those who follow you. Be attentive and keep social media current. I rely on different (non-personal) accounts for the Sutherland Series on Facebook and Twitter, posting to the latter in my main character’s voice. Being engaged with and supportive of the writing community is a best practice that can be done in a COVID climate.

Third, this is a good time to test new things. For advertising, we’ve tried a few Bargain Booksy promotions through Written Word Media and have found that “Literary Fiction” is a good category that’s not too expensive. Because we use Publish Drive as a digital distribution partner, we’ve intentionally expanded our reach. We now distribute ebooks to more foreign markets (Tolino and the German Network), use more subscription-based solutions (Scribd, 24Symbols), and library networks (like Odilo and Hoopla). We also run modest Amazon pay-per-click campaigns through the Publish Drive platform, testing automatic, product, and keyword tactics. We’re definitely learning as we go.

IBPA: How are you and your business faring during this health crisis?

Jill: Like everyone, we feel the hit, but we’re being practical. People are distracted and money is tight. While reading is a wonderful escape, not everyone can focus these days, so we’ve set our sights on building a brand and name recognition rather than selling hard copy books. However, ebooks have proven to be a timely solution, so for fall, we’ve put all our ebook fiction on sale.

IBPA: Did you receive any feedback from people for these different marketing tactics?

Jill: We did see favorable comments and “likes” on social media as we promoted what we were doing, and because we monitor real-time analytics through Publish Drive and Kindle Direct Publishing, it’s always a kick to see a blip attributed to a marketing effort. The most tangible proof of impact came through our movie house advertising when a local author contacted us after seeing our ads. We ended up meeting for coffee. She was writing a non-fiction book about her prominent family and wanted to know who might publish it. While Sudbury Publishing Group is not in the position to buy content (as much as sell services), this encounter didn’t lead to business, but it cemented a contact and prompted me to remember that some historical societies have publishing arms. I had recently read about one with a new, controversial title, and in thinking about it, I discovered a local tie—actually a story in a story in a story that resulted in one of my favorite blogs, “There’s Always More to the Story.”

IBPA: What were your overall lessons learned from doing these different marketing tactics?

Jill: We would certainly repeat most of these tactics, though we are reminded that different tactics have different purposes. Our best book sales came from in-person, public-facing events where we could engage with prospects. Industry events were good for networking and education, but less so for sales. We felt that some could have been improved by promoting them to a broader audience as in “Expo & Autographed Book Sale” or “Meet & Greet the Author.” While some events were beautiful, organized, and staged, more advance publicity and street signage would have helped improve foot traffic.

We also learned, though we knew up front, that a lot of money can be spent on Amazon—and we didn’t even buy display ads. However, we now understand the value of “read through” so we can rationalize that even modest sales or losses (viewed as investment) can start to build a following. We are also more cognizant of price points and will be testing variations in the future.

Above all, we believe that sincerity and authenticity are critical. This isn’t the place for slick lingo. We are in a unique industry where the consumer builds a relationship with the author and publisher. As social media experts advocate, “be yourself.” Don’t compare by name to bestselling authors. Better to say, “If you like mystery and history, this book is for you.” Timing is also key, so it’s wise to follow calendars and current events. Fourth of July? Promote your historical fiction. Back to school? Promote the book set on a college campus. Holiday season? Sell books as gifts. Currently, we are advertising in tandem with Amazon Prime Day, thinking we may see more activity.

IBPA: Marketing is generally an accumulation of tactics, but did any of these tactics lead to very clear sales bumps?

Jill: I’m glad you say that, because so many people expect a magic bullet whereas marketing is cumulative. I still go by the adage that you need to hit a prospect at least 6 times before your message sinks in, so doing more than one thing, simultaneously, is wise. For us, on-site paperback sales were the most immediate and tangible, but email promotions to specific enthusiast audiences were the most trackable. The danger there, I guess, is ‘burning the list’ by repeating too often—but once we have a better sense of where we fit in terms of genre or category—we’ll likely use other channels like Facebook or BookBub to target.

IBPA: How has it been beneficial to you to be a member of Independent Book Publishers Association?

Jonathan: Joining IBPA is one of the smart things any indie publisher should do. There’s power in numbers, helpful resources, and credibility in the logo, which we use on our Sudbury Publishing Group home page and brochure. I’ve attended several webinars and hope to do more in the future. I know we haven’t fully maximized all the member benefits, like NetGalley discounts, but we plan to learn more about IBPA partnerships.

Jill: This year, for the first time, I’ve entered the IBPA Benjamin Franklin Awards, using our membership status to reduce the entry fee. I always feel that competition puts you in good company and exposes your work to judges, even if you don’t win an award. And if feedback is provided, that’s a bonus and marketing ammunition.

IBPA: Do you have any new books coming out soon?

Jill: We now have three fiction titles out, with Absent being our newest release. Each book stands alone, but all connect through the characters. I am working on a fourth book in the series, but I learned that my preferred title is in use, so I will either have to modify or change it completely. To be honest, I took a hiatus during the early months of the pandemic—just didn’t feel creative—but I am getting back to writing again.

Jonathan: While Jill was between books, I produced two non-fiction titles, Nelson M. Baker, 19th Century Genealogist, intended for a small, specific audience interested in Baker family genealogy. The first (Family Album) contains Cartes de Visite rescued by a town historian when a family homestead was being sold. He kept them for years, until, by chance, I contacted him. The second book (School Papers) reproduces the writings of Nelson and his brother during an era when the country was amidst Civil War. It offers a fascinating peek into what young men were thinking at the time. The first book is available in color both in paperback and ebook format. The second is black-and-white. Copies have been donated to the New England Historical & Genealogical Society library and other archival organizations.

IBPA: Thank you, Jill and Jonathan, for sharing your expertise with the IBPA community!

Click here to learn more about Sudbury Publishing Group.

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