Marketing books in the digital age

As she grows her publishing house from scratch, Terri-ann White offers advice on marketing books.
A stack of books with the top one called Bestseller on its spine

Marketing books is difficult, especially when our consumer culture is so focused on trends and following what’s popular at the time. It’s a challenge that Terri-ann White, publisher at the new Upswell Publishing, is all too aware of. ‘When I’ve got a very small budget for marketing and publicity, cutting through all of that is really complicated. And so that is one of the reasons that I’ve started this idea for subscriptions to Upswell.’ 

The publishing house kicked off a subscription service, in which readers can pay to regularly receive titles that Upswell publishes, from fiction to non-fiction to poetry. ‘It’s about readers making a commitment to buying a subscription, it was about people trusting me, trusting my curatorship and my judgement. People pay upfront and I send them the books as they come back from the printer’. The subscription will include a letter from White on why she chose the book, as well as a letter from the author about where this book came from. 

It’s a subject White will raise when she delivers the keynote at this year’s 2021 SPN Independent Publishing Conference

‘I think it survives by following some of these strategies that I’ve commenced, such as the subscription, building a base of readers.

As former bookseller I don’t really want to cut out the bookshops, as that is very important to me as part of the whole ecosystem of books, publishers and readers. But given that there are so many books being published and it’s so hard for booksellers to cut through and make decisions, I want to be able to have a bit of protection for myself. So the subscriptions and the building of a strong reader base is incredibly important.’

SOCIAL-LED MARKETING

White sees social media as a necessary part of publishing. ‘Being on social media, which is kind of weird and horrific and also deeply useful for an independent publisher … I’ve been doing it now for more than 10 years: I’ve had some experiences of announcing a book for publication down the track and saying pre-orders are available and because of the subject of that book, and before we’d even got the book back from the printer, it just hit a couple of Facebook groups, of diverse focus. Suddenly all of the sales would come through my inbox.’ 

Those pre-sales have been successful for White. ‘So I’m sitting at home, doing something ordinary and 1 o’clock on that Sunday pre-orders started coming in for a book that was a $35 retail price and we sold pretty close to about 600 copies that afternoon and then by the end of that following week we’d sold 1500 copies. So 1500 people had paid upfront 35 bucks without the publisher even seeing the final copy’.

Read: Book review: The Dogs, John Hughes

It’s a subject that White’s keynote will expand on while making her advice accessible to those just starting in publishing. ‘Because most of the people that will attend are at the start of their careers, or thinking about getting into publishing, I just want to be really honest about the pitfalls, and about how to keep the passion alive’.

This is an edited extract of an interview Terri-ann White gave to Holly Hendry-Saunders of The Small Press Network (SPN). She will be the keynote speaker at the SPN Independent Publishing Conference.

ArtsHub is a co-sponsor of the SPN Book of the Year Award. 

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