On Successful Book Marketing with Jennifer Canzoneri of BenBella Books

This the first in an occasional series of interviews with boutique publishers whose business model and books I admire.

Here’s Jennifer Canzoneri of BenBella Books:

Dr Liz: Jennifer, perhaps a good place to begin would be asking you to tell us who you are among the BenBella team, what you do, and what you love most about your job.

Jennifer C: I’m the marketing manager at BenBella Books and that means I create and facilitate the marketing campaigns for our titles (with the help of the rest of the department, of course). I also work with our authors to provide tools and resources (social media tips, for example), and I manage the social media presence for our company. I think what I love most about my job is finding the right audience for a particular book and seeing it resonate with that group of people. I also enjoy working with our many different types of authors.

Jennifer Canzoneri, BenBella Books

Dr. Liz: Having written 14 books myself, published by some big international houses, I’m appalled at how little publishers typically do to market the books they commission, beyond sending out a press release and perhaps arranging some radio interviews. How is BenBella Books different with regards to marketing its authors’ books?

We look at marketing with a much more personalized approach than what you reference. We don’t send out blanket press releases or mass emails hardly ever. Our goal is to build relationships with the media, and that means doing our homework and being thoughtful in our approach with them. We also try to be creative and incorporate more social media, online marketing, video marketing, and other unique ideas into our plans. We view our authors as marketing partners and that’s why we pull them into the marketing process as early as possible and then revisit our plan multiple times throughout the campaign.

A recent BenBella publication

Dr. Liz: Talk us through one of the marketing campaigns you are most proud of orchestrating for one of your authors. What did you do and what were the outcomes?

This is a tough question! I’m always proud when we get good coverage for our titles and many of our titles have been featured in national print reviews and our authors featured on national media outlets. I think I’m most proud, though, when I feel a plan has been executed well, start to finish, and a lot of that can happen behind the scenes—doing thorough research, communicating well with the author(s), crafting original materials and pitches, and then connecting with the media on a personal level.

Dr. Liz: One of your responsibilities is social media marketing. To what extent do new authors misunderstand or overlook the value of an effective social media strategy? What misperceptions do some of your authors have–and how did you overcome them–with respect to tweeting, Facebook fans, leveraging LinkedIn etc?

I think the biggest challenge for an author with no social media experience is simply setting realistic expectations. It’s a time-consuming endeavor! A successful social media strategy isn’t as easy as merely starting a Twitter account or creating a Google+ profile, for example. You have to devote time and energy into educating yourself and then applying that knowledge to your own goals. For some authors, there’s just not enough interest (or time) to launch a successful social media presence, and I think that’s okay. Not every author needs a Twitter account to sell books, especially if they’re not interested in maintaining it. But, if there is interest, there’s an endless list of things to try, to learn about, etc. When social media is executed well, it can be invaluable, especially for connection. For example, if you have always admired a journalist’s work and really want to connect with them, social media is such an incredible outlet for that. Support their work (through RTs, shares, etc.), engage with them on interesting topics, and eventually you might strike up a mutual conversation or relationship. You then have a supporter in someone who is the perfect fit for your platform—but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy process!

Dr. Liz: For most of my life as a nonfiction author there was no internet — yet my books have continued to sell in their hundreds of thousands, all over the world. Call me “woo woo” but I fervently believe that success is built into a book at the idea and writing stages. I’m not saying you can overlook marketing, just that maybe today’s authors place too much emphasis on being published, and not enough on creating something truly original and powerful. As one New Thought author, Ralph Waldo Trine (mentioned in Trevor Blake’s book Three Simple Steps) wrote: “That which is written between the lines is many times more than that which is written in the lines. It is the spirit of the author that engenders this power…(lifting) it into the class called superior and (making) it one of the hundred that it truly successful.” What’s your perspective on that?

Three Simple Steps by Trevor Blake

I love this because it’s true. Offline word-of-mouth is still the #1 way books are sold and that all comes down to the content of the book! I love social media and creative marketing, but at the end of the day, if the content of the book isn’t resonating with people, there’s not enough kindling we can put on the fire to light it. I think striving for original, strong content should be a book’s first goal and then figuring out how to get that book into the right hands (in creative ways!) comes next. I become involved in the second part, always hoping that the first part is a success.

Thank you, Jennifer!