Does Publicity Sell Books? A Case Study - Captain Honey
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Does Publicity Sell Books? A Case Study

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18 Feb Does Publicity Sell Books? A Case Study

The other day our new book, Mummy and Mumma Get Married was featured in a great piece in The Guardian. The article was shared over 3000 times. I posed the question of my friends (an educated, book-loving group) on Facebook, ‘How many copies do you think we sold of the book from our website as a result?’. Answers varied from zero (thanks friends!) to 789. I’ll spare you the suspense. The correct answer was 13.

I didn’t have particularly high expectations, but even still that seemed a low number. It’s a good job it’s not our only avenue for sales!

A couple of years ago, we had great coverage of our title The 50 Book in Sunday Life magazine. This resulted in around 35 book sales from our website that day – three times as many as for ‘Mummy and Mumma Get Married’. It was still a very modest result.

Fact one: Sunday Life is a hard copy publication with a huge circulation.

Fact two: There are more 50 year-old-women in Australia than there are lesbian mums.

In relation to fact one, my experience suggests that there’s a better direct sales outcome for a book featured in print than online. This makes sense. It’s one thing to share a piece (and sharing is greatly valued, too, in terms of creating buzz and awareness) but it’s another to take action, particularly when action = spending money.

It’s better to see online publicity as solely an awareness-raising exercise, with purchase happening elsewhere. We had record traffic to our website that day – that’s a great thing. And we were approached by other media wanting to talk to us about the book – also great. Publicity is a rolling stone and it’s important to keep the momentum going.

But, it got me thinking, do you ever buy a book immediately on reading about it online? Actually, I do. I did this just last week when I purchased Panthers and the Musuem of Fire after reading about its Stella Prize long listing. But I don’t do it often and I have to be motivated. Literary fiction is my love, closely followed by supporting Australian small publishers and Australian women authors – all those boxes were ticked for me in my purchase of Panthers and the Museum of Fire. Plus, I was able to buy this book with one-click on Amazon. I didn’t have to fumble about for my credit card late at night. It’s really important to make purchasing easy for customers.

Onto fact two, the audience. The obvious audience for this book is lesbian mums. I wonder how many there are in Australia? Somewhere between 5,000 – 10,000 would be my educated guess. During our crowdfunding campaign, we had a great piece in Mamamia. I was so excited and sat back waiting for the pledges to roll in. We got maybe a handful. The publicity had other fantastic benefits, acting as an invaluable trigger to getting other coverage, which saw better $$ results for us. Towards the end of the campaign, we finally got a Facebook and Twitter shout-out from the team at Australian Marriage Equality, and that was where our money came from – the lesbian mums. That’s great. This book is for kids with lesbian mums, for sure.

But it’s not just for them. Read the comments on The Guardian article and you’ll hear how strongly some heterosexual people feel about supporting this book. Here’s one example:

“I am in a perfectly conventional straight marriage, and I would read this story to my daughter for sure. I have no idea whether it will turn out that she’s straight or gay, cisgender or transgendered or what – but I want her to know that there are all kinds of normal out there and no consensual loving relationship is worth more or less than any other.

If anything, I feel like this kind of thing should be more relevant to straight parents, because it gives us a way to introduce different kinds of families to our kids in a way that doesn’t make value judgements, put words in anybody’s mouths for them …”

A friend of mine who guessed the highest number, 789, qualified his guess with the remark “Guardian readers”. Yes, you’d think so! I also thought that more of  those “straight allies” – who read The Guardian, support marriage equality, and want their children to live in a world where diversity is celebrated – would have bought the book. But maybe, now that they know about it, they will buy it next time they are in a bookshop. Refer to point one about publicity driving awareness and purchase happening elsewhere.

I’m a big one for ‘learnings’, and one of the best things to come out of this for me is the insight that we need to reach straight parents. We need them to care enough to buy and read this book to their kids. So that will be the focus of our publicity efforts for the next little while. Any thoughts on how we do this, please send them our way!


  • Peter Bowron
    Posted at 07:07h, 19 February Reply

    Hi Steph, straight couple in our late 50s/early60s.

    Might have bought the book if we had relevant age children now, but we’re past the need and grandchildren are probably a fair way off. I tend to read reviews online, my wife in the digital edition of a major newspaper. Not sure if that tells you much. Best of luck with it, any author needs guts.

    • natalie.winter
      Posted at 00:22h, 20 February Reply

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Peter. You’re right about guts. It’s a gruelling business, especially the selling part, but engagement, interaction and conversations about the book is a reward in itself.

  • Jane Rawson
    Posted at 23:43h, 03 March Reply

    Really interesting post, thanks heaps. I’m curious whether there was a ‘buy the book here’ link/button/whatever link on your site on the day you got record traffic (I’m guessing ‘yes’ and that people still didn’t click on it).
    I did the same thing with ‘Panthers..’!

    • Roz Hopkins
      Posted at 05:56h, 21 March Reply

      Thanks Jane. Only just seen your comment. To answer your question, there was a link from the Guardian piece to our website and from there it was one-click to the shop.

  • Lisa Hill
    Posted at 05:25h, 04 March Reply

    I buy books all the time because I’ve read about them online.
    But it depends on who/where I heard about it. I don’t take any notice of reviews from online newspapers or Goodreads or Amazon etc. I don’t think I’ve ever bought a book because it was reviewed in a print journal or newspaper.
    I bookblog myself (literary fiction, specialising in OzLit) , and I belong to a global network of bloggers whose reviews I have learned to trust. Even though most of us have never actually met each other, we know each other’s tastes, and If they liked the book then I know I probably will too. And I know, – because my readers tell me so – that people buy books that I’ve recommended because they’ve got to know my taste and they’re learned to trust my judgement.
    Before I retired I used to review children’s books on my professional blog (I was a teacher-librarian) and I think that probably helped sell a few here and there, but I think the children’s market is a different beast to the adult market. If you could get your book selected by Australian Standing Orders who supply school libraries all over Australia then you’d have it made. But my guess is that they would be wary of your topic because all their faith-based subscribers would probably object. (They are, of course, the very ones who ought to have a copy *sigh*).

    • Roz Hopkins
      Posted at 06:15h, 21 March Reply

      Apologies for the very delayed reaction to your post. I somehow missed it! Lots of interesting thoughts and ideas in your post, and I wanted to thank you for the suggestion of Australian Standing Orders.

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