The Book Marketing Snowball

So what is the Book Marketing Snowball?

Hey Snowballers!

Welcome to the first issue of a new venture…the Book Marketing Snowball newsletter! The Book Snowball marketing method is one that I arrived at several years ago as I was helping authors launch and promote their books, which is something I have now done thousands of times. Each week, I’ll be passing along at least one actionable tip you can take and use to help get your books in front of your target audience, and sell more books!

The Book Snowball

I once spoke to an author whose first book was just getting ready to go to print, explaining how book signings work, why authors do them, the importance of niche marketing, how distribution works, building a platform, etc. I spent a lot of time going through all the ins and outs of promoting a book, confident I was imparting some great knowledge. The author paused a moment, and got right to the point.

“Well, that’s all well and good, but how do we get my book into Walmart? They would sell a million copies of my book!”


Unfortunately, most new books by new authors don’t start their lives on the shelves at Walmart. Something else has to come first, and that something is customer demand. I explained that marketing a book is like rolling a snowball down a hill. When it first starts rolling, it is a small snowball. As it continues to roll down the hill, it gradually gets larger and larger. By the time it reaches the bottom of the hill, it is significantly bigger than it was when it started.

When a new, unknown author first becomes published, their book is the small snowball. It may go unnoticed at first, but with persistent promotion it will continue to grow. It may not grow as fast as the author wants it to, but in order to keep the sales and exposure going, the author and publisher must continue to keep pushing it down the hill. If the author stops promoting their work, what happens? The snowball isn’t going to get any larger, and neither will the book sales.

Many authors want to begin at the top of the hill with the big snowball, but they only have a big snowball if they have a large platform from which to launch their book. Is the author famous? Are they well-known in their state, region or even across the country? Do they have a large following in their life or profession? If not, then they are starting with a small snowball.

You may have heard of the book “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” by Stieg Larsson. It’s a book that has been made into a movie, and it’s a bestseller. The book wasn’t published until after the author had died, and it was released in Sweden, Larsson’s home country. Nobody outside of Sweden had heard of Larsson prior to his book being published, but it won an award and was well-received in his home country. A publisher in Great Britain took a chance on the book and translated it into English, renaming it from the original title, “Men Who Hate Women” to “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” The book didn’t sell.

The British publisher resorted to giving away copies; leaving them in public places like bus stops where people would find and read them. Like a snowball, word of mouth grew until book sales picked up and “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” became a success. Eight years after it was published, the book is now a Hollywood movie.

That is an extreme example of a small snowball rolling down the hill and becoming something very big. Not every author will have this kind of success, but the journey will almost always begin with a small snowball. If you keep pushing it, it will become something bigger. You just have to keep pushing.

Target your niche

One of the biggest mistakes that authors make is assuming that “everybody” will want to read their book. No book is for everybody. If you take one thing away from this particular issue, keep that one at the front of your mind: No book is for everybody.

Before I got into the publishing industry, I worked as a radio announcer. The most successful radio stations I worked at were those that realized that not everyone who listens to the radio listens to their particular station. People have their favorite types of music. Someone who likes rock music isn’t going to listen to a country station.

Someone who favors rock of the 50’s and 60’s isn’t going to want to listen to a rock station that plays only 80’s hair metal. With that in mind, the radio station targeted people of a certain age group.

We even went so far as to find pictures of people from magazines who represented our “average listener” and taped them on the wall in the radio studio to help us keep in mind who the target audience was for our station. At one station where I worked, we taped a photo of a soccer mom in her 30’s with a husband and two kids on the studio wall, because our research had shown that was the target audience for the type of music we were playing, and our advertising was aimed at that audience. We didn’t try to please everybody with our radio station; just our target audience.

That is exactly the type of approach authors need to take before formulating their marketing plan for their book. You can’t please everybody with your book; just your target audience.

Yet, many authors decide that their book can’t or won’t be a success unless they are doing a book signing in a big box bookstore whose target audience is…everybody. The problem is if you have written a historical fiction novel and only one out of 100 people who walk through the front door of the bookstore are interested in historical fiction, you aren’t going to move many books if you are only relying on the store’s regular foot traffic. Book signing events are probably not even the best way to reach your target audience.

Try this exercise for determining the target audience for your book. First, draw an inverted pyramid on a piece of paper. Separate the inverted pyramid into four segments.

The top line (the largest segment) represents the largest group of people who might possibly be remotely interested in your book. The second line is the genre for your book. The third line is the particular subject of your book. The fourth line represents the groups of people that might be interested in that particular subject, and the last and smallest line of the pyramid represents the exact type of person that might be interested in your particular book.

Now let’s put the pyramid into practice, using a Christian book as an example:

1st line: Christians

2nd line: Christians looking for Bible study book

3rd line: Christians looking for a Bible study book about what the Bible says about grieving

4th line: Christians looking for a Bible study book about what the Bible says about grieving AND have experienced loss

5th line: Christians looking for a Bible study book about what the Bible says about grieving AND have recently experienced the loss of a loved one or is trying to come to terms with their grief.

Using this inverted pyramid example, we can see that if we only targeted Christians, we’d be shooting for a very broad group of people. This particular book is focused on the teachings of the Bible as it relates to grieving, and the target audience is people who are trying to cope with their grief. If you start out your promotional efforts targeting only Christians, and not necessarily those interested in a Bible study book, particularly a person interested in reading books about coping with grief, you’ll miss your target and you’ll expend a lot of energy reaching out to the wrong readers.

Let’s say the author of this book was only promoting their book to bookstores, ,just hoping to catch a customer walking through the door looking for a book just like their grieving book. They may sell a couple of books. However, if that same author sent notices to local Bible study groups or Christian grieving support groups to let them know HOW their book can help them and WHERE they can get it (maybe even offering to speak to the group and make copies of their book available), they would have a lot more people seeking out their book. Remember, you’re trying to reach the pointy end of the pyramid, not the wide end of the pyramid, at least at the beginning.

The books that become hugely successful are those that start at the pointy end of the pyramid and work their way up. That comes as word about the book spreads among the small target audience and up through the larger groups of people at the wider ends of the pyramid.

It may seem counter-intuitive to only reach out to smaller groups of people at first, but these are the people that are going to be most passionate about a book like yours. They are going to be the evangelists for your book, and they are the people who are going to be spreading the word-of mouth that your book needs to be a success.

How do you reach the pointy-end people? We’ll start delving into that in the next issue!

Did you get any value from this newsletter? Please, do me a favor and help me reach my pointy-ended people, and share this link with your fellow authors!