Nathan here! I recently met Sarah Hill, who has had a super interesting career in the publishing industry as a social media and product manager, co-founder and CEO of Bookstr, and now as the founder of Bobi NYC, an agency focused on helping authors with marketing and PR.
I invited Sarah for an interview about marketing and publicity and what she’s learned over the course of her career in the publishing industry.
Nathan: Some people get the roles of marketing people and publicists mixed up. What’s the best way of keeping them straight and how do you think about the different roles?
Sarah: This is a great question. We actually do both. I think the best way to think about it is to consider who your audience is.
For publicity you’re speaking to journalists, influencers, producers, editors, etc…. people who have access and/or act as gatekeepers to an audience.
For most marketers, they place their focus on a consumer audience or an audience amongst peers (business to business).
A majority of the time publicists are trying to sell the idea of someone (or someone’s idea) and marketers are trying to sell something. However, this may not be the case in every situation.
What did you learn about the book business and online communities while serving as a co founder and CEO of Bookstr?
Oh wow, I could probably write a book with the information I learned in the book business and in online communities. I learned a lot about running a company and managing teams and investors as well.
For the book business in particular, I learned about the author’s thought process and needs post-launch. In addition to that, I discovered what publishers look for in their authors. Learning more about the business model of publishing really helped me see the internal priorities and everything that waterfalls from there on out. This allowed us to create smart and strategic partnerships with some of the greatest publishers today, like HarperCollins.
As for online communities, I learned the power of digital connection first-hand. The growth we witnessed in the social community over the years was mind-blowing. I remembered a time when we were lucky enough to have even 10 people like a post. Eventually that 10 grew to thousands and thousands of online followers.
As my team and I grew the Bookstr community, I couldn’t believe how many people were inspired by and loved books and authors as much as we did. The community connected people from all over the globe. It was a really magical and powerful thing to witness.
Our organization, along with other digital publishers at the time, were hit by many of the social media algorithm changes over the years. However, that didn’t change the love we received from our audience. I learned how powerful digital communities can be, but also, how beholden we were to the platforms we were on. There were many lessons, but those really stand out.
What’s the biggest shift in the industry you’ve noticed in the past five years?
It is interesting to me that more and more publishers and agents are asking for social followers before inking a deal. When I was growing up I had this notion that good books would be signed because of their content and that they would be successful because of the caliber of the writing. I think that is still the case a minority of the time, but over the last few years a large emphasis has been placed on a person’s social following or access to an audience.
Although I understand this is sometimes necessary because it mitigates the risk of the publisher losing money, I still hold out hope that agents and publishers keep an open mind when it comes to signing new talent, new books with fresh ideas and stories that help us connect and move forward in the industry.
Even if an author isn’t working directly with a marketing/publicist expert, what are some marketing and publicity-oriented things they should be doing and thinking about?
Discover and be prepared to show your authentic self. Then, work on your story and your positioning for the book. Do not be scared to start speaking about your book.
As difficult as it is, you are your best cheerleader. You will most likely gain more people than you lose by putting yourself out there. Make sure your digital profile is in good shape across all social platforms you want to use. Start posting content that aligns with you and your book. Canva.com is a great source to create free content if you have the time to do so.
Take photos and make videos of yourself talking to your audience. Find the online digital community who would read your book and place your digital footprint in that community. Do not get disheartened if adoption is slow for your book.
Anything else you want to say? The floor is yours!
I know it sounds crazy, but I really think that every person should write and publish a book. Almost everyone has something to say and something interesting about them. You’re unique and your voice deserves to be heard. Will you become a millionaire based off of your writing? Most likely not. However, do you deserve to tell your story or the story you hold inside? YES!
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and coaching!
For my best advice, check out my guide to writing a novel (now available in audio) and my guide to publishing a book.
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