Great Product Is the New Marketing

It used to be that great marketing was the difference that made a good book a bestseller. As a publisher, all you had to do was demand sufficient shelf space in the bookstore, get your author on some big-time media shows, and then spam the target audience with advertising messages until they succumbed and bought the book.

People Waiting to Buy the New iPhone 4

In the old world, if the book succeeded, it was because it was an obviously brilliant book. If it failed, it was because the publisher didn’t spend enough on marketing.

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But those days or over. Good is no longer good enough.


Because readers have millions of options—literally. Over one million new books are published every year. That doesn’t include all the books that have already in print and sitting on bookstore shelves.

Suddenly, the publishing world has become very crowded and terribly noisy.

Yes, it helps when the author is highly visible. It helps when you have an arresting book cover. It also helps when you score a major media hit. But great marketing only makes a mediocre book fail faster.


Because of word-of-mouth. In the age of Twitter and Facebook, everyone has a megaphone. The voice of ordinary citizens is amplified. If they don’t like your book, your movie, or your art, they are not afraid to say so. Bad news travels faster than ever before.

But good news also travels fast. Apple spends less on marketing as a percentage-of-revenue than any other consumer electronics company. They don’t have to spend more, because the remarkable products they produce are the marketing. People are willing to spend hours in line on launch day just to get their hands on them. Their customers are their sales force.

This is also why authors like Ron Hall and Denver Moore, Eric Metaxas, and Sarah Young—authors you probably have never heard of—are selling more books than many of the tried and true authors of yesteryear. Just sample their books, and you’ll see why. They are truly remarkable.

So what can you do as an author to have a shot at the bestsellers list? I suggest three things:

  1. Start with a compelling topic or story. This will win over great writing every time. I am not saying it’s either/or. It should be both/and. But if you don’t have the right idea, no amount of polish will save it.
  2. Write the best book you can. Don’t “phone it in.” Don’t settle for mediocrity. Push yourself. Above all, listen to your editor. It’s better to stumble before an audience-of-one than fall flat on your face in front of a crowd.
  3. Build your social media network now. I have seen some authors try to do this when the book launches. Forget it. You build a loyal audience over time: one post, one tweet, one status update at a time. You have to build it before you need it.

Once you’ve done these things, you’re in a great position to demand that your publisher step up to the plate and partner with you. Until you’ve done these things, you’ll never get the marketing push you think you deserve.

Question: What are some of the most remarkable books you have read this past year? Did you tell others about them?
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  • Travis Fish

    Well said. "Word of mouth is everything." So true. Whenever I am looking to buy a book, I ask friends, twitter it, and check amazon reviews. Just the other night I had a friend who I haven't spoken to in a few months call me for book suggestions and reviews.

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  • Mitch Ebie

    Thanks for the tips. I have been "building it" for a while now, and I would love to eventually "need it."

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  • Lynn

    Great post, but as a self-published author (without the might and main of a traditional publishing house behind me), I spend most of my time just getting my face and name recognized in some way. I blog, so I blog…a lot! In some ways my blog is becoming more "successful" than my books. I use social media, but mostly I interact with brilliant authors (traditional and self published) who continue to mentor me throughout the process. I interview these authors on my blog, Francine Rivers, Kathi Macias, Suzanne Woods Fisher to name a few and I read and post book reviews for Max Lucado and others. (I love your BookSneeze program by the way!) It's a lot of work, but it has so many benefits that don't always translate into hearty book sales for me, but grow me as a follower of Christ. I'll take that kind of success any day!

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  • Bob Hamp

    Michael, I have said something very similar to friends of mine who are writing these days…marketing can no longer fool people when the web connects people directly and immediately. For the same reasons a great or unique book cannot remain hidden long even without marketing. I saw in your comment stream and in one of your recent re-posts the interest in which books become surprise hits (The Shack…etc.)
    I know a lot of this post and feedback is about content. One commenter said “we have heard it all before”. It strikes me that the thing that makes certain books take off is not as much about content as it is about perspective. Taking a look at something we have all heard, but seeing or describing it from a new or unlikely perspective is stimulating to bored minds. People who are overwhelmed with the sea of new products, or bored with the stream of “heard this before” are intrigued when something comes along to make them think differently about the same old things.

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  • Stan Markowski


    This was very valuable and encouraging for me to here. I have a question that might deserve another post, but a response hear would be great. I think it is something that other people are wondering too.

    I have been trying to find literary representation and received several rejections at this point. So far the only reason I have been rejected is because of my age. When I have dialogued with the agents, invariably they have said they enjoyed my work and thought it was very good. One even said it was better than 95% of the stuff they usually see either in chapters or in the book proposal itself. Yet I still keep getting rejected.

    Now i assume part of your answer will be that I need to build a platform, so that is my next goal. So I recognize that.

    My question is, if a great product is what matters these days, why are agents turning down projects they believe are great because of issues like platform, age, and what have you. Would you say that they are simply just being polite and in actuality turning me down because of bad writing or what?

    I hope that made sense. Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    I love “Jesus Calling” (Sarah Young). I received my copy as a gift and I’ve given away many copies and at least one of those recipients has given away many copies. That’s not as a result of any marketing campaign but personal witness to the quality of the book.

    Personally, I’m working to establish my social network as I go through the “now what” post-manuscript phase.

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  • Uma Maheswaran S

    Some of the most remarkable books I have read this past year:

    – “The Elephant Paradigm” by ‘Gurcharan Das’
    – “Be a people person” by ‘John C Maxwell’
    – “Developing the leader within you” by ‘John C Maxwell’