Why Book Marketing is Like UX Design

This week we have a guest post from Lucia Tang a staff writer at Reedsy

“A book is a startup.”

That’s what entrepreneur Peter Armstrong told an audience of writers, editors, and publishers, at a 2013 conference on the future of reading. He would know: he’s published seven books, all while working as a coder for Silicon Valley startups.

Armstrong was making a point about the writing of the book itself. As a venture, it’s risky, it’s creative, and it involves tinkering with a lot of moving pieces, from mapping out your plot twists to making sure your chosen POV carries the story just right. But when it’s time to finish the writing and switch gears to marketing, indie authors should still be taking a leaf out of startup culture’s book.

Book marketers can start by taking inspiration from Silicon Valley’s love affair with UX design. Short for user experience design, this trendy tech discipline is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: the art and science of crafting meaningful experiences for a product’s users, whether you’re dealing with an iPhone, a dating app, or even a book.

UX design is all about thinking empathically. It gets you into customers’ heads to figure out why they’d be drawn to a product and how they’d, well, use it. As an indie author-cum-book marketer, you’ve got the how part down already: books, after all, are for reading. But thinking like a UX designer can help you work out why readers should pick up your book.

Here are three UX design concepts you can use to get inside readers’ heads. Remember, readers are your customers. But you don’t want them to feel like they’re being given the hard sell. Make these UX design tricks part of your marketing toolkit, and you’ll be able to talk to them in their own language, capturing their attention — and their funds.

1. Proto-personas: Transforming your sales pitch into a conversation

To sell your book, you need to know who you’re hoping to sell to. You can start out thinking in genre terms: My book is for sci-fi readers. But if your thought process stays at that level, your marketing will end up feeling impersonal, a boilerplate mess of spaceships and lasers appealing to no one in particular. General thinking leads to generic marketing, and that’s not the way to make sales.

Instead, think about your reader in specific terms. This requires an act of imagination, but luckily you’re a writer — seeing beyond the surface is as much in your wheelhouse as tackling a writing contest or conjuring up a plot.

Enter the proto-persona. In UX design, these are hypothetical customers for your product, fleshed out on every level from demography to interiority, from their driver’s license data to their hopes and dreams. By creating them, designers ensure that they can always picture their products in the hands of a human being during every step of the design process.

Draw on all your characterization skills to create your proto-persona. Be sure to animate them with all the detail you’ll need to make them feel real. Who is your ideal customer? What do they do when they’re not in the grip of your story, and what do they snack on while they read it? When they finally get to your big reveal, what music is playing on their computer (or vinyl player, or live-in string quartet)? 

2. Customer journey maps (CJM): Telling a story about your story

Once you’ve breathed life into your proto-persona, you’ll be able to plan out every phase of your book marketing with a human being in mind (albeit an imaginary one). Now every time you draft an email blast, tweet a review, or put together a giveaway, you can picture your proto-persona’s reaction to your marketing efforts. It’ll help you figure out whether you’re inspiring interest or eye rolls.

To get a clearer sense of how these marketing efforts fit together, draw up a customer journey map. Called CJMs for short, these flowcharts help UX designers visualize how customers come in contact with their brands — and how they behave at each point of interface.

As the name suggests, CJMs plot out a customer’s journey to a product, step-by-step. A CJM for a mindfulness app, for instance, might begin with a stressor that prompts a user to look into meditation. Then it moves through the user’s feelings after their first session, and ends with their response to the exit modal asking them to sign up for a reminder to meditate again.

You told a story when you wrote your book. Your marketing efforts should tell a coherent story as well — and drawing up a CJM can help you make sure they do. How does your book wind up on your reader’s nightstand (or their Kindle)? How do each of your marketing choices help it get there?

3. A/B testing: Ditching the dud ideas to double down on the good ones

UX designers rely on A/B testing to pit two versions of the same product against each other, with an eye to figuring out which one performs better. You can use this technique to determine how to market your book with the most aplomb. Try comparing two versions of your author website, your book blurb, or even your cover.

The easiest way to do this? Post two versions of an image on Facebook — either your private page, or your author page — and ask your followers to vote. For a more objective A/B test, consider using a polling app like PickFu, which shows your two options to an audience of strangers, at a rate of $50 for 50 responses. It’s a great way to get a sense of how real people respond to your marketing choices.

About the author:

“Lucia Tang is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects self-publishing authors with the world’s best editors, designers, and marketers. Reedsy also provides tools to help authors write and format their books, as well as free learning courses and webinars to help them learn more about writing and publishing. In Lucia’s spare time, she enjoys drinking coffee and planning her historical fantasy novel.”

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M.L. Keller is a freelance writer and editor. Her blog "The Manuscript Shredder" is focused on helping emerging writers hone their craft.

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