Bryan Caplan  

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Suppose you're writing a popular book. You expect to finish in two years. Your goal is to maximize sales of the book. What's your optimal blogging strategy? Don't mention it until the book is about to be released? Tireless self-promotion every day? You tell me.


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COMMENTS (20 to date)
Blackadder writes:

My advice would be to not mention it all that much, except insofar as you think blogging about a particular bit might increase your longterm blog traffic. People who buy your book based on what's written on this blog are going to fall into two general types: 1) people who like the blog (and your work) generally and are interested to get more of it, and 2) people who happen to read a particular bit about the book that piques there interest. People in the latter category will usually only buy your book if they can do so right away (i.e. if it's already out). Otherwise they'll just forget all about it. So the focus should be on expanding the first group of loyal, long term readers.

John Markley writes:

Disclaimer: I have no experience marketing books, or anything else. I'm just going by my own psychological intuitions here.

There are, as I see it, two pitfalls to avoid: being so reticent that you haven't built enough excitement in time for release day, and going on about it so much that people are already tired of it by the time it comes out.

I would make a few hints about its contents now, then say very little for a while, except an occasional hint or cryptic allusion. Don't talk about it too much while it's still far away, or people will get bored hearing about it. Say just enough to tantalize the potential audience. Stimulate curiosity, but don't satisfy it.

Once release is close, a month or two away, start talking about it more, and in more detail, to build greater awareness and interest. When the book comes out, you'll have said enough about it to make sure the potential audience knows about the book and has their interest piqued, but won't have gone on so much that it's no longer new and exciting.

Fabio Rojas writes:

Marketers and psychologists will say that you need to be seen seven times to be remembered. also, declining marginal returns probably kick in at a certain point. So I'd dribble it out just so the idea starts floating around, amp it up around the release and then back off.

Mason writes:

"declining marginal returns probably kick in at a certain point."

I'm reading this as a declining rate of increase, do you think returns will actually become negative?

I think you'll find that for self-promotion on your own blog your marginal costs will be below your marginal benefit at almost all the time.

Caliban Darklock writes:

What I would do:

1. Blog as usual. Don't deliberately make any special effort to mention the book.

2. When an occasion arises where you feel that you HAVE to mention the book, go ahead and mention it. In other words, don't make any special effort to avoid mentioning the book, either.

3. Don't censor things from your blog that you're going to say in your book. Say what you would say were you not writing a book, and mention in passing that you cover the same thing in your book. Don't just say "oh, I talk about this in my book, go buy it if you want to know what I think".

4. As the release date draws near, you should naturally and normally end up doing things that lead you to think "I should blog about this". Go ahead and blog about them. That gives us the bits and pieces that strike you personally about the writing and publishing process, and fundamentally, most of us probably read this blog because we like the things that strike you personally.

Grain of salt and all that, since nobody reads my blog. I don't know what it's like to have an audience. ;)

FC writes:

Don't underestimate the contributions blog readers can make to the arguments of the book. When a difficult or recondite question comes up, try discussing it in the blog. I've seen this help several authors produce better books.

Brad Hutchings writes:

Guy Kawasaki used a mailing list to write Rules for Revolutionaries about a decade ago. He'd post a topic he was trying to develop, the list would post examples and stories and discussion, he would add good stuff to the book and give us credit. I was cited 3 times in a best selling business book. It remains my second biggest accomplishment to date. If you want to write a best-seller in some broad market category Bryan, that approach is still fresh enough to reuse.

Chuck writes:

Your market is not readers of this blog. You want more people than that.

I agree that commentors to your blog can improve your book, and make it sell better to your real market - people who don't read your blog.

Here is something that someone is doing that is innovative and in the vein of blog/book.

If the link doesn't work or whatever, try googling happiness project blog gretchin rubin.

8 writes:

Talk about it as much as possible. Encourage readers/ other bloggers to comment and give advice (build a fan base and absord criticism). But don't "promote" it. Make it a genuine topic of conversation. You're spending a lot of time on a book, you'll have lots of thoughts and questions both pertinent and tangential to the subject. Discuss both.

Although this comes later, when it's finished and published, give away free digital copies.

David writes:

Primarily, you have to determine how you want to use your blog. If it's an established blog, you don't want to weaken its appeal by focusing on your book too much. If it's a new blog, though, you may find you actually want to use it to help you write your book, basing a couple chapters off posts.

That said, my optimal strategy would be to post on current events related to chapters in the book - same ideas but with different examples. My emphasis would be on my best points in the book. Leave something in the book that is not available online, but use the blog to promote interest in the ideas in your book.

Vit writes:

There are different books and different books. IMVHO If you write an "Aha!"-book, it is better to keep it secret. If you write about topics your reader dealing with, it is better to discuss your ideas in your blog. However in this case you need a well structured book with some new material.

Marko writes:

Let me just say that I haven't bought your book since I read all of your academic papers. I just thought that there is nothing in the book that I haven't already read somewhere else.

Basically, you don't want to give us everything. Give us the main points, but leave the justifications, explanations and examples in the book.

BTW, I think you are doing pretty well so far with both the book on parenting and the book on education. I'm looking forward to these books, although I'm not sure you were serious about it.

Zubon writes:

Why not take the empirical approach: take books from bloggers, observe their self-plugging strategies and results, and try to figure out how those are connected. Okay, not that easy, since there are many confounding factors, but you must have know some writers of comparable fame and popularity/obscurity. What worked for them (or not)?

The worst blogging strategies I have seen involved blogs that were created specifically to promote the book but updated poorly or sporadically. It looked like someone's agent recommended that they get one of those blog website things to promote it, since those are all the rage with the youth. I concur with the mention that if you want to recruit help in writing it, start now. Otherwise, relentless self-promotion starting somewhere around six months out feels right to me. Use paragraphs from the book, cite daily news stories that show how right your themes are, and intentionally cause a controversy or two. Include in every post some version of "in my upcoming book." That has struck me as potentially mockable but effective.

I would also recommend using a commenting strategy to help attract attention. Go where there are people who will buy books, and comment on others' posts with a similar strategy. It is not enough to appeal to your current audience if you want to maximize sales. Make sure you go where buyers are, which partially overlaps with potential readers. To maximize sales, you do not want people who will borrow the book from the library. You do want people who will buy the book for aspirational reasons and never read it. Appealing to the studious and parsimonious will not boost your sales.

Stephen W. Stanton writes:

Indirect approach, definitely. Make no mention of the fact that your upcoming book is on specific topic X.

It is too easy for others to cut in front of your boot(e.g., while thinking about a "South Park Republican" book, some other guy wrote "South Park Conservatives").

You might also create a blogstorm that has long since past when you are ready to publish. One book cannot compete with a thousand good bloggers writing dozens of posts a piece.

Instead, set yourself up as en expert on the general topic... Generate interest in the broad subject matter (not your specific thesis).

As an example: Arnold writes a lot on mortgages, subprime, predatory borrowing... People come here to read his thoughts on that topic. He'd do pretty well if were to come out with a book tomorrow on the related sub-topic.

Rolo Tomasi writes:

I'm not sure what to do before the book comes out, but you can ask Greg Mankiw what to do after it comes out.

Rich writes:

I thought Tyler had a winning formula with his secret blog... but then when I read his book, I realized that most of the content had already been test-run on MR readers. So my recommendation would be to keep your blog and your book separate, insofar as you can do that. Beyond that, I'd say don't make promises on which you won't deliver... so if you're really going to have a book ready in two years, self-promote away.

arthas writes:

Popular book: its a very broad definition. Is Irrational Voters a popular book or is it Freakonomics? For the first book, u r targeting a subsegment of freakonomics target group. if u r going for a larger sales, u ve to target people far beyond regular blog readers.

Blog: Your blog readers are the key persons who form opinion. Blog readers are not necessarily buyers (i didnt buy irrational voters book after reading amazon and two/three other reviews). if u ve big blog viewership, that doestnt translate into sales. but u need this group to form an opinion and to sustain interest. so u ve to stop seeing money in blog viewers.
Two years is a long time and blog readers have a short memory. instead of talkign about everything in your book, u can choose to take some extreme positions of your statement in book and see reactions of the viewers. u can use blog as a dialogue.
Tireless self promotion is suicidal as most viewers of this blog are probably college educated and can easily skip thru that part. if u want to promote yourself, u should rather work together with other blogs with following (mankiw, undercover economist etc) n discuss about some work/ opinion. (viz create oligopoly in the opinion market to extract max profit) When u are actually launching to mass, then u can do some tireless self promotion. afterall, advertising works and the whole people called marketers are for nothing.

Jeff Nordstedt writes:

I think the right way to do it is to blog about what you are thinking about, which is the book you are writing. People we become interested in the questions you raise while working through the material and will be eager to get the answers in your book. This is something different than promoting it non-stop.

lawrence rooney writes:

How about a power point presentation outlining the book?
Record it to video and post that. You'll be able to give us a preview while we wait for the refinement of the hard copy.

Snark writes:

If, like some, you believe Metcalfe's Law applies with equal force to the blogosphere, and taking into account the fact that you've already established yourself as a somewhat controversial author, 3 months of shameless self-promotion prior to publishing should create the demand for your book that you're hoping for.

Disclaimer: The recommendation above should be taken with a grain of salt, as I have been identified as an irrational voter who is systematically mistaken in my grasp of economics.

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