Penn Attracts Readers to Books

Joanna Penn, How to Market a BookPenn Attracts Readers to Books

Joanna Penn. 2017. How to Market a Book. Bath, UK: Curl Up Press.[1]

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the banes of postmodern life is that successful professionals must communicate effectively across multiple media. Communication is more important than ever because technology has made all of us more productive. If one 2017 professional can now do the work of a dozen 1960 professionals, then that professional effectively functions as a team, including the team manager. Production, marketing, and sales all need to be done by that one professional. As an economist, I faced this challenge; it has only gotten worse now that I am an author and publisher.


Joanna Penn in her new book, How to Market a Book, advises authors on trends in marketing and sales of self-published books. She sees five non-negotiable activities for all book marketing:

  1. Make sure that your book is the best it can be…
  2. Identify your comparison books and authors.
  3. Optimize your book sales page…
  4. …use paid promotions to send readers to your book page.
  5. …set up a professional looking website and an email list sign up. (281-282)

In my experience, each of these activities can keep you busy. During the past year, for example, I spent more than six months working with different webmasters to upgrade my three websites (,, and, which is Penn’s item 5. Meanwhile, I spent an equal amount of time moving my titles from exclusively with one printer to be jointly with another printer, Penn item 1. These two activities ostensibly prepared me to be more effective in my promotions, Penn item 4.

Who is Joanna Penn?

Penn is an interesting writer for self-publishers to pay attention to because she is one of the few authors who has succeeded in quitting her day job and living off the proceeds of her writing. Less than five percent (one in twenty) of independent authors sell a thousand books (I have sold about six hundred) which implies that even fewer authors have broken even on their book sales. Most independent authors are supported by a dhealthy or by a spouse. By her own accounts, Penn started seriously writing in 2006 and quit her job in 2011, five years later (7-9). This track record makes Penn a credible source of recommendations for how to succeed in self-publishing.

A Healthy Mindset

Part of Penn’s success arises because of a heathy mindset. She writes: “marketing is sharing what you love with people who will appreciate hearing about it.” (13) This mindset is a form of “attraction marketing” which means that you find out what people want and offer it to them.

Why is this important? Two reasons stand out.

Attraction Marketing

First, when I studied marketing in the 1970s and early 1980s, I was taught “push marketing”. Push marketing means that the firm bought advertising and pushed it out to the reading, listening, and viewing public. Attraction marketing is new and many people have not yet caught on to it. Penn has done her homework which is an important reason for her success.

The Mindset Advantage

Second, Penn mindset comes as a relief for those of us who doubt our own credibility as authors. It is one thing to write a book; it is another to believe that anyone other than your mother would want to read it. This fear of being an unworthy author is pervasive and it prevents many authors from succeeding in their marketing. Penn mindset shows that she believes in herself and does not get in a muddle in reaching out to others who will appreciate her writing.

The Book Launch Thing

Another gem arises when Penn writes that “marketing is more than a book launch” (20). While I have learned to sell books in person and online, my failure to have a great book launch has always bothered me. Penn offers an important piece of background information on this point.

 Traditional Publishers Focus on the Launch

Traditional publishers, who work with retailers to stock and toss books all the time, focus on the book launch because they have limited time and resources to devote to each book. The launch is coordinated with a media campaign and a month later they are on to another book.

For small publishers who have no retail connections, no publicity team, and no media budget cannot easily host a successful launch following this model and probably should not try. Book marketing is more of a marathon than a sprint for the small publisher because resources are tight, relationships need to be built, and learning is an ongoing necessity.


Joanna Penn’s How to Market a Book is a useful, readable, and timely book for authors who publish. I found her comments on podcasting and publishing audio books particularly insightful. Perhaps you will too.

[1] https:/ @TheCreativePenn.


Also see:

Penn Whispers to Professional Speakers 

Books, Films, and Ministry

Other ways to engage online:

Author site:, Publisher site:

Newsletter at:

Continue Reading

Bolme Guides Authors in Christian Marketing

Bolme_marketing_12092014Sarah Bolme. 2014. Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace.  Charlotte: Crest Publications.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

One surprise when you become an author is how hard it is to sell books. This comes as a surprise because most authors are also avid readers.  If you are an avid reader, snapping up books recommended by friends and colleagues all the time, it comes as a surprise to learn that everyone does not behave that way!  Sarah Bolme book, Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace, works hard to make sure that disappointment not follow surprise for aspiring authors and publishers.

An important theme in Bolme’s book is the depth and complexity of the Christian book market. Christian books are bought and sold both formally and informally in marketing channels that differ by denomination, ethnicity, workplace, and region. It is not enough to publish your book on and cash your royalty checks.  At a minimum, Christian readers want to know that your theology is consistent with their own faith statements and that the people with whom they study, worship, volunteer, and work with find your book compelling enough to read and discuss.  The vetting process is important and it shapes book marketing and sales. Bolme likes to point out: Marketing and selling books is not a sprint, it is a marathon (4).

Bolme’s book is structured around this conception of the Christian book market.  Bolme writes in 19 chapters divided into 4 parts:

  1. Launching Your Books (chapters 1-6);
  2. Selling Your Books (7-15);
  3. Targeting Special Markets (16-19); and
  4. Reference (Index).

These chapters are preceded by a foreword and Introduction, and followed by a number of appendices on special topics.

Reading Bolme’s text has taken me 3 months to read, but not because I have been procrastinating.  In September, when I began reading, I issued my first press release.  I had wanted to issue a press release in August when I began promoting my book, A Christian Guide to Spirituality (, but it was not until I read Bolme’s discussion (122-123) that I learned how to do it.  I found myself requesting reviews (43-53), running book giveaways (;180), doing radio interviews[1] (124-126), applying for awards (63-72), and joining new groups (e.g. Christian Small Publishers Association—; 7-17) as I read the book.  These activities distracted me from progressing promptly through the book and finishing a review.

I also learned why some of my early marketing attempts were unsuccessful.

An important problem facing authors and publishers today is the explosion of new book titles and the collapsing readership.  People read fewer printed books than they used to because of, in part, competition from other media, but the growth in independent publishing has also increased the number of authors publishing (73-75).  This means that retailers are inundated with titles and cannot respond directly to author requests; instead, they work through distributors who filter the available books on their behalf.  My requests that local retailers stock my book failed because I did not understand the stocking process.

For Christian writers and publishers, Sarah Bolme’s Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace is an important read.  Although I did not immediately become a marketing success having read this book, I did finally get an appreciation for the task at hand and got pointed in the right direction.  You may also find it helpful.

[1] See the list of interviews at the bottom of the page at:

Continue Reading