Book Marketing Case Study—We the Presidents by Ronald Gruner
Learn how Ron used a Goodreads Giveaway in a creative way to sell more than 150 books after his giveaway ended. Ron also shares why his initial ad campaign was not successful and what he would do differently next time.
Book Marketing Case Study-We the Presidents by Ronald Gruner

Book Marketing Case Study—We the Presidents by Ronald Gruner

We the Presidents is a 650-page nonfiction history book covering the last 100 years of American presidents. I think it’s an interesting case study to share for three reasons.

  1. The author, Ron Gruner, was absolutely committed to producing and distributing the finest indie-published book possible. We began our relationship discussing the options, pitfalls, pros, and cons of self-published book distribution more than six months before the book’s release.
  2. I was impressed with Ron’s creative use of a Goodreads Giveaway. We at AuthorImprints strongly encourage our clients to be aggressive about getting books to readers, especially if they are first-time authors without large followings. There is a direct correlation between people reading a book—regardless of what they paid for it—and the book getting customer reviews. We the Presidents has accumulated 78 Amazon customer reviews in about four and a half months.
  3. Self-publishers may have difficulty getting a traditional publishing offer for their print and eBook formats, but traditional audiobook publishing offers happen more often. Ron talks about his offer in our interview. (Also see our previous book marketing case study with Jacqueline J. Holness about her audiobook experience.)

David Wogahn: I know you hired a publicist. How did that work out?

Ronald Gruner: Well, in some respects. Poorly, in others. As you mentioned earlier, my book is a 650-page presidential history written by a first-time author with no credentials as a historian. That worked for and against us.

No major media outlets were interested in covering an independently published presidential history from an unknown author.

But podcast, radio, and a few television interviewers were fascinated by why a 70-year-old retired entrepreneur would spend four years writing a presidential history. That resulted in nearly twenty interviews, ranging from ten minutes to over an hour. There was so much interest, I had to tell my publicist to slow down.

David Wogahn: What other means did you use to promote the book’s launch?

Ronald Gruner: We advertised on Facebook and Politico. Politico is an online political journal heavily read by those following politics. The ads generated many click-throughs to our book’s website or Amazon page, but few of these, about one percent, resulted in sales. We had a similar experience with Facebook. We dropped the ad campaigns after about six weeks of experimenting with various messages and formats.

David Wogahn: Interesting. Why do you think the initial ad campaign was only marginally successful?

Ronald Gruner: I believe we ran the ad campaign too early. Potential buyers arrived on the book’s website to find an unknown author with few reviews and endorsements. So now we’re focused on ground-up marketing, using Amazon keywords and networking through contacts. That’s paying off. The book was launched just over four months ago and already we have 78 reviews with an average 4.4-star rating.

David Wogahn: What else are you doing to promote the book?

Ronald Gruner: We’ve submitted the book to several award competitions and already have won Best E-Book (Non-Fiction) from the Next Generation Publishing Group, and the Independent Press Award for Best US History. We have an advantage here, as there are few histories published independently; nearly all histories are written by academics who publish through university presses. So, my book stands out nicely when competing for these independent publishing awards.

We’re also marketing the book to the presidential museums and libraries. In addition to selling books, this should expose our book to dozens of presidential historians, leading, ideally, to word-of-mouth sales.

David Wogahn: I understand you tried a Goodreads Giveaway. How did that work out?

Ronald Gruner: Very well. The Goodreads Giveaway was, by far, our most effective promotion to date. The giveaway ran during last March. Over 6,100 individuals registered to win one of twenty-five softcover books which I signed with a personal note. At the end of the promotion, Goodreads emailed the 6,100 registrants, thanking them for their participation and announcing a seven-day Amazon sale, cutting the price of the eBook from $8.99 to $2.99 and softcover book from $18.50 to $14.50.

The total program cost about $700; $399* for the Goodreads fee, which included my custom email, and about $300 for the twenty-five signed books including shipping. The Goodreads custom email was an extra cost but worth it, in our experience.

The giveaway generated a nice sales boost, about 150 books. That’s not that many, but repetition is the key to marketing, so we intend to run Goodreads Giveaways every six months or so—hopefully increasing sales each time.

[*Ron was able to use a discount coupon. The standard price is $599.]

David Wogahn: Congratulations on getting an offer to publish the audiobook. What can you share about the experience?

Ronald Gruner: Yes, Tantor, a division of Recorded Books, approached us with an offer to publish an audiobook. After doing due diligence, we learned that Recorded Books is the largest and most respected audiobook publisher in the world. They will pay for the development and distribution of the audiobook. We’ll receive a small up-front advance and earn a respectable royalty on the audiobook sales. We insisted we have final approval over the narrator, to which they agreed.

Many people prefer long audiobooks, primarily because Audible (and a few others) work on a set-price credits system, and that set-price credit buys one audiobook, regardless of a book’s length. Our audiobook should have an advantage since it will be about 16 hours long. Not many readers have the patience to spend 16 hours reading a hardcopy book or eBook, but they enjoy listening to an audiobook as they commute to work or take their morning walk.

David Wogahn: Now that the writing and publication process is behind you and you are actively marketing the book, do you think you would do anything different the next time around?

Ronald Gruner: After just four months, I’m still learning. But three early lessons come to mind.

First, titles and subtitles are very important. They’re how potential readers often find and then evaluate a book. The title We the Presidents has worked very well. It’s memorable and has “presidents” as a key word, helping people who are interested in presidents find the book. But the subtitle, How American Presidents Shaped the Last Century, could be improved. A better subtitle might be How American Presidents Shaped Today’s America and the World, which for many readers is more relevant.

Second, promoting a book when the book’s landing page hasn’t been fully optimized, whether that landing page is a dedicated website or an Amazon page, may not be cost-effective. Before spending money on advertising, make every effort to assure the landing page is as compelling as possible. Those few seconds after seeing the landing page are when viewers make their purchase decision.

Third, it’s difficult for independent authors to break into the mainstream book market, at least initially. Focus on the many resources within the independent publishing world, e.g., awards, giveaways, blogs, etc. Once you’ve built momentum and credibility, you’ll have a better chance of gaining traction in mainstream distribution and promotion.

I have one other comment. As you know, David, we started out with a large, respected, and expensive independent publisher. We dropped them six months later for chronically missed schedules and shoddy work. AuthorImprints saved us, releasing the book on schedule at a very reasonable cost. I want to thank you and your team for your excellent work over the last nine months.

More about Ron Gruner and We the Presidents

Ronald Gruner’s experience as an accomplished executive has resulted in a different breed of presidential history. Gruner founded and served as chief executive of three successful technology firms during his long career. Taken from his business experience, We the Presidents focuses on results rather than politics; on economics rather than ideology; and on the linkages across presidential administrations rather than isolated presidencies.

“Ronald Gruner is neither an academic nor a seasoned historical writer, but his book offers readers three qualities that have been lacking in many of the recent books touching upon the presidential office: neutrality, accuracy and above all else, respect….Gruner is a citizen in every sense of the word with a moral conscience. A lover of history and a deft researcher, he sets the record straight.” — Patricia Vaccarino, Goodreads book review.

Ron’s website has more information about the book as well as links to major retailers.

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