A book marketing case study, with Amanda Montell

Today I want to share an extraordinary book marketing case study. This features the work I did recently with author Amanda Montell, focusing on the paperback release of one book this summer, and preparing for the launch of her next book in mid 2021. First, let’s look at some of the results:

  • From May to July her Instagram followers grew from 8,200 to 13,000 (plus: she continues that momentum today, with 14,300 followers)
  • She experienced an increase in the level of engagement from her followers. Amanda described it as “high-quality, super-engaged followers, who comment, like, DM, and post about my book every day. My engagement rate is a high 6%!”
  • 450 more Goodreads ratings in three months through the paperback release. She directly attributed the social media engagement to sales of the book.

Below is an overview of some of the work we did, and how you can apply these lessons to your own platform and launches:

Clarified Her Mission and Message

When I first began working with Amanda, she had a big following, loads of experience and an amazing online presence. Yet, we still took a good hard look at how what she shared online may not fully line up to how she wants to be known as a writer.

We got really clear on her ideal audiences too. She saw the work I did with Leigh Stein around audience personas and wanted to be sure we put her ideal readers at the center of our work. It’s worth noting that Leigh published a novel and Amanda’s books are nonfiction, these strategies apply to both.

Created a Series of Focused Social Media Campaigns

What followed was a series of specific campaigns that we developed. Too often, writers approach marketing on social media as an unending treadmill of posts. “I’ll just keep posting about my core message, keep being generous, keep showing up.”

Now, that is great to develop and grow your author platform. But it is different from the idea of a marketing campaign — a specific idea that has a beginning and end, that centers your audience’s attention, and has specific goals around engagement, growth, or promotion.

From the spring into the summer, Amanda launched several different programs:

Campaign #1: Amanda University.

She posted a video every weekday for a month. The tagline was “Amanda University: where you will earn your PhD in owning your voice.” Every day she teaches a useful and oftentimes surprising lesson. You can see them here. Throughout these videos, she featured her book, Wordslut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language, as assigned reading and the source material for many of the lessons.

Some of the video topics:

Why “literally” doesn’t mean “literally” anymore.
What “quarantine” REALLY means.
The linguistics of “like.”
The truth about “filler words.”

Here are some examples of the videos:

Campaign #2: Smash the Standard: An Amanda University Summer Intensive.

Amanda wanted to continue the success of the initial program, but with a less labor-intensive schedule and a new focus. The framework of this series: “every Tuesday we’ll debunk a linguistic myth or unpack a confusing question.” It started with this video.

She also added something important to each video, “featuring the work of a brilliant intersectional feminist scholar you should definitely follow.” So in the latter part of the video, she would recommend an author or scholar and talk a bit about their work. Focusing her attention on others in these video was another way that Amanda was using her engagement to expand the conversation in new ways.

Campaign #3: The Down Fall: An Amanda University Autumnal Interview Series.

This new campaign launched in September with this post.

Here she is taking the same basic concepts that have been working well for her, but then extending them in bold new ways. With marketing, you don’t always have to reinvent the wheel, just keep making improvements and finding new ways to find joy and conversation in the process.

Having campaigns means that you get breaks too. You can see the break between the end of May when the initial Amanda University ended, and end of June when the Smash the Standard summer intensive started, plus a similar break before The Down Fall launched.

Steady — Engaged — Growth

The campaigns listed above resulted in steady growth in terms of new followers. She received between 200-600 new followers per week. That is noteworthy, because sometimes you hear about a “great marketing example that results in huge follower growth” but it is a one-time spike that can’t be sustained or replicated. Amanda hit upon something that continues to be sustainable for her, the growth continues to this day.

It’s worth noting that the campaigns listed above were in addition to her regular posting of showing up, sharing her message, and being generous to others. Amanda is always working to engage her audience in multiple ways. These stand out compared to the longer videos — they are easy to immediately understand, like, and share.

But there is more. She had also created a series of images/memes under the title “Own Your Voice.” Plus she created merch not only for her book, but her message. What is merch? Merchandise! T-shirts, sweatshirts, tote bags. Her message connects with her readers on a personal level, and she identified phrases that someone would want to wear to represent this.

I mean, think about that. Someone literally wearing your mission as their identity. It’s inspiring, and such a great metaphor for how an author’s platform can engage with readers in a human-centered manner.

Developing a Yearlong Book Launch Strategy

Something I can’t share much of anything about is the work we did to prepare for her next book launch, which happens in the middle of 2021.

We developed a yearlong marketing plan that includes multiple phases. The result was a 15 page marketing deck that outlined the work she has done, the work planned, and exact timing. It covers the specific campaigns and the bridge she is creating from one book to the next in terms of themes.

She is sharing this with her publisher in order to communicate with them what she is doing, and create a starting point for conversations on how to amplify this work. The document starts with this phrase:

“[The] marketing and publicity plan will implement a three-pronged strategy, rolled out in four phases.”

This is Amanda setting the stage for her own career as a writer. For involving others in a deeply collaborative way. Creating multiple ways for her message to have a meaningful impact with others. Yes, this is all centered on the books, but it also grows beyond them.

It’s funny, because with everything I shared above, I’m not able to talk about maybe 1/3 of the work Amanda and I did, because it focused so much on the launch of her next book, and that work isn’t out there yet. So, stay tuned.

How You Can Use This For Your Own Work

Perhaps you are reading this and wondering, ‘But how does this relate to book sales?’ Well, here is a collage of some of the people who have been reading Amanda’s book and then sharing it with their followers on Instagram. It’s worth noting that the first image on the left is from Emily Ratajkowski, who has 26 million followers:

Which of the marketing tactics listed above directly lead to book sales? We don’t know. And that is the thing about marketing that is worth understanding, you don’t always know which tactic worked, which didn’t, and which leads to a sale.

I’ve mentioned before that I have a weekly Mastermind call with my friend Jennie Nash. In the past couple years we have developed an expression for how to find fulfillment and success in our endeavors:

“No one know what works, but we know that doing things works.”

This is how we remind each other to not get frozen with inaction, but instead to keep creating and keep sharing.

For Amanda, everything listed above is in addition to other publicity work that she had gotten for herself or through her publisher.

She is incredible at forging connections with people, and turning an idea into action.

I bring this up because undoubtedly someone is reading this trying to find the hack. Trying to identify the single most powerful thing Amanda did that they can copy, thereby getting most of the value with the least amount of effort.

But it doesn’t always work that way.

What you don’t see here is the changes and adjustments that we made along the way. The ideas we developed which were later ditched. The total shift to the title/branding of some of the campaigns listed above.

This work is a creative process in itself. One focused on the core reason we create and how that connects with another human being in a way that truly matters.

Amanda shows up to this work. She knows her mission and believes in it fully. She isn’t half-baking anything here. In fact, I feel like she is successful not only because she’s a great writer and incredibly smart and creative, but because she is clearly all-in with her mission.

Amanda is invested in collaboration. She is not only filled with ideas, but is an amazing listener with those she connects with, and those who follow her. That is one of the many reasons her work feels as though it is filled with energy — this living thing that others get to be a part of. You can find Amanda on Instagram and her website.