Ready, Set, Sell! Proactive Marketing Strategies

Visual Analogy GuideI am an Anatomy & Physiology professor, and the author/illustrator of a four-book series called The Visual Analogy Guides with Morton Publishing. These books cover the fields of anatomy, physiology, and chemistry and are sold to college students nationwide. In the publishing world, my books are classified as stand-alone supplements. Think of them as a combined study guide/workbook/coloring book all rolled into one. They are very visual and contain all the useful study tips not found in a typical textbook.

The inspiration for these books was born in the classroom. In the anatomy lab, I used to draw sketches for students comparing anatomical structures to things from everyday life. For example, a thoracic vertebra looks like a giraffe’s head. This comparison allowed the student to superimpose the known (giraffe’s head) on the unknown (thoracic vertebra) to better visualize and learn the anatomical structures. I called these comparisons visual analogies which are based on an effective form of learning called contextualized learning. My students used to joke with me that I should compile all of these visual analogies into a book. Initially, I brushed aside their suggestion, but I took it more seriously when I tried to find a book containing these visual analogies and found nothing. This was the motivation I needed to write and illustrate my own books.

Getting published proved to be very difficult. After receiving rejection letters from many of the major academic publishers such as Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Wiley, I decided to approach a small publisher, namely, Morton Publishing, located outside of Denver in Englewood, Colorado. They specialized in low cost Biology lab manuals and photographic atlases. After submitting my book proposal to them, they eventually ended up offering me a contract. This small publisher turned out to be a very good fit for me. My first book, A Visual Analogy Guide to Human Anatomy, came out eleven years ago and it was an immediate success, so it launched the beginning of my book series.

During my participation in various stages of the publishing process, I have learned many proactive marketing strategies. While some of them are author specific, free-lance illustrators may also find many of these principles useful in promoting their business.

Here is a list of one dozen key strategies that benefited me:

1: Join professional organizations and get involved
Build a network of professional contacts, learn about everything from negotiating contracts and avoiding pitfalls to marketing effectively. Three organizations that helped me tremendously are the Text and Academic Authors Association (TAA), Human Anatomy & Physiology Society (HAPS) and GNSI. TAA taught me about the business side of publishing and HAPS introduced me to successful anatomy & physiology textbook authors. GNSI nurtures my soul by allowing me to interact with fellow illustrators.

2: Find a mentor
Find someone who has already achieved what you desire to achieve so s/he can show you how to accomplish your goals. My mentors were two established anatomy & physiology textbook authors I met by attending HAPS annual conferences. When I first hatched my book idea, I solicited their advice and they assisted me in numerous ways.

3: Use social media as a marketing tool
I used YouTube to market my book. In an educational video entitled “Ten Tips for Studying the Skeletal System”, I showcased some of the unique features in my books while also offering free study tips. This has helped me reach out to students around the world. It’s also used by my publisher to help land new adoptions. Sales reps contact potential adopters via e-mail and embed a hyperlink to my video.

4: Use your book in your classes
I have found this to be a terrific way to improve my books. I give a few extra points to students who find typos or other minor errors. By actively soliciting student feedback (and getting their permission) you can incorporate new analogies and/or memory devices while eliminating other analogies that are less effective.

5: Advertise with your complimentary book copies
With each new edition I create, I receive 20 complimentary books from my publisher. For the sake of advertising, I donate many of these to large public libraries across my home state of Michigan. I also send them to reviewers and people I list in my Acknowledgments page. Another good idea is to send them to potential adopters. All these ideas are far better than letting them collect dust in your basement.

6: Use the same photo across social media
If you are active in various social media, use the same photo across different platforms for the sake of continuity. It makes it easy for others to recognize you. I had a professional headshot taken and then I use that for my LinkedIn account and my Amazon Author Page.

7: Use book specific business cards
This is an inexpensive and effective way to make it as easy as possible for students and other readers to contact you to offer their feedback. I list my e-mail, phone number, fax number, and even a post-office box address on my cards. Why a post-office box? Believe it or not, not everyone is connected to the internet.

8: Work with your publisher on book cover design
Ideally, your book cover should be a very attractive advertisement for your book that visually reveals what your book is all about. A bad cover can damage sales and a good cover can lead to impulse purchases (especially online). My original cover was very busy and poorly constructed. I approached my editor and offered to draft a new cover that could then be turned over to a graphic designer. Thankfully, my editor was open to doing this and the result was a much more appealing cover.

9: Network with other authors and illustrators
Regardless of academic discipline, all authors face the same challenges. Whether it is dealing with deadlines or improving your time management, the more tips the better. For me, the best organizations to network with fellow authors are TAA and HAPS. Needless to say, when it comes to networking with other scientific illustrators, nothing beats GNSI!

10: Work with sales representatives
I highlighted the best features of my books, and offered tips for landing new adoptions. Reaching out to the sales reps and treating them with respect helped strengthen us as a team. During the holiday season, I send them each a small gift certificate which is always greatly appreciated. My editor told me that I am the only one of their authors who does this.

11: Work with your publisher to market your book
Creating a quality product that is unique is the best way to help your publisher sell your book. I also gave my editor a list of “selling points” to share with the sales reps. At conferences, I sometimes sit at my publisher’s booth to chat with the professors and answer their questions about my books. Most authors believe it is exclusively the publisher’s job to market your book(s). In fact, authors should always work with their publisher in a team effort to market the book(s).

12: Seek a royalty based book project
Most illustrators for anatomy & physiology textbooks are hired on a work-for-hire basis. However, it’s still possible to negotiate a royalty to work on a team with a specific author. If the book is successful, both the author and the illustrator will benefit from a regular stream of income.

This article summarizes the marketing tips I explained in my presentation at the 2014 GNSI conference in Boulder, Colorado. If you would like a copy of my PowerPoint presentation then please contact me at [email protected].

Paul Kriger PotraitPaul Krieger, Professor of Biology, is an award-winning teacher who has been teaching anatomy & physiology and general biology at Grand Rapids Community College (Grand Rapids, Michigan) for over twenty years. He is the author and illustrator of a very popular four-book series called The Visual Analogy Guides with Morton Publishing. His books are used by many students across the United States and Canada and cover the topics of anatomy & physiology as well as chemistry. These unique books offer a contextualized learning approach that helps students better understand difficult subjects in science. Paul is also an active member in many professional organizations such as the Human Anatomy & Physiology Society (HAPS), Michigan Community College Biologists (MCCB), and the Michigan Science Teacher’s Association (MSTA).

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