A Success Story: The Onion

There are still print publishing success stories out there, and they always include expert utilization of online and social networking promotion. Case in point: The Onion. What began 30 years ago in a University of Wisconsin dorm room has grown from a weekly campus newspaper to a fully-integrated media company:


  • Newsprint - The Onion was published in 12 major cities with national circulation of 500,000 when they went online-only in 2013
  • Web - 10 million unique visits a month at their huge website, YouTube channel, etc. all loaded with humor.
  • Books - 14 bestselling titles 
  • Sidelines - Calendars, cards, stickers, magnets and mugs.
  • Radio - Onion Radio News has 1million listeners and became iTunes #1 podcast when launched.
  • iPhone and Android apps.
  • Television - Onion SportsDome on Comedy Central, and The Onion News Network on IFC.


A premier publishing services firm


Book Marketing for Fun and Profit

Use the right tools, and it can REALLY be fun

Do you love marketing? Do you consider yourself an awesome promoter? Do you relish the thought of standing on the street corner yelling, "Books for sale! Books for sale! Come buy my awesome book!"? If you are like most authors, you prefer to be writing, rather than promoting. The task of marketing a book can be daunting, to say the least. But, it can also be fun and rewarding. After all, wouldn't it be nice if someone read your book after all the hard work and money you put into it?

The secret to turning the daunting task of book marketing into fun and profit is "engagement." Whatever the genre of your book, there is a group of people who love the genre and want to converse with authors and other readers. Those people are called "fans." Oh yeah, remember that noun? Engaging with fans is fun -- and can even be profitable.

Wired magazine's Kevin Kelly wrote an article a couple of years ago called 1,000 True Fans, as a follow-up to Chris Anderson's famous article and subsequent book, The Long Tail. In The Long Tail, Anderson observed that only a few artists, musicians and authors have best sellers that sell millions, or even tens of thousands of copies. The rest of the authors sell only a few copies of their works. He argued that the only winners in the market are aggregators like Amazon, who sell one or two copies of many, many different works.

Kelly followed up, saying there is a middle ground between having millions of fans and no fans -- having a thousand fans. Kelly proposed that it is feasible for an artist, musician, or author to have a thousand true fans who spend one hundred dollars per year to engage with him or her, yielding one hundred thousand dollars of annual revenue. Let's assume for a second that you are not a celebrity who has already received advance royalties on one hundred thousand copies of your book and that selling a thousand copies of your book would be a great start. Kelly says you can nurture a thousand true fans, but only if you engage with them directly.

So, what are some ways to engage with your prospective readers? You've already heard the drumbeat: so-cial-me-dia, so-cial-me-dia. Today, the staples of social media are primarily Facebook and Twitter.

If you already have a Facebook fan page for your book, how can you make it better? Is your Facebook page linked to your Twitter account? Are they branded with your book? Here are my books Facebook and Twitter pages, that might give you some ideas: http://Facebook.com/SellingChange and http://Twitter.com/SellingChange.

LinkedIn is quickly becoming a powerful platform to build and engage fans. It has as many or more features than Facebook or Twitter. You can create your own discussion group, post presentations, post videos, create an event calendar, link your blog, link Twitter messages, post documents related to your book, and more. As an author, you want as many people "following" you as possible, so you'll want to be a "Linked In Open Networker" (a.k.a. "LION") and join the TopLinked.com group. I joined TopLinked several months ago and have acquired 3000 additional followers. Once you are TopLinked, be sure to put the word "LION" in your name and include an email address. That way people know you want to be followed and they will be able to send you a connection invitation.

While Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are great vehicles to engage fans, fans will only stay engaged if you are constantly providing content for them to consume. Of course, we've all heard, over and over, about the importance of blogging, i.e. writing articles that are published on the Internet. We've also heard about the trend of "microblogging," otherwise known as "Tweeting." Here are a couple of other ideas that I personally find very exciting.

First, is the concept of an online radio show (a.k.a. podcasting). After the first interview on the radio tour for my book I called my publicist and asked, "How can I have my own radio show?" Turns out, it's easy -- and fun! All you need is a USB microphone and an iTunes account. Your radio show (here's a link to mine) should discuss topics that fans of your book will be interested in. My book is on business, leadership and sales. So, I interview authors, scholars, and business people about ways listeners can grow in their businesses or in their lives. The neatest part is that both you and the interviewee benefit. You benefit by providing valuable, interesting, or entertaining content to your listeners and the interviewees benefit by getting their name and message in front of your listeners. One of the most fun aspects, though, is that a radio show is like a networking aphrodisiac.

When I attend a conference or event, instead of begging for attention, I ask the speaker or celebrity if he or she would be willing to do a radio interview. They always say "yes!" They won't help me promote my book and probably won't even remember I'm an author, but they'll remember I'm going to interview them and promote their work. So why promote other people's work? You are providing valuable content to engage your audience, you are increasing your knowledge, expertise and professional network, and when interviewees promote their interviews on your show, they are inadvertently promoting you too!

The other concept I'm excited about is video. This one is a bit more costly than a USB microphone. But, it can also be fun for you and engaging for your fans. Being in front of a camera may seem as natural as lying on a bed of nails -- at first. But, if you're not having fun, neither will your fans. So, just have fun with it. No one will see your videos until you publish them, anyway. A great way to get started is to interview guests on video for your radio show. Didn't know radio shows can have video? Have you heard of Howard Stern? Subscribers to your iTunes podcast channel can view video on their iPhones, iPods, and iPads. Also, you can create multiple YouTube channels (here's one of mine).

For example, you can have one channel all about your book and another channel for your interviews. Another common recommendation is to capture short interviews with readers of your book. These testimonials make great fodder for your Facebook fan page and LinkedIn discussion group. Certain genres, especially in non-fiction, lend themselves naturally to video. For example, my book is comprised of a hundred and one, 2-page "chapters." I'm in the process of creating a short video on each chapter. Of course, it'll take me awhile (years?) to create a hundred videos. But, that's the fun of it. And every time I publish a video it's a vehicle for engaging with fans.

The daunting task of book marketing can be fun and it can be profitable. We are fortunate to live in an era when the rules of book marketing have been turned upside down. We no longer have to beg, plead and hope we are one of the fortunate few picked to get a chance at best-sellerdom. We no longer have to beg, plead and hope for national print media coverage to reach our prospective audience. We live in an era where we can engage directly with fans to market our books -- and have a lot of fun doing it.

* * * * *

About the Author:

Brett Clay is the award-winning author of Selling Change, 101+ Secrets for Growing Sales by Leading Change. He is also the host of The Actuation Zone radio show and is the CEO of Change Leadership Group, LLC, a management training and consulting firm.