Marketing 201: A Real World Example


Vision 74


Marketing 201: A Real World Example


Russell Gifford

Copyright © 2014, Russell Gifford, All Rights Reserved


‘I learned immediately that you don’t make money by writing books – the only way to make money with books is by selling them.’ – Jeff Barnes

Our interview today is with Jeff Barnes, a writer living in Omaha, Nebraska. Jeff is the author of three books: Forts of the Northern Plains (2008), The Great Plains Guide to Custer (2012), and The Great Plains Guide to Buffalo Bill (2014 – just a couple weeks away), all from Stackpole Books. His website is

Jeff’s approach to marketing is working, and I caught up with him to ask him to share his methods.

1. Your efforts at marketing are impressive to me. I see an effective web presence. Could you outline what the web pieces are - website, Facebook – any others?

Barnes: Just the website ( and the Facebook pages for now – I’m on Twitter but I never use it.

2. And which ones are working best for you, do you think?

Barnes: Probably the website – I think my audience is more attuned to visiting a website for info than a Facebook page, although it’s difficult to gauge impressions.

3. Can you outline how much time this takes, and how often you update the website?

Barnes: I probably don’t do as much as I should. The website gets updated every couple of weeks, the Facebook pages maybe a little more frequently.

4. Do you have a mailing list / or an email arm to your marketing as well?

Barnes: When I have a new book/presentation to offer, I make contact with both existing customers/host sites and prospective ones. This can be through postcards, emails, or phone calls – when I’m on the road, I’ll often pay a cold call.

5. I ‘found out’ about your books via a speaking gig. How many of those do you do a month / year?

Barnes: I’ve been averaging about 70 presentations a year, and was recently named as a “high-use” speaker with Humanities Nebraska.

6. Is that effective in selling books? Is it cost effective? How far out can you go with that?

Barnes: Very much so. I’m probably my publisher’s top salesman for my books since I do make so many personal appearances. There’s nothing like having the author there, to ask him questions, and to get him to sign a book for you. I’m the same way – I usually buy the book if I hear the author present.

7. What about networking? Anything to that? How did you get started on networking, if you do use it?

Barnes: I do use networking. Since I started writing books about the American West, I’ve come to meet, get to know, and make friends of many authors, librarians, museum directors, and aficionados. They’ve been of tremendous help in writing subsequent books and articles, plus they have great stories. As far as the authors go, I usually meet them at conferences, but I sometimes ask mutual acquaintances to make the introduction. Usually, though, I just contact them directly – there’s always a willingness to help out someone with the same interests.

8. What about writer’s conferences? There are usually state chapters. Are those helpful? Are they worth your time in your opinion? If so, how do you decide with ones to attend?

Barnes: To be honest, I don’t attend those. If I go to a conference, it’s usually a history conference to meet with others who share the same interests. Writer conferences are great for those who need them, but the emphasis is usually on getting an idea, writing a book, finding a publisher and marketing the book. I’ve been doing all of that for seven years now on my own, so don’t know if it would be worth the time and money for me.

9. What about other marketing items? Have you done postcards? Bookmarks? Are business cards important?

Barnes: Yes, I create my own postcards for marketing and for retail, along with posters for retail. I use Vistaprint to print my business cards and create a design along the lines of my most recent book.

10. How did you establish yourself as someone who gets a call or note from the radio or newspaper on a story? (Is that ‘networking?’)

Barnes: Sometimes it’s me calling them, but I have been getting calls out of the blue for stories and projects. The planned sale of the old quartermaster depot in Omaha led to the Omaha World-Herald doing a story, which originated with my telling them last year that they should do a story. But I recently had an interview for an upcoming DVD documentary on the old forts due to another author suggesting me for the role.

11. Do interviews with radio, newspapers, others help or hurt you? (Taking time to do this interview must take away from your ‘real work’ of writing…)

Barnes: They help, absolutely – even if no one shows up to your talk, it’s still great practice. And there are some outlets that are fantastic; I did a phone interview with a radio show called “the Smorgasbord” in South Dakota and more than 75 attended my talk at the Brookings museum. I came back the next year, didn’t do the radio show, and had only about 25 there.

12. Other things you’ve done in marketing that worked? Things that didn’t? (Sometimes what NOT to waste your time on is equally valuable info!

Barnes: I learned early on to provide the venues with a poster and a news release to promote the appearance. Libraries and museums are usually short-staffed and the more you can help them the better (it makes it more likely they’d invite you back, too).

13. Do you have a marketing ‘plan?’ Formal goals? How do you decide where to ‘spend’ your resources?

Barnes: I don’t have a formal plan or goals – since I’m a freelance writer, I kind of “go with the flow.” If I have a new book out, I put the magazine writing on hold to work on the book tours. When the tour has breaks or start to slow down, I then start working on the feature writing again.

14. Do you actually spend any money on advertising? If so, what/where? Do you budget an amount per month or year to spend? What about time? Do you budget that as well?

Barnes: I spend some, but not a great amount. Postcards and brochures mostly. Being a one-man operation, I can do as much or little as needed. I could have a road trip every week, but I do have to be around to mow the lawn and shovel the walks!

15. Anything you’d like to add?

Barnes: I learned immediately that you don’t make money by writing books – the only way to make money with books is by selling them. I read a Wall Street Journal article about Jimmy Carter who – amazingly – has written at least a dozen books, all of which are bestsellers. It’s because he is relentless about personal appearances. He arrives early at the bookstores, meets everyone working there and learns their names, and signs until the books or customers run out. You have to constantly think about talking up your book and speak or interview anywhere they’ll have you.

Thanks Jeff! Looking forward to the newest book!

Jeff Barnes' website is and the books are:

The Great Plains Guide to Buffalo Bill (2014 – just a couple weeks away)

The Great Plains Guide to Custer (2012)

Forts of the Northern Plains (2008)

All these books are available from Stackpole Books.

Jeff also has a couple of articles coming up in True West magazine as well:

“The February issue has my article on Buffalo Bill’s Medals of Honor and the April issue my article on a statue of George Custer, planned by a Union Pacific official who met Custer as a boy."