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Book Campaigns I Love: Baratunde Thurston’s Launch of How to Be Black

by Alison on August 9, 2012

You’ve probably been reading Baratunde (pronounced bare-uh-TOON-day) Thurston for years and not known it: he served as the Director of Digital for the Onion. He’s also a comedian, the co-founder of Jack and Jill Politics, a political thinker, and an all around tech-savvy guy.

He was one of the keynote speakers at South by Southwest Interactive this year, which I had the good fortune to attend. I dutifully showed up for his session, got ready to take Important Notes, and then nearly rolled into the aisle, laughing. And sure, he did make  great points and entertain the audience, but he also subtly promoted his brand-new book, How to Be Black.

One of the keys to successful book promotion is to focus on your strengths. You don’t need to start a blog, sign up 100 author events, start a daily podcast, post on fan sites, build a kickstarter campaign, name a star after your book, and hold a widely publicized hunger strike all at the same time. Not only will you be exhausted but your fans will be confused and your execution of all efforts will be poor. It’s better to just choose one or two major promotional ideas that will have a sustained impact and focus your efforts there.

How do you choose them? Ask yourself what your strengths are and how you enjoy spending your time–because you’re going to be spending a lot of it on this one project. In Kelle Hampton’s case, she’s a photographer and blogger, and so her book launch campaign incorporated both of those talents/interests. In Colleen Hoover’s case, she loves The Avett Brothers and was probably spending time on their fan sites anyway. And for Baratunde, he’s a speaker by trade.

A quick look at any of Baratunde’s sites shows you what an important part of his life public speaking is. All three sites have a tab labeled “Calendar” and it’s a LONG list of appearances, including both the Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention. Sure, these aren’t, strictly speaking, book events but if I know this born self-promoter he’ll definitely be promoting the book at each stop. But it’s actually his participation on a new site called Skillshare that I want to highlight.

I only just recently heard of Skillshare a few weeks ago, meaning I’m a bit late to the game on this one. Basically, it’s the Etsy of classes. Anyone, anywhere can hop onto Skillshare and set up a class they want to teach. The teacher decides what the curriculum will be, how much to charge, and where it will be held. The teacher keeps 85% of ticket sales and Skillshare gets the other 15%. You can promote your class to your fans and followers–and even bundle the sale of your book into the ticket price.

It seems to me that Skillshare offers an enormous opportunity to bloggers and authors. In fact, just to give you a peek at the wide range of classes available in San Francisco, currently I can take a cake decorating workshop,  learn the basics of data and analysis for startups, knock out the essentials of auto maintenance, and more!

For the launch of his book Baratunde taught a series of classes for Skillshare. One format was simply How to Be Black: An Interactive Case Study in Digital Branding and another was Crafting a Keynote and Drinking Whiskey With Baratunde, wherein he’d teach his students how to pull together a keynote (since he was currently doing just that for SXSWi) while they all enjoyed a little tipple.

What I love about this is not only does it get him out there, talking about his book in a fun, informative way, but it harnesses his greatest strength.

Oh wait! Here’s a video from one of his classes. It shows what a hilarious speaker he is, and also offers a peek into how he got early buzz for his book going (think: street teams), making this video an ersatz Book Campaigns I Love post.

Was it the street teams that made his book a success? The Skillshare classes? The non-stop speaking engagements or the SXSWi keynote? It’s hard to say, but the book did land on the New York Times Bestsellers list. By harnessing his passion for public speaking (and community organizing), Baratunde was able to make his book a success.

Nicely done, sir! And thanks for making me laugh at SXSWi.

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