Over the past few weeks, we ran a series called “Writer’s Toolbox” aimed at revealing some of the more useful tools a writer can utilize to improve their productivity. There are other programs writers use but we’ll have to consider those another time. Today we’re looking at marketing your book.
If you’d like to read the Writer’s Toolbox series, you can find them here:
- Writer’s Toolbox: Overview
- Writer’s Toolbox: Microsoft Word
- Writer’s Toolbox: Scrivener
- Writer’s Toolbox: Evernote
Selling your book (or books) can be as challenging, or even more challenging, than writing. There are a number of specific things you can do as a self-published and independent author to promote your work, but there is never a guarantee any of these will result in sales. So many factors go into selling a book and transitioning initial sales into regular sales, that laying out a definitive plan is almost impossible. The genre you write in, the style you write with, the people you know, the time you have to spend on marketing, the appetite of readers, the price you set, the design of your cover…I could go on and on listing factors that play into how well your book sells.
In an effort to be useful to our readers, I’m not going to advocate for a specific or definitive plan. I don’t think there can be one. Your marketing strategy will have to be unique to you, your goals, and your work. What we can do with this series is examine some best practices and consider the ways others have found success in marketing their books, while retaining the understanding that anything I suggest (or anyone giving market advice suggests) should be taken as broad suggestions based on past experience.
That said, let’s think about marketing in three phases:
- Planning – developing a plan based on your book, your goals, and your audience
- Acting – following through on the plan
- Maintaining – retaining readers through consistent efforts after the initial release of your work
This week we’re going to focus entirely on the first phase. Let’s develop a marketing plan!
If you’re a writer, and you’ve written a book (or multiple books) you plan to self-publish, the marketing aspect may not be something you’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. But if you hope to sell copies and earn some income from those sales, you’ll want to start with a plan. Most marketing experts would suggest making this plan well in advance of publishing, but because this is self-publishing, you don’t need to commit to that model. At least not at first.
No matter where you are in the publishing process, if you want to get your book in the hands of readers, you need a plan. The first step in developing a marketing plan is learning. I encourage you to get out there and read as many books and guides on in-depth marketing strategies as you can.
To keep things simple for today, here is the basic outline I suggest:
- Identify your goals
- Identify your market
- Identify your book’s position in the market
Any of these points can be considered at any stage of the writing and publishing process. Earlier is better to be sure, but if you’ve already published your book and want to increase sales, there is still plenty of time to implement a marketing plan.
All right, you’ve got a handle on the market you’ll be targeting with your promotion efforts. You know who will likely be your readers and the kinds of books they like to read. The next step will be formulating a goal.
Don’t be fooled by this. Something as broad as “sell lots of books” is not what I’m talking about here. You want to set down a reasonable, achievable goal to provide a structure for your plan. Think about this the same way you structure your writing. Do you plan a word count goal daily? Weekly? Do you hold yourself to those goals? Give your marketing plan the same treatment.
To kick-start your marketing effort, the very first thing to do is a to determine for yourself the goal you have for this book. Are you hoping to grab new readers? Do you want to aim for a specific income amount? Are you looking for a big initial push or a to spur a trickle of regular sales? These decisions will be highly personal, based on your book, your desires, and your existing marketing infrastructure. If you already have a strong social media presence and large mailing list, you might aim for many thousands of sales from an initial book release. Likewise, if you’re footprint is relatively small, and you have only a few contacts and minimal online presence, you might aim for expanding your mailing list and simply capturing readers as opposed to making a large number of sales.
This part of the plan needs to be heavily tailored to you and your book, informed by the goals you have for the book.
The best way to get your marketing plan started is to create a timeline. Just like setting daily writing goals, a timeline allows you to break down the big and complicated task of marketing your book into smaller, achievable individual goals. I really like developing a timeline to keep myself on task with my writing, and the same mentality can be applied to your marketing plan. Here’s a very broad idea of what a pre-release marketing timeline might look like:
Pick a release date at least 12 weeks out.
10-12 weeks – Contact bloggers and reviewers; determine how the book’s release page will look on your author website; contact any local bookstores you plan to use for signings.
8-10 weeks – Draft all release material (press release, email, blog announcement); create a social media schedule and outline ideas for social media posts; plan giveaways; post initial social media teasers.
6-8 weeks – Continue teasing on social media; review teaser materials (cover image, blurb, first chapter); publish press release; check in with bloggers and reviewers.
4-6 weeks – Launch giveaways (social media contest, Goodreads giveaway, etc.); ramp up social media teasing; verify in person engagements; announce any online appearances (podcast, webinar, Youtube author interview, etc.).
2-4 weeks – Release final teaser (first chapter, cover, etc.); update author website with new book information, reviews; announce any winners for giveaways; send email announcement.
0-2 weeks – Begin final social media push; send reminders about any signing engagements; check in with any straggling reviewers.
This timeline is very rough and includes only some of the strategies you might employ. But it should give a sense of the magnitude self-promoting encompasses.
Who are you trying to reach with your book? Unless you’re writing entirely for your own enjoyment, your audience should be a consideration from the very beginning of the process. When you first sit down and begin researching or writing, you’ll need to have your readers in mind. This will be crucial in making informed choices about how you write and structure your book. The same is true for marketing.
If you’ve written a children’s book, your audience (and therefore your market) will be very different than if you’ve written an erotic thriller. That might seem like common sense, but it is important to have this on your mind. The strategy you employ to promote your book will be tailored and focused around your intended readers. You want your book to be read, yes? Then you’ll want to think about who those readers are, what they expect, what they look for in a book, and what they avoid.
All of this can seem obtuse. How do you know what your potential readers expect? How do you know what they avoid? The best way to learn is to seek out and subscribe to as many publishing industry newsletter and market research websites as you can. Grab as much as you can, and get familiar with what it is readers are buying.
A great place to start is the Author Earnings blog, an independent source for a range of publishing industry statistics and data. Another great resource for learning more about what is trending in the publishing world is Publishers Weekly. I strongly encourage any author interested in promoting their book to sign up for PW’s newsletters.
However you go about doing it, the first crucial step in your marketing plan will be learning who your audience is (or will be) and what books they prefer.
You’ve written a book. Don’t let the magnitude and importance of that escape you in the arduous process of marketing your work. Take a minute and look through the book you’ve written. Define for yourself the genre. Think about the kinds of books you’ve read that it is similar too. Then ask some friends, colleagues, and reviewers to share their thoughts. What books do they imagine on the shelf next to yours? What genre would they put your book into?
Take all this information, compile it, and use it to define the position of your book in your genre. I like to look for a hierarchy of genre, rather than being strict about it. This does not need to be definitive or exact.
For example, let’s say you’ve written a spy thriller novel with lots of mystery and intrigue, some exciting action scenes and a large cast of characters. You might think of your book as a thriller. A friend might call it a mystery. Your reviewers might key in most to the protagonist’s love interest, and see it as a romance with action overtones. Save all of this data (it’ll be useful in updating your keywords, which we’ll touch on in a moment) and come to a decision about your genre. You’re the author, so you have the final say, though if you have anyone with publishing experience, I would heavily weight their thoughts on this matter. Remember, this is not about placing your book in the genre you like or think it belongs in. This is about placing the book in the genre you think people who will read your book will look for it in.
The market position is a kind of made up marketing term that has a very loose meaning. Essentially, you want a sense of what need or role your book will play in the marketplace. Is it a manual with specific information that will apply to a niche of professionals in need of that information? Is it a science fiction adventure that will appeal to that fan base?
Your position in the market will be informed by the genre you fit into, as well as the reader base you have available. If you’ve got a long mailing list or your part of a big reading community, you’ll have some potential customers before the book is even published.
The last piece to understanding your book’s market position is to understand your reader. Again, this will probably be tied very closely to your genre, but they are not the same thing. I suggest creating a “reader persona” as an exercise to better understand your readers. Imagine what this persona reads, how they surf the web and the online journey that would bring them from their starting point to your book. Taking time to consider this reader persona can provide insights and ideas about how to reach readers and where to place any paid advertising you might purchase.
Don’t let the fact that determining your market position is often steeped in guesswork deter you. Even if you have to reevaluate and adjust your definition of position as time goes by, the key is that you are thinking in terms of genre, reader personas, and the customer path your potential readers will take to find your work.
Marketing your book will be a long, grueling task with variables, unforeseen challenges, and steep obstacles. As you endeavor to develop a plan for marketing your book, there are a few key pieces of information and prep work you’ll want to have completed before the book and the marketing plan hit the general public. At the risk of applying an over-used simile, you can think of marketing your book as a sort of puzzle. Each step you take to promote your book, each promotional social media post, blog article, giveaway, each contact you add to your mailing list; these are all pieces in the marketing puzzle.
To tie up this article, here are is a short list of some “pieces” to the marketing puzzle you should be keenly aware of. Next week we’ll look at these key pieces in greater detail, as well as examining how they fit together to form a coherent marketing strategy.
- Social Media
- An Author Website
- A Mailing List
- Books Reviews
- Book Cover
Stay tuned for part two, where we’ll go into more detail about how each of these elements impacts the marketing plan you’ll devise, as well as looking at how to actually enact the plan. Until then, keep writing, publishing, and promoting!
Paul is the Senior Copywriter at Lulu, responsible for all the words you see on our site (misspellings included). He also manages the community site – http://connect.lulu.com/en/ – and in his free time, he’s an avid reader and short story writer.