If you’re a writer who wants to publish, then you must think long and hard about marketing. Some writers love selling books, while others (most of us) would prefer having a root canal or swiming the English Channel, which seems only a little more daunting than marketing a book in today’s economy. Here’s the sad truth: Most publishers will not help market your book. Even if they award you a $20,000 advance, that does not mean they’ll help you sell books. I know this from experience as a literary agent. Ninety percent of the books I sold received almost no marketing support from publishers—and that includes the big New York firms with massive budgets.
Why? Various reasons, but here’s a big one: In large firms, the marketing and editorial departments are separate. Because an editorial committee offered a huge advance to the author doesn’t mean the marketing department will decide to push the book. Big name authors who’ve already established themselves receive 90% of the marketing budget. I’m sure you see the catch 22 situation this creates. How can you ever hope to become famous if their already-famous authors receive all the marketing money that should help new authors become famous?
For smaller publishers like NorLightsPress, marketing is a matter of economics. We operate on shoestring budgets and can’t afford frills. Therefore, we ask our authors to develop marketing plans that include the desire and ability to sell their own books. This is no different than the big publishers, except we’re up front about what we can and cannot do.
What about self-published authors? A writer/publisher is in the same situation as other published authors: do it yourself.
Book marketing gets harder every week because thousands of people are self-publishing and flooding the market with poorly written books. Readers are tired of responding to ads for books that turn out to be sub-standard. When a hot new marketing idea appears, within a couple of weeks it’s beaten to death and no longer works. That includes the Amazon 0.99 cent deals.
Furthermore, you need a budget for marketing. Spend your money wisely and only after researching all the options. Hiring a publicist is a good idea, but find a reputable one and check references.
Should ALL Writers Create a Proposal and Marketing Plan?
YES. Traditionally, fiction and memoirs don’t require book proposals, but I urge you to create a proposal anyway. I promise you, the marketing section is the second thing an agent or publisher will turn to, right after they read the topic of your book. The process of writing the proposal will help you focus on:
- what your book is about (underlying themes)
- your target audience
- how you will reach that audience.
Writing the Marketing Plan
Many authors hit a roadblock when it comes to putting together and implementing a book marketing plan. You know you need one, but you only have a vague idea of what to include. This plan should describe how you will create public awareness for your book and get people to purchase it, either online or in a bookstore.
- Define your market. Who will buy your book? Don’t say “anyone who reads.” You must be specific. Your market is probably about 50% of what you think it is. For example, if you’re targeting doctors, how many of them will actually want your book or even hear about it? Probably one percent, not one hundred percent.
- How can you reach these people? How can you create a buzz about your book? Fiction is more difficult to market, as you probably know. Having a specific genre helps tremendously, because you can target readers of that genre.
- Be specific. Don’t make vague statements like, “The author will use social networking to market her book to millions of people.” Or “the author will be available for interviews on national media outlets.” National media outlets are not going to knock on your door. (Please do not plan to appear on national television. Be realistic). List specific magazines you’ll write articles for and specific groups you’ll target – both local and national. Consider when and where you might speak at conventions, workshops, and other events.
- Spend hours brainstorming, studying, and searching the Internet for specific marketing ideas.
Consider these opportunities for your book:
- Interviews – in person, by phone, or on the Internet. Who, what, and where?
- A mini tour of bookstores, with book signings
- Corporate marketing
- Organizations to which your readers belong. How will you reach them? Can you speak at conferences and sell books in the back of the room? Be specific these events.
- Media contacts and appearances. Again, be specific.
- Create a strong writer’s web site and blog.
- Blog tours and guest blogging are good, but you must be specific.
- Social media marketing. Everyone is doing this now. How will you make it work for your book? Be very specific.
- Book reviews – who will you contact? Do you have reviews lined up? What reviews have you already line up?
- Any affiliations or contacts that will help promote your book.
- Find ways to establish yourself as an expert in your field.
- Endorsements from well-known people or experts, if possible.
- Large bulk purchases make publishers happy, because they indicate you’re either going to sell those books or live with them in your garage forever.
Why do I use the word specific so often? Publishers are wise to the fact that authors will whip out a marketing plan because they’re expected to write one, yet they have NO intention of following through. A detailed, specific marketing plan shows you have the interest, ability, and determination to sell books.
Are you willing to devote time at least an hour every day to marketing your book?
Can you keep this up for months and even years?
Will you follow up with more books to increase your name recognition? Will you brand yourself?
Is WRITER a big part of who you are?
Publishers are realistic. We know your book won’t hit the bestseller list right away. We want you to be a patient and persistent marketer, building a web of networking opportunities that will support your career as a writer, year after year. We want you to succeed!
Please share your comments on marketing books.
Sammie Justesen is a publisher with NorLightsPress and author of the new book Dialogue for Writers.