Chip MacGregor

May 27, 2014

What advice would you give to an author thinking about marketing?


A longtime friend in the industry said she had been reading my blog for years, and decided to put a bunch of thoughts of mine together into an article for her authors who were asking about marketing. This was all built from things I’ve said on my blog numerous times, and I liked what she created, so I decided to reprint it here. Here’s the advice I give to authors wondering about marketing…

First of all, your publisher isn’t going to do that much marketing. They love you and have invested heavily in your book, and they certainly want to see you succeed, but most of their marketing budget is earmarked for their current bestsellers. So that means YOU, the author, have to take charge of the marketing of your book. You’ve probably heard me say this before, but if you’re waiting for your publisher to create a great plan that will take you to the next level, you may be waiting a long time. Publishers are investing in fewer books to market, and they’re not hiring more marketing people… and that means the poor publicist who is working on your title is also working on 20 other titles. Show her (or him) some love, and say something about how much you appreciate her work, but plan to invest in your own marketing. Decide right now that you’re going to take charge of marketing for your book.

Second, you’re probably wondering, How do I do that? Well, you need to become familiar with the process of marketing, so that you can begin to create an actual plan. To start, that means you may have to do some research. Let me suggest a couple books to consider. To understand the basics of marketing. Consider reading Guerilla Marketing by Jay Conrad Levinson, The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Ries and Trout, or a marketing textbook like Philip Kotler’s Principles of Marketing. You can also look at a Dummies guide – they have them on marketing, publicity, web marketing, internet marketing, Facebook marketing, and email marketing. If you want to focus on internet marketing, take a look at David Scott’s The New Rules of Marketing and PR or Mitch Meyerson’s Mastering Online Marketing. For specific marketing ideas, try 1001 Ways to Market Your Book by John Kremer, Publicize Your Book by Jackie Duval, and You Can Market Your Own Book by Carmen Leal. These are good when you’re beginning to wonder, “What should I do?” If you want to focus on basic marketing steps, take a look at Brent Samson’s Sell Your Book on Amazon, Steve Weber’s Plug Your Book, and Word of Mouth Marketing by Sernovitz and Kawasaki. For small budgets, Penny Sansevieri’s From Book to Bookseller and John Jantsch’s Duct Tape Marketing are both good, as is Bruce Brown’s How to Use the Internet to Advertise, Promote and Market Your Business With Little or No Money. Finally, make sure to get a copy of Amanda Luedeke’s The Extroverted Writer, which is a great tool for everyone trying to market their own work. That will at least get you started.

You can find any of these books at Barnes & Noble, or find them online. Spending $150 on getting a basic marketing education isn’t a bad place to begin. The principles of marketing aren’t difficult: get your product in front of likely buyers. That means you’re going to need to study HOW to get your product in front of people, as well as figure out WHERE those people are. Then you want to begin to figure out how to get the most bang for your buck in terms of spending your own money on worthwhile marketing ideas.

Third, ask yourself who reads your books. What sort of person (gender, age, interests) can you identify as a reader? Where do they gather? What websites do they visit? If you don’t know, you haven’t done enough research yet. Do some research. Ask around. Check out web sites and organizations. Determine where your book-readers might go, especially if you’re writing for a niche.

Fourth, you already know this, but you really need a good website. A site will give readers a way to find out about you and get introduced to your books. Don’t scrimp here. If you can, work with a pro to get a great web site — something interactive. And include an online store, so that interested readers can buy your books (either directly from you or linked to a web retailers like Amazon or Barnes&

Fifth, you might need a blog too. It’s not absolutely essential, in that many successful writers don’t keep a blog, but you need some way to interact with readers, be it blog, twitter, tumblr, or some other means. Our culture is in love with interaction, and a blog or social media presence allows the reader to feel that they get into your life. And that means you’re going to visit other people’s blogs — in fact, you’ll probably want to visit a lot of them. When you’re promoting your book, you’re going to want to participate in as many online interviews as you can. You’ll go on as your book is releasing, answer questions from people, and chat up your work. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of reading groups and book review sites. It may seem tedious, but you’re going to want to hit as many of them that fit your audience. (And, of course, it doesn’t stop there. Once you’re hearing from people on your blog, you need to go back and connect with them, so that you begin having an online relationship.)

Sixth, consider doing articles or interviews or some types of activities to get your book known. People will sign up if you offer them a free product of value at no cost — a short story or a special report or something. It can’t just feel like marketing content; you’ve got to actually give people something they want. And in doing so, you capture their email addresses. This isn’t something you can do overnight… but imagine being able to tell your publisher, “I’ve got ten thousand devoted readers who have signed up for my e-zine every quarter.” That shows you’ve got a following. And, of course, when your book releases, you’ve got to tell all those people about it, and give them some sort of incentive to buy TODAY. To do this, you’ve actually got to have something of value to give away. Words, thoughts, or something else. So… what would you give away? I was just reading about a woman doing a novel about Ireland. She asked people to sign up for her e-zine (they had to give their name and email address), and she promised that when her novel released, she was holding a drawing and one lucky winner was going to win a trip to Ireland. She got thousands of subscribers. Let’s say a couple hundred of them bought her book when it came out. So she made several hundred dollars in royalties, and a ticket from New York to Dublin is only about $400. Sure, the author had to make the investment, but it didn’t end up costing her much, and the word-of-mouth marketing that came from it was great.

Seventh, if you’re going to rely on the internet, consider getting some video together to help promote it. When you look at the growth of Flickr and YouTube and other visual sites, you can see the direction advertising on the web is going. And you may want to at least consider buying web ads on the sites those potential readers visit. Don’t assume it’s too expensive until you’ve checked it out. They are basically cheap space ads, and some of them are seen by more people than the space ads in trade journals. (Again, you probably realize this, but many sites have “pay-for-click” ads, which cost nothing unless an interested reader actually clicks on the ad to read more about your book, AND they have a stop-loss, so the amount of money you’ll spend is limited.)

Eighth, think about creating some articles and posting them. What you’re trying to do is to create buzz, of course. You want people to notice your book, to start talking about it. There’s a bunch of information available on how to do this — Randy Ingermanson has talked about it on his site, and Beth Jusin (who has a great new marketing book coming out soon) just blogged about it. No doubt you’ve probably heard the idea before. If you were doing a novel that focused on a child abduction, you’d do a couple articles on child abductions and how to prevent them. You then post those on sites that draw readers interested in that topic. At the end of the article, it mentions you’ve done a novel. Or maybe in your article you mention some of the resources you used while researching your novel. Either way, you get the word out. And it’s free advertising (except for your time).

Ninth, don’t assume your publicist has really gotten the word out to book reviewers and radio stations. The publicist may have done that…or she or he may not have had the time. Make sure to ask, “Who received a copy of my book?” and “Who did you contact about my book?” It’s a completely fair question, though you may have to ask several times before you get an answer. Those that didn’t get a copy should be sent one right away. (Oh, and be aware that most major book reviews require your manuscript be there about 8 months before publication. It’s a long lead time, so if your publisher didn’t make advanced reader copies or bound galleys, how is anyone going to review your work?) Getting in touch with radio stations is also important. You may think that’s an old-fashioned idea, but it’s still got value, there’s always a need to find guests to talk about the topics of the day, and now that there are internet-only radio stations the market has increased substantially. It’s usually a fairly low-ticket item to work with a freelance publicist just to notify stations about your book, so if your publisher isn’t making it a priority, consider making a call to a good publicist who can help with that.

Tenth, think locally. That is, try to make yourself successful locally. Drive around to all the bookstores in your area. Go in, hand the owner a signed copy of your book, and thank him or her for carrying it. Tell the owner a bit about yourself — this is a small industry, and making friends with bookstores can only help. Do the same thing with media in your area — introduce yourself and give them a book. The arts section of your local newspaper may be excited to have a nationally-published writer to interview. Think of angles — it could be your topic, or it could simply be the “local boy makes good” approach.

I’ve never been a huge fan of book signings (they tend to sell few books and leave the author deflated), but if you do one locally, invite your friends, your family, and any groups you belong to, so that you get a crowd. Make it an event. And if you’re doing a Christian book (many of my blog readers are in CBA), make sure to hit the bigger churches in your city. Let them know about the book, and how it fits into the church. Many large churches have newsletters that reach thousands — an article or an interesting interview, or simply a mention of your book can garner you some attention with readers. What you’re trying to do is to create some success locally. If you can do that, particularly in a major metropolitan area, then you can begin to try and translate that success regionally, and, eventually, nationally. That’s exactly what several indie-published authors did — establish some local success, then get regional attention, then hit nationally. Chip’s advice as you’re thinking about marketing your book.

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  • A very good concise roundup of a big subject!

  • Ron Estrada says:

    Good stuff. One thing I’ve learned from marketing to the buying public is this: you have to establish relationships and build trust. The shotgun (or spam) approach is long dead. Sell to one person at a time. A small core of fans can market your product to a lot of people. If you find the hashtag is your most utliized key, you’re doing it wrong.

  • JeanneTakenaka says:

    Great tips, Chip. Being pre-pubbed, I can begin on some of these now, namely finding out where potential readers hang out and doing some research on marketing. Thanks so much for sharing this!

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