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Category : The Business of Writing
Now that you know what your brand is, what your strengths and weaknesses are, what goals you’re trying to reach, and who your target market is, you need to make some specific choices. What are the basic strategies you’re going to use to market your book? There are a million things you COULD do. Maybe you’ve picked up a couple of marketing books that offer “101 marketing ideas,” or you’ve attended a seminar and heard other authors talk about a bunch of ideas they’ve tried. You can’t do them all… so what steps will you choose?‘Will you focus on blog tours? Give away a lot of copies? Talk with reading groups? Redesign your website? Do some conference speaking? Distribute press kits? Try to get on a bunch of radio programs? Spend a lot of time placing articles with magazines and e-zines? Develop podcasts? Solicit dozens of reviews? Dig deep into the various Amazon tools? Network with key people? Focus on your blog readership? Use your associations or groups to get the word out? Develop a bunch of give-aways? Focus on broadcast media? Spend a lot of time at libraries? Visit targeted groups around the country? Participate in direct mail? Get involved in trade shows and conventions? Rely on key endorsements and recommendations? Do an author tour? Buy advertisements on the best websites? Try to steer sales to your website?‘You can’t do them all. In fact, you don’t want to do them all, since they wouldn’t all prove effective for your book. So as you think about your target market, what are the basic strategies that make sense? As you think about your strengths and weaknesses, what are the strategies you definitely need to consider? What are the strategies you probably need to forget about? At this step, you’re simply picking the basic areas in which you plan to work.‘And remember, most marketing gurus will
If you were taking a class in marketing, this is the process you’d go through in order to create a marketing plan. So once you “know yourself,” “know your strengths and weaknesses,” and “know your goal,” the fourth step you’ll need to complete is to know your target audience.Who are your readers? What are they like? What is their age? Their sex? What are their interests? What do they like and dislike? What do they find interesting? Where do they hang out? What memberships do they have? What is their socio-economic status? If you could describe your readers, what words would you use? What do they all share in common? What you’re trying to do here is to identify the similarities among those who will be interested in your book. Beginning writers tend to say, “Everyone will like my book! It appeals to young and old, men and women, Republicans and Democrats, religious and nonreligious…” Except marketing has proven that’s not true. Groups of people tend to like a product, while other groups tend to ignore that same product. So who is your group? How would you describe them? As your grandma used to say, “Birds of a feather flock together.” So… who is your flock?‘And where are they? Geography can have a lot to do with marketing your books. Where do they congregate? If they tend to reside in the South, that dictates where you’ll market. If they tend to spend a lot of time in the kitchen, that helps you know how best to market your work. If they tend to travel a lot, that says something about where you’ll find them, and how you can reach out to them. So don’t skip this part of the plan — spend time thinking through who your reader is, what he or she is like, and where they tend to go.You want to think through
With all this marketing you’re going to be doing for your book, what are you trying to achieve? And that leads to the third step in marketing your book: Asking yourself, “What’s the goal of your marketing plan?”
My experience is that many authors have a vague goal… sort of a sense that “they want people to hear about my book somehow.”
That won’t cut it. When you create your marketing plan, you should have some specific, measurable goals in mind. What do you want to accomplish? How will you determine success? Don’t just say, “I want to speak at conferences and retreats.” Instead, say something like, “I want to be in front of 100,000 people total over the course of the next year,” then start looking for venues that will add up to that number. Don’t just say, “I’d like to do some radio.” Instead, give yourself a number of interviews you’d like to do, a number of cities you’d like to reach, a number of listeners you’d like to be in front of. With social media, are you trying to simply get in front of people? Increase your engagement? Establish relationships? Are you trying to boost word of mouth?
Look, all marketing is trying to do two things: Try to get noticed, and try to boost sales. I’ve often said that the core of marketing is to figure out where your audience is, then go stand in front of them. So your marketing plan is your way to start working toward that goal. If you create clear expectations, you’ll know what success is. And if you set a firm number on the various activities you plan to involve yourself in, you’ll discover you’ve turned your plan into something measurable, rather than something ethereal.
It’s amazing how a number turns vague ideas into crystal clear plans. What are you trying to achieve through your marketing?
I was talking to an author a couple years ago who said she was going to hire a freelance publicist to help land her a bunch of radio interviews. Knowing she (1) hates talking in public, and (2) has what could charitably be termed a shrill voice, I simply asked her, “Uh… why?” She rolled her eyes. “Because that’s what everyone EXPECTS, Chip. I need to be on the radio, blathering about my book!”
I suggested that was a lousy idea. She’s uncomfortable with the whole thing, it wouldn’t put her in the best light, and I didn’t see how it was going to help her sell her book, which was a traditional romance novel. The author remained unconvinced, so if you were driving down the street and listening to an author blather uncomfortably in a voice that sounds like fingers on a chalkboard, you’ll know who it was….
Why do some people seem to think they must do some marketing activities just because some other author did those marketing activities? Look, once you know what your strengths are (both the strengths of your book as well as the strengths of your marketing abilities), you need to take an honest look at what your weaknesses are. Who does your book NOT appeal to? (You can skip those websites and e-zines.) Who will NOT find your topic fascinating? (No sense trying to get in front of them.) What are you not good at? (Maybe you could focus the bulk of your efforts on areas in which you shine.)
Strategic planning types used to do what they called their “SWOT” analysis — where they would make a list of your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Doing this while creating a marketing plan can help you determine what to do, and remember what NOT to do. Where are you strong? Where are you weak? What will you enjoy? Where will you struggle? What
We’ve been asked a bunch of times about marketing your own book, and while Amanda does this amazingly well every Thursday, I thought I’d jump in with a few thoughts of my own. If you were to take a class in marketing, the first thing they’d tell you is that you have to KNOW YOUR PRODUCT. Since you’re writing books, that means you have to know yourself and your manuscripts. What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? What do you do a good job with? What comes to mind when people see your book?
Look at it this way… If I say to you, “Mercedes,” what comes to mind? (Quality? Luxury? Expense?) Now if I say to you, “Toyota,” what comes to mind? (Dependability? Value? Middle-of-the-road-working cars?) And if I say to you, “Yugo,” what comes to mind? (Junk? Breakdowns? El-cheapo?)
You see, each of those auto manufacturers have a brand, and that brand sticks in your head. In fact, you might have solid impressions of those three car brands, even if you’ve never owned any of them. Why? Because the auto manufacturers have spent a lot of time thinking about the brand, how they want to shape it and express it. And you’ve had a number of exposures to those brands through TV commercials, reviews, articles, online discussion groups, and word of mouth from people you trust. With all those inputs, you have some sense of what the “brand” of each car is.
Your books also have a brand. One marketing guru has said that every brand offers a promise – so Mercedes promises luxury, Toyota promises dependability, and Yugo promised the cheapest car on the market. Now put that to work with your writing career… What promise do you offer your readers? What can they expect every time they come into contact with your words? I mean, for years if you saw a John Grisham book, you
In today’s publishing market, there are a handful of things I think every author needs to know about marketing. These are all things you can think through, and though none of this is going to be earth-shattering or terribly “new” to you (my guess is you’ve heard much of this before), sometimes we can think about choosing certain marketing strategies or ideas, then lose track of the bigger picture. Or we assume the publisher is going to take care of things, when in fact they’re busy worrying about the new 50 Shades novel they’ve just released, and they’re waiting for YOU to market your own book. So let me offer a big-picture look at marketing your book in today’s environment…First, you have to know yourself. What are your strengths at marketing? What do you do best? What is your message? How do you define your brand? What are the elements of marketing you love to do? The fact is, if you know your core competencies, know what you do well and what you’re comfortable with, you’re ahead of most authors who are just trying ideas they’ve heard from others. So think back through your history, and make a list of the areas where you were good and comfortable and successful with your marketing. What are the resources you have available to you? Next, make a list of the opportunities you know you’ll have — the people, places, organizations, media, and venues you know you’ll be able to count on.Second, you have to know your weaknesses. What are the typical problems you have with marketing? What are your struggles? What do you NOT enjoy? What are the roadblocks you face? (Hint: often these include lack of money, lack of time, and lack of expertise.) As you think through the problem areas, you’re trying to clarify both the strengths and the weaknesses, the resources and the roadblocks that are
This week in Publishing & Technology we’ll be talking about audiobooks. As Yasmine Askari reported on the Digital Book World last week, Barnes & Noble recently announced the launch of a Nook audiobooks app for iphone and ipad, as well as a new website to support the app with more than sixty thousand audio titles available to download without the purchase of a subscription. I’ll leave the prognosticating around whether or not this will be the magic bullet that saves Barnes & Noble from the same fate as Borders to smarter industry analysts. I’m more concerned with the audiobook as a product and it’s future in publishing.
My first attempt to get into audiobooks revolved around my year and a half stint covering the Inland Northwest territory as a B2B salesperson calling on grocery stores from the eastern side of the Washington Cascades all the way to the Billings, Montana – a vast, beautiful, and relatively empty landscape. I would sometimes drive as much as six hours in between sales calls, this in the days before rental car stereos came with audio jacks and in a land with almost no local radio signals. It was dull. So, I tried to spice up the windshield time by bringing along one of those suitcase-sized collection of audiobook CDs.
I couldn’t tell you the title or author of that book so many years later. What I can tell you is that I almost died listening to that book, lulled to sleep while driving a desolate Montana two-lane highway by the sultry voice of whomever was narrating. Like so many people, I walked away from the whole audiobook thing because of lack of convenience and a love of reading the actual text and fleshing out the characters with the voices my imagination created for them in my head. I figured that audiobooks were fine for older folks losing their sight, or for drivers that
Someone wrote to say, “I have published one nonfiction book, and have a contract for another. But I’m not happy with my agent, and would like to change. What suggestions can you give me to make this happen without hurting feelings?”
You want advice for ending a relationship with no hurt feelings? I have none. The end of any relationship usually has some hurt feelings. If you’re decided, I’d bet that there will be some pain. But before you move forward with that, I’d like you to consider something…
Most of the time an author wants to fire an agent it’s because some expectation wasn’t met — the project didn’t go out fast enough, the phone calls weren’t frequent enough, the money wasn’t great enough. The frustration builds, and they eventually get to the point where someone says, “That does it — I’m leaving!” But in my experience, having a good conversation can often clean up the bulk of the problems. (Not always, but a lot of the time.) So go back and talk to your agent before racing into this decision. And by the way, having clear expectations, for what both sides want, can resolve a lot of issues. Frequently a good conversation about the struggles you’re having will give the agent a better picture of how to move forward with you.
Case in point: I once had an author fire me and state, “You can never remember my children’s names!” My response was something along the line of, “Um… you have children?” I didn’t realize that part of the relationship was so important to her — turns out she felt it was critical. Now I try to do a better job of gauging what each author wants. Just so you know, there is no “one right way” to have an agent/author relationship, just like there’s no “one right way” to have any friendship. Each is unique.
Someone wrote with this question: “When someone is hired by a publishing house and allowed to acquire new books, are they trained or do they just ‘go and do’? Is this something they do individually or as part of a team?”
An acquisitions editor has usually spent time with the company and has a feel for what he or she should be acquiring. Most are brought up through the system. They know if the company does well with historical novels, or if they like self-books, or if they struggle to sell memoir. So most ack editors know the list and the company culture — and yes, personal tastes will shape the books they bring in. If an editor likes thrillers, and is charged with building the list, you can pretty much expect his or her preferences will begin to be reflected in the books they’re doing. (Though not always — an editor at Harlequin is generally responsible for acquiring romantic novels, no matter how much she happens to like spec fiction… Again, knowing the corporate saga and culture is essential.) Editors shape houses. That’s the way it’s always been in publishing. So a publishing house that hires a bunch of new acquisitions people gets reshaped by the editors who work there.
That said, few editors (just a handful of executive editors) have the authority to simply go acquire. The system looks like this:
Step One is that the editor must like the presented idea. He or she works with the agent and author to sharpen the proposal and make it as strong as possible.
In Step Two the idea is usually taken to the editorial team. In this meeting the merits of the book are discussed, several people read it, the team evaluates it, they determine if it fits the corporate identity, they explore other factors (such as “is this book too similar to one we did last season?” and
A regular reader of this blog sent me a note that said, “I get a royalty report twice a year from my publisher, but I don’t really understand it. What tips can you give me for reading a royalty report?”
I swear some companies hire Obfuscation Technicians, just to try and make royalty reports hard to decipher. And remember, each company has their own format for royalty statements, so it doesn’t always pay to compare, say, a Hachette royalty report to a MacMillan royalty report. Many authors simply get confused when trying to dig into the details of the thing. Even an experienced author will complain that the Random House statements don’t look anything like the HarperCollins statements, which are different from the Simon & Schuster statements. And, unfortunately, some of the smaller companies seem to be purposefully trying to make them impossible to read. (One mid-sized publisher just revised theirs — and they are now worse than ever.)
In addition, there are some companies that do a good job of breaking things down (like Harlequin), but may not do a good job of aggregating the numbers — so you can see a book did great in large print, but you can’t actually see how many copies it has sold overall. Some companies do a wonderful job of telling you how your book did this quarter, but they fail to include life-to-date information. Ugh.
With all that crud in mind, there are about ten questions I need to keep whenever I approach any royalty statement…
1. Who is the author?
2. What is the project?
3. How many copies sold?
4. In what formats?
5. What was the royalty rate(s)?
6. How much money did it earn this period?
7. What was the opening balance?
8. How much is being paid now?
9. Is any being held back? (a provision allows the publisher to retain some of