My brother has worked in the auto industry for years. He's a parts & service manager for a dealership, but he used to be a car salesman. One day he explained to me the importance of auto salesmen driving around in the cars they sell… "Imagine the sales guy hasn't ever driven the car. One day, a couple approaches him on the lot. 'Is this a good model?' He assures them it is — it's got great safety features, gets good gas mileage, is known to be dependable. 'Have you driven it around?' Um… no… uh… How do you sell a car you've never driven?
By the same token, how do you market and sell your book if you don't know the strengths? Your brand as an author reveals who you are and why you're unique. It offers an image to potential readers so that they get to know you. More than that, a strong brand creates trust with buyers because they've had good experiences with it in the past. (I trust Starbucks coffee no matter where it's on sale, because I've had good experiences with it in the past. When I travel, I know I'll get a good cup of coffee if I get a cup of Starbucks.)
In many ways, that trust begins to feel like a relationship to a reader. If you trust a Stephen King novel (or Jodi Picoult, or Michael Connelly, or whoever), you get to feel as though you KNOW the author. Sitting down with one of their books is like sitting down with an old friend. You may not actually know the author, but you're familiar enough with the brand that it feels like you do. And in that feeling of relationship, you develop an attachment to the author… which means you're going to choose their book over some other author's book. You're also willing to pay more for your favorite author's book. (Go back to my Starbucks example for a minute: I feel attached to Starbucks. I know their flavor, their packaging, and the feel of their stores. Given a choice, I'll pick it over a Dutch Brother's or Dunkin Donuts any time. And I'm willing to pay more for something I know and love.)
A strong brand simply makes selling easier. If readers don't know you, the bookseller has to work harder to get your books sold. But a strong brand transcends competition and price. Readers are willing to pay more, and to buy more often — and retailers know that, so they're more apt to stock your books and help promote them. Retailers and e-tailers see a strong author brand as the key to profitability, and therefore sustainability.
Again, that means you've got to know yourself and your brand. You've got to tell people who you are, what you write, and what's unique about you. You've got to make a promise to readers, and convey that promise every time they come into contact with your work. So you start creating a marketing plan by identifying and defining your strengths and uniqueness, your voice and tone, maybe even your stories, characters, themes, and settings. What's your brand? That's where a marketing plan starts for an author.