Chip MacGregor

May 13, 2010

Some Tips on Marketing


Now, back into the swing of things and back to your questions…

Dana asked, "You’ve worn nearly every hat in the publishing kingdom and sat on both/all sides of the publishing desk (author, agent, in-house and—dare I say it—“outhouse” editor). How has your vast and varied experience helped you form a 'marketing paradigm' of your own? Can you sum up that paradigm for us?" 

Sure. My marketing paradigm looks like this: "YOU, as the author, are in charge of your marketing. You. Not the publisher, not the editor, not the sales team. You.”

This isn't a business where most of us can simply write a book, send it in, and expect others to take care of us (if in fact that world ever existed). It means an author is going to have to create a plan – an actual marketing plan, that dovetails with whatever your publisher is doing. I keep seeing authors talk about marketing, but my experience is that only one in ten actually does much. So be that one in ten – figure out what you can do in order to get the word out about yourself and your book.

To start, become knowledgeable about marketing — how to promote yourself and your work. Read up on marketing. DO NOT settle for saying, "I'm going to say yes to interviews." Having a plan means knowing people, making contacts, staying in touch, looking for opportunities, and figuring out how to maximize yourself.

So when your publisher announces that they're going to take out ads in TCW and toss copies from the balcony of the convention center at CBA, smile and express your appreciation. Then go do your marketing, because anything your publisher does is a bonus.

Jana sent this: "We continually hear that Christian publishers want to be on the cutting edge and that we should 'think outside the box.' How true is that, and what exactly do they mean by that? How far outside the box and onto the cutting edge can we get without falling off and fatally offending the Christian publishing 'police'?" 

No matter what you do, you're going to offend some Christians. (And I don't say that tongue-in-cheek. I'm serious. Somebody is going to point out the problems with your theology, your word choice, and the color of your sweater. Get used to it.) But here's the issue: In my experience, many of the folks working in marketing don't actually know what "the box" is. So they say things like "think outside the box" because they're asking for marketing help and ideas.

In this digital age, things you can do to move toward becoming that outside-the-box-thinker, include getting on the web. Creating your own viral video. Finding some niche markets and pursuing them. The bottom line here, is DO SOMETHING. Remember that YOU are responsible for your marketing. The publisher wants you to succeed, but you have more invested in this project than anyone else.

Maurice asked, "Is there such a thing as 'one-size-fits-all' marketing info that you can give to both new and seasoned writers? At what point does marketing advice need to be tailored to suit the individual writer/author’s needs?" 

Sure there is, and I've seen it used a million times. It goes like this: "Hello, Author. We're going to send out a press kit that has your photo, a one-sheet, and sample questions to ask you about your book. We're then going to fax everyone in North America who still owns a fax machine and suggest they have you on their program. Oh, and we're putting your cover in our catalog! Won't that be unique?!" Then they will sit and wait for the phone to ring. Exciting, isn't it? (I get chills just sitting here.) If that's what your publisher is doing, smile and say, "Thanks! That sounds great!" Then allow them to locate some high school grad who will put the packets together. Meanwhile, look for something else you can do.

TJ wrote to ask, "What do you consider the best resources for authors when it comes to developing that much-needed and talked-about marketing plan? What, if any, marketing resources would you consider a waste of time/money?"

Check out Randy Ingermanson's work. He's one of the few people thinking creatively about Christian fiction. (And no, I don't represent him or get a kickback on this…but he really OUGHT to buy my lunch when I see him next, don't you think?). Go to Andy Andrew's web site and order a copy of the tape series "Become a Bestselling Author" — one of the really overlooked resources in CBA. [NOTE: Sorry! That is now available at]  Amazon produces some helpful marketing books — if you don't own them, you're missing out on some basic information. Join a writer's group like ACFW or the WritersView and ask questions about marketing from experienced people, to see what works and what doesn't. Go to your local community college or even a regular college with a marketing degree program and ask for help. I know some authors who have hired grad students to help them create marketing tools (the student got paid, got credit for it, and it saved the author money over hiring a professional). As for a total waste of time and money…well, you can continue reading interviews with me. Or you could buy my Y2K Survival Guide, which is a complete waste of money (even though it clearly SAVED WESTERN CIVILIZATION AS WE KNOW IT).

Any other sage advice you’d like to impart to us? Yeah — I've told this story before, but several years ago, I did a book with a CBA house. As it was going into production, the marketing director called me to tell me what they were going to do. "Good news," she chirped. "We have a three-stage marketing plan for your book. The first thing we're going to do is to give your book a great title and cover!" This pleased me to no end, since I've noticed that books without titles and covers simply don't sell in today's market. "Second, we're going to put your book into our catalog!" I was overjoyed. My book would be right there, in 6-point type, just waiting to be seen by the CBA booksellers, who were going to ignore the catalog and buy from the sales rep like always. Nobody else would see it, since the average consumer doesn't ever actually see a publisher's catalog "And third, we're going to give it to our crack sales team!" Yippee. I tried not to wet my pants with excitement. In other words, they were going to do nothing. When I pressed the woman on that, she eventually got mad and admitted, yeah, they weren't going to do anything, since they didn't have a budget to promote every book. Fine with me — I just wanted to know. That book has sold more than 20,000 copies, and continues to sell in at least three other languages. And none of it had anything to do with Ms Bonehead.

An author can make marketing work. Really.

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