Chip MacGregor

May 2, 2010

What a novelist needs to know about marketing


Jay asked, "In your view, what are the essential things a novelist has to understand about marketing?" 

I talk about marketing a lot, Jay, so let me see if I can simplify it…

1. YOU

Author, YOU are responsible for your marketing. Not the publisher. Not the agent. You. The publisher and agent will both help, and they ought to bring something to the table or they aren't doing their jobs. But the book is yours – nobody else knows it as well as you do. Nobody else is as enthusiastic or as committed to it. Nobody else has as much riding on it. So give up any illusion that the publisher is going to take over your marketing – I'm just not seeing that very much any more. If you don't take charge of your marketing, it won't happen. 

Just reading over those words, I realize that, for many authors, this is tough to hear. But I'm serious — I never hear an author say, "Gee, I'm thrilled with the marketing my publisher is doing on my book." Instead, I generally hear authors grousing about the crummy marketing or the little work being done. And my response from now on is going to be to tell the author to change his or her perspective. Start being appreciative of the few things your publicist gets right. Start saying "thanks" more for the fact that your publisher is doing ANYTHING. And then just go do the rest of it yourself.


To do that means you're going to have to educate yourself. Just as you've had to learn the ropes of how to write well, I think most of us are going to have to learn how to market well. You'll have to pick up a couple of marketing books, maybe attend a marketing class or seminar, and do some digging to figure out what makes a good marketing plan. (Sorry. I realize you didn't sign up to be a marketing specialist. You're a writer. But today, if you're going to make a living at the art of writing, that means you also have to be a marketer.)

You're going to have to learn to think long term. It's going to require some hard work. And it's going to mean consistently making time to market, which most authors hate, since they'd rather be writing. But I think every author, on every book, is going to need to create a marketing plan. (No, I'm not kidding.) Your publisher probably gave you some pre-packaged marketing plan that basically says, "We're going to put you in the catalog and try to do some other things." But it won't be much.

Let me offer an example: Right now, a lot of publishers are putting together blog tours. One of the novelists I represent who is a GREAT writer just had a blog tour for her latest release with a mid-sized house. I love the folks at at that house — a great team, and they're really trying to break out with some good fiction. They've signed good people, and are producing some wonderful novels. But I don't think they know how to market fiction yet, since they've never done it before. So they sent this author out on a blog tour to be interviewed a 20 or 30 blog sites. She was great, but I don't think it helped sell any books. It seemed to hit the same 300 people as everybody else, and there wasn't much participation. Again, that's not to say a blog tour is a bad idea, or that the publisher isn't trying hard, but that they don't yet know how to make it work. We appreciate their efforts, and know they mean well, but in the end it doesn't seem to add up to much in terms of book sales. So, from my perspective, that means the AUTHOR has to learn how to be the marketing expert.


I think a novelist has to sit down and write out a marketing plan – something that lists the genre, details who the audience is, summarizes the novel's unique qualities, and explores how we're going to reach readers. You have to figure out where your readers are, then go reach them. Too much marketing talk is just publisher happy-talk or general marketing BS — it can be awfully short on specifics. So write it down. Let's get all the pieces in place, figure out what we need to do, then try to mesh that with what the publisher is planning to do so that we don't overlap efforts (and waste money).

Next, the author has to figure out how to use his or her gifts effectively in marketing. Let's face it: not every author can go on a speaking tour. Not every novelist is great on radio and TV. So thinking about what your strengths are and how to use them effectively is an essential step. 

Nothing will make this all seem so real as sitting down and writing out a plan. It's hard work, and a bit scary, because we realize how much there is to accomplish. But I think this is the next step in the process — to create some sort of written document that helps us see what we have to do.


Writing something like this requires research. I just hired my daughter Molly (one of those out-of-work college graduates you've been reading about) to do some research for me. I asked her to poke around on the internet and tell me "where do writers go for career information?" and "what are the most popular craft-related sites?" and "who are they listening to for career advice?" I needed to know some basic facts if I'm going to have my blog become more useful. (And a side note: Chuck Sambuchino just named this blog one of the five best literary agent blogs in the biosphere. I'm totally flattered… and I plan to call Chuck and make sure he has his doctor up his meds.)

The author needs to figure out where potential readers go. My guess is it's not the blogs her publisher had her visit. She writes nove
ls that appeal to moms. Do r
eaders go to mom sites? To humor sites? To fiction sites? To It seems like the first step is to figure out where potential readers are already heading. The next step would be to figure out how to get onto those sites. That would be followed by figuring out what would interest and appeal to those readers. Once the author does that, she can start to craft an actual strategy for marketing her book. 

Um… okay, there's lots more that I could say, but I'm starting to bore you. More later, but I wanted us to begin with these facts as a foundation.

Maybe one more thing: I think we HAVE to be marketing. In today's economy, I just think an author who wants to be read, who wants to be successful, will choose to invest time and energy and money in marketing. A basic truth for writing today, in my view.

I'm off to Orlando, where I'll be hosting a fiction writers retreat with two of the best novelists in the business — Lisa Samson and Susan Meissner. We had planned to limit our time to a dozen writers, but I think we've had a couple late cancellations, so if you're in the area and want to attend, get in touch with the coordinator, Tiffany Colter, right away (tiffcolter at Would love to have you join us. She can tell you price and location. Mention the blog and she'll give you a discount! 

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