Chip MacGregor

February 15, 2016

What does a writer need to know about marketing?


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 part of every marketing plan. If you can identify these, you’ve got better context for making marketing decisions later.
Third, know your goals. What are you trying to achieve with your marketing? You’re ultimately trying to sell copies, of course, but your marketing is specifically trying to do what — introduce yourself to probable readers? Create brand awareness? Build trust with your audience? Find new markets? Enhance your relationships with media? Educate people? Demonstrate the benefits of your book (more common for a nonfiction title)? Overcome objections? Expand your social network? In my experience, too many authors want to talk about the tools they can use, and not the goals they have in mind. So make a list of what you’re trying to do, and keep in mind that no marketing plan can do everything.
Fourth, know your target audience. No book is for everybody. Who are you trying to reach? What age? What sex? What do they like and dislike? Where do they live? When are they most likely to be available? What do they need? What do they want? Why will they listen to you? An author who knows his or her audience can stop trying to be all things to all people, and start focusing on the most likely readers. Knowing your audience helps you to make better marketing choices.
Fifth, know your strategies. That is, look through your first four answers, then begin to see how you’re going to reach out to people. Will you focus your marketing efforts on your unique differences? On your unique audience? On your unique message? On special events? On some special attribute in your work? Will you focus on your network and associations? On your huge social media footprint? Make some decisions on what basic strategies you’re going to use (and if you need help with this, there’s a ton of information online regarding this topic — check places such as
Sixth, know your specific marketing tools. What activities will you actually DO to market your book? This is the place most authors start — they love talking about the crazy activities and wild ideas they have. But without walking carefully through the previous steps, there tends to be a lot of wasted energy. So let me sum up how to select the best marketing tools this way: Spend time figuring out where your potential readers congregate, then determine how you can get in front of them. It might be writing magazine articles, or speaking to groups, or covering controversial topics on your website, or giving helpful stuff away, or throwing yourself into radio chats, or buying ads, or investing your time in blog chats, or… a million other things. But don’t just skip to this part of the plan and begin thinking up cool ideas to try. Instead, spend time figuring out the reasons these ideas will work by walking through the first five steps. And keep in mind one critical bit of wisdom: Most marketing won’t work. That is, most of the marketing you do will fail to move a bunch of copies of your book. That’s okay — take the Babe Ruth approach. The guy struck out more times than any other baseball player in history up to that time, and failed roughly 65% of the time at the plate. But that means he retired with an almost unheard-of .342 batting average, and had more homers, walks, and runs-batted-in than any other player in the first 100 years of the game. Marketing can be like that — you’ll try things and fail a lot, but then be surprised at the little things that work.
Seventh, write down your plan. Don’t just have it floating around in your head as a series of good ideas — write it down, so you’re much more likely to actually DO it. Besides, that helps you keep track of the things you got done, or have yet to do.
Eighth, create a calendar and a budget. When you write something on your calendar, you’re much more apt to do it, and it allows you to be strategic in your thinking. By adding a dollar amount, you’re able to see what your investment is, and figure out what your return on each investment is. (It’s why I encourage you to track your time, assuming you could be paying yourself about $20 per hour to get the work done — you get a better picture of your overall investment in each marketing activity.) This part of the process forces you to think like a publisher, deciding where you’ll spend your hard-earned dollars to market your book.
Ninth, execute your plan. You’ve planned it, mapped it out, and given yourself a time and an activity and a goal. Now go do it. Make sure you keep in mind what “success” is, and remind yourself that the majority of the things you try won’t feel very successful at first.
Tenth, go back and evaluate. Again, most people want to skip this step, but it’s what will help you figure out how to be more effective next time — by repeating the things the worked, and skipping the things that failed. You won’t remember unless you write it down, and you won’t be able to evaluate it if you don’t keep some records of what you did, how much time and money you spent, and what the results were.
Um… yeah. This sounds like a lot of work. Frankly, it is. But the best, most successful writers I know are the people who do this sort of thing with each book.
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  • Dana Pratola says:

    I’m willing to do the “leg work”, but most of the time it comes down to money, which I simply do not have. Sigh.

  • Jodie Bailey says:

    This was much needed now. Slowly getting this one down!

  • Donna says:

    Valuable and practical information all authors should be made aware of in marketing not only their books, but themselves!

  • Also, this may be a dumb question, but is there a way to know which ones are working? I mean, if you’re selling books, how do you know how people found out about the books?

  • Yes, it does sound like a lot of work, but I’m thinking I need to start doing some of the work. 🙂 Thanks for a great post, Chip, with lots of ideas. I’m planning to print it out and work through some of these things.

  • michael bian says:

    Yeah! now i know such things, thanks to the author for writing this things.

  • Mart Ramirez says:

    This is EXCELLENT!! Thank you so much for taking the time to share this with all of us!

  • Ron Estrada says:

    Great advice as always, Chip. My best experience with marketing comes from my online and print marketing for our family trailer hitch company (I only help out part time from home). I probably drop 9 out of every 10 marketing and advertising campaigns I start out with. It seems the worst performers are the ones that sounded absolutely brilliant at the outset. As for writers, I’ve noticed many of us are teaming up to maximize our time and energy. I think this is a great strategy. With two or more heads in the game, someone is bound to hit on a great idea. Thanks for the post.

  • :Donna Marie says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Chip, you give some the most useful information for authors and aspiring authors that can be found on the internet. Thank you! 😀

  • JeanneTakenaka says:

    Wow. Thanks so much for sharing these steps, Chip. Very practical. I’m not at the point of marketing a book yet, but I can see the value in working through all the questions you pose to create the best (most likely to succeed) marketing plan for me. Thank you for this!!

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