Chip MacGregor

March 12, 2013

What's the most important thing to know about book marketing?


Someone wrote to ask, “What is the most important thing I need to know about marketing my book?”

To me, the most important thing for you to grasp as an author is that you are responsible for marketing your book. Not the publicist. Not the marketing manager. Not even the publishing house. YOU.

Think of it this way: Who has the most at stake with this book, you or the publisher? (You do.) Who is more passionate about it, you or the publisher? (You are.) Who knows the message best, you or the publisher? (You.) I think an author should work with his or her publisher’s marketing department as much as possible. Make yourself available. Say “yes” to everything they ask. Express appreciation every time they do something that helps market your book. But then go do everything as though it all depended on you, because it does. Whatever the publicist does for you is gravy. YOU are responsible for marketing your own book. Don’t leave it to some young college grad who has 17 other projects to market. 

Someone else asked, “Since it seems like anyone can get a book published today through self-publishers, how do I make sure my book gets the needed exposure?”

I’m one of those who thinks that many self-published books don’t really seem as if they are really “published.” They post their book on Amazon, then sit and watch it not sell. And most people who actually self-publish (that is, pay to have an ink-and-paper book, rather than just an ebook) lose money because they don’t know how to market and sell their own book. So if you want to really sell some copies, whether you are self-pubbed or published through a regular royalty-paying publisher, you’ve got to understand basic marketing principles. I suggest authors purchase some basic marketing books (such as a textbook from Philip Kotler and Gary Armstrong, or Frances Brassington and Stephen Pettitt), in order to give them a conceptual framework for what marketing is. Maybe take a class at the local community college, or look for online marketing training. Then you can invest in some of the “how to market your book” titles available at Barnes & Noble. But the most important thing is to put together a planned strategy, so that you aren’t just trying to think up stuff on the fly as your book releases.

The key principle for anybody doing marketing of their own book is simple: Figure out where your potential readers are going, then go get in front of them. If you’re doing a book on lowering cholesterol, research to find out what websites people with high cholesterol are visiting, what blogs they’re reading, what magazines and e-zines they’re checking out, what the most popular sites for information sharing are. That’s the first step. The second is to get yourself involved with those venues. Those are the keys to getting exposure.

I’ve had a few people write to me and say, in essence, “I have a background in a field outside of publishing, and I’m fairly well known. How much does that help me when I seek to market my book? Does having a platform outside of writing help me market my book?”

 It does if you write a book that reflects on your platform. For example, let’s say you are really well known among scrapbookers. You’ve written articles in scrapbooking magazines, created new scrapbooking ideas, and been interviewed and profiled. People who are into scrapbooking know who you are. If you write a book on scrapbooking, your platform obviously helps. If you write a book on knitting… not so much. If you write a book on the history of Albania, not at all.

And again, because we have so many novelists as readers of this blog, one of the ignored truths of publishing is that an author can’t really move from nonfiction to fiction and take a readership along. So if you are a world-class scrapbooker, and you do a bestselling book on creating scrapbooks, that’s great. But if you then write a novel about a woman who scrapbooks… it’ll be a tough sell. Nonfiction readers just don’t cross over to read that much fiction. By the same token, fiction readers aren’t that interested in nonfiction books by novelists. (Yeah, yeah… YOU are. But you’re a writer.) It’s really tough for even a bestselling author to cross genres and have success. So no, in general having a platform outside of your writing won’t help all that much. (And here I should point out that numerous readers reminded me that Mike Hyatt, the former president of Thomas Nelson and I guy I really admire, wrote recently that an author’s platform might be overstated in our culture. I don’t know if the people who have worked for him really believe that, but I read his blog at, and I wholeheartedly agree with his point that the BEST thing an author can do is to write a fabulous manuscript.)

Finally, one person in Europe asked, “What should I do to help create a platform for myself if I don’t live in the US?”

I’ve noted here before that it’s tough to be successful in the US book market if you don’t live here. It’s not impossible, but it’s difficult because you’re not around to be a face on TV shows or to be interviewed live on radio. So I’d suggest you begin to explore social networking and article writing on the web. That’s the most likely channel to help you develop a following in the States.

Got a question about writing and publishing? Bung it along and I’ll try to bring some wisdom to it.




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  • Jaime Wright says:

    Ok. So marketing scares the bejeebers out of me. I’ll be honest and not play brave. Anything Internet based I’m totally fine with and I’m an ambivert so I can speak publicly or hide in my room with equal exuberance. What scares me is, I’m one of the classic work full time, raise two kids under 3 (no I won’t be homeschooling so there’s one feather not in my cap), married to a pastor, writer. I put myself on a rigid writing schedule so I can get at least a book done a year. I don’t have a lot of extra time for any marketing outside of Internet based — and I know enough not to quit my day job if I got a contract. So, be blunt. Am I delusional to seek publication? Or is there a happy medium to being a full time everything, including marketeer? (whew–that was a long-winded question)

    • chipmacgregor says:

      I don’t think any writer gets into the business in order to be a full-time marketer, Jaime. They get into it because they have a message or a story to tell. So in all honesty, you’re not all that different from most other authors in your position. (Whether you’re delusional or not is a matter of discussion, I suppose…) :o)

    • Jaime Wright says:

      I live happy in my delusional state so we’ll leave it at that 😉 thx, Chip! Your answer was poifect.

  • Kristen Bissontz says:

    I helped someone write and publish a small book. It was industry specific (sales methods in a specific niche) where he was already a consultant and had a following. We did an initial run of 250 books that were sold within 12 months. He did another run of 250 and is able to sell them at conventions and after speaking engagements. There is a place for self-publishing. This example is one of them. He isn’t gettin rich on it, but it is another tool he uses in his trade. Since it is such a small market, selling on Amazon isn’t an option. I also co-authored a training and certification manual for another venture. Same idea: industry specific, a following (these nurses were professors and consultants, but not sales or business coaching experts), and a venue to sell. Since they traveled the country doing workshops, they were able to promote to their audience. Outside of this formula, self publishing is dang near impossible

    • chipmacgregor says:

      Thanks for this, Kristen. I know others who use that same method — small print runs, selling a focused book, and they move them over time. You’re right — that can be an effective and workable strategy. That’s an entirely different game than some novelist who wants to self-publish her romance and get it into the hands of the masses, of course. The people who are trying to get rich quick on self-publishing are fooling themselves.

  • Jim says:

    A question for Chip: I’m very grateful to have found an agent who helped me land a contract for my first book, nonfiction, out early ’14. However, this agent is not involved in career building. I would like someone who would be more active in my platform and deciding what to write next. Do I owe it to this agent to tell him or her that I plan to pitch ideas to other agents? (The contract does not require it, but I’m interested in what is the RIGHT thing to do.)

    • chipmacgregor says:

      The right thing to do is probably to talk with your agent about expectations, Jim. Have a conversation — maybe he or she has a desire to do exactly what you want.

  • :Donna Marie says:

    great stuff, as always, Chip! and thank you for Michael Hyatt’s link! How wonderful! 🙂

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