Chip MacGregor

March 2, 2016

What’s the third step in marketing your book?


With all this marketing you’re going to be doing for your book, what are you trying to achieve? And that leads to the third step in marketing your book: Asking yourself, “What’s the goal of your marketing plan?”

My experience is that many authors have a vague goal… sort of a sense that “they want people to hear about my book somehow.”

That won’t cut it. When you create your marketing plan, you should have some specific, measurable goals in mind. What do you want to accomplish? How will you determine success? Don’t just say, “I want to speak at conferences and retreats.” Instead, say something like, “I want to be in front of 100,000 people total over the course of the next year,” then start looking for venues that will add up to that number. Don’t just say, “I’d like to do some radio.” Instead, give yourself a number of interviews you’d like to do, a number of cities you’d like to reach, a number of listeners you’d like to be in front of. With social media, are you trying to simply get in front of people? Increase your engagement? Establish relationships? Are you trying to boost word of mouth?

Look, all marketing is trying to do two things: Try to get noticed, and try to boost sales. I’ve often said that the core of marketing is to figure out where your audience is, then go stand in front of them. So your marketing plan is your way to start working toward that goal. If you create clear expectations, you’ll know what success is. And if you set a firm number on the various activities you plan to involve yourself in, you’ll discover you’ve turned your plan into something measurable, rather than something ethereal.

It’s amazing how a number turns vague ideas into crystal clear plans. What are you trying to achieve through your marketing? If you can answer that question, you’ll be much more focused. That’s why you often want to look carefully at some goal data. Who are you trying to reach? Male or female? What’s the age range? Income level? Social media interaction? Where do they hang out? We’ll talk more about this in the next step, but once you figure out who you are, and what you do well, you can start thinking about what goals you’re going to set for your marketing plan. In three to seven simple sentences, what would you say are the goals of your marketing?

Of course, eventually your marketing should lead to sales, so I encourage authors to also set a reasonable sales goal for their book. I think one reason so many authors struggle with anxiety over book sales is because they haven’t defined “success.” They don’t really know what a successful book would be, or what a failed book would be. So what is success for your book, in terms of sales?

For more than a decade now, people in publishing have talked about “selling in the teens.” If you could get your trade paper novel or nonfiction book to sell somewhere between 12,000 and 20,000 copies, it would probably be considered a relative success. Not a runaway hit, but a reasonable success. Then if your book sold in the mid-twenties, the publisher was very happy, because you’ve probably beaten expectations. If you sold in the thirties or forties, they were ecstatic. But that’s just a basic idea — expectations for mass market novels and ebooks are often much higher, expectations for book clubs are also higher, and expectations for most hardcover novels are generally higher.
So in terms of sales, think in economics of scale. A large publisher probably wants to sell more than 20,000 print copies — possibly as many as 40,000 copies. A medium sized publisher wants to sell in the teens. A small publisher is going to be happy if you sell 8000 print copies. And a micro publisher might only expect to see you sell a maximum of 3000 copies. Then, on the digital side, each size of publisher will also have sales expectations — depending on the house, these expectations will be between 50% and 150% of print copies sold. That’s why you want to figure out early on… what is success? 
The rule of thumb on advances has long been ONE copy for every ONE dollar in advance. So if you were paid a $40,000 advance, the publisher is generally expecting (not EXACTLY expecting, but generally expecting) you’ll sell about 40,000 copies. That’s not precise, of course, but it’s a pretty good estimate. And if that small house just offered you a $3000 advance, it tells you a bit about what their sales expectations are. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — everybody starts somewhere. But this at least tells you they don’t see the book as the second coming of Harry Potter. (And I should mention that the growth of e-book only publishers is changing all the planning on advances. Still, for traditional publishers, this holds true.)
That means you’ll want to think about what your sales goal is, and keep that in mind as you create your marketing plan. If your goal is to sell 30,000 copies, and all your marketing is to small groups of ten to twenty people, you’re going to have a tough time achieving success. Authors, because they work by themselves and tend to not be around a lot of big groups, often think in terms of selling by tens. “I spoke at a conference and sold thirty books!” or “I did a signing and sold two dozen copies.”  There’s certainly nothing wrong with selling a couple dozen books, but most smaller publishers are only interested in things that will sell books by the hundreds, and most mid-size and large publishers tend to think about selling books by the thousands. If you can come up with a plan that will move two or three THOUSAND copies, you’ll get their attention. Moving a case of books at an event is nice, but hardly makes a dent in a publisher’s goal of selling, say, 20,000 copies.
So that’s the next step in thinking through your marketing… Write down the goals of your marketing plan. Be specific. Make them measurable. Keep your sales goal in mind. Know what “success” is.
Share :


  • Rick Barry says:

    Good, sane, advice. Thanks again, Chip, for bumping up everyone’s understanding.

  • So timely for me Chip, thanks for all your wise advice! This blog is a treasure trove of helpful, practical information.

  • Jan Cline says:

    I am just about to launch my debut novel – Indie. I think self-publishing authors might have a harder time with goal definition – or at least a harder time motivating themselves to do it. The learning curve on publishing is so huge that marketing starts looking like a monster that can’t be tamed. I love the concrete advice you gave. Great timing for me. Thanks, Chip

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.