C’mon, Book Marketing Isn’t That Hard

QuinnMarketingI see and hear about a lot of writers wanting to sign an agent and go for a traditional deal because, “The agent and publisher know how to market my book and I don’t. It’s too hard.”


Here’s how it works: Agents know how to market to certain editors; Editors know how to market to their editorial heads and marketing departments; Marketing departments know how to market to retail distributors. What none of them know (or maybe they don’t bother with) is how to market to readers. That’s the writer’s job. Trad or indie, if you don’t know how to market, your books are sunk. In fact, if you don’t have a marketing base before you submit to either an agent or editor, your chances of even getting a second look are slim to none.

What’s a poor writer to do? Panic is not an option. Truly, marketing is NOT that hard. Basically, all marketing is: Being in the right place in front of the right people with the right product.

(Please note I am talking about marketing only and NOT about promotion. Marketing and promotion are two completely different animals. That’s why it’s called marketing AND promotion. You can market effectively without any promotion, but it is impossible to promote anything without an effective marketing base.)

There’s a lot of nattering going on about “discoverability.” Well, let’s get one thing absolutely straight: Readers have zero problems “discovering” something to read. What people are really moaning about is, how can I get people to discover me? That can drive otherwise perfectly nice people insane. So let’s take insanity out of the picture. The first thing we are going to do is forget all about promotion for now. Put it out of your heads. As noted above, you CANNOT effectively promote anything until your marketing is solidly in place.

No promotion? Jaye, you’re so crazy.

Am I? Then explain how it is I am booked solid through the next three months and I have to turn business away. Aside from this blog, I do zero promotion for my book production services. (And I’ve been informed this blog is pretty crappy promotion-wise and I could do so much better. Well, yeah, but then I’d need another 16 hours in each day and I don’t know squat about that kind of physics, plus I’d need minions, which are harder to find than you’d think.)  I do, however, quietly and consistently market my services, and it’s working out pretty well.

The two things you have to keep in mind at all times:

  1. Marketing is a long-term strategy that requires constant maintenance and awareness of what is going on in the marketplace.
  2. Your product has to deliver every single time.

You need a plan. Your plan should include figuring out:

  • Right Place
  • Right People
  • Right Product

Your marketing plan needs to be put in place long before you publish (or submit to an agent or editor). It should start as soon as you get the notion, “Hey, I can sell my writing to the world! Maybe I can even make a living from it.”

But, but, Jaye, how can I promote a book that’s not even written?

You’re not promoting anything. What you are doing is marketing yourself, because you know as well as I do that writers are part of the package. People are much more willing to take a chance (spend the bucks, spend the time) on a book if they “know” the author.

The first–most important!–thing you need to do is: Define yourself as a writer. You can’t effectively market anything–even yourself–unless you know exactly what it is you are trying to sell. This is the part that trips many writers up. They have stories, they write them down, but they don’t think about what defines their work. They don’t ponder what it is they are offering to the world. Take me, for instance. I produce books. So do a zillion other people. What defines me? Passion. It says it right in my tagline: Ebooks = Real Books. That’s been my driving force all along. That’s why I have clients who call me the “production goddess” and why I get emails that say, “So and so referred me, they say you are the best.” It’s how I get away with constantly haranguing publishers to DO IT BETTER, DAMN IT.

You don’t have to come up with a tagline–but you have to KNOW who you are.

  • “I’m the writer who makes their panties wet.”
  • “I’m the writer who will force the world to acknowledge poverty.”
  • “I’m the writer who makes people think about technology.”
  • “I’m the writer who brings history to life.”
  • “I’m the writer who makes them check under the bed and leave a light on at night.”
  • “I’m the weirdo writer and nobody knows what outrageous thing I will say or do next.”
  • “I’m the writer who….”

Are you getting the picture? Put some thought into this. You don’t have to pigeonhole yourself or lock yourself into just one genre. You do need to ponder whatever it is about your writing that is consistent and passionate and a driving force. THAT’S what you will be marketing. And yes, it is perfectly okay to come up with an “Author Persona.” Many writers are shy and retiring and live very private lives. They are not comfortable putting themselves out there, bare naked for all the world to see. You don’t have to. Once you define what it is you DO, it’s not a big step to come up with a persona that fits comfortably. Set your boundaries. (Discomfort is an off-putting emotion.)

Next step is figuring out who the right people are–i.e., who are your potential readers. (If you say, “Every reader between 2 and 92 will love my books!” you are doomed. Seriously. Don’t even say that in jest to me.) Let me share a little chart I made:

Marketing1If you write in a specific, well-defined genre, then figuring out who your readers are/will be is easy. Romance, Crime, Mystery, History, Horror, Fantasy, Science Fiction–all of those have One Genre Power Readers and that’s who you target your marketing to. Popularity (best sellers) tends to trickle up. First they appeal to the OGPR, then as they catch on, others higher up on the pyramid discover them. With that in mind, for those who write across genres or who don’t fit exactly into a well-defined genre, is to figure out the aspect of their writing that DOES FIT. Let’s say you write historical novels, and fantasy novels, and an occasional mystery. Trust me, there is something within all those books that is a common thread. Maybe it’s the history. You research extensively–even your most fantastic fantasies are rooted solidly in some historical era or aspect. In that case, you target your marketing at the history readers. If instead, all your stories tend to have a strong love interest and the romance is essential to your plots, then target the romance market. See how that works?

Once you know WHO to market to, then you have to figure out WHERE they are. The nice thing about OGPRs is that they tend to make their presence known. They are nuts about their genre and love to talk about it and tend to gather in communities all over the internet. I suggest creative lurking in the beginning. Give yourself time to figure out what they like and dislike, what they are reading and why, and how and where they discover books. Keep your mouth shut and your ears open. (You might even discover an underserved niche that your not-quite-fits-in-the-genre stories will fill perfectly.)

Now you’re ready for the Big Question: HOW? Here, again, is where many writers fail. They sign up for Twitter, Facebook, Tumbler, Google+, and every other social media site they can think of; they create a website; they start a blog; they… They don’t have a plan. So everything fizzles and dies and they are back to thinking, Marketing is too hard!

You cannot forget that marketing is LONG-TERM. With few (very rare) exceptions, nobody bursts onto the scene full-blown and well-known. Markets must be built and nurtured and gained. It is not about tweeting “Here I am!” and expecting the world to pay attention. (It’s like I tell my husband, “If you want me to pay attention to you, do something interesting. And no, rapid-remote clicking is NOT interesting and neither is whining about dinner.”) Nobody owes you attention–you have to earn it.

Here are my suggestions for developing a plan:

  1. How much time can you COMMIT every week? Effective marketing requires commitment. Commitment will ensure consistency.
  2. Where are MY potential readers most likely to discover me? Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Wattpad? Just remember, you want READERS to find you. It might be more comfortable to hang out with other writers, but they aren’t your market (unless you write books on writing).
  3. What do I have to offer? (Aside from your books.) Marketing is about selling, but in developing a market base, the last thing you want to do is to make potential readers think the only thing you care about is their credit card. Instead, come up with a hook based on your definition of your writing and who you are as a writer. Develop a theme that draws attention. Keep it focused. Your ultimate goal is to build a solid fan base who looks forward to your writing. This takes time. Don’t be impatient.
  4. Who can help you? In every reader community/hang out, there are people others admire and look up to, and most importantly, value their recommendations. If they blog or are active on Twitter or Facebook, get to know them. Let them get to know you. DO NOT SPAM THEM. Do NOT BEG them to read your book or review it or do anything at all. If you earn their respect and their attention, you will by association earn the respect and attention of their wide circle of followers and friends. If you cannot do this without being 100% genuine, then don’t do it at all.
  5. Deliver. Your books are your PRODUCT. It is your job to make sure you deliver them to the right people in the right place and that the right people know it is the right product. That means packaging your books to target your market, using the right keywords, and distributing them effectively. And never forget that YOU are a product, too. Like it or not, you will be judged. It’s a risk you take in your bid for attention. Put your best self forward.

There you have it. Marketing. No tricks, no gimmicks, no short cuts. Define your product, make a plan, commit to it, and build your base.

If anyone wants to discuss promotion, feel free to have at it in the comments.





30 thoughts on “C’mon, Book Marketing Isn’t That Hard

  1. Brilliant and timely lecture, Jaye. Marketing is easy – easy peasy – if you write in one genre. Us cross-genre writers find marketing a little more challenging, but it’s nothing that can’t be overcome. I do have one rule, because as a reader and a writer I hate promotion as marketing– and most writers do confuse the two – My rule is be yourself.
    Say something interesting.
    Take an interest in others., i.e., other writers and most especially your readers. Engage your readers.
    Talk about subjects other than your book.
    If every tweet or FB post or blog post screams – BUY MY BOOK! READ MY BOOK! LOVE MY BOOK! I’m outtie. Reeks of desperation.

    • Being genuine and leaving the desperation in a burlap bag locked securely in the basement is tough. Especially on the internet where it so easy to lose one’s perspective and mind. But marketing is essential to ALL writers–self publishing and traditional. Some books SEEM to sell themselves, but a little digging around proves no they don’t.

      So yes, marketing is work. But it doesn’t have to be a dreary chore. It can even be fun.

  2. Some people call it “developing an online presence.” I call it “hanging out on twitter with the smartest, funniest people I can find and having a blast while there.” Some marketing gurus might claim I’m wasting my time online but I don’t think so. If people buy my books, great. If they don’t, I’m having too much fun to worry about it. In other words, I’m just being myself online and letting the marketing take care of itself. Seems to be working so far.

    • Margaret, I am absolutely positive that there are many, many writers who are marketing very effectively without even realizing they are doing it. Hell, I didn’t even realize how much marketing I do until a few weeks ago when a conversation I had with another writer got me interested enough to do some research into what marketing is and how it works with books. Marketing doesn’t have to be painful and it doesn’t have to be an all-consuming obsession. One hour a week, well spent and thoughtful, can lead to a very healthy fan base. Having fun with it is a bonus.

  3. Thanks Jaye:-); and as someone mentioned , that the best way of promoting your new book is ….to write another book:-)
    so off I go to play, to write, to watch the news on TV, as unfolding events sadly echoing events I wrote in my first book: The Circles of Life: My Ukrainian Family’s…. but wait! You already know that, as my book designer:-)

    And lastly, glad you are busy for next three months, yet happy to have my own deadline to finalize my next book….so three months? Can I book you now and hope to overcome my laziness?

    But wait- there is more, dear Jaye: our book, The Circles of Life… has amazing feedback in Jerusalem, the national Library, and they will carry the book in all the universities stores 14!) as of September; well, so they said:-)

    And off I go to play….

  4. You know, I’ve been thinking about this marketing stuff for a while, and trying to work out where to go with it. One of the issues I have had is the wide range of genres I have storylines for. To me they’re all thrillers, but some involve elements of fantasy, some are stuck firmly in contemporary times, there’s horror and sci-fi and spies… So I’ve felt it’s hard to pin it all on a specific market. But something in your words struck a chord, and I realised that there is a common theme, so I’ll use that to build up my persona. Thank you for giving me a sense of direction.

    • You’re welcome, Graeme. Figuring this stuff out isn’t always easy (which is why, I suppose, trad pubs prefer to let writers do the heavy lifting). But aside from the Super Specialists (readers who ONLY read one or two authors, or ONLY a very specific type of story) even the most hardcore genre fan is open to new experiences and new takes on a genre. Take one of my favorite writers, Dan Simmons. I can always find him under horror, even though a lot of what he writes is not exactly horror, but he always writes ghost stories in some form or another and as a horror fan, I can accept that even when it’s wrapped in an historical or science fiction novel.

  5. Marketing is important because you won’t succeed by just promoting one book. Marketing gives you so much more than a sale. It builds a relationship with your readers. To refuse to brand yourself and market your work is to refuse connection to the people that love your work most. Not a great formula for commercial success.

  6. I would say that your kindness and generosity with your expertise create your image and cause you to be booked up for months in advance! So perhaps the real key to marketing is giving and not always selling?

  7. Reblogged this on Beneath The Headstone and commented:
    There haven’t been very many articles about book marketing that I’ve found to be as informative as this one. A definite must for any aspiring author! Very well written, and I look forward to rereading this as I seek to improve myself in this area!

  8. Hi Cherry. Volunteerism has always been a big part of my life. It’s just something I’ve always done. I guess you could call it part of my marketing strategy, but ONLY because it comes natural to me. Some people are not so inclined and the strategy would backfire because others would quickly sense the gritted teeth and unwillingness behind it. In my rarely humble opinion, writers should play to their strengths. One should move, at least sometimes, out of one’s comfort zone, but if something feels wrong or unnatural or takes on the aspect of dreaded chore, then don’t do it. Trust me, if a writer equates blogging or tweeting with scrubbing toilets, readers will KNOW.

    There is nothing more magnetic than passion. People admire passion, even if they don’t get the draw or understand the particulars, they do understand the underlying emotion behind it and are drawn to it. Even the shyest writers I know light up and grow animated when talking about their hobbies or fields of interest. It’s a mistake for some writers to talk about ONLY their writing in public. They make it sound like folding clothes and doing the weekly shopping, and it’s dull and ineffective marketing, but they do it because they cannot imagine readers would find, for instance, their fascination with Viking longboats or obscure ability to create ciphers to be of interest.

    Salesmanship comes naturally to some, others have to work at it. Just like writing fiction. Hard or easy, it must be done.

  9. I blog 2-3 times a week on issues related to my books (mainly religion and feminism). I’m also trying to reach out to groups that may be interested, like churches, rape crisis centers, etc. I follow people on Twitter who care about these things and over time they’ve noticed I have a website linked to my Twitter bio, and start following me there. I learned very early on that the ‘Buy my book!’ gimmick is like wearing skunk perfume at a party: no one wants to be near you.

    I’ve only been sincerely marketing a few months now but am slowly starting to see a readership emerge. It will be years before I can say I have a ‘fan base’ though, and that’s the hardest part.

    Thank you for this informative post!

  10. The only thing I have to offer is how to write despite having a non-functioning brain – and frankly, that’s depressing (and there are plenty of posts on my blog in that vein). But what I’m writing is a mainstream commercial novel which touches lightly on how disability affects a whole life – and then tries to show how that isn’t an obstacle to dreams, or at least not an obstacle that can’t be managed.

    I am having the devil of a time thinking of the right marketing plan – most people who are not disabled really don’t want to be reminded that incapacity is around the corner in every life (unless you’re writing what is called, rightly, ‘inspiration porn’). I think the story, and the love story underlying it, is universal (don’t we all?), so my tendency is just to market to people who read mainstream novels in general. But the book has a lot to say about living your life and dealing with disability as you do – and that will appeal to people who are themselves disabled, or who have someone in their family or friend circle who faces the challenge daily.

    The trick is to not turn one group off while appealing to the other – which affects everything from writing the description to keywords to finding places for book reviews. Aargh! The next novel will not have anything disability-related in it, so I have to be careful – and will clean up my blog with the same thought in mind.

  11. Pingback: Posts I loved this week | Taylor Grace

  12. Pingback: C’mon, Book Marketing Isn’t That Hard | Yaminatoday - A Literary Blog That Entertains & Educates

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