Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Building a Marketing Plan

If you want to sell your book, you need a solid marketing plan to accompany your book proposal. In fact, it may be the single most important part of the proposal - it shows that your book idea is viable. The marketing plan is your detailed plan to connect to readers and sell books. It states how many books you expect to sell, where you will make media appearances, and specific steps you will take to promote it.

We turn to Michael Larsen, author of How to Get a Literary Agent: “For nonfiction, your promotion plan will be far more important than the content of your book in determining the editor, publisher, and deal you get.” Listen to that: marketing is as important as content. That sounds like a bucket of cold water dumped over your head, doesn’t it? 

Publishers want to know that you’re serious about selling books, not just in getting published. Your detailed marketing plan is a living document, so keep updating and adapting it. If you see something that works, then by all means copy it. Learn from others. Adapt. Grow. 

Michael Larsen points out that authors should include three crucial metrics in the marketing plan to demonstrate your commitment to promotion and to show that this is a viable book:

  • The number of public appearances and talks that you plan to give in the three-month window after the book is published.
  • The number of talks you will give each year after the book comes out. 
  • The total number of books you expect to sell in the first year – and if books will sell in subsequent years (such as if a book becomes part of a college curriculum).

Be realistic in how many books you think you’ll sell. Even with a major publisher, most books only sell a few thousand copies, and even most of these titles won’t be reviewed. If you’re publishing a local history, you may only sell hundreds of copies. University press-published books usually sell fewer than a thousand copies. Most likely you’re not going to make a lot of money, so don’t count on quitting your day job. 

So you’re a first-time writer and have no clue where to begin. It’s easier than you think – and the possibilities are endless. Get yourself a pad of paper and pen and start jotting down ideas, no matter how far-fetched they seem. Promoting your book needn’t cost much money – nor does it necessarily require travel to distant cities.

  • Keep track of all your contacts in an Excel spreadsheet. On the publication date, the publisher will send out an e-mail blast announcing the book to all these contacts. This encourages your contacts not only to buy the book, but to encourage friends and social networks to buy it.

  • Develop a plan plan for mass media: radio interviews and TV appearances. 

  • Who will you recommend to your publisher for potential reviews? Reviews are becoming notoriously difficult to get as print media has cut back, but a good review can make or break your books sales. Include bloggers in your list, as well as newspapers and magazines.

  • Write op-eds that will appear in print media, such as your local newspaper. These are still a powerful marketing tool. I published an op-ed in November 2009 about Virginia possibly selling off its ABC (liquor) stores, and this drew a lot of attention - including more speaking engagements. 

  • Write magazine articles that draw attention to your book.

  • Throw a book publication party and invite friends and the media. This can build a tremendous amount of buzz for your book. If you can tie it in with a local charity, even better. 

  • Attend book festivals in your area.  

  • Give talks at conferences, historical societies and libraries that are known to host author talks. And don't forget bookstores! Ask all of these venues if they have a blog that you can guest blog at before your event. 

  • Develop an online strategy. The power of the Internet has entirely changed the marketing game, and best of all, it’s practically free. Develop an online strategy. Start a blog. Form a group on Facebook. Tweet about it on Twitter. Build a website (my website,, costs about $15 a month). The power of social networking is exponential.

  • Spell out if you plan to travel – what cities you will visit and what audiences you will address. What key media will you target to drive an audience to your talk? And don't discount giving talks in people's living rooms, such as book clubs: book sales are often higher at events like these than at bookstores, and they are set in a more intimate forum. 

It is a common misconception that publishers send authors on book tours. The reality is, they don’t. It is you, the author, who will send yourself on a book tour, and likewise you who will front the travel costs. Start saving your money if you want to travel.

But do you need a book tour? No, probably not (watch for a future blog post about book tours). There are a ton of things that you can do to promote your book from your desktop and your hometown.

Wherever you go, find organizations that you can partner with. You'll get a much better audience, as organizations - whether a historical society or independent bookstore - have their own database of customers and members. And the more people that come to your talk, the more books you are likely to sell.  

Unless you’re a public figure – and 99 percent of us are not – you can’t count on mass media to draw attention to your book. You have to do it with bottom–up marketing, using the power of word-of-mouth to your advantage. People are far more likely to buy something that they heard from a trusted source, rather than an advertisement or book review. And this is where social media becomes crucial for us lesser-known writers. I’ll cover social networking in greater detail in a future post. Facebook and Twitter are powerful marketing tools, such that I call Facebook the “poor person’s publicist.”
A final point about marketing your book. Promoting your work after publication is exhausting. It will feel like a full-time job. But if you don’t promote, then your book won’t sell. So get ready to work hard, harder than you can ever possibly imagine. It’s a tough world out there, and consumers are stingy about buying books. You may feel like you’re selling one book at a time – and you may be right.

Garrett Peck

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