“Most people don’t plan to fail; they fail to plan.” - John L. Beckley
We have already established that becoming an author and writing a book is like starting a business, and no serious businessperson would launch a new business without a business plan. Yet, many authors do this all the time. They expect that once they finish writing their book and hand it off the publisher, their job is done. They couldn’t be more wrong.
“It’s my job to write the books,” the author might say, “it’s the publisher’s job to sell them.” That kind of outdated thinking will only lead to bitter disappointment down the road.
As an author, you’ve got quite a bit of skin in the game. It’s your name on the front of the book, and if your first book loses money for your publisher, they are less likely to publish a second or third book that you write, and you certainly don’t want that. Will your publisher have a marketing plan? Depending on which route you took to get your book published, sure. However, it’s probably not as extensive as you think or hope.
According to Writer’s Digest, most traditional publishers spend less than $2,000 marketing 85 percent of the titles they publish. The lion’s share of the publisher’s marketing dollars is spent on their bestselling authors’ books. The new, unknown authors may receive a few review copies and (if they are lucky) an ad or two in a publishing industry publication or catalog. Other than that, the author is pretty much on their own. Most authors have to hire their own publicist, schedule their own events and even send out their own press releases. (For the record, the publisher I work for covers most of this for the author as part of their publishing contract, but the authors still must play a role in arranging events, too).
That is why it is critical that you have a business plan before you launch your book. Do you want to take a chance on a limited $2,000 or less marketing plan, or do you want to play an active role in your book’s success? Because you are treating your book like a business, you of course will opt to play an active role.
With that being said, there is no silver bullet in the publishing industry. There are no guarantees of success, just like there is no guarantee any new business will succeed when it finally opens its doors. However, having a plan and actively promoting yourself and your book is certainly better than expecting someone else to do all the heavy lifting for you and hoping for the best. Hope is not a strategy. The chances for your book’s success are directly related to the time and energy you dedicate to your book’s promotional activities.
This is a basic outline, and you can certainly add your own ideas to it, but at a minimum, these are the things you should take into consideration and plan for as you get ready to launch your book.
- Your book’s target audience. We have covered this one, and this doesn’t have to be carved in stone. By now, you should have an idea of what the target audience is for your book. Sometimes, the audience for an author’s book turns out to be different than what they initially thought. For example, children’s book authors may spend a lot of time and energy trying to reach out directly to kids, when in fact it’s the parents and grandparents who actually purchase the books. You may have to adjust your approach if you find you should be targeting a different audience.
- Your platform. Again, we have already covered this, and this isn’t something you spend a week or two building and then call it good. Building a platform is a job that is never done. Remember, you are building your name and reputation as an author, and like any business this doesn’t happen overnight. Keep working on expanding your network, building your online presence and doing your face-to-face promotion.
- Your budget. I have seen authors spend thousand of dollars hiring someone to build their web site, and I have seen others who built their own for free using a standard template on a service like Tripod. I have seen authors spend thousand of dollars on advertising and not sell any books, and I have seen authors purchase no advertising and sell thousands. Your marketing plan can be done on the cheap, or you can invest money into your promotional efforts (wisely). The approach you take is completely up to you, and it will depend upon what you are trying to accomplish with your book launch. At a minimum, I recommend investing in the following, and it doesn’t have to require a second mortgage on the house:
- Review copies of your book
- Copies of your book to resell (if your publisher allows this. Some don’t)
- Book trailer
- Web site
- Book marks
- Post cards
- Business cards
You should also take into account your expenses for things like traveling to and
from book signing events, mailing review copies of your book, and hiring a
publicist if your publisher doesn’t assign one to you and you decide to go that
- Distribution. If you have a publisher, you probably already have distribution covered. If you are self-publishing, you will need to arrange distribution for your book. Do you plan to sell your book only on Amazon, or do you want your book available for bookstores to order, too? If you want your books available from a wide variety of online booksellers and for physical retail locations to order, you’ll need distribution.
- Targeted list of retailers. Where do you want to do your book signing events? The time to take that into consideration is now. Start compiling a list of the places where you want to do your events, visit the locations to see if they host author events and let them know you have a book coming out. Make those bookstore managers your new best friends. They can’t order your book until your release date, but put the bug in their ear about your book now (without being overbearing). Go to your local independent bookstores and see if they will carry copies of your book on a consignment basis (we’ll cover this later). That’s the fastest and surest way of getting your book “on the shelf” in your local area, if that’s important to you.
- Targeted list of niche marketing venues. You don’t have to do all your book signing events in bookstores. You should broaden your horizons and thing beyond the bookstore, too. Did you write a book about figure skating? Contact the local ice skating rinks and see if they would be interested in hosting a book signing for you, and offer them a cut of the book sales for allowing you into their business. Coffee shops, gift shops, pet stores, museums…these are all places that have scheduled book signing events. Remember, you’re trying to reach your book’s target audience, not hang out in the big box bookstore’s café half the day trying to convince browsers to buy your book.
- Social media. If Ernest Hemingway were alive today he would be on Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In and his own blog. This is the way authors are connecting with their readers in the 21st Century, and it’s something you’ll have to get used to. Signing up for these services isn’t enough. You have to use them regularly, network with them and tell people that you are available on them. If nobody knows you have a blog, they aren’t going to visit your blog. You should also be collecting an email list of your readers through your blog or web site through subscriptions, so you can keep your fans updated about your book's progress, release date and your events.
- Book reviews. Start compiling a list of places where you want to send a review copy of your book. Make sure it is a targeted list. The blog, web site, newspaper or publication you want to send your book to should be appropriate for your book. Also, NEVER blindly send a review copy. Write an email and ask the reviewer if they would be interested in reviewing your book. If you don’t get an answer or if the answer is “no”, accept it and move on to the next contact. Ask if they want a print copy or an ebook copy of your book, and promise to send it as soon as it’s available.
- Blog tours. Blog tours are a way of going on a national book tour without leaving your house. Bloggers can do interviews, reviews, allow you to do a guest post or do a book giveaway featuring your book. Locate blogs that are related to your book’s topic, and see if the blogger would be interested in hosting a stop on your blog tour. Tell them you’ll promote the blog tour with our own blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Bloggers are always looking for content and ways of attracting more traffic to their blog. Blog tours benefit the blogger and the author.
- Your media plan. If your publisher doesn’t help you with this, you’ll need a press release and a list of media contacts to send it to. You’ll want to send out the press release when your book is available and also notify local media outlets about any book signings you have coming up in their area. Some media outlets are now “pay for play.” In other words, they’ll offer to interview you and air or print a story about your book if you pay them. I don’t recommend this. Your story is either of interest to their readers, viewers or listeners, or it isn’t. Your job is to let the media know why your book would be of interest to their audience. Remember, it’s not the media’s job to promote your book. They are looking for increased ratings or readership. Convince them that your expertise or story will help them do that, and you’ll get media coverage. The time to start developing your pitch to do that is now.
That’s an overview, but these ten points are the pillars upon which any author can build their platform and launch their book. Actually go through this list and start doing your homework, and start compiling lists of contacts and venues. This will be invaluable when you finally reach the point that you are ready to start promoting your book. Putting in the groundwork on your marketing plan now is going to save you a lot of time, effort and frustration down the road.
Coming up next: Day 5 – Pre-release marketing