No matter what avenue you choose to pursue with publishing (traditional, indie, hybrid, serialized), unless you’re publishing with the goal of handing out copies to friends and family only—you’re going to need to market your book. Simply put, marketing is the key to getting your books in the hands of readers. Without readers, you may as well be keeping those stories on a handwritten journal on your bookshelf.
But, as most writers will tell you, they didn’t choose to become writers because they love marketing. Most writers like to write—not market their books. The truth is, the mindset that you can be a writer without being a marketer of your writing is a very short-sighted one. No matter what job we aspire to do, we have to master the basics of self-promotion. Ever go for a job interview? I’m going to bet you didn’t get the job by handing them a resume and then walking away. At some level, every job requires you to talk to your potential clients (or boss) about how good you are at it.
It’s time to get over the mindset that marketing is an “extra” in writing and start thinking of it as part and parcel of the job. That said, the best way to get started with the marketing in writing? Make a marketing plan. Because this is such a massive topic, I’m going to be breaking it down over the next couple of weeks. Let’s start here:
Define Your Brand
Whenever you start any sort of business, the first thing you have to do is figure out what your brand is. Fleshing out your author brand is about more than just deciding what colors to use in your logo (if you have one)—it should define a niche in the market you want to appeal to. Find your niche and you find your readers.
There’s a reason the publishing industry often advises authors to pick a genre lane and stay in it. (For what it’s worth, you can write in other genres, but it’s often advisable to do so under a pen name.) Your genre is part of your author brand. Think of some of the most famous authors you know. I bet you can think of three words to define their brand. For example:
J.K. Rowling: Wizards, Middle Grade, Fantasy
Dan Brown: Adventure, Puzzles, Secret Organizations
James Patterson: Thrillers, Police, Government
The thing is—even if you someday have the leverage to write outside the genre lane you first choose, your readers will first know you by the brand you take the time to develop the most. Grow a loyal enough reader base and they might be willing to follow you to a different genre. But if you confuse readers about your brand from the outset—they likely won’t stick around.
Figure Out Your Goals
When you’re getting ready to enter the publishing world, one of the most important things you can do is figure out what your goals as a writer are. Would you like to hit bestseller lists? Garner glowing, five star reader reviews? See your books on bookstore and library shelves? Have amazing podcast interviews? There are other, seemingly more humble goals too, though, like grow a newsletter subscriber list and establish a loyal and engaged reader fan base.
Whatever your goals are, you need to be able to identify them in order to pursue them. If you’d love media coverage of your book, chances are you’re going to need a stellar publicist. Or if you’re of the more dyi version of getting publicity, you need at least to know how to make a press release.
If you’d love to get your book on bookstore and library shelves—you have to make a plan that incorporates the best tools at your disposal for that. For example, as an indie author you’ll need to distribute through a major distributor like IngramSpark. Then, through the distribution service, you’ll need to make your books returnable and offer a realistic retailer discount (55% is usually the expectation). But you can’t stop there. Getting books on bookshelves requires making a sell sheet that you can give to local bookstore managers or owners. You’ll need to visit libraries and talk to librarians. And it’s also a good idea to try to get well-known trade reviews from places like Kirkus, Foreward Clarion, or submit to Library Journal.
Whatever your goals are, there is a specific plan you should follow in order to bring these goals to fruition.
Stay tuned for next week, when we examine the next steps you’ll take into developing a killer marketing plan for your book!