I’ve had quite an interesting year. I got married a couple of weeks ago, and six months before that I published my debut novel. Here’s one essential thing that holds true whether you’re hoping for success in love or book publishing: in order to find what you want, you need to know what you’re looking for!
Whether you’re hiring help with your promotional efforts, going the DIY route, or a mix of both, you need to have a good idea of not only how the marketing process works but also how this process will work best for you. When I’m working with clients, I start by getting as much information as possible about where they are in their authorly lives and what they’re looking to get out of the experience. Helping them articulate their vision is the only way to make sure they don’t end up throwing good time and money after bad.
Here are five big-picture questions to make sure you start your marketing off on the right foot.
What do you want from this process?
Wrong answer: to write the next Eat, Pray, Love / be the next Cheryl Strayed.
First: a reality check. If you include self-published titles, somewhere around 4,000 books are released every day. Bestselling authors are outliers on the level of Hall of Fame baseball players. I don’t say this to discourage you, only to encourage you to set more realistic standards for yourself.
Second: chasing trends is a losing gambit as a writer. No one needs the next Eat, Pray, Love, because Liz Gilbert already wrote it. Frustratingly, publishers sometimes give in to the lure of trends (mid-Twilight craze, I was told by an agent that it was too hard to sell anything without a paranormal element). However, as an author, even if this was a good idea (which it isn’t), you’d never be able to produce something fast enough to catch a trend before it passed.
- I want to bring my work to the widest audience possible and establish myself as a thought leader in my field.
- I want to meet as many fellow authors and readers as possible.
- I want to learn as much as I can to set myself up for success with this book and all the rest I hope to write.
I encourage you to think about why you want to be successful as an author and what that would mean for you specifically. People publish their work for all different kinds of reasons. Zeroing in on who you want to be as an author will give you the best chance of making that dream a reality.
What are your goals?
Wrong answer: to sell lots of books.
Of course you want to sell books; this is a given. But this is nowhere near specific enough. How many books do you want to sell? Five thousand? Fifty thousand? Furthermore, which one of those might you actually achieve? Goals should be specific, measurable, and actionable. They should also—and this is crucial—be realistic. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t aim high, of course, but if your goals are so stratospheric that you can’t envision the path from A to B, you’re only setting yourself up for a massive disappointment.
- I’d like to go on a ten-city speaking tour in conjunction with the promotion of this book.
- I’d like to build up a readership of at least 10,000.
- I want to build an audience who is excited and ready to purchase my next novel when it comes out.
These are great examples of ambitious goals that are still realistic. Once you pass that first bar, you can feel free to set the bar higher on your next round—in fact, you should! Giving yourself mileposts along the way will help keep you motivated and on-track.
How much time can you spend on your marketing efforts?
Wrong answer: none.
Hiring help—whether in the form of a developmental editor to help you polish your manuscript or a publicist or social media manager to help you market it—is a good idea if you have big goals. But this does not give you a free pass to be hands off. So much of book marketing now revolves around the author herself: creating and placing original content, doing events and cross-promotion, being active on social media. You need to be involved. When your manuscript is finished and off to the printer, your job as a writer is done, but your job as an author is just getting started. These are separate and distinct roles, and if you don’t have any desire to participate in the latter functions, guess what: that makes writing your hobby, not your profession.
- 10 hours per week during the launch cycle
- 1 hour per day
- 5 hours every weekend
I’m less concerned with how much time an author can spend than with knowing what that number is and then working backward to devise a strategy that will work within those parameters. I get that you have a life, but if you’re taking this seriously, you’ve got to make room for book promotion. Always remember: no one will care about your book more than you do.
What is your budget for marketing?
Wrong answer: zero / that’s my publisher’s job.
A few questions: Do you happen to already have a million followers on YouTube / Instagram / Snapchat who will be eagerly awaiting the release of your book? Did you receive a million-dollar-plus advance from a publisher who is going to dedicate a huge share of the year’s marketing budget toward promoting your book? Are you a Kardashian?
If you answered no to all of the above, then you’re likely going to have to dedicate some of your own resources to marketing your book. If you’re traditionally published, you should look at allocating a portion of your advance to this. If you’re self-published, this should be a consideration when you’re laying out your overall budget; otherwise you’re investing a lot of time and money in producing a book that no one will ever see.
- I’ve allocated $5,000 from my advance.
- I have $1,000 to spend on social media ad campaigns.
Again, it’s less about how much you have and more about how you use it. Needless to say, it takes both money and time to successfully launch a book. If you have a lower budget, don’t fret; just be prepared to make up in sweat equity what you lack in cash.
Who is your audience?
Wrong answer: everyone / everyone who reads.
Again, the key here is specificity. No book is for everyone, but most books are for someone, and your job is to reach as many of those people as you possibly can. Casting too wide a net in your marketing efforts will get you nowhere, especially considering the absolute deluge of new books that become available to readers on a daily basis. You don’t need to hit all readers, just those who have the best chance of becoming your readers.
- My audience is mid-career urban professionals looking to invest in start-ups.
- My audience is women between the ages of twenty-five and forty-five who love dogs and travel.
For this question, use the Marketing 101 exercise of building an audience “persona”—i.e., a character sketch of exactly who your reader is. How is old is he or she? What does she do for a living? Married or unmarried? Kids or no kids? Not only will this visualization help guide your overall marketing efforts, the more you can hone in on these exact details, the more effective you can be with tools like Facebook advertising.