Building Blocks for a Powerful Marketing Plan
by Eric Gelb
Every book needs a marketing plan, and by now most publishers know that, even if they’re just starting out. Sometimes we overlook the fact that the strength of a marketing plan depends on the strength of the materials you use to create it.
The Materials that Matter Most
Book content created with the market in mind. The content of each book should be crafted to hit its target market’s hot buttons. Include all the ingredients and benefits readers will want. For fiction, that’s a compelling storyline and great characters. For how-to, that’s the solution to the problem. Many marketers call this the “message-to-market match.”
You’re matching or providing the benefits your target customers are seeking. That leads to sales. When you design a book with its target market in mind, the book is likely to leapfrog many competing titles. When you don’t, missing items may lead buyers to select another title, and certain aspects of content may stimulate the media to criticize a book or lead booksellers to keep it out of desirable markets.
Detailed information on the market. Visit Amazon and study the books offered to your target market. Make a list of them and examine their content, using the table of contents, index, and any other portions of the books available online. Read a chapter or two, if necessary by visiting a library or a brick and mortar bookstore.
Take particular note of reviewers’ and readers’ comments about your book’s competition. This will help you zero in on what’s working and what’s not.
Once you select a few successful titles in your area, use your favorite search engine, blogs, and social networks to find out what people are saying about them.
While you’re exploring, make a list of the leading journalists, bloggers, and online reviewers who cover your book’s area for the review copies section of your marketing plan. Also, make a list of authorities and other influential people in the book’s field so you can plan to reach out and collect testimonials from them.
Data on where your target customers hang out. With more and more people making book-buying decisions based on what they read online, you have to tap into that sales and promotion channel. The best way to get to your book’s online customers is to search its genre and/or subject and join blogs, relevant online book review sites, and discussion groups at Yahoo and elsewhere. Also use Twitter to follow the leaders in your space and to follow their notable followers.
Begin dialoging with the thought leaders months before your book hits the press and the street so your marketing plan can include leveraging your relationships when you have galleys or review copies on hand.
A sales channel selection principle. Get organized around the sales channels it makes sense to pursue. Will the book sell in bookstores? Do you need distribution to them? Perhaps Ingram and/or Small Press United can help pave the way. Is your book attractive to libraries? Do you need distribution to reach them? You might approach Baker & Taylor, Quality Books, Unique Books, and perhaps Brodart. Will you try for bulk sales to trade associations, businesses, and other groups? What steps do you need to take to reach this channel?
Investigate ways of using intermediaries to reach your book’s readers and ways to reach those readers directly, and decide which ones to zero in on.
Knowledge of relevant trends. Twitter and Google Alerts are two good tools for tracking trends in your market. Maybe you’ll see ways to tweak content to make it more powerful, and maybe you’ll find a new angle you can use in marketing materials to attract your audience.
A unique selling proposition (USP). A book’s USP should quickly and clearly identify what’s new and different. For a novel, this could involve a current events theme. For a how-to title, it could be a new tool that solves the reader’s problem in a new way—perhaps through the Web site reference section you created to complement book content, or a related worksheet or checklist. Like a hook, a USP should draw readers in, but USPs reflect the benefits a book offers that makes it stand out in a crowded world.
A marketing calendar. Whether you start at the end with your book launch date, or at the beginning with the date you expect a final manuscript, it is essential to create a marketing calendar and to allow time to meet all media and bookselling deadlines.
Think, for example, about the lead times for review media such as Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Library Journal; and for events such as a few key book signings and author programs on air and in person.
Also consider the fact that books are popular as gifts. If your book relates to a particular season or holiday, you’ll have to lock in your schedule of sales and promotion activities six to nine months ahead of pub date to take advantage of the tie-in and coordinate all the actions required to clinch the sale.
Since book buyers want the newest and latest, it is essential that you grab publicity before and when you launch your book. Otherwise, you risk missing the window.
When you publish more than one title at a time, make sure you have adequate staff, time, and bandwidth to market each title to its fullest and in its specific channels. That means allowing time for thinking, strategizing, and coordination as well as implementation.
Inevitably, there will be glitches and delays, so marketing calendars should allow for them. I find that effective marketing always requires more time than expected (see “Create Productive Production Schedules” by Jessica Tribble, May).
A superhighway to your site. Since one of the best ways to generate book sales today is to get links to your site from popular sites where your target readers congregate, you need to draw up a plan to secure mentions on blogs, book review sites, and discussion groups.
Backlinks from a blog or other site where your book is mentioned tend to be long lasting and, when well placed, draw qualified traffic to your site and ideally to your shopping cart. These key links multiply exposure for a book and help you reach thousands and thousands of readers. Also, backlinks improve your search engine rankings, especially when they are from sites that are on topic and enjoy high traffic. Google’s free toolbar can help you assess a site’s page rank.
A social networking strategy. A plan for using social networking is essential too. I recommend creating a Facebook Fan Page and a Squidoo page to draw interested followers into your community and build a loyal following for you and your books.
A Web site geared to selling books. Developing a successful Web site is both an art and a science. While your goal is to sell books, blatant selling usually sends surfers running. Yes, showcase book and author, but create a destination site—a site where readers want to come to learn, enjoy, and join a community. In today’s world, with distrust and skepticism rampant, the subtle sell is often the better path to building a long-term customer base.
Include a link to Amazon on your site, because so many people buy books there. If you fulfill orders on the site, provide an easy way for buyers to pay. You’ll need PayPal or a shopping cart and payment mechanism to process orders and collect money.
Be sure to fill and ship orders ASAP. We live in an “I want it now” world, so instant gratification and seamless delivery are essential.
A plan for coordinating timing and linking pathways. When you land an online review or mention of a book, readers who see it may click to order right away. Similarly, any appearance on a radio or TV show may prompt people to buy the book, provided they can get it easily and quickly.
Coordinating publicity, distribution, and fulfillment is challenging, but the more time you spend on this, the more successful you’ll be.
A long-term plan. When the prepublication coverage and the publication date coverage have come and gone, there are still plenty of opportunities to market authors and books. For fiction, create a blog that continues characters’ stories. For how-to, comment on current events and explain how the ideas and information in your book(s) solve people’s problems.
The Eventual Outcome
When you have prepared to write a marketing plan by taking all the steps outlined above, you will have gone a long way toward making that plan as effective as possible and establishing a marketing machine that can line your pockets for a lifetime.
Eric Gelb is a copywriter who specializes in back-cover copy, and a book marketing consultant. He has self-published three books and published other books with Wiley and Macmillan. To reach him, email EricGelb@PublishingGold.com or visit publishinggold.com.