A conversation with Ed Teja often turns educational. I wrote something about “marketing” and Ed responded very much like this:
There are numerous discussions, blogs, courses and (of course) books on things writers can do to sell their work—both better and at all. They are comprehensive, exhausting and often contradictory. Partly the problem is that we confuse the activities that make writers more visible and their books desirable purchases. So, after hearing various comments from writers online, I thought it appropriate to help clarify what are becoming muddy waters.
Writers are supposed to be wordsmiths, so let’s start with some definitions.
- Marketing activities are things we do to sell books.
- Promotional activities are things to help with discovery of a product (yes, even a book.)
- Publicity is work done to gain mind share…to ensure readers are aware of and think about the writer—the person.
We tend to blur these together, resulting in a great deal of confusion. They are quite different. Note that you can squish a bit of this or that from one category to another. I won’t quibble over specifics. The important thing is that an effective business plan must address all three aspects. Although they overlap, they do different things.
Knowing the difference
Marketing is about ongoing (ideally) efforts to ensure your books are available to readers. Getting books into retailers (Amazon, B&N, indie bookstores, Costco) and generally making sure that they are available for purchase, even taking them to a fair and selling them by hand is marketing. These are things that make it possible for people to buy your books, but they don’t sell them. They don’t promote you as a writer, nor promote your books. Marketing efforts apply to your complete product line (aka, catalog) although some activities might focus on a segment of it. For instance, some books lend themselves to niche marketing…ensuring they are being sold at a Science Fiction convention or some such.
Once the books are available, promotion lets the world know they are there. Here we hit a linguistic snag, as promotion is often planned and executed by marketing people. But these activities tend to be project oriented and focused. They can involve giveaways, book launches, price reductions (such as a limited time price reduction on your Christmas-themed monster porn novel in time for the holiday season!), or standing in the middle of the street hawking your book. If your heroes in a story are balloonists, getting the books to New Mexico and in stores for The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta would be more promotional than marketing (because the effort is for a single book, not all of your books). You buy an email blast to announce that your Kindle book is free for five days, or in a countdown…to promote it.
Marketing and promotional activities go hand in glove and focus on the books rather than the writer, with marketing focused on selling all your books and promotion moving a specific one. (Naturally you can promote all your books, but that tends to diffuse your efforts and isn’t usually as effective as a focused effort. That’s why large companies with diverse product lines usually have marketing divisions for each.)
Publicity is the arcane art of making you, the writer, visible as a person and author. It isn’t about a book (although a new release can be the hook for the publicity), but can be about your message, positioning you in reader’s minds as a prominent author of mysteries, or spiritual or self-help books. This strategy is important for nonfiction writers as it dovetails with setting up speaking engagements and other things that position the writer as an expert. For fiction writers, there are fewer hooks to hang a hat on. There isn’t much room for new names among the established ones, unless and until you’ve gotten sales up there. Having said that, your catalog of monster porn titles could easily get you a slot on a local talk show during Halloween. Who better than the queen of monster porn to get viewers? And your new release would be the hook for your press release.
For instance….back in inky mists of time, when I worked in public relations (high tech), ghost writing articles (hundreds) for clients that emphasized their area of expertise, mentions of a specific product were always incidental. Encouraged by the evil marketing types, those efforts sometimes had a marketing spin, but that was seldom the point, which was to ensure that when a techie thought about computers, for instance, names like Microsoft, Intel, and IBM popped into their minds. That mind share resulted from gaining market penetration with their products, but was also due to diligent PR efforts. The hardest jobs came when the clients really didn’t have anything special to say. We used to dub their products as “works fine, lasts a long time.”
Your primary PR efforts involve your blog, your tweets (not the “buy my book” tweets, but the ones that represent you), your public persona and everything you allow to appear in public are elements of your publicity campaign. When you introduce a paid publicist, all that changes is the level…television appearances or articles in the local paper about you and your writing. The point is to get readers, potential buyers, interested in you. You want them waiting to see what you’ll do next. You want them signing up for your email list so they don’t miss a single heart-stopping event.
So how do we use this information? Basically this lets you know where to look to accomplish your goals. If your sales are down, or slow in starting, it means your books aren’t visible. Hiring a publicist is probably not the place to start. First make sure that you are effectively marketing your books. Are they available everywhere your readers tend to look? If you’ve covered that base, then perhaps some promotion will be useful. If you have only one book out, it is extremely difficult to promote cost-effectively. Ideally you’ll have a few books in the genre so that when the readers find out what a great writer you are, you’ll recoup the promotion costs by selling them all your books. Conversely, if you are selling like crazy but no one knows who you are, darling you need a publicist.
Soft sell ending
For the most part this isn’t something to lose any sleep over. I write books I like and sell them. Those eager to rise through ranks, itching to talk about the thousands of books you sell each and every month, can use the information in a straightforward way. And…here is the simple formula (warning: the formula is simple…following it isn’t!)
If success in sales is critically important (more than writing books you would like to read), then start by doing market research before you write a word. Pick a popular genre that you read in. Examine the bestseller lists in that genre, looking at cover designs, typical book lengths, chapter length and price points, in addition to styles and topics that sell. All of those factors suggest things that attract readers. If you can, work with cover designers and editors with success (not just experience) working with better selling authors. I hear this approach talked about sometimes, but normally writers speak of marketing as something done after the book is written, yet if the book is to be a product, then marketing should go hand in hand with product design, rather than with promotion.
I don’t advocate that approach—it isn’t the way I want to live—but if I was gripped by the need to be a best-selling author, I’d heed my own advice. Study what is successful and emulate the characteristics that make it successful. Like I said, simple.