By Boni Wagner-Stafford
Time and time again we hear from authors who cringe at the idea of marketing their books. This is often because they don’t know where to start. In today’s post, Boni Wagner-Stafford explains how to come up with a good book marketing strategy–and why you should do it yourself. Have a read. I’m sure you’ll find it interesting.
Those who want to write a book believe that writing the book is the hardest part.
Those who have written a book soon discover that marketing the book is actually the bigger challenge.
There are a host of reasons for this, including that many writers prefer the intimate, one-on-one relationship with their keyboard over shouting anything about themselves or their book to anyone.
However, your success is entirely in your hands and forethought and pre-planning your book marketing strategy will go a long way to achieving your goals.
Before you run out and hire someone else to craft a book marketing strategy for you, here are four big reasons to do this yourself.
- Knowledge – The research, rationale, and foundational knowledge you build through doing the work yourself is empowering.
- Confidence – You’ll have an easier time speaking to others about your book and engaging with potential readers and influencers.
- Clarity – You’ll know exactly where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. You’ll have created for yourself a marketing roadmap that you can follow from the beginning.
- Cost – These strategies are big, long, and detailed, and hiring someone to produce a really good one can be pricey.
By creating your own book marketing strategy, you’ll see, understand, and connect the dots in the big picture first. You’ll end up with a plan of action that aligns with your purpose for writing the book. You’ll chart a course leading to the achievement of your goals, whether they include selling 2,000 copies, reaching one million readers, or achieving bestseller status in one or more categories.
What’s a Book Marketing Strategy?
Your book marketing strategy addresses:
- why you’ve written your book
- why the marketing strategy exists
- what you’re going to do to market your book
It provides the answer to the question, “What should I be doing today to market my book?”
Here’s a look at the table of contents for a good book marketing strategy.
Section 1. The Groundwork
Unique Selling Proposition (USP)
Placement and Distribution
Section 2. Messages & Methods
Public Relations (PR)
Book Signing Kit
Section 3. Mechanics
Measurement and Metrics
Let’s now focus on the foundational elements of your strategy — the things you cannot do without if you want to achieve your goals. That’s your objectives, your target reader, and your market scan.
Start with Your Objectives
The objectives are the pillars for everything you plan and do related to the marketing of your book. It’s your why, your goals, your dreams, all wrapped up into an action-focused package.
Before you can articulate your marketing objectives, you need to have solid bigger-picture objectives for why you wrote the book in the first place. Is your objective to:
- Support yourself and make a decent living with your writing?
- Create a marketing hook that drives potential clients and customers to your business?
- Simply to tell that important story so family and friends have a chance to learn from it?
In general, the objectives of most authors will fall into these three broad categories: awareness, engagement, and book sales. Start by drilling down into each of these categories. Here’s what you need to ask:
What kind of awareness do you want to raise?
- Is it for you as an author?
- For your book, or for the subject you’re writing about?
Do you want to:
- Speak at conferences, events, schools, libraries, or business meetings?
- Engage with readers at readings or signings?
- Build an online community of loyal readers, or an engaged email list of readers who’ll buy all your books?
- How many books do you want to sell?
Be realistic but set a stretch goal. Make it something that’s going to make you proud once you’ve achieved it.
Let’s Compare Sheila and Joe
Sheila’s is a business book. Joe’s is a family history memoir. Their overall marketing objectives are different, but their objectives still fall into the categories of awareness, engagement, and book sales.
If you fail to nail your objectives before you begin to work on the rest of your book marketing plan, you risk including too many irrelevant tactics or not enough of the right ones. And you will have a harder time achieving the objectives you set.
Your Target Audience
Your target audience includes your ideal reader, of course, and it also includes influencers: those people or organizations that can help you reach more readers.
For the purposes of writing your book, it’s your audience of ideal readers that you most need to consider. For your book marketing strategy and follow-on tactics, you’ll want to think more broadly and include influencers.
Your reader is who you’ve written your book for. You want to have a clear understanding of who your ideal reader is before you even start writing. (If you’ve already finished your manuscript and you’re just thinking about your reader now, this is a case of better late than never.) Your reader is a person you can name and describe who will benefit from your book and its solutions to their biggest problems.
Influencers are those who represent a route to your reader. They occupy a position of influence and offer a way to access multiple readers. They’re not necessarily going to be a reader, per se, nor are they necessarily going to buy your book. Think:
- members of the media
- podcasters with a large following
- teachers who might recommend the book to their students
- counsellors and coaches who might recommend the book to their clients
- conference organizers responsible for building the content of their programs and hiring speakers
Your Market Scan
The market scan looks at what is happening externally that relates to the genre, subject, or focus of your book and explores why readers will want to buy your book.
In a market scan you’ll look at:
- how books in your genre are selling
- who the successfully-selling authors are
- where your genre stacks up in overall book sales
- what formats sell best and worst in your genre
It’s also where you’ll take a look at the broader environment to see what is happening in the world relative to your genre and the subject areas within your book.
Why Conduct a Market Scan?
Looking at both the market and the environment helps orient you to the broader forces at work on your readers. It’s about more than who your readers are or where you’re going to find them. It is going to help you answer these questions:
- Why will readers want to buy your book?
- Why now?
- What opportunities are there for you to get in front of the reader that you may not have thought of had you not done this piece of work?
- What else is happening in the world that could impact your book’s success?
Here’s how to conduct your market scan.
1. Research Your Competitors
Start the market scan by looking at competitors. This will give you all sorts of information, from ideas on cover design, based on ones you see that you like and that you think are effective.
- What sorts of covers readers in the genre seem to prefer? (Check sales rank.)
- What titles work or don’t work?
- What are the average, high and low prices?
- What categories are being used by competitors?
- Which categories might hold some opportunity?
Check Amazon, Goodreads, and also perform a straight Google search. Sometimes a competitor book will pop up in Google that didn’t show up or isn’t listed on any of the other platforms.
Next, search by general subject matter and dig around a little deeper into the categories. See what books you find listed there. Take screen shots of the covers and put them into a Word or Google Docs table or grid so you can see them all together without all the competing text.
Next create a spreadsheet that includes the title, author, publish date, publisher, number of reviews and the average rating, and price.
2. Look at Retail Data
Research retail data related to the overall book publishing industry, the genre of your book, key subject-matter areas, and socio-economic details related to your target audience.
Why should you care about how many books are selling in which country and in which genre? Here’s a hypothetical example related to a new invention. Imagine you have a great idea for a new product that you think is going to revolutionize the way people tie their shoes. You would not invest your time or money patenting, creating prototypes, manufacturing, and marketing this new product before you did some research into the broader market.
- What is the shoe sales industry worth?
- How many pairs of shoes does the average person buy over his or her lifetime, in the US? Canada? India?
- What are the most common types of shoe-fastener out there and what’s the history?
- What are the problems with the way people tie their shoes now?
- Is anyone else already selling what you think you’ve invented?
It’s the same with your book. You want to build at least a bit of knowledge about the industry and economic environment into which you are launching your book, which is your product.
Check sources like Statista for US books sales and publishing industry data and, depending on the genre, you might head over to the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) website, check Statistics Canada, and try to find aggregated sales figures for trade and self-published books across all genres.
3. Consider the Broader Environment
The “environment” is the socio-economic climate into which you want to release your book. Look for news stories that focus on the topic of your book. Watch for governmental statements or initiatives that might be related to your subject area. Think about economic factors and social, technological, or leisure trends, and look at these locally, regionally, nationally, and globally.
- If you’re writing a book about addiction, you’d look for statistics about how many people are struggling with addiction. You’d also look at how society and the media treat addiction-related themes, such as the opioid crisis, or celebrities who have opened up about their own struggles with addiction.
- If you’ve written a science fiction book that, for example, talks about futuristic biometric technology, you’d do enough additional research so that you know what’s happening with the technology at the moment and in the near future, and consider what that tells you about who’s interested in that subject matter and what some of the issues are.
You’ve likely done much of this research in the course of writing your book. However, if you’ve been writing for a while, a lot can change in between your initial research of the subject and when you’re ready to plan your marketing.
Time to Get Started
By adopting this approach to your marketing strategy, you’ll learn much more about the market into which you are launching your book and specifically how you’ll reach your audience.
You’ll be better equipped to deal with the challenge of volume: so much that it is possible to do. You’ll cut through the clutter by aligning what you will actually do with the objectives you want to achieve with your marketing. It’s the best way to choose the marketing activities that are right for you and your book.
Boni Wagner-Stafford is author of One Million Readers: The Definitive Guide to a Nonfiction Book Marketing Strategy that Saves Time, Money, and Sells More Books. She’s a writer, ghostwriter, and editor specializing in nonfiction and she manages communications and media relations for the Alliance of Independent Authors. She is also co-founder of Ingenium Books, where she coaches nonfiction authors writing in the genres of business, self-help, personal development, memoir, and journalistic nonfiction. As an award-winning former Canadian journalist (under the names Boni Fox and Boni Fox Gray), Boni covered politics, government, social and economic policy, health care, and organized crime. She has lived in more than fifty towns and cities in Canada, Mexico, and France, currently residing in La Paz, Mexico.