How to Market Your Self-Published Book—A Plan by Bill Quain

by | Apr 2, 2010

Marketing Your Self-Published BookLast month I published an article called Author Platform: What Are You Waiting For? that attempted to communicate my enthusiasm for marketing through social media and online generally.

Response was strong with people chiming in in the comments. I asked one poster, Bill Quain, to expand on his book marketing ideas. And Bill took me up on it—in a big way. Over the last month he’s published a virtual marketing manifesto for authors. I reprint it here, together in one place, because I think we all have a lot to learn from Bill’s teaching and his generosity. Enjoy!


Hi Joel,

As promised, here is my take on creating a marketing plan for your book. I will probably break it up into a few posts, because I don’t want to go too long in one.

First, let’s review why it is important to plan. Two major reasons – time and money. Planning takes up time, but not as much as floundering around, trying marketing scheme after marketing scheme. Money – I personally wasted a lot of money by forgetting my plan. The most glaring is the time I paid $2,000 to get 20 radio interviews. They produced no business at all, and laying out that money stung!

Worse, the publicist who made the arrangements told me “Of course, you have to consistently do this month after month.” Luckily, I did not. But, the only reason I felt confident in refusing to spend more was that I realized it did not fit into my plan.

Writing the plan has absolutely NOTHING to do with tactics. Tactics are things like book store signings, advertising, blogging, website development, etc. The tactics come after the plan. You use the plan to choose the tactics.

A Practical Background

Let me give you just a bit of my background to explain how I came to the planning process. My first five books were commercial failures. I lost money on four of them. But, I kept at it, because I needed the money, and I knew that I was a decent writer. I just wasn’t selling books.

Before I wrote my sixth book, I started looking around and asking a very good question. “Who buys books, and what kind of books do they buy?” Asking this simple question made all the difference. Because I asked that question, my wife stayed home from work to raise our kids, we lived on the water and had a big fishing boat. We took vacations, and I had the opportunity to help my parents. In short, I was able to reach my dreams.

Now, you may write for different reasons. For me, it was always about the money. I wanted money to be able to do the things that I could not do on my college professor’s salary. But, that was my dream. If you decide on a dream, you will start asking the right questions as well.

Folks, I discovered the Big Selling Secret with my sixth book. Here it is:

If you want to sell books, you need to know who is buying them.

Sounds simple, I know, but so many authors are quite unaware of this Big Selling Secret.

The Five-Step Planning Process

I use a five-step process for planning: Here are the steps.

  1. Break your markets into groups (segment)
  2. Choose the group(s) that are going to be your best customers (target)
  3. Learn how, when, where, and why they buy books, and be there when they are (intercept)
  4. Create a special marketing mix (product, price, promotions, and distribution) for each target group (position)
  5. Create a “to do” list and turn it into a “to sell” list.

This may seem complicated, but it is not. If you do it once, you will see how simple it is. Let me just give you an example of steps 1 and 2 to get you started.

  1. Break your market into groups. Do not try to be all things to all buyers. Look for groups that “buy and use” similarly. I always use the example of the Best Banana Cream Pie company of Philadelphia. They found two kinds of users of their pies. Some people eat them, and some people throw them into others’ faces. They USE the pies differently. On the other hand, some people buy just one pie at a time (for throwing or eating) and some buy it in bulk (again, for throwing or eating) The Best Banana Pie Company of Phillie does not care HOW people use their pies, they only care if they BUY the pies!
  2. Choose your target markets. Of all the groups you identify, you cannot possibly afford the time and money to market to all of them. Choose your top markets. Both individuals and brokers buy my books. I would rather sell to brokers. I don’t ignore the individual buyers, I just don’t market to them. I choose my targets and concentrate on them.

The Continuing Story of Marketing & Selling Your Book.

Okay, we covered steps 1 & 2. There is a lot more we could say about them, but let’s move on. (However, if anyone wants some info on targeting the “Gift” market segment, let me know. This is an often-overlooked segment, and is ideal for both fiction and non-fiction.)

In this comment, I want to address step 3, which is understanding how, when, and why your buyers buy. When you know this, you can intercept them, and stop wasting your money on useless promotions.

Consumers (and bulk buyers) go through a decision process to buy. While it is a little different for bulk buyers, let’s use the consumer model for simplicity. Once you understand it for consumers, you can understand it for bulk buyers as well.

The Five Stage Buying Process Explained

There are five stages to the buying process:

  1. Problem Recognition
  2. Information Search
  3. Alternative Evaluation (also called “Sampling”)
  4. The Purchase Decision
  5. Post-Purchase Evaluation

Folks, if you understand this model, and how to use it, you can sell anything! Notice that the very first step is Problem Recognition. Nothing happens until someone realizes they have a problem, If your target markets do not realize they have a problem, you cannot sell them anything. This is why we say “selling is problem solving.”

Different markets have different problems. For example, if you want to get an article published in an online magazine (a great technique for promoting your book) you have to solve the problem of the editor. I recently helped an author do a pitch for a radio interview. What problem was she solving? The host needed great content and interesting guests for his show so advertisers would pay him! This was his problem.

Fiction books solve entertainment-related problems (diversion, romantic needs, excitement, escape, etc.) Non-fiction solves information, education problems. Don’t make the mistake that so many authors make, however, and focus on the information. Focus on the solution!

To help you with this concept, answer this question: “Last weekend, Home Depot sold customers 3,000 half-inch drill bits. How many of those people wanted a half-inch drill bit?” The answer is “none”. They all wanted a half-inch hole! Sell the solution and the result for non-fiction, not the information.

How Problems Lead to Sales

AFTER someone discovers they have a problem (or you point it out to them) THEN they start looking for information. After that, they evaluate alternatives. This is an excellent time to give them a free sample of your writing. Finally, they decide to purchase (or not) and afterward, they worry about making the right choice. (This is an excellent time to follow up and stay connected.)

Understanding your customers’ buying process is imperative. It dictates your timing. Learn to use your website, give-aways, blog, personal appearances and other techniques to intercept your customers at the perfect time, with the perfect promotion.

Oh, one more thing. Your customers may all go through the process in a similar way, but at different times. For example, a person in an airport with a few minutes to spare may be LOOKING for a book to download to Kindle. (Problem Recognition – they will be bored on the flight without some reading entertainment.) But, they aren’t all on the same flight! Plan your promotions to intercept multiple customers at multiple times with the same message.

How Authors Can Target Segments

Let’s get on to step 4, which is developing a marketing mix for each target segment. Now, I am certain a lot of authors are saying “Is this guy kidding? Does he think I am from Proctor & Gamble, with a full marketing department? Why should I go to all this work?”

There are a couple of answers to these questions. First, it isn’t a lot of work. In fact, it will SAVE you tons of work later as you sit in front of your computer wondering how you can sell books!

Second, you chose to write a book at the best time in history, because for the first time ordinary people like you and me can publish our own books and get them into the hands of readers. But, that freedom and opportunity come at a price. And, that price is self-marketing. But, if you follow these simple steps, you will see just how easy it can be to create a WINNING marketing plan that helps you reach your goals.

So, on with the Marketing Mix.

As a marketer of books, you only have to worry about four things. They are:

  • Product,
  • Price,
  • Promotions, and
  • Distribution.

These used to be called “The four P’s of marketing” except that you can clearly see that there are no longer four P’s, but three P’s and a D. How and why did this years-old marketing system change? The variables used to be Product, Price, Promotion and PLACE (now distribution). The fact that Place is no longer in the marketing mix is because Place is no longer as important. For example, the “place” where you sold books was the bookstore. For people like us, that is no longer true.

Now, here is the secret. You want to create a separate marketing mix for each target segment. That is, each target group needs its own version of Product, Price, Promotion and Distribution. Here is an example:

A Case Study in Targeted Marketing

One of the authors I help is a native of Ireland who moved to the United States to attend college, and stayed here. He had a very dysfunctional family situation in Ireland, and wrote about it quite eloquently. The story is very reminiscent of Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt.

Some people have said to me “Bill, shouldn’t he write something different? Isn’t it too close to McCourt’s story?” The answer of course is “No”. Angela’s Ashes was a huge success, and Frank McCourt’s death has left the Irish-American community looking for more!

This book will be released late in 2010. Here is some Marketing Mix analysis we already did. The author has several target markets, but let’s just look at Specialty Retail Stores (Irish shops selling clothing, music, etc.) and online sales to Irish-Americans. Both targets have personal buyers and gift market buyers.

Specialty Stores

  • Product – The book, along with a CD of him (in his Irish accent) reading passages and adding comments) The author pre-signs the books.
  • Price – 50% discount to the store
  • Promotion – CD’s of him reading book to play on the store’s sound system. Point of Purchase posters, Personal visits to the stores to meet with store owners and to do signings.
  • Distribution – Print books in bulk and deliver case lots to the stores. Visit stores on a regular basis to get reorders.

Online sales to Irish-Americans

  • Product – same product/CD combination, except he customizes the autograph.
  • Price – Full retail plus shipping and handling.
  • Promotions – To build a a list of potential buyers, the author will run an “Irish story” contest. Interested people can submit their stories of growing up Irish. He will work with Irish bands to do Joint Ventures to gather names. Promotions will focus on this list. He will also blog, and create audios for the site, all geared to gathering names through both his Irish Story contest and a newsletter.
  • Distribution – Shipping individual orders.

Another author I work with wrote a book called Following the Drum: the story of women at the Valley Forge Encampment. She was selling this book traditionally through bookstores, but wanted to increase her sales and visibility. She decided she needed a new PRODUCT to reach new customers. She is recording “What Martha told George – lessons for Women from the Nation’s First Lady”. She used the Marketing Mix principles to define her new product, and to come up with new promotions, pricing and distribution as well.

I use the “Three P’s and-a-D” marketing mix to differentiate between my resellers and direct customers. It works! Even more importantly, it is completely necessary – or you will spend a lot of money on useless ideas.

Can you see where this is going? I have now given you four parts of a five part system. The fifth part – creating a “to do” list and turning it into a “to sell” list is next. If you do the first four steps, creating this all important “to do” list is easy. You simply EXPLAIN how you are going to carry out the things you identify in the Marketing Mix.

Creating Your “To Do” List

You are now ready for the final stage in the Marketing & Sales process. Folks, you MUST do these things if you want to avoid costly mistakes.

Let me remind you that the things I tell you in this entry are all strategies I use – for every single book I write. For example, one of my books (actually a program with book/workbook/audios/videos) just got a major sponsor. One of the reasons I was able to secure the sponsor was that: 1) it was part of our marketing plan to LOOK for sponsors, and 2) we were able to show the sponsor our marketing plan – making us much more attractive.

So, let’s finish this article with some very useful strategies!

Execution – Up to this point in the system, we have talked about planning. However, plans are only useful for selling books if you turn them into actions. Some authors find it difficult to convert plans into actions because their plans are not designed for total market penetration. If you have followed the first four steps in this process, you are now ready to create executable, action-generating, sales-crunching tactics.

In step 4, you created a Marketing Mix for each target market. Each marketing mix has information for each of the four variables – product, price, promotion and distribution. If you did this correctly, then step 5 is a cinch! All you are going to do now is formalize your plans with specific instructions.

Creating Actionable Plans

Here is what you want – you want a series of plans that you “Stick To” for selling your book. In other words, when you write out these plans, they are the plans you will carry out. You will not jump on the next great idea that comes across your email’s inbox. You will not get a “bright idea” in the shower and lose time on the internet while you research this idea. You will not listen to a friend who just heard a great speaker, who says . . .

Do you know what I am talking about? How much time and money have you wasted because you did not have a total plan, and executable strategy?

Your plans should have 8 parts. You need a plan for each action you want to take. Let me share the 8 parts of a plan, and give you some examples for each part. As I said in earlier parts of this process, do not say “This is too much work. This guy is crazy. I can’t do all this work just to sell books”.

You are going to do the work anyway, so you might as well do it right.

The 8 Parts of a Plan

Remember, these are executable plans, part of your “to do” list.

  1. Plan name – Give every plan a name, such as “Selling to Specialty shops”. This will come in handy when you have LOTS of plans and want to keep track of them. Also, when you want to integrate one plan into another, having names is convenient. For example, if you have a plan to create a CD with readings from your book, you might want to use that CD for Specialty Shops to play on their audio systems to promote your book. In the “Selling to Specialty Shops” plan, you will say “Give each store two copies of my CD from the ‘I Read My Book’ plan”. This allows you to build plans upon each other. The same CD might show up in another plan, or it could even be a product you sell.
  2. Plan Number – Give each plan a number, and separate them into the Marketing Mix Categories. For example, all Product Plans could be in the “100” series, Price Plans in the “200” series, etc. Again, many of you are going to think this is overkill. I understand. But, if you want to be successful, you will take my advice here. I am going to get you organized to sell! You will thank me for this.

    For example, just yesterday, I received an order for 144 books from a distributor. (I have quite a few distributors.) I went to my plans, and looked up the number of books per case (a distribution plan) and suggested that they make the order 160 books, because my books come 80 to a case. They also wanted a special discount, and I was able to look them up in a Price Plan to verify that they were eligible. This was a small order, but I still sold an additional 14 books. In the past, I have done the same thing with larger orders, and sold additional books. It all adds up.

  3. Target Market – Be specific. If this plan is aimed directly at the “Specialty Shops selling Urban Romance Novels in the Philadelphia Area” then make sure you write it down here!
  4. Objective – This is incredibly important. Each plan should have an objective. Each objective should be Timely, Measurable and Attainable. If you throw out everything else I tell you, and just use this one thing, you will make more money, and save more money, than you ever imagined. This is so critical. When was the last time you took an action and knew, in advance, EXACTLY what it was supposed to do for you?
  5. Person in Charge – If you are doing everything yourself, you can skip this part. If you use ANYONE – either paid or volunteer – to help you, use this part. Here is a big clue – write down his/her name, and ask him/her to initial it. This will change your life forever.
  6. Plan of Action – Here is where you list the steps to carry out the plan. Are you doing a book signing? Great, write down all the things you are going to need, and when you will need them. After the book signing, review and revise, then use the plan as a checklist for the next one. Are you creating a squeeze page to capture email addresses? Great, write down the steps, then review and revise. Use it as a checklist. How many times have you done the same task, or a similar task, and discovered you are missing a critical element?

    Can you remember everything you did, on every task, for your entire book selling career? Of course you cannot. Learn to write things down. AND BY THE WAY, make sure the things you write down will reach your objectives for the plan.

  7. Cost – How much will this plan cost? Folks, this is another big one. If you write all your plans FIRST, and assign measurable costs to them, guess what you have? You have a marketing and sales budget! Wouldn’t you like to know your budget in advance? Wouldn’t you like to say “I can’t buy that program to get booked on radio talk shows for $595, because it is not in my budget. I am already close to break-even. If I spend another $595, I have to sell an additional 100 books.”
  8. Method of Evaluation – How are you going to measure the effectiveness of this plan? Don’t wait until the plan has been carried out to decide how you will measure it. Do it in advance! Again, this is going to save you BIG TIME.

Once you have ALL of your plans written out, THEN you can start selling books. I am telling you straight up, this works. Go through the steps, one at a time.

The Four Steps to Marketing Success for Your Book

  1. Break the market into groups (segment)
  2. Choose the groups you want to go after first (target)
  3. Understand your targets’ Buying Process and patterns (intercept)
  4. Create a Marketing Mix for each target segment (position)

Turn your marketing mix actions into specific plans and carry them out (execute)

A Final Word

Are you disappointed that I did not give you a list of specific actions like “Call 5 Specialty Shops each day” and “call _______ at Radio Station _____ to get an interview?” Let me explain. NO ONE can successfully give you specific steps because your book is different from everyone else’s book. Each author has different target segments, a unique budget, etc. However, if you read this entire article, you now have the ability to select specific methods and determine if they apply to the target market, objectives and specific strengths you are selling. The information, and the SYSTEM I just gave you is far more valuable than any series of “tips, tricks and tactics”.

Folks, I can only tell you one thing. This worked for me. I sold 2 million+ books, in 20 languages. But guess what? I sold the first book using this system, and the last order I received (yesterday for 160), I was STILL selling them this way. This system works for fiction and non-fiction, workbooks and regular books, ebooks and print, everything. In fact, it works for any kind of product or service you want to sell.

I learned this system in graduate school, and have used it for more than 30 years. By using this system, I was able to leave my job and become a full time author/publisher. I traveled to Europe, Asia, and all across the United States, Canada and Mexico by using this system to get speaking engagements. Will you have the same kind of success? No one can say. It depends on your drive and your target markets. It took me 16 years to sell all those books. I did it with consistent application of the same system.

I will make you a promise. If you use this system, you will sell MORE books and make MORE money than you would otherwise.

And, of course, keep reading Joel’s blog.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit

47 Comments

  1. Film14

    Helpful and informative post. Thank you for sharing this.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.