The Fiction Writer’s 3-Step Process to Creating a Compelling Marketing Offer

by | Feb 4, 2015

By Jason Kong

There’s a misconception among some authors that marketing is mostly about building awareness. That if your fiction manages to stand out from the crowd, then you can finally rest easy because you’ll be rewarded with what you deserve.

What’s missing from this storybook scenario is that becoming known is just one part of the process, because a prospect still has to act. Maybe that means purchasing your published fiction. But that can also be writing a review or supporting an upcoming book launch. Each marketing effort will have its own ideal outcome.

You can improve your results in many different ways. But if you’re looking for dramatic impact, you’ll want to start by analyzing your offer.

Whenever you run an ad, design a landing page, or engage anyone with your marketing, you’re really saying:

“If you’re interested in x, then please do y.”

How you construct and present this proposal makes a tremendous difference whether you end up with someone saying yes or no.

What follows is a three step process to help you create a more compelling marketing offer:

  1. Know the target of your message

    I’m not just talking about in a general sense. Anyone willing to read the type of books you write, while technically true, is not very useful. We need to get more specific.

    Why? Because offers are made within a particular context. Understanding who you’re addressing will improve the odds that your message will resonate with that audience.

    Consider the About page of your website. Making an offer at the end of your bio is a great idea, because lots of visitors end up reading up to that point. If you have a choice of asking for a signup to your email newsletter or the chance to download your free eBook of short stories, which do you pick?

    If we’re assuming most people arriving your About page are unfamiliar with you, then it’s likely these newcomers are curious about what kind of writer you are. The free eBook gives them a demonstration of exactly that. On the other hand, if your newsletter contains mostly updates about your latest projects then that’s more appealing for someone who’s already a loyal reader.

    Take some time to assess the recipients of each marketing message before you decide on an offer. You’ll find that you’ll do a much better job when it comes to what you say and how you say it.

    Ask yourself:

    • Where online is your offer being shared? What do you know about the people that show up here?
    • What is the background of your target audience? How does that affect the way you present your offer?
    • Based on who you’re talking to, what details do you need to include in your offer? What can you leave out?
  2. Amplify the trust you’ve earned

    As a fiction writer, you’re not solving a problem in the traditional sense. You’re not going to persuade someone to give you a shot by listing all the benefits of your product offering.

    That’s why testimonials are so valuable. Reviews –both high in quantity and quality– validate your storytelling skills. When you can cite these forms of social proof leading up to your ultimate offer, your proposal appears a lot more attractive. Interestingly, that tends to be true even if your target audience doesn’t personally know the people providing the positive feedback.

    For that reason, I’ve seen authors include Facebook comments on sales pages, allowing vocal supporters to speak up. I’ve read positive comments that were quoted from webinars and other public venues. There are many creative ways to highlight the trust you’ve built.

    And let’s not forget we believe ourselves most of all. Our experiences shape our outlook, both good and bad. That’s why you don’t have to spend time persuading your loyal readers much of anything. They’ve already bought in, by telling themselves your books are worth it.

    Of course, if you haven’t earned much (or any) trust yet then you have an additional challenge. But there’s a reason why money-back guarantees, free sample book chapters, and no spam/easy opt-out assurances for email lists are popular tactics. They lower the perceived risk of your offer.

    Trust is valuable in all business, but that’s especially true in your case. Don’t hesitate to proudly share what you’ve achieved.

    Ask yourself:

    • Who has said something nice about your work? Can you trace back to the exact words and source?
    • Are you able to include some direct and relevant quote in your marketing materials?
    • Numbers can be persuasive. Can you cite how many units sold, ranking on a bestseller’s list, or quantity of perfect reviews to demonstrate strong social proof?
  3. Ask for your desired action

    Imagine this: you managed to share a marketing message that did an awesome job communicating the value of your work. You accomplished the difficult task of getting a prospect’s attention and trust, and she’s ready to move forward.

    But nothing happens. Not because she didn’t want to proceed, but because she didn’t know what to do next.

    You have to make it easy for someone to take you up on your offer, by being clear on your desired action. Click on this link. Write a review. Spread the word. These are specific actions that you can articulate very succinctly. In fact, that’s exactly what you should do in your offer. In marketing circles this is dubbed the “call to action.”

    You may feel uncomfortable about this step, because it feels too salesy and aggressive. But if you were diligent in steps 1 and 2, then you’re not being pushy at all. If anything, you’re being helpful. Because if someone were interested in your offer, she would want to know how to accept.

    It’s worth noting that laying out too many to-dos can be confusing or overwhelming, which may decrease the chances that any of them are actually taken. You may be better off identifying the single and critical action you want executed and go with that.

    Remember, this is no time to be subtle. People tend to be distracted and in a hurry while online. Ask for what you want, and make it simple to comply.

    Ask yourself:

    • Can you describe your desired action in a single sentence? If not, you’re not clear enough.
    • How can you make your call-to-action stand out? There’s a reason why marketers like to display purchase links graphically as a “Buy Now” button.
    • Does your copy run long? Consider repeating your desired action several times during the marketing message, and not just the end.

Try, learn, and try again

You’re not going to perfect your offer the first time around. In fact, it may not even be that good at all.

That’s okay. Studying how the market responds to your different offers is part of the process. The learning and improving never stops, unless you stop trying.

Do you have any questions about designing a compelling marketing offer? Let’s talk about that in the comments section below.

Jason KongJason Kong is a Contributing Writer for The Book Designer. He also runs Storyrally, an email-based subscription that helps fiction writers with their online marketing.

You can learn more about Jason here.


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  1. MM Justus

    Is anyone else here using MailChimp for your mailing list? If so, I have a question for you.

    I had a manual mailing list sign-up form on my website for over a year without a single sign-up, and then finally switched over to MailChimp about four months ago. Nothing else has changed, including my bare bones promotion of the list. But now I’ve got over 150 sign-ups, which is great, but the thing is they’re almost all from either yahoo or nokiamail addresses, with very odd usernames, and a smattering of eastern European addresses rounding things out. Does this seem peculiar to anyone else? The addresses just don’t seem “real,” somehow. Or am I just being paranoid?

  2. MM Justus

    I hadn’t thought about putting praise-quotes into my newsletters. That’s a good idea. And perhaps short and sweet is something I should keep in mind for future newsletters as well.

    • Jason Kong

      Glad you found some useful takeaways!

  3. Ann Warner

    Jason, As always, clearly and succinctly presented. I have been focusing on my e-mail list, and very, very slowly, I am making progress. I absolutely agree that it’s one of the most useful (and comfortable) ways for an author to keep and build an audience.

    • Jason Kong

      Thanks, Ann! I look forward to having you in the upcoming course.

  4. George Donnelly

    This is great. You could really bring it home by giving examples.

    • Jason Kong

      George: Did you mean linking to/screenshots of what actual writers have done, to illustrate the different steps? If so, that’s a good suggestion. Thanks.

  5. Mark Tilbury


    Thank you Jason and Joel for this post.
    I am just at the beginning of my marketing, getting a following on social media and making fortnightly blog posts, and I’m still learning about making offers, and making them the right way. I’ve had DMs on Twitter saying things like ‘I’d walk over broken glass and give you a free short story if you read and review my book’.
    That only got my attention for the wrong reasons and showed me how not to interact with, and make offers to people. I am in a position where there is the possibility of writing some of my characters back-stories as short stories so then I could use them as marketing offers in return for increased blog subscriptions.
    I want to offer something of value, that people would appreciate, without sounding desperate! Thank you for the advice offered here, It’ll be put to good use.

    • Jason Kong

      I like your idea of writing short stories as part of a marketing offer, Mark. They also work well as a way for readers to sample your work, if you share them for free and include an offer as part of the package.

      Getting someone to subscribe to your blog or follow you on social media is much better than nothing, but consider using an email list instead, which yields a much better return for your marketing effort.

  6. Yvonne Hertzberger

    Excellent as usual. But my big struggle is knowing how to define and target my audience. What I write does not fit neatly into a niche or genre. Those who read my work praise it, but finding those who want to read it is a struggle – one no one seems to have answers for.

    • Jason Kong

      You’re right, Yvonne, in that your challenge is different from an author who writes in a clearly defined category.

      One approach you can take is to seek groups of people that gather around something very closely related to what you write. (you mentioned Epic Fantasy on your website, for example). When you do your marketing, realize that your fiction may only appeal to a slice of that group.

      Finally, here’s the key: you want to stay in touch with anyone that does enjoy your storytelling. There are different ways to do that but I recommend an email newsletter/email list. What you’re trying to do is build a communication channel with readers you already know enjoy your fiction. If you can do that, marketing becomes much easier whenever your next project is ready for an audience.

      Thanks for your comment, Yvonne.

      • Yvonne Hertzberger

        Thank you, Jason. I have been procrastinating around that e-mail list. It’s the one thing, aside from paying big bucks for ads, that I haven’t tried.

    • MM Justus

      I’m in exactly the same situation, Yvonne. I’ve tried the two methods that are supposed to work the best in finding one’s target audience, to no avail (doing the “ideal reader” exercise, and using the ‘subjects’ of my fiction to find potential readers). I wish there were better methods for finding one’s readers, but I haven’t been able to find any.

      • Yvonne Hertzberger

        Yes, I hear that from so many writers. There does not seem to be any one thing that works for most of us.

        • MM Justus

          Or even any more options at all. Yes.



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