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FAQ: Marketing Plans

FAQ Index
(Marketing Plans)
Learning How to Sell the Book... before you print it.

Thank you to Creative Minds Press for providing the content for this FAQ.


What's a marketing plan and why do I need it?

How do I write a marketing plan?

What else do I need to have for a marketing plan?

So all I need is a clear plan and my book will be a success?

How can I get into bookstores?

Where am I going to sell my books, if not from bookstores?

How can I increase the chances of selling my book to someone who just happens to pick it up?

What's a marketing plan and why do I need it?

It’s easy to get all excited about getting your book written, edited, designed and typeset and forget all about the important part—marketing! Without marketing, no one will know you have published your wonderful book! You’ll be stuck with a garage full of books and no way to sell them... and that’s depressing.

Just as every new business needs a business plan, so, too, will you need a marketing plan—because you have engaged in business. Hoping for a New York Times review is nice, but not likely. You need to discover where your readers are and make a plan of attack to reach them.

We have actually seen marketing plans that said this: "I plan to print my book, sell 100,000 and then sell out to Random House." That’s like saying you want to win the lottery. Sure, we all do. But wishing isn’t a plan.

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How do I write a marketing plan?

First things first: who is going to read your book?

If your answer is "everyone who likes to read," you have a problem. You need to sit down and figure out who you’ve written the book for. Even if it’s fiction, you have a particular reader in mind. How are you going to reach him/her? Define your reader (market), figure out how you’ll make sure they’ll hear about your book (the plan).

Now study how this particular reader (your market) gets information. If you are counting on reviews in the biggest trade magazines (Publisher’s Weekly, etc.), don’t. They rarely review self-published books. And really, your audience doesn’t read them. Pinpoint how to reach your audience directly.

Do they tend to read a particular newsletter? Find out how to get coverage in it. Maybe you can write an article with a sidebar (wherein you tell about how to order your book). Newsletters are often desperate for content. Maybe you need to produce the newsletter yourself—then print the book.

If you are targeting print media such as magazines, you need to know they have long lead times (deadlines way in advance of actual "Street" (print) dates). When starting to formulate your marketing plan, factor in how early you must send material (usually a galley) for review or ads or articles to coincide with the release of your book. Be aware that most magazines release their issues 1-2 months before the date on the cover (an April magazine usually comes out in late February or early March).

How do I plan that?

You need a time-line. Counting backwards from your planned street date (when the book is in book-sellers’ hands), factor in printing time (about 8 weeks), design (talk to your cover and interior designers about their timelines), editing (talk to your editor about his / her schedule), and early promotion (talk to magazine editors and advertising people about their deadlines).

Fern Reiss has an excellent time-line in her book
The Publishing Game: How to Publish a Book in 30 days

Here’s an important thing to consider: if you get media coverage of your book, it MUST be available, at least via Amazon, at the time the story (or your interview) airs or is in print. This is an on-demand world. If your book isn’t available, you will have lost the value of that media time. Customers won’t remember to go and order your book when it’s actually for sale.

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What else do I need to have for a marketing plan?

A budget.

You need to plan not only for production (the cost of designing and printing the book), but advertising. No money for advertising = no sales. But you can’t just shotgun your money, figuring eventually you’ll reach the right people. Target your advertising to reach the people who’ll buy your book. Newspapers are the least likely places to advertise. Again, this will hinge on your careful research of who your readers / buyers are and where they get their information.

For a discussion on this, please see
Gropen Associates' webpage.

So, all I need to have is a clear plan and that will guarantee my success?

You’ve probably heard the expression "the best laid plans of mice and men shortly go awry." Even the best crafted marketing plans sometimes come to naught. See below for what to do next.

You just never know when you’ll spot an opportunity that wasn’t available—or you hadn’t thought of—when you first laid out your marketing plan. Once, a book we have was reviewed by a big publication. They pointed out that it was a perfect book for an under-served market. We scrapped all our plans and focused on that age group—and sold lots.

Be willing to re-think your marketing plan. It needs constant "tweaking"—and sometimes outright scrapping. Be flexible. Try new approaches. Review it every 3 months.

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How can I get into bookstores?

The direct answer is that you will need to have an ISBN, have a Booklan EAN barcode, and work with wholesalers and distributors. Occasionally you can get a bookseller to order your book directly (see bookstore discounts).

But let’s think about this for a minute. When you walk into a bookstore, sometimes you want to browse. You walk along the shelves letting your eye run across the spines (see explanation) of all those books (and most books are shelved spine-out only. When a book is "faced"— on the shelf face out—usually some money was paid to accomplish that). What are the chances of someone randomly selecting your book in a bookstore? Not very good. (But see the explanation of increasing the likelihood of your book being chosen by a random shopper below.)

Bookstores aren’t your end consumer.

Right now, small bookstores are struggling very hard to survive against the big box stores (Barnes and Noble, Books a Million, Hastings, etc) and Amazon. So they don’t keep what isn’t selling. If a book sits on the shelf for 6 weeks (and sometimes as little as 2 weeks) and no one buys it, they will send it back (see the explanation for returns).

Worry more about getting your consumer into the bookstore to buy or order a copy. Again, this is where your marketing plan comes in. Reach your core consumer. Focus your sales pitch at them.

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Where am I supposed to sell books, if not through booksellers?

Where are your consumers? There are thousands of catalogs about everything under the sun. They sometimes sell books. You’ll need to research which ones are right with you. If you have a particular season, you’ll need to get to them at least 6 months in advance.

Be creative! What is your book about? Are there stores that sell merchandise to your consumer? Find out if they’ll sell your book, too.

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How can I increase the chances of selling my book to someone who just happens to pick it up?

We’ve already talked about the importance of the title, cover and backmatter. For non-fiction, what you can do to really capture your buyer is have a Table of Contents that in effect, sells the book for you.

Don’t just list the Chapter Titles, include the subheadings that describe what each chapter is about. You can think of it as a summary in outline form.

There’s also the Index. Many people, when looking at a non-fiction book, will flip to the index to see if a topic they are interested in is covered. Once they see that they can easily target the information they want, they’ll most likely buy it.

For fiction, many people read the first page (and sometimes up to 10 pages) to see if it’s a book that will interest them. That means that your novel has to capture the reader from the first word. Make sure you work with an editor if you are unfamiliar with how to accomplish this.

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Thank you to Creative Minds Press for providing the content for this FAQ


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