Marketing Plan for Fiction Titles
By Brian Jud
The information below provides ideas, examples, and instructions that will help you create a quick, practical marketing plan for a fiction title. This plan is meant to get you started, but effective marketing requires flexibility. If something is not working for you after you have given it a concerted effort, try another tactic to reach the realistic goals you establish.
Part One: Description of Current Situation and Goals. Before planning your specific marketing actions, think about your product, potential readers, goals, and objectives for the next year.
1. Product Description
The entire marketing process is based on having a good book to sell. Was it well written and properly edited? Does the cover and page layout look professionally designed? Will you make it available as a printed book, an eBook, or both? Before you price your book or begin distributing or promoting it, describe what your book is about in 100 words or less. Think of it from your readers’ points of view. How will your book influence them?
Identify books that are similar to yours and describe how yours is different from and better than competitive titles. A good description may be started by completing this sentence: My book helps _________ who want ________ get _________. Then, add your competitive advantage. For example, “My book helps men and women who want to enjoy reading a thriller novel get an exciting, chilling reading experience. Its unique advantage is that it is endorsed by a bestselling thriller novelist.”
Finally, develop a strong mission statement. Your mission statement is a one or two sentence description of why you wrote your book. Reading this regularly will help keep you focused and motivated. For example, a good mission statement for a historical fiction book would be “Help understand the historical significance of the Revolutionary War through accurate and entertaining fictional accounts of major battles, told from a soldier’s perspective.”
2. Author Biography
As an author, you are also selling yourself as a product, so it is important to start making the right brand impressions early. Think of who you know, and also about your background in terms of how it can help you sell more books. What makes you the expert on this topic? Where did you go to school? In what clubs and associations are you (or could you be) a member? What are you good (or not good) at doing, and what do you like (or dislike) doing? Who are your current and previous employers? Your answers will give you ideas for how to target and present yourself to potential readers. For more information about using your bio to connect with readers, check out this blog post.
3. Target Readers
You cannot market to everybody, so think about who will buy your books. Who is the typical reader you had in mind when you wrote your book? Is the person male or female? In what age group would you categorize your reader? For example, if you are writing a historical fiction book, your target reader description might include people in these categories: educated male and female members of historical societies, members of groups that re-enact Revolutionary War battles, and visitors to popular tourist destinations. Learn more in Guide to Targeting an Audience.
4. Marketing Goals and Objectives
Write a specific statement of what you want to accomplish in the next year. Some of your goals may be hard to quantify, but do so where you can. Do you want more reviews? How many more? Do you want more media attention? How many print articles and broadcast appearances will you seek? How many books do you want to sell? How much money do you want to make? Be realistic in your estimation.
By (date) _____ I will sell (number) _____ books and make $____ by getting ___ reviews, ___ awards and ___ media appearances.
For ideas on goal-setting, read How to Set SMART Writing Goals.
Part Two: Action Plan. Given your descriptions in Part One, what specific things must you do to reach your objectives? It is helpful to group these activities under three major topics: 1) How you will price your book, 2) Where you will sell it, and 3) How you will promote it. The sections below include examples to help you get started. Your actions will vary according to your own content and target readers.
1. Pricing Your Book. The price at which you will sell your book could determine your sales, profits, and opportunities for long-term growth. Your final choice will be determined by your costs, distribution method, and competitive prices. Be strategic in your decisions. Choose a lower-than-average price if you 1) intend to sell directly to target buyers rather than through a distribution network to retailers, 2) plan to limit your promotional expenditures, 3) want to make your book more competitive against other market options, or 4) seek a long-term profit potential. You might choose a higher-than-average price if your content will be quickly outdated or is highly specialized, or if you have little competition. Another consideration is the format in which you deliver your content. For example, eBooks are typically priced lower than printed books because of the lower production and distribution costs. Lower-priced eBooks also tend to attract more potential buyers.
2. Sales Outlet Options
Sales outlets will vary according to each individual title. Be sure to conduct research and think about where your content will have the best sales opportunities when deciding what works best for your book. Some ideas for sales outlet options include:
1) Ask where your typical reader will shop for fiction books; that is where you will want to sell it. You may also want to consider sales opportunities to non-retail buyers for your book. Approach local, independent retail stores to see if they’d be interested in stocking a title by a local author.
2) Think about which retail outlets may consider stocking fiction books. Examples of retail outlets for fiction books would include bookstores (your book is listed with Ingram and Baker & Taylor), bookstores specialising in selling specific genres (for example, find a list of all stores in the U.S. selling mystery titles at MysteryNet.com), independent bookstores (such as local shops in your area or Waterstones Books), airport stores (such as Hudson News Co.), warehouse clubs (Costco or BJs through Anderson Merchandisers), supermarkets (through Levy), hospital gift shops (through Loris), or pharmacies (through Choice Books). Museum gift shops may have interest in fiction related to their themes; consider venues like the Science Fiction Museum or the Spy Museum.
3) Examples of non-retail buyers could include corporate buyers, schools, associations, book clubs, the military, or museums. These opportunities require direct selling since there are no distributors that sell books to non-retail buyers. Find prospects through online searches after reviewing the following:
a. What associations could use the information in your books? For example, a historical fiction war book could be sold to the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association to be used as a premium to reward membership
b. What companies could use the information in your books? For example, a cruise line like Royal Caribbean Cruises might give to its passengers a mystery taking place in one of its destination cities.
c. Many genres of fiction books are popular in libraries and on military bases. You can reach libraries through Baker & Taylor and sell books through military exchanges such as AAFES.com.
d. What other organizations could use the information in your book? For example, NASA could sell your science fiction book in its Space Store; national parks could sell an historical novel (for distribution to parks, contact Eastern National).
3. Promotion Actions. How will you reach and tell your target buyers about your book so they can buy it? Use a variety of promotion tools as described below, and promote regularly. Prospective buyers may need to see or hear your message multiple times before it drives them to purchase your book. Also, choose the promotional techniques that are consistent with your personality. For example, if you are not comfortable performing on television, deliver your message through radio, print, or the internet.
There are promotional tools to fit any budget. Most public relations actions are free or low cost, while advertising, trade shows, and sending direct mail packages are more expensive. Finally, there are even some promotional actions for which you could be paid, such as public speaking or conducting webinars. Find the best combination of those listed below that fit your target audience and your goals, personality, and budget.
For a quick reference, read 10 Ways to Market Your Book.
Public relations activities entail reaching the most people in your target markets as frequently and inexpensively as possible. Most media exposure is free so you can get maximum coverage on a limited budget. Examples include TV and radio appearances, letters to the editor, publishing informative articles in magazines, producing a newsletter, or reading/speaking at schools. Here are some things to try or consider:
1) Write a one-page press release, focusing on what makes you and your book unique and important to readers. Begin your press release with a simple statement or question (your hook) that will get the attention of the reader. Your hook is the key concept that makes you or your book unique and beneficial to your audience. Your press release should fit on one page, be double-spaced and written in a way that is interesting and informative to the recipient. What can you say that will get the readers’ attention quickly, help them understand how your information can benefit them, and get them to take some action to buy your book at the designated sales outlet? For a free analysis of your press release, go to PressReleaseGrader.com.
2) On what TV and radio shows could you be a guest? Choose shows that people in your target audience will listen to or watch. Visit Radio-locator.com for a simple means of contacting radio stations. Check out Kidon Media Link for a list of TV outlets and other media. Keep in mind that your broadcast media opportunities will be greater for local, regional, or niche shows rather than those at a national level.
3) What newspapers could write about your book? What newspapers does your target reader read?
4) Do you think your book’s plot would make a good television series? Prime Crime is a company that develops and produces ideas for prime-time television drama series.
5) What magazines could review or write about your book, or to which you could you send contributed articles? For example, women’s magazines like Cosmopolitan or Redbook may be appropriate for a women’s fiction book. There are also many magazines that cater to specific genres, such as Mystery Magazine. Remember, getting media coverage online is just as good, if not better, than coverage in print. Check here for lists of national media organizations and magazines.
6) Who could review your book?
a. Pre-publication reviewers like Library Journal, School Library Journal, Booklist, and Bookpage
b. Media outlets and bloggers. For media reviewers, search Literary Marketplace and trade publications for those with an interest in your niche.
c. Post-publication reviewers such as Midwest Book Review or the Small Press Review
d. Paid reviewers such as ForeWord Clarion and Kirkus Indie
e. Seek niche reviewers (such as Romantic Times, Mystery Ink, or The Mystery Reader).
7) What award competitions would be right for your book? Examples include awards for mysteries (Agatha Awards), horror (Bram Stoker Awards for Superior Achievement) and science fiction. For more ideas, read the Resources article 2011 Competitions for Self-Published & Independently Published Books. Search online for award competitions for books on your topic.
8) Seek advance sales through corporate buyers or by conducting pre-publication promotion. Consider arranging a launch party. Include special offers on your website.
9) Time the introduction of your book with special marketing periods (key dates, anniversaries, etc.) relevant to your title. Find examples of these at HolidayInsights.com.
10) Get testimonials and endorsements. Sometimes called “blurbs,” these are statements by people attesting to the quality of writing and the value of the content in your book. A site with free background information about celebrities you may want to target for your book is Who2.com.
3.2 Internet Actions.
In today’s internet world, it’s important to market your book online to reach the widest possible audience. Websites, blogs, social media, and online forums are all important channels for promotion and building your brand.
1) Consider purchasing the website address with your name or book title and build a website. Search for websites that you like and then go to Web.com or Wordpress for step-by-step instructions for creating your site. Or, you can have someone design it for you. Once created, for a free analysis of your website, go to WebsiteGrader.com.
2) Start blogging to build an audience and your personal brand. You can create your own blog for free at sites such as Wordpress.com or Blogger.com. You may also want to make connections with other bloggers to see if you can write guests posts for them. Go to Blogtoplist.com to find appropriate blogs for your topic.
3) Create an author page on Amazon.com, Facebook and Twitter where you can highlight your current and future books and build your image as an expert. Also, join LinkedIn to network with like-minded people and prospects. Join groups relevant to your subject matter to start building awareness. Participate in the conversation, but don’t overtly promote your title.
4) Join other online websites and forums relevant to your title. You can find them by searching for those about your topic.
5) Check out MeetUp.com to find relevant groups to network within your area.
6) Record a podcast or consider hosting a webinar on your topic. Visit BlogTalkRadio.com for instructions to do it yourself, or have them create it for you.
7) When internet users search for your book, you want your website to be the first one they find. SEO (Search Engine Optimization) helps the search engines, such as Google, Yahoo!, and Bing, recognize your relevance to specific keywords that people search for online. This process includes researching keywords, creating content, building links, and making sure your website is visible in search engines.
3.3 Personal Selling Actions.
As an independent author, you aren’t just selling your book - you’re selling yourself. You might find in-person selling and networking beneficial for connecting with potential readers face-to-face.
1) In what bookstores or other retail outlets could you conduct an in-store event or book signing? Focus especially on local retailers and businesses, fiction booksellers, airport stores, and supermarkets.
2) Are there association meetings at which you could speak? Examples are the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, and Romance Writers of America. Go to their websites and search for local chapter meetings.
3) Attend or exhibit at trade shows, conferences, book fairs, or appropriate events.
a. Book Expo America
b. Regional bookseller exhibits (Search the American Booksellers Association site)
c. Tradeshows where your buyers would attend (Search BizTradeShows.com)
4) Throw a launch party, inviting local media, friends, family, and people in your target market. Have copies of your book available to sign, as well as print materials with your website and social media information. Get the emails of attendees to start building out a targeted email list.
3.4 Direct Marketing Actions.
These give you targeted and personalized contact with potential buyers. You can reach many more people through a mail or email campaign than through personal calls. You may find that the U.S. Mail (letter or postcard) may deliver to more people than email with the likes of SPAM filters. In either case, your results will be better if you conduct tests before you send to an entire list. Test the creative offer, the timing and the list itself before sending your package. The package you send (or email) should include a cover letter, descriptive flyer, and some response mechanism (business reply card). Consider some of these direct marketing actions:
1) Send a postcard or letter and brochure to potential buyers. Visit DirectMail.com or InfoUSA.com for one-stop places to purchase a list or have them produce and mail your package for you. Purchase a mailing list for your fiction genre.
2) Purchase the subscription list for magazines reaching your target buyers and mail to them. Examples include Over My Dead Body, which also conducts author interviews and reviews; New Mystery Reader Magazine; Shades of Romance Magazine; and Asimov’s Science Fiction.
3) Order bookmarks, stationery, and business cards to present a professional and consistent image among your target buyers.
3.5 Advertising Actions. Advertising can be costly, but some authors may choose to pay for ad placements in online and print channels relevant to their titles.
1) Advertise in local newspapers or on radio shows if appropriate. Offer to provide your content in exchange for free ad space. Contact the advertising departments of your target outlets directly to examine your options.
4. Evaluation. Every few months after you begin marketing your book, compare your actual sales results with your objectives. Are you on target to reach them? If not, what changes can you make to meet your goals?
For sales goals, create a simple Excel spreadsheet with your forecasted sales for any period in one column. Then insert your actual sales figures and automatically calculate the difference. Have a line for retail sales, library sales, corporate sales, etc. to point out where your revenue may be below that which you projected.
Have a means to objectively evaluate progress toward all your goals. If you planned to get a certain number of reviews or media appearances, keep tack of your progress toward them. The important thing is to think about why you are above or below forecast, and make necessary changes in time to reach your annual objectives.