Self-publishing authors who want to reach a larger audience and earn an income write books they hope will sell. They work hard to create their masterpiece. They hire talented people to give it a beautiful design. They conquer the technical challenges of creating files for the printer. The book becomes available for sale around the world. Then the author steps back and asks, “How do I market it?”
It’s an important question for self-publishers, who usually need to do all their own marketing. But the problem with this scenario is not the question but the timing of the question. The real question is not how do I market my book, but when does marketing begin?
The answer? You market your book before you ever set pen to paper or type your first sentence. And you begin by identifying your reader.
Marketing Is Not the Same Thing as Selling.
Selling assumes you have a product and a qualified lead—a potential customer—and you are trying to close a deal. A transaction happens, or at least a contract for a future transaction. Selling is intimately related to marketing, but marketing starts long before a sale ever takes place. It starts before a product is created!
Marketing begins with identifying your target audience or ideal customer. When it comes to book sales, they are usually, but not always, the same thing. Products made for children have a child audience, for example, but the actual customer might be an adult purchasing the product. Products designed to be gifts have a similar split between the person making the purchase and the person who receives it. Either way, marketing informs every aspect of your book’s content, style, and design from the very beginning—because everything you do aims at your target audience.
And I mean everything. What is your book about? It’s about something that interests your audience, entertains them, or solves a problem they have. What kind of style appeals to that audience? Casual slang works great for some fiction and online content, but it would be out of place in a scholarly essay. How long is your book? Will your readers want an epic novel they can read for weeks, or do they want something short to read in one sitting?
Focusing on the Reader Involves More Than Writing.
It involves book design, too. For example, how large should the text be? A large-print edition would be appropriate for an audience with visual disabilities. If you know your readers, you can make decisions about font size—and everything else—that are right for them.
On the other hand, sometimes smaller is better. Which are you more likely to take on a business trip: the 1,000-page Complete Illustrated Hardcover History of The Topic, or a mass-market paperback? If you consider your readers in everything, you will know what role your book plays in their lives. You will know if they need a portable volume that slips into a purse, or an ebook they can read on a mobile device, or the massive tomes that cover coffee tables where friends gather to socialize.
What Does Your Audience Want or Need?
This is the primary question of marketing, and it will guide every stage of producing a book, an article, a textbook, or a media release—from the very beginning.
The alternative approach—making a book without identifying the reader first—can be satisfying from a creative stand-point. A writer may have a story that needs to be told, or one that grows organically and tells itself. As an artist, I understand the urge to make something beautiful and personally satisfying without forcing it into a mold, and I would never suggest anyone abandon such projects.
But when we’re talking about books intended for sale and income, this creator-focused approach causes problems. Postponing marketing questions until after the book is made runs the risk of not connecting with book buyers at all. The book may be the wrong size or the wrong price, or suffer from an unattractive description on the back cover and website. It may not even be in the right place.
What Do I Mean by Place?
Analyzing your audience grants insight into where you will eventually sell your book. Marketers call this “placement”. Will you and your book connect with readers online, or at public readings, or at keynote speeches? Will you connect face-to-face at comic book conventions, or remotely through radio talk show appearances? What other products will be in that same space competing for attention—and how will your book stand out?
Answering these questions early will help you make more sales in the long run, because your book will be crafted to fit that place and draw attention. It will be designed and written with the goal of making that initial connection to readers, drawing them in, and rewarding them with your work.
Authors who are savvy about social media realize that answering marketing questions early allows them to build a platform and create a buzz long before their books see print—a tactic that will drive increased sales upon publication. In short, don’t just know who your readers are. Know where they will be.
A truly reader-oriented book embodies the soul of marketing. Marketing focuses on the customer’s wants and needs to give them something they love. Marketing aims to connect customers with products that are perfect for them. And who doesn’t want to read a book that’s perfect for them?
Create a Reader Profile.
Roles they play in life (list three):
Values (list three):
Reading comprehension level:
What problems do they have that your book can help them solve?
What goals will it help them achieve?
What fears will it help them overcome?
Where do they usually go for solutions to the problems your book addresses?
How many books do they read per year?
What print or electronic format does your reader prefer?
What do they usually spend on a book of comparable style, quality, and size?
How long of a book are they willing to read on your subject?
This is a chapter from my quick-start guide to writing and self-publishing a book, A Passion for Planning: Nine Things I Wish I Knew Before Making My First Book. Pick it up in paperback or Kindle today to get started on your writing journey!