Once you’ve gotten a bird’s eye view of your digital presence, established your goals, and defined your audience, you are ready to write a marketing strategy that will not only help you connect with your reader, but will also boost your marketing confidence.
In this stage of pulling together your marketing strategy, you’ll be crafting your marketing message, while staying true to your voice (messenger) and leveraging the communications channels (messenger) you have at your disposal–these channels would be the social media outlets you defined in my earlier blog post, “Marketing 101: Aspiring Authors! Take Inventory Before Your Book Is Published“.
This post is for you, writers who are working on a story or a series, who intend to publish and potentially sell your work for public consumption. If
you are like me and have no products for sale (yet!), or if you just completed a work, and are now working on getting it out there, I hope you will find this blog post helpful. If so, go ahead and drop me a line in the comments section below or share through your social media!
[Editor’s note: The Aspiring Author’s Guide: Write Your Marketing Strategy is finally complete and available on Amazon! If you’re interested in reviewing my book, email me directly and I’d be happy to give you a free review copy.]
When I had just completed my work of fiction, I had a really hard time getting my marketing strategy set up. The writing process of creating messages and establishing messengers, I felt, was so much more structured, less free-form. I wanted to skip the very steps of taking inventory, determining my goals and defining my audience you have gone through so far.
I’m the kind of writer who needs to go through a full costume change in order to change writing styles. When I’m writing non-fiction or thinking about marketing, I am very much a plotter. I need to outline all the steps and walk my way through a strategy. When I’m writing fiction, I am more of a pantser—still, I am learning that I need to leverage my outlining skills more there, too.
Write a Marketing Strategy with One Rule of Thumb.
Message + Messenger = Marketing Strategy
Marketers like to say this least of all, because it is so beautifully simple, but every marketing strategy hinges on the same two elements:
And both of those elements need to work together with the distribution channels (messenger) you identified for yourself in the first exercise to help you meet your goals.
Talking Points and Tactics Change; Strategy and Message Are Evergreen
Seems like a no-brainer, but it’s really important to be clear that, ultimately, that’s all a marketing strategy is: Message+Messenger. Because of this beautiful simplicity, marketing strategies really don’t need to change. Your tactics may change and evolve. New tactical ideas will replace old ones, but the core strategy, will remain the same over the course of the campaign. So, unless there’s a drastic change that results in the loss of relevance for either your message or messenger, you won’t be tinkering with your strategy.
Write a marketing strategy by writing a letter
Given that you most recently defined your target reader; and because you are a writer, one way to establish the message for your previously defined reader is to write a letter to him or her.
Write a letter to your primary reader as if you just received an update that he is frustrated with a situation, and to inform him that your book is one solution (and can be among a collection of solutions) towards diminishing this problem that he’s dealing with. What’s helpful for me is actually telling the recipient of your letter that you hear and understand the challenges he or she is faced with and echoing that information back to him or her.
Dear Daddy Worrywart,
I ran into Carol at the grocery store on Saturday, and she told me you are having a difficult time finding intelligent, age-appropriate science-fiction literature for you to read with your sons before bedtime. Remember the days of Roald Dahl and…?
Dear Kash-strapped Kelly,
It was so great to catch up with you and meet your husband at our 20-year reunion last weekend. I’m sorry to hear that things have been so nuts for you that you needed to apply for a second mortgage on your house. I may have some ideas for you two with my latest eBook on …
In the second part of your letter, go ahead and rationally respond to the objections that you suspect this target reader would have about your book. (If you have absolutely no concerns that your potential buyer would have objections—get creative. Just pick one.)
Daddy Worrywart (cont’d):
… If you enjoy reading with your kids as a bonding activity, you might prefer to have a paper copy of this book. If you order the paperback on Amazon and send me your Amazon receipt by email, I will personally send you an ebook so you can start reading “Scales of a Wizard” to your sons while you wait for the hardcopy to be delivered to your door.
Kash-strapped Kelly (cont’d):
… Obviously, money is a big concern for all of us. My e-Book is priced at X.XX, which is a fraction compared to the three-figure saving you can enjoy in the first week. There is also a money-back guarantee…
Don’t forget to sign off with a CTA
Close your very personal letter off with a clear call to action. Maybe it’s for the reader to add his name to your list, so he can get the book for free. Maybe it’s simply to buy the book at some e-tailer. Maybe it’s to attend an event where you will be leading a seminar helping people get past their frustrations or challenge in a particular area. Whatever it is, make sure you have a clear Call to Action (or CTA in marketing babble).
The letter you have just written is commonly known as the “Funnel of Awareness”. In the world of marketing this funnel goes by a wide variety of names, including “Sales Funnel”, “Marketing Funnel”, and “Purchase Funnel” to name a few. In broad brush strokes, the funnel (your message) consists of four parts:
- Awareness – Your reader is aware that you/ your book exists.
- Interest – Your reader is interested in the content matter of your book, or your philosophy.
- Desire – Your reader’s desire to be entertained, enriched or enlightened by you and your content matter has been piqued.
- Action – Your reader knows what he or she has to do to fulfill that desire. (Buy your book, subscribe to your mailing list, write a review, visit your blog, etc.)
Fiction writers! Here’s a twist to the letter writing idea.
I can see fiction writers shaking their heads. Fiction writers don’t want to be tasked with writing sales pitches–they want to write stories. (“I write fantasy, Cynthia, with goblins and goons and dystopian futures. Your letter-writing idea is stupid.”)
Trust me, when I say, I hear you—because this was just the sort of exercise that I refused to do for myself when I just completed my work of fiction. But hear me out, for just a minute.
Imagine you were a secondary character in your work of fiction, and you met a potential reader—someone who is reading another similar work that your story was inspired by. Now imagine what that reader’s frustration or problem would be. And write him that “I’m here to warn you of an adventure that is in store for [hero of your story] as he saves the day from goblins, goons and dystopian futures.” Maybe you can make a reference to your Inspiring Author or one of their famous characters, or maybe one of their characters can write a letter to your main character…
Dear Robert Langdon,
The so-called holy grail you claim to have discovered? It was one of the Templars’ many red-herrings. Professor Agnes Fullner of Oxbridge University has a theory that the legendary chalice made its way to the Pacific islands…
The above example was completely rattled off the top of my head as if I were an aspiring author of an action thriller story that may be interesting to fans of bestselling author Dan Brown’s “The DaVinci Code”. (Robert Langdon is the Harvard University professor, symbologist and main character in Brown’s book who ends up on the quest for the holy grail.) In this make-believe example, I wrote as if I were a supporting character to “Agnes Fullner” the fictional protagonist and professor in my make-believe book, and I provided my target reader with a few clues about what to expect in my story:
- It’s an action thriller that continues the age-old quest for the holy grail.
- The novel might appeal to fans of Dan Brown, a bestselling author who also writes action thriller with historical references.
- My story has a twist in that it takes the reader and the quest for the holy grail to the Pacific Islands. The twist could address a so-called “frustration” among your target readers that all quests for the holy grail begin and end in Europe—but what if the journey of the holy grail extended as far and wide as Christianity itself?
The following example is written by the main character of my (yet to be published) book to the husband of Bridget Jones—the lovable protagonist in Helen Fielding’s bestselling novel. The genre of my book is “chick lit”, with some romantic intrigue, but also with an espionage and international mystery twist!
Dear Mr. Darcy,
What an honor to be contacted by you, world-renowned lawyer and humanitarian extraordinaire! My team and I would be thrilled to provide intelligence-gathering in the guise of PR services for your firm. We also have some actionable ideas so Daniel Cleaver will never be the wiser. Mrs. Bridget Jones-Darcy would approve!
We so look forward to ironing out the details in person next week.
Sidney St. Claire
You’ll note that these letters don’t have a call to action. Their focus remains in the awareness-, interest- and desire-raising elements of your appeal. This is definitely a soft sell, one in which I think many fiction writers are comfortable.
The point of writing these letters is to:
1) Grow accustomed to tailoring your messages specifically for your target readers.
2) Recall what your readers’ interests are and relate directly to those. Note the reference to main characters in the books written by the Inspiring Authors you identified previously? Your readers are reading their works, so you both “know the same characters”.
3) Drop hints about your book and what it’s about without getting into a detailed info-dump. Fans of “Bridget Jones’s Diary” won’t need an explanation of the names dropped in your letter. Dan Brown fans won’t need for you to explain who Robert Langdon is—but they might be intrigued to find out more about Professor Agnes Fullner.
About your messenger
This brings me to my point about messenger. When you’re developing your marketing strategy, one of the main differences you’ll find is as follows: With non-fiction works, it’s most likely that you, the author (we can start calling you this now), are the expert on “financial planning for dolls and action figures” or whatever your book sets out to do.
With fiction, you have a lot more room in defining your messenger. Your strategy can have several messengers for your messages—but you might want to limit yourself to no more than three to begin with. For example, your messages can be delivered through the voice of the author directly. Helen Fielding, for example, might be interviewed about her plans to write a third and final book for Bridget Jones. Or JK Rowling, expert on Harry Potter and Hogwarts, might write a blog post about what she thinks about the fan sport, Quidditch. But your characters can also be messengers of your messages.
With fiction, you can also allow your imagination to run wild as far as your messaging is concerned.
Don’t you hate it when? … Write your marketing strategy by airing your frustrations
Specifically, you might identify several frustrations that your reader experiences as far as fiction is concerned. I’ll mention a few that includes not only to the contents of your story, but also the packaging, delivery and other external qualities of your novel. Here’s a list (I made mine start with “Don’t you hate it when?”, feel free to brainstorm others and send them my way):
… The guy doesn’t get the girl?
… The hero has to give back the hidden treasure?
… The book ends on a cliffhanger and you have to wait another year until the next issue in the series is out?
… The villain is caught?
… The lovable sidekick dies?
… The cover image doesn’t match up with the inside?
… A book includes/doesn’t include a glossary of terms?
Why are determining your Message and Messenger so important?
Your message is your point of reference when you are faced with a tactical decision. This way, you can assess if a tactical idea is a good fit for you.
Second, your message and messenger are unique to your product and its campaign. (In fact, that’s one of the big reasons why it has an evergreen quality to it.)
Let’s say, for instance, that your message focuses on solving your readers’ problem of “not enough quality fantasy books with a graphical element to them”. Your messenger is not only a character in your story in the form of a book, it can also be the images that relate directly to the story. You might have an excellent blog named after the hero in your novel, and it includes your sketches of terrain he crossed, or villains that could tear his exploration team to shreds, vital statistics, and other visuals that you developed along with your book. You could make the blog seem like a diary or a trusty handbook that the main character refers to.
You do this, because you know that your readers’ main frustration is that they want more access to the inner workings of your fantasy planet. You know that your message (based on your letter to them), was that your story, and the blog that you maintain along with it, are one answer to this problem. And you can end your letter with a clear CTA that they should sign up for email updates every time you load a new picture to the blog (for example).
Mind you, I’m not telling you to go and produce loads of backstory content for your readers. I am just saying that if it’s already a part of what you do—you might have enough content to produce a significant buzz and excitement for your work before your book is out (and it’s enough to keep the momentum going after your book is out).
Every writer has experienced the pain of having to edit huge chunks of their work out of their story, because it came across as an information dump. Now that well-written, well-honed prologue can have a home on your blog as a “deleted scene”. You may or may not wish to include with a preamble. These are just a few ideas of the wide-range of “messengers” you can include in your marketing strategy.
So, your marketing strategy could be to “offer readers full access to the complete creative process”. And while your primary tactic might be to post the occasional sketch to your blog, you might also decide that Pinterest or Instagram are excellent places for you to quickly connect and dialogue with readers who also love drawing. You might also decide that you will create an exclusive portal for only those readers who submit their sketches to you. Perhaps at a later point down the road—after your book has been published—you might hold a sketch competition or sweepstakes.
Coming Full Circle
The big takeaway here is when you have established your Message and Messenger, you have completed the circle on developing a Marketing Strategy.
Now, you are equipped with a full inventory of your digital assets, a clear goal, a primary target audience and a strategic message.
Armed with a checklist in the form of a marketing strategy, you can develop your marketing tactics
You can refer to these four categories to determine if a tactical idea is for you.
Let’s say you are working on a non-fiction book about cemetery design and a friend on Facebook tells you that Morticia Addams ended up on the New York Times Bestseller list and made millions by sharing pictures and posts through her Tumblr page.
You can go read through your strategy to see if your friend’s suggestion really makes sense for you.
1) Inventory: Do I have a Tumblr account? Do I have another digital asset that could be viewed and visited by lots of people?
Your Answer: No Tumblr account. I might be able to do something similar through my Facebook page though.
2) Goal (let’s say it’s to gather email addresses to build up an author platform). Would Facebook make sense for building my author platform? Could I work out this idea by sending people to my website where I have a sign-up page?
Your Answer: Facebook is pretty cumbersome when it comes to gathering email addresses. In the end, Facebook owns the activity that takes place on Facebook, not me. This might still be an appealing idea if I could get traffic to my website.
3) Audience: Do my readers even hang out on Tumblr?
Your Answer: No. The world of cemetery designers is a niche market. Most of the folks there are older and hang out on Pinterest. Some of them connect via Facebook and Twitter.
4) Message: My book addresses the need for a more modern take on cemetery design. My readers and my book are of the mind that “when it comes to foliage, less is more”.
Your Answer: Though I hadn’t thought of Pinterest as a possible tactic for getting people to connect with my blog, I think I could still attract interest with branded photography and consistent tips in cemetery design.
Know that your marketing strategy ultimately works for you, because it pulls together your unique blend of interests, knowledge and energy. Because you designed it yourself, you’ll also find that it’ll become increasingly easy to know which fancy tactical ideas make sense for you today, and which ones might work better for another book or at another stage in your life.
I wrote and shared my process for setting a Marketing Strategy with you in (almost) real time
At the time of writing this blog post, I have no published work for sale on the market. While writing these posts which make up the bulk of my non-fiction business ebook, I have backburnered editing the first draft of a novel I want to launch in the Spring of 2016. (Perhaps I’m being a bit too ambitious.)
Still, that hasn’t kept me from getting the marketing groundwork primed. Feel free to join me on my book-writing and marketing journey. If you have any thoughts, tips or comments in general, please let me know via comment, Twitter @cynthiatluna or email at cynthia[at]livingincyn[dot]com!
If you are already a published author, any comments you have to impart on your experience(s) will be gobbled up and appreciated by the rest of us. Let me know if you think a “karmic exchange” from aspiring author to another aspiring author, or aspiring author to accomplished author might be worthwhile! 🙂
I hope this exercise was helpful for you to establish your strategic message. You might not be finished with your book, but you now know what platforms make the most sense for you to develop and which ones can stay where they are (in someone else’s marketing strategy).