It’s deeply unfair that becoming a successful writer only starts with having good writing chops. You also have to know business management, social media skills, time management, editing, cover design, graphic design…and marketing.
Since we only have time to master a handful of skills in a life, many writers struggle with creating marketing plans that work to catapult them from a few occasional sales to life-changing income from self-publishing.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Instead you can take a proven, 3-step formula and apply it to each of your books as it comes out. It may take you a few iterations to perfect it for your audience, your work, and your brand…but it will reliably work once that happens.
What Exactly Is a Book Marketing Plan
A book marketing plan is a researched and structured list of instructions for making people aware of three things:
- Your book exists
- People who like certain kinds of story will like your book
- Where people can buy your book
Beyond that, your plan must also take into account certain realities:
- Your intended release date (or, if the book is already out, the date of your marketing push)
- The extent of your existing audience
- How much money you can spend on promotion
- The reach of your contact network
- How much time you can spend on promotion
- The book’s likely and maximum appeal
A plan that does the first three while staying within the lines set by the realities I’ve listed can rocket a book to profitability. Becoming a bestselling rock star like Andy Weir or E.L. James is a matter of luck and luck alone…but making enough to go full time is within the reach of most people.
Starting Right Means Starting Early
Your marketing work begins well before the first day of your marketing push. Well before Day One, you have to sit down with those realities and make a plan for each.
- Use the intended release date to set a timeline. If you want one month of pre-sale publicity and two weeks of after-release push, the date tells you when those begin and end.
- The extent of your existing audience can give you minimum sales numbers. If you know that 10% of your 1,000-person mailing list buys your new books each time, you know you can count on selling 100 copies.
- Your promotion budget lets you choose realistically what kinds of paid promotions you can put into the book launch. Pro tip: those likely copies from your existing audience can be a reliable source for promotion dollars.
- The reach of your contact network tells you who you can bring on board to help promote the book. This runs the gamut from fans who will share on social media, to peers who will promote your work in exchange for you promoting them later, to podcasters and reviewers, to superstars you can nudge to take an interest.
- The time you can spend creates a realistic framework for what you can accomplish. A comprehensive, aggressive, brilliant marketing plan does no good if it requires 20 hours a week and you only have 2 to give.
- The likely maximum appeal helps you set realistic sales goals. For example, a detailed book on how to write Dungeons and Dragons adventures using the COBOL programming language might sell a copy to every one of the 20 people interested in the topic, but a gritty fantasy novel similar to Game of Thrones has a much broader audience even if you can't reach the entire set.
I recommend having all of these pieces in place at least six months before your release date. That’s the best way to make sure everything is ready for you to launch your marketing plan on time.
Pro Tip #1: Market your book while you write it. That way you have buzz and buyers on launch day. It also creates a degree of accountability for you, keeping you on track even when you don’t want to write.
The Three-Step Book Marketing Plan
The three steps of your marketing plan are:
- Create Your Materials
- Schedule Your Releases
- Keep Your Promises
Create Your Materials
You want to begin your marketing plans with as many materials as possible already created, because during the crunch time of your push you’ll need all the spare time you can manage. Some examples of materials for your marketing plan include:
- Cover art, or at least drafts of the cover
- Other images associated with the book
- Your best headshot
- Social media posts, fully designed
- Promo videos
- Bookmarks and other giveaway materials
- Posters (virtual and physical)
Not all materials are physical, but instead lists of people or concepts you can need to have in place before your marketing plan truly begins. If you want to appear on podcasts, you should have your appearances scheduled before go time. If you want to activate a “street team” of reviewers and promoters, you need a list of their names and their agreement to help out. If you plan to get other writers to help promote your work, you need a relationship with each one you’ll reach out to.
It can also be helpful to drill down on some of the materials, with a to-do and to-get list for each. For example, a book launch is a “material”, but you can get better results by listing the cover reveal image, promo photos, day-of interviews, and other things you’ll need separately.
Pro Tip #2: It’s not cheating to reuse material. The same book cover photo can go on several social media posts, and you can bring the same list of talking points to every podcast and radio interview. Professionals do this all the time, and so can you.
Schedule Your Releases
Once you have your materials lined up (or at least a list of them and when they’ll be finished), you can create the release schedule for your marketing plan.
Keeping your time and budget constraints in mind, decide how many social media posts, email blasts, promo events, book launch countdowns, cover reveals, media appearances, and peer or fan engagements you want to include.
Although each book is different, consider this as a good starting point:
- One social media post and one newsletter mention per month beginning six months from launch day.
- Two social media posts and one newsletter mention per month two and three months from launch day, plus one to four media appearances during this time.
- One social media post and one media appearance per week, plus mention in every newsletter you send out, during weeks three and four before launch. Also activate your peer and fan networks for pre-orders during this time.
- Daily activities in the two weeks before and the two weeks after launch day, up to two to four activities in the days immediately before launch day.
- Spend the entirety of launch day pushing sales.
Make a listing of the things you will do to market your book, using the above as a skeleton. Once you’ve listed them, assign a particular day based on the realities of your time and when you can get booked for interviews, blog tours, and the like. When you’re done, you will have a fully scheduled marketing plan for your book.
Pro Tip #3: Combine Similar Tasks. It is much easier to create a dozen social media posts at once than to make one social media post each at twelve separate times. It’s less demanding to schedule three interviews on one day than to have three days interrupted by interviews. This is a principle of time management that guides the likes of Steven Covey and Richard Branson, so keep it in mind.
Keep Your Promises
Once you’ve set down your scheduled marketing plan, commit to it like you would a promise you made to your children or best friend. The best marketing plan in the world does no good if you don’t execute it.
This doesn’t mean you can’t make adjustments. Days explode. Things go wrong. Interviewers reschedule. That’s okay. Keep what you can, and catch up when you have to. Finishing 80% of your plan will still leave you well ahead of what would happen if you gave up early or just winged it from the start.
It can be hard to stick with a robust marketing plan, especially if you have other commitments in your life. When it starts to look challenging, consider these techniques to get it done despite the challenges:
- Schedule and pre-post as much as possible, so the scut work is automated and happens no matter what.
- Get up early or stay up late and work while your family is asleep.
- Dedicate an hour during your day for the plan and set the expectation that you aren’t available.
- Save some money in the preceding months so you can take off some time from work.
- Find a good virtual assistant at Fiverr.com or Upwork.com to cover the basic work so you can focus on the most interesting and demanding tasks
Pro Tip #4: Make This a Job. You will get better results if you consider yourself to be working a part-time temp job as a book marketer during your plan. You and your loved ones will better respect the process and your time if you frame it that way.
Make It Happen Today
Book marketing is not a sprint, even if you try to focus on launch dates and other discrete events. Instead, think of it like a marathon. Slow, steady, consistent progress is what you need for this to work.
Start by writing down the three steps, each on a blank sheet of paper. On each sheet, mark the strategies mentioned above that you believe will work and that you believe you can do consistently.
With those listed, commit to spending time two to three days each week on those efforts. Mark out space in your calendar, then keep that promise to yourself. Keep at it until you see results, then fine-tune based on those results until you see the results you want.
Also remember the snowball effect. Most beginning authors are coping with a full-time job and the realities of life, leaving little time after writing for their marketing efforts. But when you make a little reliable money for your books, you can apply that money to gaining more time.
You can do some ad spending to generate more funds. You can hire a house cleaner or personal assistant to manage some chores. Eventually you can cut your hours at your day job. Each of those moves gives you more space to market your work even harder…which generates more funds…which frees more time…which gives you even more space…spiraling upward until you have achieved your dream of becoming a full-time writer.
But only if you start.
Why are you still reading this? Time to get to work.
Image by StartupStockPhotos.