The Importance of a Marketing Plan
If you are an indie author, you will probably by now have realised that you have a number of roles to fulfil – only one of which is writing your books! The question is, how successful do you want your book to be? Does this matter to you, or is your pleasure in the writing and knowing that a few people have read your work? Everybody is driven by something different.
When I wrote ‘Only the Innocent’, I had no real aspirations. I wrote it because the story had been in my head for years, and it was just a real pleasure to get it down in writing. I had no ambitions to get it published at all. But then a small number of people read it, and they encouraged me. Finally, I decided to upload it to KDP Amazon and other ebook sites, and just ‘have a go’. It wasn’t thought through any more than that. I did no preparation for a book launch, no marketing, and I had no sales platform.
But then something happened. I became bitten by the bug. In the first few weeks, I sold quite a few. I have a reasonably wide personal network and my friends and family were very supportive and bought my book. When the initial excitement passed, and the sales dried up, I found that I didn’t like that one little bit!
So I realised that if I wanted to sell some books, I was going to have to do some work. But I went about it in completely the wrong way to start with. I went into research mode. I spent weeks researching ways of getting my book noticed. And then I realised one very sad fact – I was doing lots and lots of reading of advice, but I wasn’t actually doing anything at all. It was just so easy to go from one author help site to the next thinking “Ooh, that’s a good idea” and bookmarking the page. My ‘ebook marketing’ bookmarks folder is enormous.
As somebody who used to run a business, I soon had to acknowledge that this was hopeless and I forced myself out of ‘writer mode’ and into ‘business mode’. I wrote myself a marketing plan – seven pages of single-spaced paragraphs. I have it open on the screen as I am writing this, and I thought I would share the first few paragraphs with you. Just remember that this was for my eyes only, so I wrote down what I was thinking – almost a conversation with myself. It wasn’t going to be submitted for board approval!
ONLY THE INNOCENT – MARKETING PLAN
Why do I need one?
Is it worth it? Without a marketing plan and a bit of effort, there is no doubt at all that ‘Only the Innocent’ will disappear from view in days. It has already slipped 5000 places in about 4 days. (note: this was after the initial flurry of friend activity)
Very few authors sell massive numbers of books – so the question is, do I expect to get rich, or do I just want to get people to read my book? The first option is highly unlikely, so I’m aiming for the second – and for this, I need to make sure my book is visible and easy for readers to find.
The next question is, how long do I try for?
Until the end of January to try to make the most of any Christmas sales. I have from now to Christmas to get noticed, so that the people who get Kindles for Christmas might reasonably consider purchasing the book. If there are no improvements by then, I will accept defeat and give up.
And that was it. I was going to give up at the end of January if I wasn’t getting anywhere. But I was – and on 18th February ‘Only the Innocent’ reached number 1 on Amazon UK and stayed there for an amazing four weeks.
There is no doubt in my mind that my marketing plan had a huge impact, but there is no blueprint for success. There are four questions that people constantly ask me when I talk about marketing plans, so let’s consider them in order of priority.
1. Why do I need a marketing plan?
A plan will give your days some structure, and define some clear objectives. You should end up with a list of actions that have focus, rather than a range of random activities, and a timetable so that you don’t spend too long on one activity at the expense of another.
Your plan should enable you to assess the effectiveness of each of the actions that you are taking. With a clear objective for each group of actions, and a timescale for checking how well they are working, you can avoid wasting endless hours on pointless tasks.
My plan was very long, because I looked at all the options that I had discovered in my research. But your plan could be just one side of scribbled A4, as long as you have some clearly stated objectives, and an action plan of how you are going to achieve them.
2. Where do I start?
The first thing is to identify your channels to market – where can people buy your book. Is it just available on Amazon, or are you making it available on other ebook readers as well (and if not, is that a rational decision, or is it because you’re not sure how to go about it?).
For most people, Amazon is probably going to be the most successful in terms of sales, so I will use it as an example. Ask yourself the question – what can Amazon do to help me sell my book? The answer to that is a lot. Amazon provides so many opportunities for increasing the visibility of your book, and you can explore them all. And visibility is the key – if nobody can find your book, nobody can buy it.
I will use one example: “Customers who bought xxx also bought yyy”. I wanted my book to be linked to as many high profile books as possible. But my problem was that most of my early readers didn’t own Kindles, and had downloaded my book for their phones or computer, so I wasn’t linked to any books at all.
How could I influence this opportunity? How could I make sure my book was linked to other books? I realised that I needed people to buy ‘Only the Innocent’ who had previously bought books by authors in a similar genre. I identified two ways of doing this – by trying to build up a Twitter following of people who love thrillers, and by chatting in the Amazon forums to other thriller lovers.
Sales to start with were slow, but as the people buying my book were people who had bought other books, it gradually became more visible. And as an added bonus, most of these people were prepared to share their enjoyment of my book on both Twitter and in the forums.
This is just one visibility or ‘touch’ point for a single channel. For each of your channels you need to identify all of these points, and then think about a series of actions that you can take that will influence your book’s visibility.
3. How do I prioritise?
This is a huge issue. There are just so many opportunities for exposure, and so many different actions you can take. I have a list a mile long of ideas for the marketing plan for my next book, and I’m going to look at each one to identify the size of the commitment.
With my original plan, I identified six ways of increasing visibility on Amazon alone, and for each of those I had a number of proposed actions. Some of these were simple but essential – such as ensuring that if anybody did find my book, the product description was as good as I could get it, and my author details were up to date. One-off actions such as these are not too difficult to put in the priority queue. It’s the things that you have to do every day that are going to take up your time – social networking, maintaining a blog, requesting reviews, etc. So when you have your long list, you have to prioritise.
I asked myself these questions:
1. what do I enjoy doing?
2. how big is the commitment?
3. can I automate any of it?
I chose my options according to those criteria. And then I gave a daily or weekly time limit to each of my chosen activities, plus a date for review. For example, I might chose to try a specific forum for two weeks, and see if anybody has shown interest. If I have had no feedback, I must be in the wrong place, and it’s time to move on.
The commitment question is really important. There is no point starting a blog if you are not prepared to update it regularly. It’s just a waste of your initial time and effort setting it up. I am very guilty of that with my Facebook page – and I know it! (Morgen: me too, Rachel!)
But in some cases, there are tools that will help you to automate tasks. With Twitter, for example, you can use software that will find your kind of readers – and automatically follow these people for you in the hope that they will follow you back. This is one area that you do need to research, because some of these tools are free but others have to be paid for.
4. Once it’s done, can I forget it?
A marketing plan isn’t a fixed document. You have to adapt to new sites and opportunities that are becoming available all the time. I learn new things every single day about marketing books. I am now back in writing mode, so I don’t actually do any of them at the moment, but I will.
I could write about this all day! I could explain in detail the options that I chose and my own preferences. I love Twitter and I love chatting to people on forums. I’ve made some great friends that way, and I will continue to do that. But some people I have spoken to have chosen to go out sticking leaflets on cars. Others contact book clubs and offer to give talks. Everybody has their own way. You just need to find yours. And if it’s not too late to say this, write your plan before you launch your book. I didn’t, but I certainly wouldn’t make that mistake again.
Make sure the choices you make are fun for you, and the best of luck!
As someone who left their job seven and a bit weeks ago, this was perfect timing, thank you, Rachel!
I’d also recommend an eNewspaper as a way to expand your presence on Twitter (see this blog’s MB Daily page).
What Rachel was too modest to mention was that when she wrote her marketing plan, she had sold c.100 copies. She’s now sold over 100,000 and is convinced that would never have happened if she hadn’t written her plan. I’m off to write mine now… 🙂
Rachel Abbott is the author of best selling novel ‘Only the Innocent’. She spent the majority of her working life running an interactive media company that designed and developed software and websites, mainly for education. Her company was sold in 2000, and although she continued working for another 5 years, she also fulfilled a lifelong ambition of buying and restoring a property in Italy, where she now lives with her husband and their two dogs. Her website is http://www.rachel-abbott.com and she blogs at http://rachelabbottwriter.wordpress.com. Her books are available from Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.
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