Marketing Planning for First-Time Authors

© Dana Rothstein | Dreamstime Stock Photos

© Dana Rothstein | Dreamstime Stock Photos

The article below is reprinted with permission from Brian Jud, the author of How to Make Real Money Selling Books. For more information contact Brian at P. O. Box 715, Avon, CT 06001-0715; (860) 675-1344; Fax (860) 673-7650; or visit

This was just too well done not to share with my indie published/publishing community! NQ

Although this is the time to begin planning your marketing activities [for 2012], some publishers avoid this task because they do not know how to do it. For others, the conventional, platform-based marketing plan (with it mission statement, executive summary, market analysis, goals, strategies and actions) is intimidating.

Most instructions for planning build upon previous experience, with goals described as an increase over last year’s achievements. Planners know what did and did not work in the past so their lists of strategies and actions are based on that familiarity. But first-time authors have no history of marketing their books, and they do not know how to begin planning.

There are two different, perhaps easier ways for non-planners to chart their marketing future actions. One solution is discovery-driven planning. This views the word plan as a verb, a course of action with today as the starting point. It is best used with nonfiction, when the author knows little about pricing, distribution and promotion. Much is assumed and the plan evolves over time through trial and error. A second technique works best for fiction since it views planning as narrative, conducted as you would when writing a book.

1) Discovery-Driven Planning
A new tool for authors is called discovery-driven planning. This acknowledges the difference between planning for a new title and planning for a more conventional line of business with some history. Publishers with no sales history for established titles often “wing it.” They just do something and expect sales to result. In discovery-driven planning you do something, but your actions are based logical, proven marketing advice. Then track the results of your efforts and make adjustments as you go along.

Marketing new titles is undertaken with a high ratio of assumption to knowledge. Unfortunately, in many cases assumptions about the unknown generally turn out to be wrong because the first-time author does not understand the publishing business enough to apply marketing techniques correctly. New ventures inevitably experience (sometimes large) deviations from their original goals. Here are the steps to take in discovery-driven planning.

Start at the end. This should not be a blind approach to marketing, but traditional marketing done in a non-traditional way. Instead of estimating future revenues and then assuming profits will come, create a “reverse income statement.” Determine the profit required to make the venture worthwhile. Then calculate the revenues needed to deliver that profit.

Find out what needs to be done. Learn what could and should be done to successfully market a book. Read books about marketing. Join IBPA and your local publishing affiliate. Read The Independent. Attend seminars and webinars. Take in all you can about how to generate short and long-term exposure and sales. Study successful authors. Do not replicate what they are doing now, but imitate what they did early in their careers to get where they are today.

Calculate applicable costs. How much will it cost to do everything required to produce, distribute, promote and sell your books? Probably more than you are willing to spend. Prioritize you potential actions and their subsequent costs. If you deduct those costs from predicted revenues, will the title deliver a sufficient return?

Perform the relevant actions. If the answer to the question above is yes, choose the marketing tools that meet your needs, objectives and budget. Implement an assorted, logical series of sustainable actions in a reasonable sequence:

Pricing. Decide upon a price that will enable you to reach your profit objectives given your costs (not simply a competitive equivalent or X-times-cost formula).

Distribution. Contact distribution partners for selling to retailers. Arrange for selling online.

Promotion. Perform publicity, media appearances, social commerce actions and personal selling activities.

Test assumptions at milestones. New ventures often require fundamental redirection and therein lies the key to successful discovery-driven planning. As your begin to experience results – either positive or negative — evaluate your relative success.

Create a simple spreadsheet such as shown here. First, prepare quarterly forecasts for Year One. At the end of each quarter insert your actual results (in blue). This will point out where you are doing well or where more effort is required. Set it up so that your forecast for the following quarter is automatically adjusted up or down based on this quarter’s results.

Courtesy Brian Jud

Courtesy Brian Jud

Keep records of what you do. Describe the conditions under which you performed the actions. If something did not work as expected, it may have been because of bad timing or implementation. Do more of what works and delete that which does not.

2) Planning as Narrative
In this case you approach your marketing activities as you would writing a book. This may be particularly effective for fiction writers.

Step One: Define the characters and their motivations. The author is the primary character. What are your strengths and weaknesses? There are several main characters in your story, one of which is your target reader. Precisely define this person in terms of demographics, but particularly why he or she would want to purchase your book. Describe where they shop, for this is where your book should be available. Another character is your publisher. How will you find the right one? What do they need to see in a proposal? What are you criteria for evaluating them?

If you choose independent publishing, there are more characters to describe. Buyers at retailers – both inline and online (bookstores, supermarkets, gift shops,, etc) – take on products that will build store traffic, increase inventory turns and improve profit per square foot. Librarians want books that will help their patrons. Distributors want quality books that are supported by the author’s promotion. Corporate buyers want to use your content to sell more of their product.

The antagonist is your competition. Do a quick search for competitive titles in your category on Go to the bookstores and evaluate the other titles on the shelves. Corporate buyers have limited budgets and a large variety of promotional products from which to choose. You vie with these for those budgeted dollars. You are competing for your target readers’ share of mind and wallet with a variety of titles and products, depending on which consumers, retailers and non-retail characters you select.

Step Two: Write your story. Describe the process of producing your book. What advice will your accountant, cover designers and editors give you? What evil forces prevent you from publishing it on time? Describe how you will get on and perform on television and radio shows. Tell about the trials and tribulations you experience when arranging distribution and shelf presence. What twists and turns could occur? What new characters might enter? Build to the climax when you reach the Number One position as a New York Times bestseller or whatever your objective is.

Step Three: Create the ending and plan for a sequel. Close your story with the main character pursuing the actions that will lead to a sequel or to the next book.

Of course there is more to writing a book (plan) than described here, but you get the idea. You define and control the story as much as you do your actions in real life, so carefully describe how you will move ahead toward your destination.

Both of these techniques acknowledge that at the start of a new venture, little is known and much is assumed. They systematically convert assumptions into knowledge as your strategic venture unfolds. Proceed with your best-guess estimates, then test and question them as you proceed. When new information is uncovered, incorporate it as necessary into your evolving plan. The real potential of your book is discovered as it develops.

What is the best form for a marketing plan? The best form is the one that works for you. Create a functional plan as an easy-to-use reference tool that guides your efforts on a weekly basis. Implement your actions daily and update your initial thoughts as necessary. You will then have the experience to write a platform-based plan next year, if that will better meet your needs.

What’s working for you? What isn’t? If you aren’t tracking your progress, you may not know! Leave a comment or send me an email at See you on the 21st! Until then, keep reading and writing! NQ


About NL Quatrano

Award-winning author, speaker, editor and ghost writer, Nancy owns a full-time editing, writing and specialty publishing business: On-Target Words/WC Publishing. Volunteer/member of professional writing organizations including Florida Writers Assoc., Sisters in Crime, and AWAI. 2010 Professional Woman of the Year by the NAPW. Linked in Editor Pick May 2013. International Women's Leadership Association nominee for Outstanding Leadership 2014.
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