Marketing Plans — Yes, You Need One

Are you groaning yet? Most people do when asked to write a business plan or, heaven forbid, a marketing plan. Having just participated in a group of extraordinarily successful authors using one to methodically put a book on the New York Times Bestseller List, I’m here to tell you, marketing plans work.

Over the next few months, my plan is to walk you all through the development and implementation of the marketing plan for a print book I have coming out about a year from now. Before you roll your eyes and tell me I’ve already got a bunch of sales and audience established so anything I’m doing won’t apply to you, next year’s book will be a fantasy novel. I’ve never published anything in the fantasy genre, so I’m coming to the table with nothing. Zilch. I’m starting from scratch. I’ll report on the project as I go, and you can follow along. We’ll learn together what does and doesn’t work and find a few pitfalls along the way, I’m sure.

I started with a marketing plan–wrote it over the past several days and put it to bed last night. I have a little money to spend here and there, but my goal is to do the majority of the work myself rather than throw a lot of money at other people to do the leg work for me.

First, what the heck IS a marketing plan? It’s a list of all the things you’re going to do to publicize your book and convince potential readers to buy it. Not too tricky in theory, right?

But why bother? Because it gives you focus. A discrete list of things to do. Efficient use of your non-writing time. You can set deadlines for yourself based on your plan, if that floats your boat.

Too often, writers approach publicity in a random fashion without any real direction. Or they time their marketing efforts poorly–either stretching them over too long a period of time, or not concentrating them immediately after the book’s release. My usual crime is to focus hard on publicity for a little while, then get involved with my writing for several weeks and ignore marketing entirely in the mean time in too stop-and-go a fashion. A marketing plan can help you remedy these issues.

It doesn’t have to be fancy. But it does have to have a list of all the things you can realistically task yourself with doing to publicize your book. If you have a budget for marketing, now’s the time to figure out where and how you’re going to spend it.

I sort my marketing plan into types of activity and then make To-Do lists under each heading. That’s pretty much it. This is actually what I show my publisher when it’s time to have marketing meetings for my print books, too. For this marketing plan, my main areas are: Street Team, Author Social Media Campaign, Publisher Social Media Campaign, Paid Promotion, Interactive Website, Original Written material, Personal Appearances, and Miscellaneous.

If you don’t know what to put into your marketing plan, look at the marketing other authors are doing for their books. Choose the stuff that won’t make you crazy to do and emulate that. There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of books available on marketing self-published books, and there are thousands of websites, blogs, and articles devoted to it. This is the part where you do your homework and decide what fits you and your book best and what is most likely to reach the target audience for your book. (You do know who your target audience is, of course.)

Once your plan is drafted, pick a release date if you’re self publishing, or use the release date your publisher gave you and work your way backward, setting dates by which you need to have all the pieces of your plan in place. You’ll likely notice a horrible log jam of deadlines when your book comes out and perhaps two weeks before it comes out. I always seem to hit a wad of deadlines about 4 weeks and 8 weeks out, too.

At any rate, look at the stuff in those crazy overloaded times and pick the ones you can front load. Slide those deadlines earlier. These are projects like pre-writing blogs for blog tours, per-loading Tweets into my Tweet Deck for that time period, maybe getting books ready to send out to reviewers (either packing and addressing envelopes for print copies or getting PDF files properly formatted and ready to go out for ecopies).

There will always be more marketing you can do, so beware of losing yourself and your writing time in trying to chase down every lead and every idea you run across. Remember, if you’re not writing more great books, you’ll soon have nothing to market at all. Many authors I know spend around four hours per day writing and four hours per day doing business and marketing. Me, I prefer to write about twice as much as I work on marketing stuff each day…maybe 4 and 2 or 6 and 3. Or on a bad day, 8 and 4.

However, when it comes down to a hard choice between writing or marketing where you can’t do both…WRITE.

Up next, I’ll write about researching reviewers, finding readers, and building lists. And I’m hoping you guys will help me with that one…

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