Writing isn't just about creating a good book. In order to succeed at a career of writing, your book needs to reach your audience. Understanding marketing, how it's used, and why it's used is important if you want to succeed.
Hobbyist writers need not worry much about this. However, anyone who seriously wants to monetize their writing needs to be aware of marketing and the consequences of both marketing and avoiding marketing.
Most important, I feel it's important to recognize that one method won't work for every author. Marketing isn't a guarantee. It isn't a milestone for success. It won't even be a huge money-maker for you. However, it can make a huge impact on your writing career. Professional marketers may be wincing at these words, but writers aren't the typical client. Marketing for an author is difficult at best.
This post is formed on my opinions. These aren't facts. You shouldn't decide your career and how you handle your marketing based on this post. However, you may want to consider my experiences as a way to see one side of this dodecahedron. (For the non-gamers among you, I'm referring to a twelve-sided dice.)
To start off with, I think it's important to cover the basics. Advertising and marketing isn't something anyone just magically learns. There is a lingo to marketing. There is a basic set of words and skills and functions you need to understand. I'm going to, very briefly, cover what I feel are the most important ones.
CPC: Cost Per Click. Normally a advertising type associated with search-engine paid advertising.
CPM: Cost per Mille. How many dollars or cents you pay for 1,000 impressions.
Impressions: Whenever a user views an advertisement.
Branding: Making a person aware of a name, business, or product.
Audience): The people you have reached.
Target Audience: The people you want to reach.
Word of Mouth Advertisement: When customers (or audience) spread word about your products, name, or services with or without your intervention.
ROI: Return on Investment. In other words, what you get for what you've spent.
I will introduce more concepts as this post progresses, but these basics should be enough to help you understand some of the lingo I'll be using.
What is Marketing?
Marketing is the process of taking your name, services, or products and getting it in front of your target audience. It is also the process of reaching out to your current audience.
People are often uncomfortable with this entire process. After all, no one likes being marketed to. It's often intrusive, we're lied to frequently by big corporations wanting to make a buck. Many of us are tired of having marketing stuff rammed in our faces.
It doesn't have to be that way.
Unfortunately, everyone who wants to reach their target audience has to deal with this reality. Authors are not usually in a position to throw a lot of money at reaching a lot of people. That leaves marketing options limited at best.
It's also the main reason many authors get a bad reputation. When relying on free sources of promotion, authors fall into the trap of doing nothing more than promoting their novels. This turns a lot of readers off on their books without them ever learning about the story.
Or buying a copy.
Marketing is Manipulation.
There, I've said it. I've taken the dive, and I've said the truth. How do I know this? I worked as a marketer for a major dating site for 3 years as a marketing administrative coordinator. My job was to read the contracts, help establish advertising deals between my bosses and companies, deal with marketing analytic reports (both creating them and determining just want the numbers meant), paying companies who promoted our site, helping to create banners and text copy, comparative analytic reports between various advertising copy, and so on.
In other words, I was paid to market to people and manipulate them into purchasing a service.
What authors need to do is very similar, except a lot less invasive.
How I think Marketing should be handled:
From the above, you probably think I hate marketers and marketing. That's not true. I find it fascinating. It's interesting. It's something we all need to be aware of. It's a glimpse at true human nature.
However, I think there are some key elements authors need to remember when preparing to advertise and market to their audience and their target audience.
1: Respect your Audience.
I shouldn't have to go into this, but I think it's important. The people who buy your books are people who might become fans. They're people who want to see what you're up to. They're people who want to read your stories.
Respect them. They're spending their hard-earned money supporting you and your writing. Market to them with respect. Treat them like they're gilded in gold, but are made of crystal.
Treat them with respect. Don't get angry at them if they don't like your story. Don't get upset if they don't buy your book. Don't get frustrated if your attempts to get their money from them don't work.
Respect them. They're people just like you, and you want something from them.
Don't turn your social media networks into nothing but your advertisements. Respect the fact they are people, and in turn, respect the fact that you are also a person. People want to connect with other people. It's our nature.
2: Market with Integrity.
Integrity is a big word. It's a big word most people don't associate with business and corporations. Fortunately, authors and writers aren't corporations. We're people. We're people with an extremely hard job.
Integrity is one part honesty, three parts having a moral compass. One that isn't quivering and crooked. It's more than saying you'll do something and following through. It is going into your marketing efforts wanting to be above those who will do anything to earn a quick buck.
Integrity is approaching your marketing with no intention of short-changing your audience, respecting who they are, and not scamming them. It's also being truly honest about what you have to offer.
Sure, we all want to look good, but don't make yourself out to be anything other than you are. The truth will be found out, and the saying about ‘all promotion is good promotion' is a lie.
When you're an author, a bad reputation can be devastating. Maintain a solid level of integrity. People can sense a sleazy scumbag. Do you really want to be a person people talk about as someone to avoid because you don't keep your promises?
I don't. We all make mistakes, for what it's worth. Those with integrity make good on what they've done wrong, acknowledge their screw ups, and keep moving on.
Something to think about.
3: Honesty is the best policy.
There is a fine line between honesty and integrity. Honesty is more than just keeping your word. It's about showing how you really are to your audience. It's about being honest with yourself and with others.
It's the absolute hardest thing to accomplish in any marketing campaign. We want to make ourselves look good.
That's our nature.
Honesty, however, will earn you far more fans than a false personality created for the purpose of manipulating people into buying your books. And a fan is someone who will come back and buy more books.
4: Make People want to Trust you.
People say trust is a two-way street. However, in the marketing world, this isn't the truth. The burden of trust falls on the marketer. A marketer's job is to make the target audience — and the current audience — believe that your product is safe to acquire. Reputation is all about trust. With a good reputation, there is a sense among your audience that they can trust you to bring them a product they want. A product they'll love.
Trust is easy to break and hard to earn. However, if you have a strong moral ethic (Read that section about Integrity again) trust can be built between you and the fan.
In time, you might even be able to trust your fans to support you no matter what you write, but the truth? That's one of the most difficult things you'll even manage to accomplish.
The Different Types of Marketing
This is where things get murky, and you'll need to draw on the list of definitions I provided at the top of the page. I'm keeping this section extremely brief. I've sat in meetings that have lasted several hours discussing different forms of marketing. I could write several books on the subject, so this isn't even scratching the surface.
This is the domain of CPC (Cost per click), CPM (Cost per Mille), CPL (Cost per Lead (or purchase)), and promotional advertisement. It's the domain of television ads, banners, bus art, and even branding images on cars. It's the type of marketing you're used to — you see it everywhere, from on your television set, in movie theaters, on signs, and present as ‘sponsors' and promoted links.
This form of advertising is used by individuals and corporations to reach the highest number of people possible. So, what's the point of paid advertisements?
This question has a lot of answers, but here's a very quick and dirty list:
1: Reach a target audience quickly. Non-Paid methods often take more time to snowball and grow.
2: Reach a higher number of specific people. Paid advertisements can often reach a target audience more accurately than non-paid solutions.
3: Expand current marketing efforts.
There are a lot of different variants of these things, including branding efforts, surges in sales, and so on. The how varies, but at the end of the day, people and businesses spend money in order to earn more money.
This is a tricker subject. There are many ways to do non-paid advertisement, including home-made viral videos, blog tours, finding reviewers to read and review e-book copies. Non-Paid marketing is done for the same reasons as paid marketing, except for the scale. Unless you're lucky, non-paid advertisement doesn't often render huge results quickly.
If you're talking horses, paid marketing is your purebred thoroughbred race horse. He runs faster than the wind, especially in short bursts. Your non-paid marketing efforts is that quiet little quarter horse. Sure, he might not tear up the track, but he'll still be chugging along far down the road.
Non-paid marketing requires a lot of creativity. Ideally, your non-paid efforts will help you brand you as a writer, make people aware of your books, and forge connections with your target audience.
Non-paid advertising isn't easy. It's very easy to annoy your audience by spamming them with promotions of your novels. If you're going to promote to them, find something that's of value to them each and every time.
This is why things like contests are a huge hit among authors. It lets them reach their audience and brand, while making the fans feel like they have a chance to be wanted. To be special because they have a chance at getting something for nothing.
It still can be a treacherous road to travel, and one you need to be very careful with.
I view marketing as a necessary evil. I try to limit my promotion to when I'm running a fundraising campaign and book launches. I don't post reviews. I try not to annoy my audience too much. I want people to be aware I'm trying to make a living at writing, but at the same time, I'm fully aware my books aren't necessarily the reason people are interested in me.
My target audience would buy my books. My real audience?
My real audience is made up of people just like you, who want to learn more about being a writer. Writers, while they're often readers, aren't necessarily people who can afford to buy my book. This is a tricky place for me to be in… and a burden I've willingly carried. It's just a part of who I am.
Is it smart business sense?
But I'm going to do it anyway, because that's just who I am. Business sense doesn't always make sense for an author, and I accept that the people I actually reach aren't necessarily the people I need to reach to sell my books.
The Truth About ROI and Authors
This is a subject that might earn me some scorn from marketing professionals. My background in marketing comes from a world where ROI is King. Which is funny, since Roi in French just happens to mean King.
ROI is difficult for authors. Authors can't afford ROI tracking software. It's just not in the realm of the feasible for most of us. These programs can cost several thousand dollars. Per month.
That's right. High-end ROI tracking and merchant marketing software can cost thousands of dollars per month. Not happening for most of us.
ROI is something you need to be aware of, but unless you have a programming husband and a lot of know-how, you're going to struggle with this concept. For most authors, the best you can do is calculate the amount of money you spent in a period and compare it to the number of sales you've earned in the period. The percentage of what you spent versus what you earned is your ROI.
You want your ROI to be a positive number. That means anything over 100% ROI is good. Anything below 100% ROI is bad.
That's ROI at its heart and soul — spending less money than you earned on your sales.
Don't forget to account for your editing costs, your cover artist fees, your designer fees, and all of those little things needed to make your book a reality. They count. They're investments you've made in your book.
I'd like to take a moment to point out that authors often view their earnings outside of their profits. Organizations like SFWA don't care about if an author makes a profit. They care if an author earned a certain amount of royalties. Before costs are factored in. This is important.
Side Note: There are rumors spreading that the SFWA will be opening its doors to independent authors who have earned royalties over a certain threshold. This is why the above comment is relevant.
Hiring a Marketing Professional
Hiring a marketing professional can be a good investment… if you have the money to spend on one.
Honestly, I know how much they cost, and it makes most of my editorial colleagues look extremely cheap. You can expect marketing professionals to charge anywhere between $25-50 per hour or more. More is more common than not.
That's just the consulting work. If you want analytic data? You may as well throw your wallet to them and give them the pins to your credit card. It's not cheap. It's a lot of hard work, too. They earn their money, but frankly, many authors just can't afford this level of investment.
This is where traditional publishers have an edge over independents. Traditional publishers have a stable of marketers who work for reasonable salaries who help many authors get the promotion they need. The author never pays these consulting fees. It's a huge boon for those supported by mid-sized to large publishing firms.
Advertising fees are not cheap, and this access to advertising specialists is priceless.
Are they worth hiring?
Yes, if you can afford it. If your books are popular. Is it worth it to make your books popular?
That's entirely up to you. Unfortunately, I can't afford a consultant on my own, and my marketing experiences are in a different field. While I can apply much of what I learned at my old job, I can't use it for all things dealing with book advertisements, for all I understand how the system works.
Knowing how the system works versus knowing how to take advantage of all of the intricacies of said system are two very different things.
Reaching Critical Mass
Part of writing is the point where an author reaches critical mass. One book isn't enough to tell if an author will be successful. There isn't a super secret way to make an author reach critical mass. However, for many of the people I know, they've acknowledged they didn't start doing well until they had three or more books released. I have my own thoughts and opinions on critical mass.
First, critical mass is a mixture of fans who are willing to buy several different titles of your book and the number of titles you have available.
The number of books you've written multiplied by the number of fans who will buy every one of your titles equals critical mass.
Once the number of fans grows to sufficient number, critical mass can be an amazing — and terrifying — thing. Why terrifying?
These are fans who trust in you to provide them with a good book.
That's a lot of responsibility. This is where the whole integrity, honesty, trust, and respect things comes back into play.
I hope this has given you something to think about. This is just the beginning of understanding marketing. There is so much I have left to learn on this subject, but I think this covers the very minimum basics.
I'll be back to talk more on this subject another time.