Ten Marketing Questions Authors Are Asking

This post, from literary agent Chip MacGregor, originally appeared on his blog on 6/24/09. While Mr. MacGregor isn’t a supporter of self-publishing, his advice here is equally useful to mainstream and self-published authors.

I’ve received a bunch of marketing questions from authors over the past few months. Let me take a stab at a random sample…

Jennifer wrote to ask, "What is the most important thing I need to know about marketing my book?"

To me, the most important thing for you to grasp as an author is that you are responsible for marketing your book. Not the publicist. Not the marketing manager. Not even the publishing house. YOU. Think of it this way: Who has the most at stake with this book, you or the publisher? (You do.) Who is more passionate about it, you or the publisher? (You are.) Who knows the message best, you or the publisher? (You.) I think an author should work with his or her publisher’s marketing department as much as possible. Make yourself available. Say "yes" to everything they ask. Express appreciation every time they do something that helps market your book. But then go do everything as though it all depended on you, because it does. Whatever the publicist does for you is gravy. YOU are responsible for marketing your own book. Don’t leave it to some young college grad who has 17 other projects to market. 

Clatrice asked this: "If I publish my book with a smaller publisher, will they set up radio and TV interviews for me? And can I expect them to set me up with newspaper interviews or book reviews?"

Here’s my suggestion: When you first begin talking with the marketing department at your publisher, tell them how excited you are to work with them, explain that you’ll do everything they ask of you, then ask this question: "Can you tell me what you’ll be doing to market my book? I’ll be working hard at marketing, and I don’t want to duplicate efforts." Just try to get some sort of explanation about what they’ll do — even if it’s minimal. Some will focus on media, others will send out review copies. Once you find out what they plan to do, you can begin to fill in the gaps with your own efforts. And don’t have huge expectations of your publisher — a smaller house may not have the resources to do a lot of marketing. The fact is, they are expecting the author to help them sell about half the copies of the book that will be sold. Half. No kidding.  

[And this is the perfect time to share my favorite marketing story. Years ago, when I was releasing one of my own books, I asked a very brainless marketing manager what she was planning to do on my book. "First, we’re going to give it a great cover and title." I was VERY pleased about that, since I’ve noticed books without titles and covers don’t sell. "Second, we’re going to stick it in our catalog." This is something that only goes to bookstore owners, so that doesn’t make a big difference when it comes to convincing readers to buy my title. "And third, we’re going to give it to our crack sales team." I’m not making this up — those were her three points. My response: "So… you’re not really doing anything?" Which was fine, since I just wanted to know. Again, if you can find out what they’re doing, you’ll better know how to manage your own marketing plan.]

Dave asked, "Since it seems like anyone can get a book published today through self-publishers, how do I make sure my book gets the needed exposure?"

I’m one of those who thinks that most self-published books don’t really count as being "published," Dave. Most people who self-pub lose money because they don’t know how to market and sell their own book. So if you want to really sell some copies, whether you are self-pubbed or published through a regular royalty-paying publisher, you’ve got to understand basic marketing principles. I suggest authors purchase some basic marketing books (such as a textbook from Philip Kotler and Gary Armstrong, or Frances Brassington and Stephen Pettitt), in order to give them a conceptual framework for what marketing is. Maybe take a class at the local community college, or look for online marketing training. Then you can invest in some of the "how to market your book" titles available at Barnes & Noble. But the most important thing is to put together a planned strategy, so that you aren’t just trying to think up stuff on the fly as your book releases.

The key principle for anybody doing marketing of their own book is simple: Figure out where your potential readers are going, then go get in front of them. If you’re doing a book on lowering cholesterol, research to find out what websites people with high cholesterol are visiting, what blogs they’re reading, what magazines and e-zines they’re checking out, what the most popular sites for information sharing are. That’s the first step. The second is to get yourself involved with those venues. 

On a related note, Greg wrote these words: "You have frequently told authors to find out where the potential readers are, then go get in front of them. How can an author find the target audience for his book?"

Research, man. This will take time, but start checking out key words and topics. Find other books and sites that cover similar material and check them out. Start doing reviews on Amazon and TripAdvisor. Get involved with Digg and Flickr. Create del.icio.us bookmarks. Join Facebook and Twitter. Begin researching your topic and you’ll soon discover interesting sites, as well as being steered toward other places people go. This takes time — there’s no hurry-up formula for getting this information. The key is to have multiple venues for finding new friends, and see it as "participation," not just "promotion." 

Read the rest of the post on Chip MacGregor’s blog.