When Does Marketing Begin?
by Matthew Howard
Self-publishing authors who want to reach a larger audience and earn an income write books they hope will sell. They work hard to create their masterpieces. They hire talented people to give them beautiful designs. They conquer the technical challenges of creating files for the printer. The books become available for sale around the world. Then, almost invariably, the authors step back and ask, “How do I market it?”
It’s an important question for self-publishers, who usually need to do all their own marketing. But the problem with this scenario is not the question but the timing of the question. The real question is not how do I market my book, but when does marketing begin? You market your book before you ever set pen to paper or type your first sentence. And you begin by identifying your reader.
Marketing is not the same thing as selling. SELLING assumes you have a product and a qualified lead – a potential customer – and you are trying to close a deal. A transaction happens, or at least a contract for a future transaction. Selling is intimately related to marketing, but marketing starts long before a sale ever takes place. It starts before a product is created!
MARKETING begins with identifying your target audience or ideal customer. When it comes to book sales, they are usually, but not always, the same thing. Products made for children have a child audience, for example, but the actual customer might be an adult (e.g., a parent or a teacher) who purchases the product. Products designed to be gifts have a similar split between the person making the purchase and the end user/reader. Either way, marketing informs every aspect of your book’s content, style, and design from the very beginning – because everything you do is aimed at your target audience.
And I mean everything. What is your book about? It’s about something that interests your audience, entertains them, or solves a problem they have. What kind of style appeals to that audience? Casual slang works great for some fiction and online content, but it would be out of place in a scholarly essay. How long is your book? Will your readers want an epic novel they can read for weeks, or do they want something short to read in one sitting?
Focusing on the reader involves more than writing. It involves book design, too. For example, how large should the text be? A large-print edition would be appropriate for an audience with visual disabilities, for example. If you know your readers, you can make decisions about font size – and everything else – that are right for them.
On the other hand, sometimes smaller is better. Which are you more likely to take on a business trip: the 1,000-page Complete Illustrated Hardcover History of the Topic or a mass-market paperback? If you consider your readers in every detail, you will know what role your book plays in their lives. You will know if they need a portable volume that slips into a purse, an ebook they can read on a mobile device, or a massive tome that covers a coffee table where friends gather to socialize.
What does your audience want or need? This is the primary question of marketing, and it will guide every stage of producing a book, an article, a textbook, or a media release – from the very beginning.
The alternative approach – making a book without identifying the reader first – can be satisfying from a creative standpoint. A writer may have a story that needs to be told, or one that grows organically and tells itself. As an artist, I understand the urge to make something beautiful and personally satisfying without forcing it into a mold, and I would never suggest anyone abandon such projects.
But when we’re talking about books intended for sale and income, this creator-focused approach presents challenges. When an author postpones marketing questions until the after the book is made, they run the risk of failing to connect with book buyers at all. It may be the wrong size, the wrong price, or suffer from an unattractive description on the back cover and website. They may not even attempt to sell it in the right place.
What do I mean by place? Analyzing your audience grants insight into where you will eventually sell your book. Marketers call this “placement.” Will you and your book connect with readers online, at public readings, or at keynote speeches? Will you connect face-to-face at comic book conventions or remotely through radio talk show appearances? Most importantly, what other products will be in that same space competing for attention – and how will your book stand out?
Answering these questions early will help you make more sales in the long run because your book will be crafted to fit that place and draw attention. It will be designed and written with the goal of making that initial connection to readers, drawing them in, and rewarding them with your work. Authors who are savvy about social media realize that answering marketing questions early allows them to build a platform and create a buzz long before their books see print – a tactic that will drive increased sales upon publication. In short, don’t just know who your readers are. Know where they will be.
Rather than present an exhaustive list of all the things we need to identify about our readers, I refer you to a book that has done it for us: Publish Your Book Already. Its audience analysis worksheets are thorough and useful. They contain all the demographic and psychographic factors successful writers, marketers, and public speakers want – and need – to know about their audiences.
A truly reader-oriented book embodies the soul of marketing. Marketing focuses on the customer’s wants and needs to give them something they will love. Marketing aims to connect customers with products that are perfect for them. And who doesn’t want to read a book that’s perfect for them?
Matthew Howard is a self-publishing author who supports award-winning authors and business professionals in writing, editing, designing, and self-publishing their work for global distribution in paperback and ebook formats.