I know I’m at an advantage here, because I’m a trained marketer, but I can’t help but worry when writers ask me if they can ignore a publisher’s request for a marketing plan. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not blaming the writer for his or her ignorance. As a first time author, it’s hard to know what’s important and what’s not. Most writers who are trying to produce something worthy of submission don’t bother learning how to market their work first.
But that’s the problem. A lot of self-publishing is driven by a fear of traditional publishing and its gatekeepers. A lot of the fear of traditional publishing and its gatekeepers is a fear of the “extra” stuff that goes along with publication, i.e. marketing, publicity, and the like. The problem is that stuff doesn’t go away with self-publication. If anything, it becomes more essential if you really want to succeed and be read. Now, there are very legitimate reasons to pursue self-publication. None of those reasons include a fear of marketing or ignorance of its importance.
But let’s go back to that problem. There is a lot of information, specifically targeted to “newbies,” about the art and craft of writing. That’s a good thing. But, there seems to be very little information specifically targeted to those same “newbies” about the importance and relevance of marketing in writing. And that’s sad, because to succeed as a professionally published writer, you need to have some of all three facets of writing: art, craft, and business. These writers who spend so much time crafting the “perfect” story don’t get published because they don’t have the marketing tools, or wherewithal, to back up their story. Their work deserves better, they deserve better, but they don’t know it.
Now, some people might be inclined to blame these writers. After all, I knew enough to learn, so why didn’t they? But that’s hardly fair, because all the writers I’m thinking of have been listening to a lot of people, they’ve done their research, their studying, and they’ve made a serious go at this whole writing thing, and yet they DON’T know how important MARKETING is to their SUCCESS!!! And that’s not their fault.
So, why do publishers ask for a marketing plan?
Publishers aren’t trying to trip you up. Really, they’re not. Publishers ask for a marketing plan because 1) they love books, 2) in order to continue publishing the books they love they need their writers to be profitable, and 3) a marketing plan shows that, at the very least, you’ve thought about how you’re going to make your book profitable for yourself and for the publisher.
Basically, publishers want proof that you have invested enough in the business side of writing to believe that you’re worth the risk they’d be taking if they published your book.
So, what should your marketing plan prove?
Your marketing plan needs to prove three things:
1) You have some idea of who your readers are.
2) You have good ideas on how you’re going to reach those readers.
3) You have good ideas on how to satisfy those readers.
What if you don’t?
If you don’t know who your readers are likely to be, then you’re not ready to be published or self-published. If you don’t have any good ideas on how to reach those readers, then you’re really not ready to be published or self-published. If you don’t have any good ideas on how to satisfy those readers, then you’re definitely not ready to be published or self-published.
Now, you’ll see that knowing who your readers are likely to be is rather hit or miss. That’s just the way it is. Readers surprise even the most informed of marketers. They make bestsellers out of long-shots and they make unprofitable books out of sure-things. That being said, you should have some idea of who they will be.
How you reach readers is another matter entirely, because while you don’t get to pick and choose who actually gets reached, you do choose what you do to reach them. If you don’t have any ideas about what to do, then you either need to find someone who does or you need to research like crazy. If you don’t do anything or if you don’t do anything with purpose, then you’re not going to reach readers. That’s the way of the new publishing world. Sorry folks, the days of hermit successes have passed.
Finally, if you don’t know how to satisfy readers, if you don’t have any ideas of how to turn a random reader into a fan, then you really need to step back and work the business thing, because readers are precious to writers and it’s your job to make sure you “capture” as many readers as you can. And, for the most part, it involves writing a quality book that readers actually want, which means it’s something you should be thinking about before you even start writing.
But creating a marketing plan is a lot of work, so what’s in it for you?
Now, to me the answer seems obvious, but so often it is not. A marketing plan isn’t something you have for a publisher’s sake, even though it’s often required by said publisher. It’s your marketing plan for your book to help nurture your success.
Do you want your work to be published and read? Then you need a marketing plan. Do you want to write and publish more books? Then you need a marketing plan. Do you want a writing career? Then you need a marketing plan!
A marketing plan is a tool you use to get your work in front of reader’s eyes. A marketing plan is a tool you use to prove you are worth publishing. A marketing plan is a tool you use to build your writing career.
It’s your plan. It’s your tool. And it’s your future.
All the publisher wants to know is that you have one.