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Think like a marketer.

Lately, I’ve talked with a lot of artists, mostly writers, who have no idea how to market their book. This isn’t news, of course! Artists, in general, hate to sell their stuff — it’s one of the reason that publishers exist. (No need to go into how bad a job most publishers are doing — you can read all about that here and here, if you like.)

Most of them have said things like this:

  • “I don’t know anything about SEO/Google ads/getting visitors to my blog.”
  • “I tweet three times a day and update my Facebook page, but I don’t know what else I can do.”
  • “I’ve spent a ton of money on publicity or book tours, and I’ve only sold a few.”
  • “The publisher went all out in their efforts, but I only sold through a fraction of my copies!”
  • “I have no idea how to sell, and I hate selling.”

Though these issues are all important, that’s not the most important thing to address.  The biggest deficit in marketing skill is not specific techniques or building a website, twitter, FB following, etc.  It’s not even building a list — though that skill alone is often what separates successes from failures.

The biggest problem is that writers aren’t thinking like marketers!

If you’re not thinking like a marketer, all your work may not pay off.  It’s like going to the grocery store when you have no specific meal in mind — you can spend $150, and not have a thing to make for dinner.

I really underestimated this aspect until I started interviewing writers in person.  The techniques themselves that I use are incredibly simple, like saying, “Hey, buy this,” in a banner ad.  Anyone can do this… if they’re thinking like a marketer.

So, how do you think like a marketer, then??

Three words: know your audience.  Know exactly what they want, why they want it, and how to sell it to them.  Start with asking, “Who, exactly, are my readers?  What do they like?  How many children do they have?  What authors similar do they like?  What magazines do they subscribe to?”  It’s like knowing your character — marketers go through the same process to “profile” their audience.  Assumptions can be very expensive.

Here’s an example from this morning.  Let’s say I have a client who writes m/m romances, and I’m trying to find her a new audience outside the realm of existing m/m readers.  Basically, I’m looking to expand the market, and test potential audiences that might like m/m, even if they haven’t read it before.

This morning, I open a copy of House Beautiful — one of the most popular mass-market magazines for a mature female, affluent (or wannabe affluent) audience!  They aren’t modern like Dwell, but more traditional… perfect for testing a romance novel offer.

What do I see?

An ad for Olay Regenerist, no shock there, right?  But also…

An ad for some home furnishing company featuring:

  • A hot shirtless guy
  • Books in the foreground clearly displaying “Tom Ford” and Michaelangelo

‘Kay.  This could mean that they’re catering to a gay audience — and HB has one.  But it could also mean that the magazine has a good percentage of older women who love gay men, and might be interested in reading traditional romances featuring two men.  I dunno, it could mean nothing.  It could be that the women subscribers wouldn’t be interested in m/m at all.  But it was a clue, and nothing happens by accident when you’re paying $10,000 per page.

Naturally, I wouldn’t suggest taking out a full page ad in House Beautiful to start — that would be expensive and foolish.  I’d have a lot more investigation to do before I decided to invest in a market test, such as finding out if they watch Queer As Folk.  My point is, the better you know your audience, the more opportunities you have to reach them.  Most writers wouldn’t even think of advertising in House Beautiful for their books, but these more indirect connections are sometimes where all the profit is!

This work must be done before you take out any ads. Before you do any work at all communicating with your audience, whether it’s on your website, Twitter, Facebook, etc.