Did you ever try to solve a jig-saw puzzle? It’s simple, right? The picture on the cover of the box shows you how the completed puzzle should look, so all you have to do is organize and connect all the pieces. Now think of your publishing journey as the puzzle. You have your vision of the end result, but you have to create the pieces to complete it. So when it comes to book marketing, sometimes it's just in how you frame your approach.
Step One: Framing the Problem to be Solved
Sometimes all you need is to reframe a proposal to make it appear in a fresh light and reverse the common perception of a situation. Sometimes it's about dislodging assumptions and allowed yourself to see things from a different perspective.
Brainstorming is successful only if it leads to the solution of the proper question. Therefore, Step One is not the pursuit of answers, it is a quest for questions – a search for the definition of the real problem. For example, what if sales of Title A are trending down? A group might form to find ways to reverse that slide. The leader may prompt the session by asking, “How can we increase sales of Title A?” The participants will contribute ideas in rapid succession: “Conduct an email blast. Have the author perform on more TV and radio shows. Post more on Facebook. Get more book reviews. Do additional author events.” And the comments continue coming until the well of ideas is exhausted.
But what if these are answers to the wrong question? Might a different range of more impactful answers be generated if other questions were asked first? Here are several provocative questions that could lead to a more strategic discussion, and stimulate a much different list of responses:
“Why are sales of Title A down?
- Is it properly priced?
- Who are the target readers?
- Is current promotion directed to the proper audience? With the right appeal?
- Where does the proper audience shop?
- Do they prefer ebooks instead of the current printed book?
- Who else could use the information in the book?
- Could it be sold as a premium to buyers in corporations, associations, schools or the military?
- Could it be sold through non-bookstore retailers (gift shops, airport stores, supermarkets, discount stores)?
- Is the content of Title A seasonal?
- Should Title A be retired to backlist status?
- Should we focus on increasing revenue or profits of Title A instead of unit sales?
This approach to a forced-innovation session can re-direct the ensuing rush of ideas in a more strategic direction. Limit the input for Step One by allowing people to contribute only questions. This singular focus suspends the automatic desire to provide an answer, and ultimately helps expand the problem space for deeper exploration.
Step Two: Incubation
Deliberate contemplation can form borders and constraints that block potential ideas from surfacing (officially called “cognitive inhibition). Self-limiting beliefs (“Books can only be sold through physical bookstores and Amazon.”) or biases (“I could never call a prospective corporate buyer.”) create the “box” that forms a barrier to creativity. On the other hand, hunches, instincts, feelings and/or premonitions occur when least expected, and can lead to unintended solutions. Being relaxed, sometimes distracted, helps innovation. The harder you force yourself to have an idea, the harder it is to get one.
Put your brain in neutral (or park) instead of accelerating through the thought process. Take some time away from the dilemma to allow your submerged ideas to percolate through, around, over or under the barriers. You may get your best ideas while driving, meditating, running, or swimming. If so, take a drive, meditate, or go for a run or swim to release additional ideas. It’s important to keep that in mind (so to speak).
Step Three: Manipulation
Do you remember the old hand water pumps? Try as you might, no water will flow until the pump is primed. Steps One and Two serve that purpose. Now, as people congregate to brainstorm, they are primed with information to start and increase the flow of ideas. The session is more likely to be strategic and on target to solve the correct problem. You can now spend time manipulating the contributions people make, and the resulting actions are more likely to solve the real, underlying issues. As Louis Pasteur famously said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.”
Look back at all the questions posed throughout this article. Did they get you more involved, make you think and keep you reading? This three-step technique is more likely than traditional one-step brainstorming to generate specific, targeted ideas. But getting the right pieces for your book-marketing puzzle is not the end result. In fact, it's only the beginning of the next phase. Now you must put them together.