Book Marketing Strategies for First-Time Authors

Thursday, August 01, 2019

You may be ready to start building your marketing plan for your debut book—but where do you start? Some authors avoid planning in general because they don't know how to do it. There are two different ways for first-time authors to create their future marketing plans. One solution is discovery-driven planning, in which much is still assumed, but the plan evolves over time through trial and error. A second technique views planning as narrative, conducted as you would when writing a novel.

Authors and publishers who do know how to create a book marketing plan typically use a conventional, platform-based marketing plan that builds upon previous experience, with goals described as an increase over last year’s achievements. Planners know what did and didn't work in the past, so their lists of strategies and actions are based on that familiarity.

First-time authors have no history of marketing their books, and there's a high ratio of assumption to knowledge. In their haste to do something, they often “wing it.” Their actions typically turn out to be wrong because the neophyte author does not sufficiently understand the publishing business.

Today we'll discuss two ways for first-time authors to create a book marketing plan: discovery-driven planning and planning as narrative. 

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1) Discovery-Driven Planning

In this case, the word plan is viewed as a verb. You do something, but actions are based upon proven marketing advice instead of historical data. Then track the results of your efforts and make adjustments as you go along. Describe your target readers and buyers, then take these actions.

Start at the end.

Discovery-driven planning is not a blind approach to marketing, but traditional marketing done in a non-traditional way. Instead of estimating future revenues and then assuming profits will come, create a “reverse income statement.” Determine the profit required to make the venture worthwhile. Then calculate the revenues needed to deliver that profit.

Learn effective marketing techniques.

Find out what should be done to generate that revenue. Read books about marketing. Join the Association of Publishers for Special Sales and the Independent Book Publishers Association. Read both organizations’ newsletters and other sources of book-marketing information, such as Book Marketing Matters. Attend seminars and webinars. Learn all you can about how to profitably manipulate the 4Ps of marketing: product, place, price, and promotion.

Calculate applicable costs.

Decide which actions to take and estimate the cost to do everything required to produce, distribute, promote, and sell your books. If you deduct those costs from predicted revenues, will your plan deliver a sufficient return? If not, go back through it, making calculated changes.

Perform the relevant actions.

If the answer to the question above is yes, implement an assorted, proven (by others) series of sustainable actions. Decide upon a price that will enable you to reach your profit objectives, given your costs. Contact distribution partners for selling to retailers. Arrange for sales online and to non-bookstore buyers. Perform publicity, media appearances, social-media actions, and personal selling activities.

Test assumptions at milestones.

New ventures often require redirection of action, and therein lies the key to successful discovery-driven planning. As you begin to experience results—either positive or negative—evaluate your relative success. Do more of what works, and make changes to (or eliminate) actions that do not work.

2) Planning as Narrative

In this case, you approach your marketing activities as you would writing a book. This may be particularly effective for fiction writers.

Step One: Define the characters and their motivations.

The author is the primary character. What are your strengths and weaknesses? Another important character in your story is your target reader. Precisely define this person in terms of demographics, but particularly why he or she would want to purchase your book. Describe where they shop, for this is where your book should be available. Another character is your publisher. How will you find the right one? What should be in your proposal? Will an agent assist you?

If you choose independent publishing, there are more characters to describe. Buyers at retailers—both in-store and online (bookstores, supermarkets, gift shops,, etc.)—take on products that will build store traffic, increase inventory turns and improve profit per square foot. Distributors to brick-and-mortar retailers want quality books that are supported by the author’s promotion. Librarians want books that will help their patrons. Corporate buyers want to use your content to sell more of their products. Describe how your characters will perform.

One antagonist is your competition. You are competing for your target readers’ share of mind and wallet with a variety of titles and products, depending on which consumers, retailers, and non-retail characters you select. Do a quick search for competitive titles in your category. Do this on and go to bookstores to evaluate the other titles on the shelves. Corporate buyers have a large variety of promotional products from which to choose. You vie with these for limited budgeted dollars.

Step Two: Write your story.

Describe the process of producing and marketing your book. What advice will your accountant, cover designers, and editors give you? What evil forces prevent you from succeeding? Describe how you will get on and perform on television and radio shows. Tell about the trials and tribulations you experience when arranging distribution and shelf presence. What twists and turns could occur? What new characters might enter? Build to the climax when you reach the Number One position as a New York Times bestseller (or whatever your objective is).

Step Three: Create the ending and plan for a sequel.

Close your story by pursuing the actions that will lead to a sequel or to your next book.

Of course, there is more to writing a book (plan) than described here, but you get the idea. Define and control the story as much as you do your actions in real life, so carefully describe how you will move ahead toward your destination.

Both of these techniques acknowledge that at the start of a new venture, little is known, and much is assumed. They systematically convert assumptions into knowledge as your strategic venture unfolds. Proceed with your best-guess estimates, then test and question them as you proceed. When new information is uncovered, incorporate it as necessary into your evolving plan. The real potential of your efforts is discovered as it develops.

What is the best form for a marketing plan? The best form is the one that works for you. Create a functional plan as an easy-to-use reference tool that guides your efforts. Implement your actions daily and update your initial thoughts as necessary. You will then have the experience to write a platform-based plan next year.


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Brian Jud

Brian Jud is the author of the book, How to Make Real Money Selling Books, the Executive Director of the Association of Publishers for Special Sales, and the administrator of Book Selling University. Contact Brian at or