Okay, okay, so this is not the best week to talk about marketing. Markets, maybe, but not marketing. But I’m going to do it anyway.
A friend asked a simple question: do postcards work as a marketing tool? My answer was yes, no, and maybe. In preparing that answer, I thought about not only what I’d learned about marketing over the past few years, but how I’d learned it.
Very few of us come to this writing game realizing that we will spend more time marketing our books than writing them. Once we discover that fact, it is hard to get a handle on anything, even if and how do simple market techniques work. There’s an old marketing phrase, “Does Macy’s tell Gimbels?” meaning that one company won’t share information with a rival. That holds true in much of publishing and book selling.
Here are a few principles I've come across in the past seven years that seem to make sense to me.
Create a strong brand platform, and stick to it
Consumer research says that for every three times that consumers see a message, it only registers once. The message must, on average, register nine times (27 exposures to the same message) before the customer is motivated to buy.
If you’re at all familiar with beagles, you know that they can be great hunting dogs, but are, oh, so easily distracted. To train up a beagle to be a great hunting dog, you have to teach her not to go wandering off following strange and enticing scents, but to stick with the one scent that the hunter wants to track.
It’s the same with marketing. This is the worst way to market: I have no idea what works, but I can get a good deal on postcards, so I’ll send some out. I sent out 500 postcards and nothing happened, so I think I’ll try a blog. I’ve done the blog for a few weeks and nothing is happening and I’m tired of coming up with something new to write about, so I’ll make a video trailer. My trailer only got 27 hits, so now I’m going to do a virtual book tour. I’ve tried everything—postcards, blogs, video trailers, book tours—and nothing worked, so maybe I’ll go back to postcards again.
No selling technique works; every selling technique works
The success of any marketing technique depends on whether the promoter understands why a technique works and has sufficient time and resources to match the criteria that work.
To become a household word, you’ve got to invest in 21 radio spots per week per station, from 6 am till 7 or 8 PM, 52 weeks a year, on as many radio stations as you can afford. Expect minimal results during the chickening-out period—the first eight to thirteen weeks. It takes that long to build your audience. ~Roy H. Williams, media marketer
If an author has the money to blanket the airwaves as Williams describes, then yes, radio ads will work. However, if the author plans to have a radio spot appear three times on a college radio station, then no, radio ads won’t work for that author.
How do you find out what works about a given technique?
Search the Internet for articles, opinions, and blogs;
Ask a research librarian to help locate articles in business and marketing journals related to the effectiveness of a particular marketing tool;
Ask an expert, someone who works in advertising, and be aware that the answer might cost some bucks.
Back to my friend’s original question: do postcards work?
Postcards are most effective for a targeted market of readers who are previously acquainted with the author, and who have given permission for the author to contact them. The return is roughly 3 sales for every 100 cards mailed. So, if an author wanted to sell 50 books by using postcards, she would need to mail out approximately 1,700 post cards to a mailing list of people who had previously purchased her book, and whose names she had collected on an “okay to send mail to me” mailing list.
Postcards can also be used to raise name awareness. There are no figures on what the return per 100 cards mailed is. This is part of that “target the universe” approach to marketing. It might work in surprising ways; it might not work at all.
Do what you want to do
If no selling technique works and every selling technique works, do what you want to do.
What matches your personality? What do you feel comfortable and uncomfortable doing? If it’s not fun, don’t do it. If nothing about marketing is fun, then you will either have to hire (or get volunteer help) to marketing for you, or learn to make something fun.
What do you have the time and money to do in marketing for the next ten years? Yep, ten years. While no one can predict the future, there are some questions that can form a framework for a long-term marketing plan.
How old are you now? How does your average monthly income relate to your average expenses? Is your income steady (stable day job) or erratic (freelance, contract work, unstable day job, etc) How much time do you have to devote to marketing right now?
How old will you be in ten years? What will be your anticipated income sources in ten years? How much time do you see yourself having for marketing in ten years?
Assume that you will have to survive a medium-size disaster once a year and a major disaster every three years. These might be illnesses, unexpected major expenses, changes in lifestyle, or outside events which are related to natural disasters, economics or other forces beyond your control. Taking those disasters into account, go back and look at the above questions again.
What hands-on creative techniques do you already know how to do, enjoy doing, and have the equipment and supplies to do, or the cash to pay someone else to do? Do you already know how to design and print a great-looking brochure, do a pod cast, manage a blog, make video trailers, etc. What techniques would you enjoy doing once you learned how to do them?
Work from the inside out: Build a personal relationship with the people who have already read your book.
The ideal is a steady fan base, which equals 20% of your total sales. This 20% does your marketing work for you by word-of-mouth recommendations and the results are a growing readership every time a new book appears. ~Jo-Ann Power, Power Promotions
Two mistakes writers make:
1) Marketing to other mystery writers.
2) Marketing to the same group too often.
~Jeffrey Marks, mystery writer and marketer
So if I want to sell 1,000 copies of a book, I need an active fan base of at least 200 people who are interested in my work. I’m not trying to sell to them over and over. That’s what Jeffrey Marks is talking about in marketing to the same group too often. Rather, I’m trying to keep those people interested in what I’m writing, so that they will recommend me to their friends, their libraries, etc.
The book is only the beginning
The old advertising slogan, “Sell the sizzle,” is only partly right. If a restaurant sold a steak that smelled terrific, but tasted terrible or even made people sick, they wouldn’t stay in business very long. A book is a disposable object. It has to be a great read, but the average reader will spend 3 to 5 hours reading it, and is unlikely to read it a second time. I can’t build a writing career on 3-hour contacts. What I want to do is interest the reader in the next book, the one they haven’t seen yet. I want them thinking about me, and sending me e-mail, and building a relationship as background activities to buying the book.
The book is your entry into relationships. It’s the relationships that sell the book, not the other way around.