Imagine you’ve booked a backpacking adventure. You’ve spent months planning your itinerary, plotted every stopover, learned the ins and outs of every location, and now you’re at the airport—dun-dun-dun—sans passport. That’s what marketing is for so many authors, a nasty surprise that could spoil all your plans. Whether you’re on a traditional, hybrid or self-publishing journey, make no mistake, marketing is going to cut into your future writing time—big time.
So how can you learn everything you need to know about marketing prior to publishing your first (or next) book? It’s impossible. I don’t say this lightly. My resume is packed with marketing credentials, and I still don’t know everything. No one can. It’s the nature of the field: evolving.
Once you accept that it’s not possible to be an expert in every tributary of marketing, the better question becomes tangible: How can you develop a self-guided marketing curriculum that A) is reasonable in terms of time commitment; B) involves the most relevant study material; C) teaches you enough to successfully market your books; and D) keeps you on top of marketplace changes?
A) Time commitment
Your marketing education may need a protracted timeline if you’re publishing soon, but let’s say you’re a year out from your expected release and your marketing education is minimal. You’re the boss, but may I suggest you ease yourself into marketing with a dedicated thirty to sixty minutes a week. This is study time, learning about new author marketing tools, new social media sites and tricks, etc. Implementation of what you learn is in addition to study time.
B) Relevant study material
1. Textbooks: Marketing textbooks contain thousands of marketing terms and concepts, so unless you’re a conglomerate that needs to understand macro-marketing or penetration pricing policy, start with one marketing book that is narrowed to your specialization: selling books. I’m not going to recommend one, because your research will tell you if there is a book that perfectly fits your situation (genre, region of the world, etc.)
2. Targeted blog reading: While books about selling books will teach you the concepts and terms you need to know, they share an inherent flaw–they’re dated the moment they’re published, because of that pesky flaw of the marketing field: that it’s evolving. This is where blog posts become advantageous. The other reason blog posts are fantastic is because they’re accessible; you can find and read several reviews and how-tos on a particular marketing tool within minutes.
C) Learning enough to successfully market your book
There is some relativity involved in this point. Let’s say two authors write the exact same book, word for word. The only difference is the title. If, over the course of a year, Author 1 invests sixty minutes a week into learning about marketing and Author 2 invests thirty minutes every other week, assuming all other variables remain constant (budget, etc.), Author 1 will likely sell more books. Yes, there’s a tiny possibility that Author 2 will luck out because she has a connection and gets reviewed by The New York Times, but hoping to get lucky is not a sound marketing strategy. The better path is to plan for the level of success you think is achievable given the time and budget you can reasonably allocate to marketing, and any luck that boosts your sales is a bonus. This said, it’s important to remember that marketing is a holistic field that encompasses the quality of the product. Someone with a doctorate in marketing and a terribly written book may not sell many copies.
D) Staying on top of marketplace changes
The good news is that staying on top of marketplace changes becomes an organic part of the marketing process. Take Pinterest for instance. You’ll invest an initial thirty to sixty minutes in learning about this medium per point B-2, then you’ll set up an account and play around, and over time, you’ll become familiar with how to gain a following and see successes toward this goal. While you’re building your following, questions will come up, which you’ll research and find answers to. Then one day, you’ll wake up and realize you’re one of the most proficient Pinterest users you know.
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How much time do you devote to marketing per week? Do you set aside time for studying marketing or learning about marketing tools? Can you recommend a particular marketing resource for authors?