I used to want to have Angela Bower’s job. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Angela was a character on a show co-starring a very young Alyssa Milano. For those who are familiar, Angela was the boss, am I right? And Angela was an advertising guru. Then I grew up and majored in marketing, and my dream was shattered. (Well, one of them. I also wanted to be Nancy Drew, Indiana Jones, and Jessica Fletcher. Still working toward that last one.) Back to the day I learned that there was no longer a market for Advertising Specialists, and that advertising is just one small piece of the marketing puzzle. What puzzle, you ask? It’s actually more of a pie chart, and it’s called the ‘4 Ps of Marketing,’ or the ‘Marketing Mix.’ Below, I explain how each piece of this puzzle forms the holistic view of marketing, and I’m going to break it down in terms of how this relates to selling books.
Product: This is what you’re selling. It’s your books as well as any book-adjacent products or services. It’s also the packaging (book covers, e-retailer listings) and branding (social media profiles, website.) What’s important here is that by definition, your product needs to satisfy a customer need. For authors, this means that if you want to sell your product, you need to be thinking about your customer from the time you spark a concept, through to plotting, through to all the decisions you make about your book (style, tone, age category, reading level, etc.) Authors who don’t develop their books with the end consumer in mind are more likely to learn tough lessons through agent rejections or low sales. “But I just want to write the story that’s burning to get out.” Okay, so do that, but make sure you’re thinking about which target demographics are more likely to buy your final draft, so that you can make decisions about, for instance, aging up/down characters, book lengths more likely to sell, or whether your book is right for the current/expected political climate, etc.
Place: If you’ve got a publisher, congratulations, because this piece of the pie is mostly out of your hands. If you don’t have a publisher, place is about determining where your books (both e-books and physical copies) will be made available. It’s what channels of physical and e-distribution you’ll use. In terms of e-selling, you’ll find out that some platforms like Amazon’s KDP Select restrict your ability to also ‘place’ your book with Kobo or other e-retailers. In such cases, an author should ask themselves if their target demographic has access to the e-reader brand. For instance, at the time of writing this, Kindles were unavailable to purchase at the major bricks-and-mortar Canadian retailers I checked with and were only purchasable online. This in itself isn’t a reason for Canadian authors to not sign with KDP, but it does mean more research should be done before making a decision. Physical distribution isn’t restricted to bookstores. It could be that local haunt of yours that has agreed to a small display of your books, or a community event such as a farmers’ market or street fair where you can rent a table, or just making sure you always have a few copies in your bag/trunk when you leave the house. For self-publishing authors wanting to land on shelves next to other books, it’s important to think realistically about which bookstores (and non-bookstores with book departments or displays) are more likely to respond positively to an approach. Major retailers make big distribution deals with larger distributors and publishing houses. This said, they may have a small local section, or a self-published display next to their sign about their in-house book printing services. The smaller the retailer, the higher the chance of connecting with a decision-maker.
Promotion: Promotion has to ‘stimulate interest, trial, or purchase’ by consumers or middlemen/gatekeepers. It has three components: 1) Personal Selling: ‘direct spoken communication between sellers and potential customers.’ 2) Mass Selling: paid advertising (Angela’s still the boss) and unpaid publicity (the Internet was abuzz when Emma Watson hid copies of The Handmaid’s Tale around Paris.) 3) Sales Promotions: this is a hodgepodge category for whatever tactics don’t fit into the first two, and it can deliver the most profitable returns. Think guerrilla marketing like when Vintage, a division of Penguin Random House, posted the entire text of On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder in a poster installation on the streets of London. Think collaborative marketing, which is when authors with a commonality (genre, city, publisher, age category, #ownvoices identity) share costs and work, perhaps for a multi-author giveaway. Think grassroots marketing, by for instance organizing your own blog tour to coincide with your release. And of course think about how you integrate social media into it all. The important thing to remember here is that tried-and-tested can become tired and glossed over by your target, while unconventional is more likely to draw attention.
Price: If you are traditionally published, the price decisions are also out of your hands. For everybody else, now’s the time for some comparative shopping (bricks-and-mortar and e-retailers) and pricing trends research (are authors marking up or discounting at specific times of the year or during promotions?) Ideally, price decisions should be made with both competitive pricing and production costs in mind, but I dare you to come up with a number that compensates you for all the tears lost during the writing and revision process. It’s important to think about price as a fluid number and plan to react (adjust pricing) as the situation calls for it.
There you have it, the 4 Ps of Marketing. If you’re not cooking with all four parts of the Marketing Mix recipe, then maybe nobody’s going to buy your pie.
I wrote this post for the monthly Insecure Writers Support Group blog hop. To continue hopping or to join the hop, click here. (There are more than 200 of us, and it’s fun!)
If you have any follow-up questions or thoughts, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.