Friday, July 28, 2006

I love it when a plan comes together

Editor’s note: If you are just joining us, this post is part of an intermittent series (indexed here), addressed primarily to the self-publishing author, in which I use an old conceit [3a], that of a wooden barrel as a metaphor for a process dependent on many inputs, to describe book publishing, with the volume of water in the barrel representing sales. The notion is that the level of the water is limited by the shortest stave.

So far I’ve touched on the major inputs involved in producing a book as an object. But if a book sits in your garage and nobody reads it, does it make any noise? No. And that means that the book is not a product. If it is not a product, you have nothing to sell and thus no expectation of recouping your costs, let alone reimbursing your time in writing the book.

What distinguishes a product from an object is, in the case of books, the business of publishing. Publishing—literally making public—means exposing the book to public view. This involves marketing the book: getting it reviewed, promoting it, advertising it, telling people about it any way you can.

Doing this requires a plan.

Okay, I know you just shuddered. Marketing is not something that a thoughtful, sensitive, introspective person like you is attracted to. You would much rather just put that beautiful object on your coffee table and admire it, pat yourself on the back for having produced it, wouldn’t you? If you are independently wealthy or someone else is paying your bills, you can indulge that fantasy. Otherwise, you need to draw up a marketing plan.

When? That depends. If you have spent the last decade and a half crafting the Great American Novel, it would not be reasonable to suggest that you should have planned the marketing before you started writing. For nonfiction, though, it often makes sense to have a marketing plan in place and underway before you write the first word of the book.

A marketing plan addresses a number of points:
  • Who is the book written for?

  • How large is the potential audience?

  • What is special about the book that will make it appeal to this audience?

  • What price will the audience accept for the book before they start to resist purchasing it and choose a competing book instead?

  • What influencers does the audience respond to?

  • What is the best way to activate those influencers?

  • What kinds of marketing activities make sense for the book?

  • When should those activities be scheduled?

  • How much time and money should be budgeted for those activities?
As I said, these are questions most authors would rather not have to deal with. Nonetheless, whether you write the marketing plan yourself or hire a consultant to develop the plan for you, the person who is going to drive the execution of the plan is you, the author. This is true whether you are self-publishing or working with a traditional royalties-paying publisher. It’s your butt that’s going to be in that car, shlepping from book signing to book signing, from local tv studio to local tv studio. If you’re not willing or able to devote the necessary time to readings, signings, and interviews, then your barrel doesn’t just have a short stave, it has a missing stave.

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