What's a marketing plan and why do I need it?
It's easy to get all excited about getting your book written, edited, designed and typeset and forget all about the important part—marketing! Without marketing, no one will know you have published your wonderful book! You'll be stuck with a garage full of books (or an Amazon ranking in the three millions) and no way to sell them... and that's depressing.
Just as every new business needs a business plan, so, too, will you need a marketing plan—because you have engaged in business. Hoping for a New York Times review is nice, but not likely. You need to discover where your readers are and make a plan of attack to reach them.
How do I write a marketing plan?
First things first: who is going to read your book?
If your answer is "everyone who likes to read," you have a problem. You need to sit down and figure out who you've written the book for. Even if it's fiction, you have a particular reader in mind. How are you going to reach him / her? Define your reader (market), figure out how you'll make sure they'll hear about your book (the plan).
How do I do that?
If your book is non-fiction, you must know who is going to want the information in your book. Make a list of the sorts of people who will do so. For instance, if you write a book about a particular kind of antique firearm, then you have as an audience: gun fans, antique firearms fans, historic re-eanctors (did you figure that one out yourself? Marketing requires creative thinking!), museums and collections.
Fiction is a little harder. For my first book, Captain Mary Buccaneer—a historical novel about a woman pirate captain, loosely based on the real pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Reade—I discovered that there were nearly half-a-million pirate re-enactors in the world. That's a big audience! (And this was pre-"Pirates of the Caribbean").
More general fiction will require more effort. GoodReads is a good place to start working with your audience. We'll talk more about those in a minute.
How do I reach my audience?
Here's where the hard work comes in.
Study how this particular reader/buyer gets information. These days, your online presence—or platform—is key, because that's where more people are getting information. Get a website for your book (even if you have a website dedicated to you) and put content on it. For a full list, see the chapter on websites. Make sure you have a blog and post on it regarding your book at least once a week.
So social media is all I need?
Again, it depends on your market. If your audience are CEOs, then Facebook isn't really going to be the place to find them. What are they reading? Get into those magazines and newsletters that target your audience. They are always looking for content and will be willing to mention your book beside your name. The best bet here is to write an article with a sidebar (wherein you tell about how to order your book). You may need to produce the newsletter yourself—then print the book.
I'm getting confused about when I need to edit, market, and send stuff out!
You need a timeline. Counting backwards from your planned street date (when the book is in booksellers' hands), factor in printing time for print-books (about eight weeks) or time for your ebook to populate over all the sites (2-3 weeks), design (talk to your cover and interior designers about their timelines), editing (talk to your editor about his / her schedule), and early promotion (research magazine deadlines or talk to a publicist about their timelines).
Do I need a publicist?
Again, this depends on your market. If you are targeting a small niche (say you've got a book on marketing an optometry business), then you undoubtedly know the associations, websites and publications that will reach your audience. If your reader/buyer is more dispersed, then you may need to hire a specialist who can help you craft a media release aimed at the editors and publishers of publications (e- and p-) that service your audience. You may want to work with them over a few months (somewhere between $2500 to $7,000), or just for one or two "media blasts" (which can cost anywhere from $250 to $1000).
If you are good at writing copy and are willing to buy some media lists, you can do this yourself. But you'll get better results from a professional. Please put on your "must read" list Paul Krupin's excellent free ebook "Trash-Proof Media Releases"
Should I use a publicist to announce my book?
Last year, there were over 1.2 million books published. The media is unimpressed with the announcement of yet another book (unless you are a celebrity). What your publicist and you will want to do is have a hook. How can your book benefit people? What tips do you have to make their lives easier, happier, more rewarding or just plain fun? Because the only way you get attention is by showing how your expertise and book help them—your reader/buyer. They aren't interested in you (even though you are undoubtedly a wonderful person). If you want people to spend money on your book, then you have to make them realize how much it benefits them.
What else do I need to have for a marketing plan?
You need to plan not only for production (the cost of designing and printing the book), but advertising. No money for advertising = no sales. But you can't just shotgun your money, figuring eventually you'll reach the right people. Target your advertising to reach the people who'll buy your book. Newspapers are the least likely places to advertise. Again, this will hinge on your careful research of who your readers/buyers are and where they get their information.
So, all I need to have is a clear plan and that will guarantee my success?
You've probably heard the expression "the best laid plans of mice and men shortly go awry." Even the best crafted marketing plans sometimes come to naught. See below for what to do next.
Be willing to re-think your marketing plan. It needs constant "tweaking"—and sometimes outright scrapping. Be flexible. Try new approaches. Review it every three months.
I've heard that if I give away my ebook for free, that will start the ball rolling and I'll make sales once I switch back to asking for money. Is that true?
It was sometimes true in 2009, but not today. There are thousands of ebooks published daily. Sure, people download a free copy. But few will pay for it when you switch on the "pay me" button. And that makes sense. How many things did you get for free recently that you went back and paid for later? Probably few, if any. You worked hard to write and produce your book, don't just give it away to "get it out there."