Welcome to the blog of Ariele Sieling, author! If you would like to learn more about her, click here to sign up for her newsletter. She also offers publishing and marketing consulting services. Click here to learn more.
We authors are at war. We have at our disposal the books we write, our author network, and a few tools that may or may not work, depending on the day or the time or the mood of the universe as a whole. We are fighting for the attention of a few—100, maybe 1000 people that love our work, our words, our stories. But we have to compete for their attention against life in general, the entire internet, all of television, and every other book that’s been written (just to name a few things).
In addition, each of us is just one author, with a finite number of tools, a finite number of hours, and a finite number of dollars to use in the war to reach the hearts and minds of those people that are going to love our books. But too often our marketing feels like we are just flinging paint against the walls and hoping that it makes a picture.
So how do we decide exactly where we are going to spend our time and dollars? What do we invest in?
How do we build one, holistic, marketing strategy that we can use to keep us on track, moving forward, and overcoming all odds in this crazy world of modern publishing?
The short answer is: I don’t know. But I do know that a lot of the “strategies” that are out there, aren’t really strategies. They are tactics. Single activities. Once-in-a-lifetime strokes of luck. I might not have a solid, single, answer, but I do have some suggestions.
1. Decide your endgame.
Whenever I ask people, “what’s your goal as an author?” I usually get back the same answer from everyone: I want to make money. I want to pay a few bills. I want to send my kids to college. I want to be able to quit my job. My response to that is: YES. I KNOW. THAT’S WHAT WE ALL WANT. If that’s what you’re trying to do, then write and publish as much as you can as fast as you can, and then invest in paid advertising. If that doesn’t sound like the way you want to live your life, then reconsider your endgame. What else do you want? What is your ultimate goal as a writer or author? If you die, and never make a cent on writing, what do you want to achieve?
Here are a few examples:
I want to have one TRUE fan that loves everything I write.
I want to create resources for teachers to help improve the XYZ part of children’s lives.
I want to leave my story behind for my grand kids.
I want to fill an item on my bucket list.
I want to increase diverse representation in literature.
I want to write a TV series.
I want to run a personal training/SEO/cooking/consulting business.
I want to start a movement.
I want to write body and sex positive books.
I want to tell the stories of a particular demographic of people.
I want to help other people achieve their goals.
Whatever your endgame is, this will determine the choices you make as you piece together your marketing strategy. Every activity you participate in, every marketing choice you make—it should always point back to this.
2. Determine your objectives.
As I said, we are fighting a war. So what do you need to accomplish in order to win the war? That depends on what you’re trying to win, what your endgame is. Hopefully you’ve got that figured out.
Objectives should be reasonable, specific, and measurable—you need to know when you’ve accomplished it. But at least in this war, making deadlines for objectives is optional.
If my endgame is to conquer the United States, my objectives might look like this:
Invade New Hampshire.
Win New Hampshire.
Or maybe it would look like this:
Attack east coast with fleet of ships.
Send troops down over the Canada/US border with tanks.
Send bombers over midwest to weaken farms and supply lines.
I don’t know—military strategy is definitely not my thing. But let’s take a closer look at author marketing strategy instead. If my endgame is to increase diverse representation in literature, I’m going to focus my time and efforts in two areas: first, I have to write books with diverse characters (so I’ll create a strategy for that, but that’s writing, not marketing). Second, I have to get my books into the hands of people that want to read about diverse characters.
So who do I think will want to read my books?
Objective 1: Determine my target audience.
Once I know who to target, then I need objectives to keep myself on track and moving in the right direction.
Objective 2: Get 100 pairs of (new) eyes on my books every week.
Once I know for a fact that lots of people are seeing my books, I have to draw them in.
Objective 3: Create a sales funnel.
Once they’ve been drawn in, I have to keep them around.
Objective 4: Create audio/visual experiences that enable my readers to invest more emotional energy into my books and my worlds.
I could go on like this for a while. These objectives are HARD to write. Impossible, sometimes. And honestly, I’m not sure there are right or wrong, good or bad objectives. It’s all about what works for you.
Let’s try another example. Say your endgame is that you want to provide resources for teachers to help kids learn math.
In this scenario, you already know your target audience: teachers. And getting 100 teachers to look at your books every week seems like a bit of a stretch. Besides, in order to get buy-in from teachers, you don’t just want them to see your work, you want the opportunity to get up close and personal with them.
Objective 1: Build a network of teachers that are interested in your product.
Once you’ve found the teachers, you have to convince them to at least try your work.
Objective 2: Create a sample product that you hand out for free for teachers to use.
Teachers are now actively engaging with your work. How do you get them to buy the curriculum?
Objective 3: Approach principals and superintendents and offer discounts for bulk sales.
Now you have your books in a few schools. How do you get them to keep using it, and wanting more from you?
Objective 4: Schedule school visits, trainings, and conferences to connect teachers with ongoing support and resources.
Objectives are the things you need to accomplish in order to reach the endgame. You can have as many or as few objectives as you want. Maybe you start with two or three and add more as you go. Maybe you write down a few, hate them, and try something else new later. Whatever works—I’d say, just get started. Once you’re moving forward, it gets harder and harder to stop.
3. Develop your tactics.
Tactics are different than objectives in that objectives are what you are trying to accomplish and tactics are the actual actions that you take. When I really, truly understood the difference between objectives and tactics, that’s when my marketing completely shifted. Tactics are the things you do to make the objectives happen.
Let’s pick an easy objective to begin with: Get 100 (new) pairs of eyes on my books every week. This is something most marketing plans probably have in common (if not 100 eyes, then 10 or 50 or 500). Basically, you need to reach your audience. It’s a flexible objective too, one that you can grow or pull back on, depending on life circumstances, luck, resources, etc.
So, what tactics can we brainstorm to get 100 eyes on our books every month?
post on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/etc.
make a Youtube series about your book or topic
put your books in Free Little Libraries
donate a copy of your book to your local library
go to comic cons, book signings, craft fairs
paid ads (Facebook/Amazon/Bookbub)
start a word of mouth campaign
put out new books
get people to sign up for your newsletter
go on a blog tour
pay for impressions
do a giveaway
post on Wattpad
make book trailers
get a short story in an anthology
build a website/Google ads
make a video game
get on a podcast/start a podcast
do radio/TV interviews
pay for a billboard
put flyers on cars
make a banner and have it dragged behind an airplane
For this particular objective, I could brainstorm hundreds of ideas. Pretty much anything you do out where people can see you will get at least one or two pairs of eyes on your books.
So how do you decide what you do and don’t do?
I have a few suggestions.
First, brainstorm this same list for every objective you wrote down. If one tactic appears as a suggestion for multiple objectives, try doing that.
Secondly, look at your time/budget allotments. If you can’t afford something or don’t have time to do it the right way, high quality (remember everything you do represents your brand!), don’t do it.
Third, if there is anything on that list that you hate doing, don’t do it. Why bother? Why be miserable—isn’t it hard enough to make a living as an author? Pick stuff that sounds kind of fun, instead.
Fourth, if you’ve tried something before and it was terrible and didn’t work, don’t do that either. Or at very least, come back to it with a different approach.
Let’s do another example: Approach principals and superintendents and offer discounts for bulk sales.
Here are some tactics to consider:
reach out to teachers you know, and ask if they can put you in touch with their principal
go to teacher or administrative conferences and network with principals/superintendents
send out cold emails or make cold phone calls to principals/superintendents in your area
pay for a vendor table at a local event, a school event, or a conference
pay for Google ads/Amazon/Facebook targeted at principals, teachers, and superintendents
make videos of you demonstrating your technique, and post on Youtube (with the appropriate keywords attached)
build a website and post a blog with information about the technique, math, etc.
start a podcast where you talk about your technique and other techniques
This one is harder to brainstorm for (especially since I write science fiction, not math curriculum), but if you just spend a little time with each of your objectives, you’ll be able to come up with a good number of items. If it were me, I would never cold call (because I hate talking on the phone). I probably would make a video series, because I have the skills to do that. And I would probably be a vendor at events, because I like talking to people face to face.
Whatever tactics you choose should always point back to an objective, which should point back to your endgame. If you do this, you’ll never sit around wondering, why am I even doing this? You’ll know exactly why. As you get more involved with this sort of planning, you can start to add layers—hire people to do some of the work for you, improve your methods of measuring what tactics work and don’t work, learn where is best to invest actual dollars. And you won’t get so caught up when a tactic fails, because you’ll have a plan, and know exactly what to do next.
And hopefully, before long, your marketing plan will be chugging along, and carrying you with it.
4. Get started.
Don’t wait until you have a perfectly thought out, perfected marketing plan. Seriously. Don’t wait. Start now. The longer you wait to get started, the less time you’ll have to enact all parts of the plan. We all have limited hours, days, minutes, so don’t wait.
A couple of extra thoughts on book marketing for authors:
It’s work. It’s hard. I hear/see a lot of authors complain about how it’s not working, or ask for the easiest ways to market their books. If you want to be a career author, then you have to be all in on the marketing as well as the writing, whether you’re trad published or indie.
If you go through this whole thing, get to the end, and think, “I don’t want to do all this. I just want to leave a legacy, or cross an item off my bucket list, or leave behind a book of memories for my grand kids,” then do that! Don’t worry about all this other nonsense. Write the book you want to write, and give it to your grand kids. Or cross it off your bucket list. Or donate it to your library. Put in exactly the amount of work you want to put in, and not a bit more.
This might not work for everyone. It’s not a hard and fast system. It’s just an idea, a suggestion, a guide. Do what works for you, ignore the rest. If anyone ever tells you that their way of marketing (or writing) is the only way, or the best way—they’re wrong, and just trying to pull one over on you. Do what works for you. The people that go viral are the people whose approach to marketing is as unique as they are, as unique as the content they produce. Be unique. Take your natural creativity and apply it to your marketing.
I have lots of other thoughts on this, as I’m sure you could have guessed, but I’m going to stop here for now. Sign up for my newsletter, email me any questions you have, comment below if you have any thoughts. If you don’t like the system, forget about it and find a different one. And good luck.