Let’s say a friend of yours has just finished writing a mystery novel, and he asks you to read it before he submits it to agents, or publishes it himself.
You asks, “Why does the protagonist care about figuring out who murdered his neighbor?”
He shrugs. “I don’t know. It’s just the right thing to do, I guess. Does it matter?”
“Well, yes,” you answer. “The police could’ve done it, he didn’t need to get involved. He didn’t even know his neighbor that well, or like him. So why bother?”
“I don’t know,” your friend repeats, miffed. “He’s my sleuth. He has to solve the murder.”
You then ask, “Well, why does he decide to go through all those other hoops, when all he really needs to do is go straight to the neighbor’s ex-wife? None of the other leads were plausible.”
“I needed him to do stuff. Otherwise, it’d be way too short of a novel.”
You are now aghast. “But he doesn’t even really solve the crime. He just sort of trips on the killer at the end!”
“Listen, it’s a MYSTERY,” he yells. “He got lucky, sure, but he did solve the crime – pretty much.”
How well do you think this novel is going to do?
Why? Because it’s not a story; it’s a collection of “stuff” that happens to a guy who isn’t really invested in the outcome, with an ending that depends on sheer luck.
Now replace “mystery” with “promotion plan”.
Too many writers I know say they’re working on building their platform, or launching their novels.
When I ask if they have a plan, they say things like “I’ve got a website” or “I’m getting a Kirkus review” or “I just got on Twitter and Facebook and Pinterest”. They talk about street teams and bookmarks, maybe throwing a launch party.
“Who is your target audience?” I ask.
“Whoever will buy the book,” they usually say with a laugh. “I mean, I think it could appeal to a lot of different readers.”
“But why are you getting on Twitter and Facebook? Why are you getting a Kirkus review?”
They then look at me like I’m dimwitted. “To sell books.”
That’s it. No real plan. No strategy.
Just tactics – essentially, a bunch of “stuff” to fill in the time between launch and sales report.
At the end of all this, they usually feel discouraged because they worked so hard to get to this place of disappointment, and they don’t know what went wrong. They then usually either work twice as hard (in twice as many directions), or derisively state that “there’s no way of telling if any of this works” and refuse to do any promotional actions in the future.
The elements of a promotion plan.
Just like a story has an arc, a promotional plan has an arc, as well. People in the business world call it the sales cycle, and it consists of the following four points:
- Awareness. This is people becoming aware of your novel. They don’t necessarily feel one way or another about it – it’s simply on their radar.
- Interest. This is the qualifying stage. People are either attracted to your novel, or they decide it’s not to their tastes.
- Desire. Those that are attracted to your novel then determine if they want it badly enough to do something about it… a further qualification.
- Action. Those who decide they do want it badly enough then go ahead and purchase it.
What does this have to do with you?
Let’s put this in story terms.
Your future purchasing reader is your protagonist. She’s the one going on the journey, after all.
Not just any protagonist will do, however. You need a specific character: the kind who will logically undertake the full journey, from beginning (awareness) to end (purchase).
To do this, you need to define your target market. If you can build a character sketch, you can write up a target reader sketch, even if it’s a brief “someone who likes amateur sleuth mysteries with a lot of humor” instead of “someone who likes gory police procedurals”. It’s not who can like it, potentially. It’s who is most likely to want it.
Going through the arc.
From there, you enter the Awareness phase. How will you incite this incident? How will you invite the protagonist to the journey?
By learning where she hunts for books, and helping her become aware of your title. This can mean anything from reviews to Amazon algorithm work to social media, but it’s crossing her path… setting that first domino in place.
Once you’ve created curiosity, she’ll qualify your book– the Interest phase. She’s aware of your book, and she happens to want a new book by a new author. So she’s decided to investigate yours, to see if it’s something she might like.
How do you address this?
By giving her cues that will alert her to the type of book it is, reassuring her that it is, indeed, in her wheelhouse.
The book description could be tailored to show her it’s her kind of book (“zany romp while bullets fly” versus “blood stained trail might lead to Detective Pinsky’s last case” or whatever), most likely to hit all her reader hot spots.
You could pursue positive reviews on book sites that she trusts. The fact that they also post to Amazon helps if she just goes there to see if there’s “social proof” – a term meaning other people have tried it out and given it the thumbs up.
From there, she shifts into the Desire phase. It’s not enough to show her that it’s a book she might like. You need to help convince her that it’s something she wants enough to spend money on.
How? A gripping first chapter. Lots of social media – from other people, not you – giving her a sense of inevitability. If her friends are all reading it, perhaps she’ll feel left out. An attractive price point, if need be… or a higher price point, suggesting its value and allure if your target audience prefers that sort of validation. Again, research is key.
Finally, she enters the Action phase. She’s done the research. Not only does she know and like your book, she wants to purchase it.
Your final job is to set her in motion – make it easy, almost inevitable, for her to purchase.
Distribution, possibly. Make it available in as many format as possible, if you’re self-publishing. Otherwise, make your author website as clear as possible, showcasing the polite but clear “BUY HERE NOW” if she’s done more research on your site itself. Make sure your reviews have buy links that work. In your newsletter, actually ask for the sale. (They wouldn’t be on your newsletter list if they weren’t interested in purchasing your books. If they’re on your list and they’re not interested in purchasing – they should not be on your list!)
Without strategy, tactics are inefficient and often ineffective.
Just choosing tactics without researching your audience or creating a strategy is like submitting a story you haven’t crafted: it will meander, go down blind alleys, and eventually result in an unpleasant experience for you and the reader.
Do the same research you’d do for a novel, create a logical, satisfying arc for your promotional plan – and you’ll watch the story of your writing career slowly come together.
Are you working on promoting a novel or building a platform? Who would you say is your target audience – and how are you approaching your promotional plan?