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.