I’ve read several blog posts this past week about publishing that had me rolling my eyes. Maybe it’s because I spent ten years in marketing before I committed myself to the insanity of writing. While I’ve never worked in publishing, selling is selling and products are products, no matter the industry. Without further pre-amble, I give you the 4 p’s of marketing, applicable to igloo salesmen and book hawkers alike, even in the digital age:
Product – Everyone may have a story to tell, but not every story will sell. Okay, I was trying too hard for the rhyme on this one, but here’s what I was trying to say: just because you wrote a book, doesn’t mean people will fork over money for it. Especially if you’re one of those people who thought you’d give self-pubbing a try because, hey, everyone else is making a bundle and you’ve got a really great story about a vegetarian werewolf that’s just dying to be told. How hard can it be to write a book, anyway? If Snooki can do it, anyone can. (Read more about the projected hysteria here.) Bottom line: to be successful, you have to offer the public a good book (i.e., a good product) and learning to write takes time. Years, not a few spare lunch hours, folks.
Price – There is a race to the bottom, but not everyone is running the race. First, ebooks were $2.99, then they were $.99, now they’re free! (no, really, F-R-E-E, while supplies / hope lasts) Now, that vegetarian werewolf novel may need to be .99 or free in order to leave the shelf, but will Stephen King ever need to price his books that low (outside of a limited promotion) because of market pressure? In a word, no. Why? Because quality products can and should command a higher price. The car industry leads with a perfect example. Ferraris will always sell for top dollar, even in a recession, even when other manufacturers are scrambling to make econo-cars, because Ferraris kick a**. Bottom line: you can command a higher price for your product if you offer quality. If you don’t offer quality and price accordingly, you’ll have to make it up in volume, which will be harder to do if your book sucks.
Place – If you’re on the bottom shelf, you’re on the bottom. This has nothing to do with the “place” you’re sold, but, rather, how your products are positioned in the market. If you come right out of the gate with an unedited book, complete with a crappy cover and a bunch of fake Amazon reviews posted by suckers who owe you a favor, then guess what? You’ve positioned yourself. And it ain’t with the Ferraris. Traditionally published authors have it easier because of the halo effect that automatically comes with professional alignment (never said it was deserved in all cases). Does this mean self-pubbers can’t achieve a similar effect? They can, it’s just going to take more work and money. Hire that editor, that designer, establish yourself as an expert through speaking or teaching or interviews, maintain a professional web presence…so many others have said this before. But how many people are actually following this advice? Bottom line: if you position yourself as a dabbler (whether you intend to or not), people will view your products as inferior.
Promotion – Pull, don’t push when selling. I’ve read numerous posts questioning the effectiveness of Twitter, FB, and other forms of social media in selling books, including one by Publishers Weekly that backs up this supposition with data. Here’s the answer: social media won’t sell jack. Does it have an overall impact in the perceived value of a product? Yes, if it’s done professionally. Will people run out in droves to buy your new book because you told them to do it in 140 characters or less? Not likely. I’m sure it happens on a limited basis. But is it a reliable and time-worthy method of sales? No, and I’ll tell you why not–because EVERYONE IS DOING IT. If you want to be heard in a crowd, the first rule is whisper, don’t shout. What the heck does this mean? It means, dear reader, that your primary goal as a writer is to entertain. So entertain, don’t sell, and people will come to know your genius and decide to purchase it for $2.99 and above. And another thing, please target your efforts with a sniper rifle, not a shotgun blast. In other words, pasting an Amazon link to your vegetarian werewolf book at the bottom of your witty and/or snarky blog comments is nice and all, but you’ll sell a lot more if you send comp copies to the folks who host veggie blogs or werewolf blogs, or both (in the hopes that they’ll evangelize). Bottom line: You can’t make someone buy your product, you have to make them want to buy your product. This is best done with a slight tap on the shoulder, not a crack to the head with a sledgehammer.
There you have it. The 4 p’s of marketing. Go forth and sell, dang it. But subtly.