Marketing, selling, and other unsavoury activities

According to management guru Peter Drucker, “The aim of marketing is to make selling unnecessary.” In the book “Principles of Marketing” by Kotler et al., it is described as “the process by which companies create customer interest in goods or services.” Okay, so I think I get this. Marketing is a way of interacting with your potential customers in such a way that they will want to buy your product. In theory, if you get the marketing right, you should be able to sell your stuff just by making it available.

The reason I’m discussing marketing is because I’m now at that interesting stage of being a new author where I have to try to persuade people to buy my book. For someone like me, this is a daunting task. I once had a job selling a cleaning product in supermarkets. I had to stand just inside the main entrance and persuade people to spend their cash on a new and completely unknown brand. For someone as shy as me, that took enormous amounts of effort and I would go home at the end of the day feeling grumpy and irritable. After so many hours spent smiling at people and being up-beat, the last thing I wanted to do was smile and be up-beat. The job involved marketing, advertising, and selling, all within a two-minute window of opportunity. It was tough.

While writing Alpha Redemption, I didn’t give much thought to how I was going to sell it once it got published. I like to cross one river at a time, and getting published was a particularly wide river. So it was a bit of a surprise to find myself standing on the far bank, looking into the wilderness ahead, and thinking: “now what?”. For the past two months I have spent as much spare time as possible doing research and trying to find out the best way to persuade people to spend their cash on this new and completely unknown brand. Small publishers like Splashdown Books don’t have marketing or sales departments. We have to do it ourselves. But even if you are with a “big” publisher, it doesn’t hurt to do your bit to help.

And so, here are a few things I have learned about how to market a book. Before I continue, please remember that I am a rank beginner at this. You may think some (or all) or what I say is rubbish, but sometimes it does help to have a fresh view on a subject.

— Nobody knows who you are or what you do.

This needs to change. Think of your favourite fast food and what do you see? Chances are you have a big brand name in your mind. More than likely you have a corporate emblem and a catchy jingle to go along with that name. Corporations spend a fortune on advertising to get people to get you to equate their name with what they sell. The fast-food business is a competitive one with many names vying for your attention. If they can get you to complete the equation “fast-food = ” with their name, then they are one step ahead of the rest of the field. New authors generally can’t afford advertising campaigns, and so we have to make do with what we have. Throwing your book at a head of state is one way of getting people to remember you and your book but there are more socially acceptable ways to achieve this. Facebook is one of them. Twitter is another. The Web is the world’s biggest free advertising opportunity, so use it. Take every chance to present your cover, name and face on any relevant website. Look for people who do interviews and ask if they will interview you. Find bloggers who do reviews and offer to send them a copy of your book. If they like it, their readers may take a chance on you as well. Away from the Web, approach libraries, newspapers, radio-stations and churches. Offer to do signings. If people see your book often enough, they are more likely to remember it and, hopefully, buy it.

– The aim is to have people associate your name with quality writing.

If people read your book and like it, they will probably want to tell others about it. I seldom buy anything these days without checking online for reviews first. If people have read your book and liked it, ask them to post reviews. And, whatever you do, avoid the temptation to ask your loved ones to write rave reviews. I can always spot these and it has the opposite of the desired effect. It is better to have a balanced review from a stranger than a rave review from your spouse. People want to know what they are getting — not a biased opinion from someone who loves you too much to write anything bad about you or your writing.

– The Internet is your most valuable marketing tool.

A large part of the Internet is the World Wide Web, and it literally is a web. Potentially every single computer attached to the Web can connect to every other computer. Once your personal web page is loaded onto a service provider machine, or your message is posted on an online forum, anyone connected to the Internet has the possibility of seeing it. The problem is, people don’t go typing addresses at random. If they do type, it will probably only be the one time, after which it will end up bookmarked or forgotten or, if you’re lucky, retrievable from their History. People access web pages by clicking on bookmarks, or links, or by using a search engine. If you have a web page for your writing, make sure it can be found on Google at the very least (Google “improve google rankings” or something similar for tips on how to get good results). If you don’t have a web page for your writing, make one as soon as possible with a short, relevant, easy-to-remember name. And make sure people can see quickly and easily who you are and what you do. Anyone visiting your site should be able to get to buy your books in no more than two or three clicks. And wherever you go on the Web, leave a clickable trail back to your site. People should be able to get from wherever they see you, to your site, and on to your bookshop with as little effort as possible. And lastly, set up a mailing list so that you can keep in touch with people who are interested, but don’t abuse the trust of subscribers by flooding their mailboxes with daily updates of your word-count. An occasional, well-timed letter would be better.

– You have to reap in order to sow.

Be prepared to give copies of your book away. Every reviewer you approach will want at least one copy. If it hurts, think of it this way: a good review on a popular site could result in ten sales, which is a 1000% return. Those five people could start a chain-reaction of word-of-mouth and reviews that you cannot see but which may result in any number of sales. Give with the attitude of someone sowing seeds, and expect a harvest somewhere down the line.

– When it comes to issues of quality, I prefer to hear it from someone other than the author.

If someone came up to me and said “buy this book, it’s brilliant” and I found out they were the author, I wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole. If someone else I knew and trusted said the same thing, I would be much more willing to hand over my cash. Don’t rave about your own book — leave that to people who’ve read it and liked it. Oh, and be prepared that there will be people who really don’t like your writing.

– People can tell when you’re trying to sell them something, so be genuine and be yourself.

One piece of advice I read made a lot of sense to me. It boils down to being genuine. When you’re out and about, leaving your trail of clickable links back to your site, don’t make your book your first and only topic. In fact, you should probably make it your last topic. If people like you and want to know more about you, they will click on the link that you include in your posts. If they ask if you know of any good Amish Vampire love stories, you can tell them you’ve written one. Otherwise, you risk coming across as phony. In fact, I know of one forum where people will intentionally post bad reviews for books where the authors come in just to promote themselves. People don’t like self-promotion, so only do it if you are explicitly invited to.

– Start sooner rather than later.

You can get busy with some of these things even if you don’t have a book deal yet. Get your website up now and use the time between now and your contract to get it just right.

– Anvils and cheesecake.

Have nothing to do with this post, but are important nonetheless.

This is where I am so far. Of course I expect to learn more as time passes and will post my thoughts as and when. I hope some of this is of use to you. Oh, and I almost forgot. . . www.pabaines.com


About P.A.Baines

P.A.Baines writes computer programs for a living but would much rather be writing Christian speculative fiction, which he does whenever he gets the opportunity. Educated in Africa, he is studying towards a degree in Creative Writing through Buckinghamshire New University in England. He enjoys asking "what if?" but is tired of how speculative fiction deals with religion in general and the God of the Bible in particular. His stories are for Christians who enjoy science fiction but who normally avoid the genre because of its tendency towards an atheistic world-view. His aim is to write entertaining and thought-provoking stories that stretch the imagination, but which keep God in His rightful place as Lord over all creation. P.A.Baines is British but currently lives in a small corner of the Netherlands with his wife and two children and various wildlife. He spends what little spare time he has keeping fit, watching films, and playing computer games with his children. He does most of his reading via audio books, which he listens to while commuting to and from work on his trusty bicycle. He speaks reasonable Dutch and is in the process of learning French.

15 comments on “Marketing, selling, and other unsavoury activities

  1. Excellent post as always, Paul. I’m doing some marketing research myself, so timely, too. I have to say, I intended to purchase Alpha Redemption based on your blog posts. I knew you were funny, I knew you were coherent, and I knew you were dedicated to quality. I was not disappointed. Keep up the good work, and keep working on the next good book.

    • Thanks Robynn. Are you going to post your findings? I would be interested to swap notes. This marketing thing has ruled my life for the past few weeks but I’m starting to get back into the old rhythm of listening to audio books, and have my mind wander off into plot-building mode. Looking forward to writing full-speed again :-).

  2. Maybe you should add anvils and cheesecake somewhere in this post, Mr. Baines. They are highly searched tag words. 😛

  3. Now, Robynn brings up a good point! She knew some things about your personality and writing ability based on your blog posts. Getting your writing out there in any form will give people a taste of what your novel is like.

    And as someone who has read your book and is NOT a gushing relative, I can honestly say anyone who likes your style of writing here will like your book as well :). You’re quite talented!

    • Thanks Kat, you just made my day :-). I suppose if you enjoy writing, people will recognize this. I think it’s important to always produce your best work, even on a blog. You don’t know who is watching 😉 Something I forgot to mention. . . one of the things I’m doing that’s quite interesting is logging my rank on Amazon to see if I can spot any correlation between my online activities and sales. The formula used to calculate the Amazon rank is supposedly a bit of a mystery, but you can use it to pinpoint sales on an hourly basis. I use Metric Junkie, which keeps a continuous log. I might post more on that in the future.

  4. i have to mention what my favorite part of this post is…the picture. 😛

    • That pic wasn’t actually what I had in mind, but it was the closest I could find. Now that I look at it, it’s starting to grow on me. I wonder if I looked anything like that during my stint selling at the supermarkets…

      • It is brilliant. The symbol of what none of us want to seriously be perceived. Well, unless we are spoofing and then it is perfectly fine.

  5. I’m pretty sure I dated that guy once.

  6. Hello Mr.P.A.Baines,
    I like this post very much. There is a lot of good information in this for me to work
    on. My book is doing zilch so any improvement on that will be welcome. Finding some people to reveiw my book and also do author interveiws sounds like some good advice. Thanks for taking the time to put the post together and share it with us.



    • Hi Archie,

      I’m still learning about this so I’m pleased you found some tips that you might be able to use. Good luck with improving your sales.


  7. Diane, he failed to close the deal. Besides, Leo from TMNT is more my kind of turtle. 😉

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: