Marketing: Always Have a Plan

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Brian picks up our discussion of marketing with another fantastic post in the series. Read the whole thing, because I’m only going to excerpt part of it.

Not to step on Russell’s toes, but I’ve got lots of experience with book giveaways. The result is that I’m much less bullish on giving books away for free than Russell is.

The best advice, as always, comes from Larry Correia: only do free if you have a plan.

Here are some pointers to help you make that plan:

  • If you only have one book, don’t give it away for free.
  • Most authors will tell you to make the first book in a series free. Consider giving away the second or third book in a series. I’ve found that people are more likely to go back and buy previous books in a series than they are to buy later installments after getting book one for free, but your mileage may vary.
  • Give away free copies of your books through your web site/mailing list. Kindle Unlimited requires a 90 day commitment, and it sucks. Seriously, getting paid based on number of KENPs read amounts to a pay cut from Amazon to tradpub royalty rates.

The moral of the story? Always. Be. Closing!

I should have included some of these caveats in the original post. But I made an assumption – an assumption I know to be erroneous. I assumed that you always have a plan. I assumed this because proceeding into something like this without a plan is fundamentally foreign to me. On the other hand, I’ve known enough indie authors by now to fully understand how bad of an assumption this is.

I’ve witnessed lots of indie authors “try their hand” at marketing. For the vast majority of them, it goes something like this:

  1. My friend did The Thing and it worked.
  2. I need to sell more books.
  3. I’m going to try The Thing.
  4. It didn’t work.
  5. Marketing sucks.

The Thing changes constantly, but you can see several consistent threads: book giveaways, Kindle Unlimited, popup ads to join the e-mail list, Facebook ads, Amazon ads, Google AdWords ads, etc.

Now, all of those things are fine. Any of them can work for you. But here’s the issue: over and over and over again, I see authors essentially just throwing these at the wall hoping something will stick.

That’s not how marketing works.

The thing to keep in mind is that any one of these techniques, on its own, will almost never work. If you run one ad – of any kind – and then don’t do anything else for three months, you will get terrible results. If you want success, you need several things.

  1. Be consistent. You should engage in marketing activities regularly. The best thing you can do is set a simple goal for yourself: Every day I will do at least one thing to help sell my product.” It doesn’t matter how big it is. If you do something every day, it will eventually add up.
    1. Bonus tip: on average, a customer must see your product seven times before they purchase it. One ad campaign won’t do that for you, so you must maintain consistent marketing.
  2. Track everything. And I mean everything. Record the results and compare them. If something works for you, put more time, energy, and money into it. If it doesn’t work for you stop.
    1. Important caveat: you need to collect enough data to be sure it doesn’t work. Any data set with less than a thousand data points is useless. It’s noise, not information. For example: I’m running a pay-per-click ad. Until that ad has had one thousand impressions, the reported click-through-rates for that ad aren’t worth much. After that point, you have enough data to know: are my click through rates good enough or not?
  3. Experiment. There’s throwing things at the wall to see what sticks and then there’s honest experimentation. What’s the difference? With honest experimentation, you tracking everything (see above). You make sure to collect enough data to make your records useful. And then you tweak it, slowly, one thing at a time, to see if you can improve it. If you leave out any one of these three steps, it’s not experimentation – it’s just throwing things at the wall.
    1. Pro tip: failed experiments can still be useful. I’ve found specific advertising methods that work but don’t give me a high enough return on investment… yet. But when I have multiple books in a series, they’ll be worth revisiting.
  4. Coordinate. Don’t do one marketing action in isolation. Do multiple things at the same time. Got a lot of free publicity from somewhere? Great – do a sale at the same time so you can capture as much of it as possible. Or time a new book release to match it. Run your own ads at the same time. If your book is already ranking high on Amazon from the success of one marketing technique, people who see it as a result of other techniques will be more likely to buy it. So plan everything together.
    1. Bonus tip: consistency is good, but coordination is better. If you have limited funds, you’re better off running fewer, strong, coordinated campaigns spaced out throughout the year rather than running something constantly.
  5. Create urgency. As an extension of the last bonus tip, you don’t want to run your specials all the time anyway. You want to create a sense of urgency. Make your customer want to get your product right now. That’s why sales work. They create the sense of urgency for you: buy this product now or you’ll lose out on this great deal. A customer who believes they can get your product at any time is a customer who most likely won’t get it at any time.
  6. Plan ahead. I’m getting ready to launch a novel, and as part of the marketing campaign I’m already considering the launch of my next book.
  7. Start early. I started laying groundwork to sell this book when I started writing it – three years ago. That work is already starting to pay off.

Above all, always have a plan. I’m launching a novel in August. I have an e-mail chain with 1400 words of notes about my marketing plans for the book launch. I have similar notes about Declan Finn’s new novel that we’re re-releasing next month. I’ve got a plan for consistent marketing. I already know how I’m going to track everything. I’ve got experiments I want to run. I’ve coordinated about a dozen separate marketing methods (and I’m still adding more). I’m planning sales to create urgency. And I’m already planning how I’m going to leverage this to launch the next book.

Because I always have a plan.

Russell Newquist

My name is Russell Newquist. I am a software engineer, a martial artist, an author, an editor, a businessman and a blogger. I have a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy and a Master of Science degree in Computer Science, but I'm technically a high school dropout. I also think that everything in this paragraph is pretty close to meaningless. I work for a really great small company in Huntsville, Alabama building really cool software. I'm the owner and head instructor of Madison Martial Arts Academy, which I opened in 2013 less to make money and more because I just really enjoy a good martial arts workout with friends. I'm the editor in chief of Silver Empire and also one of the published authors there. And, of course, there is this blog - and all of its predecessors. There's no particular reason you should trust anything I say any more than any other source. So read it, read other stuff, and think for your damn self - if our society hasn't yet over-educated you to the point that you've forgotten how.

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