In the past ten years, I have consulted with many authors on their book proposals and book ideas. I have also written and successfully sold several book proposals of my own. In every single case—mine included—the writers needed to improve their marketing section before they could sell their book. Here are five of the most common mistakes I see writers make as they present their book’s market and five action steps to correct these mistakes:
1. The market is too big or too general. This is the biggest mistake I see first time authors make. They think that having a bigger, more general market will make their book proposal more sellable. So they say that their book is for “everyone” or “women” or “people of all ages.” Think about your book in terms of women’s clothing stores. The ones that have succeeded have a clearly defined market inside the general market of women’s clothes:
*Lane Bryant. Fashionable plus size clothes size 14-32.
*Chicos: Clothier for the sophisticated woman with a focus on comfort.
*White House Black Market: Boutique store with passion for making women feel and the honest simplicity of black and white.
Action step: Define your market in one sentence.
2. The market is too small. Most of us believe that our book will revolutionize the world. That might be true—or it might be stretching things a bit. Not all ideas have a universal appeal. Maybe you did your graduate work on the eating habits of tree squirrels in North America. While the topic might make a good article for a scientific journal, I doubt that many people would buy a book about it. As a writer, you will need to evaluate your idea for its universal appeal. In addition, you will need to know who in the universe will be interested in your book topic!
Action step: What is the universal appeal of your book idea? How can you quantify your market? For example, if you are proposing a diet book for obese adults, you might cite this statistic from the NIMH: 67 percent of noninstitutionalized adults age 20 years and over are overweight or obese.
3. The writer does not understand the book’s market. Some writers have no idea who will buy their book. They do not know where the people in their market shop, what kinds of resources they are looking for or how to get their book into the hands of those who need it. I’ve heard some writers say that they don’t need to know the market because that’s the job of the publisher’s marketing department. Not any more. Today, agents and editors need writers to research their market and present a good case for the publication of their book.
Action Step: Do market research. Interview a variety of people familiar with or in your potential market about the market. Ask them if they think your book might sell.
*Visit your local independent bookstore and talk to the booksellers, buyer, or owner.
*Talk to your clients or those who read your blog or online newsletter.
*Join groups of people in your ideal market (either in person or online) to listen and learn about your market.
*Connect with colleagues in your market.
4. The writer does not define their market. Some writers have a blockbuster idea, a clearly defined market, and know a ton about it. But, if writers neglect to use the query letter or book proposal to define their market and their marketing campaign, they will not sell their book. Writers often make this mistake because they are such experts in their field that they think everyone knows what they know. They don’t. You have to teach others about your market.
Action step: Define your market in detail. Use the questions from last week’s tip:
*Who wants your book?
*What do these people do, where do they do it, and how will they find your book in these places?
*How many of these people are out there? Are there statistics that define the size of this market?
*Why do they need this book?
*Write a profile of your ideal reader including age, gender, occupation, income, hobbies, and so forth.
5. The writer does not have a marketing plan. In the good old days, writers could write their books and leave the marketing to a bunch of men (and a few women) in suits in New York. Today, writers need to be both artists and publicists. In their book proposals, writers need to present a detailed marketing plan.
Action step: Create a marketing plan for your book. Brainstorm 25-30 ways you will market your book. Yeah, go ahead and put down the basics like create a video trailer and do a blog tour. Then get crazy and creative—imagining unique ways to get your book in the hands of your reader. (John Green, author of The Fault in Our Stars, offered to sign every single preordered copy of his book.)
Writers, what is the lesson in all of this? When it comes to marketing, what you don’t know or don’t share can hurt you. Take the time to define your market and develop a good marketing plan. Writers who boost the marketing section of their book proposal sell their books—both to publishers and to readers. Writers, this is one step of the publishing process that is in your hands—do it and do it well.
Your turn: What tips or tools do you use to define your market and develop a marketing plan?