Vision: A Resource for Writers

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Marketing 101 for Writers

By Lai Zhao
Copyright 2008 by Lai Zhao, All Rights Reserved


Over the years, I've read a lot of marketing articles written for novelists. However, I have yet to encounter a primer for writers that clearly distinguishes between what marketing actually is and its popular (mis)perception.

This article is an introduction to marketing and takes you only to the 'marketing mix'. There is more to this subject, but there are many texts which already cover the details very well.

The Persistent (Mis)Perception

A popular misperception  about marketing is that it is only promotion, and consists only of selling your work to the reading public to make money.

Often, authors are seen at signings, or at conventions selling their books. They may go on tour promoting their work and encouraging readers to buy their work. They are, also, occasionally seen pitching to publishers at conventions.

Such actions belong to the sales side of marketing which is also promotion.

So, this misperception is not one hundred percent wrong, but it is not the full story, either. In which, case...

What is Marketing? How does it Apply to the Writer?

There are many definitions. But one to pay particular attention to is by Philip Kotler, a leading world authority on marketing. In Marketing Management, he defines marketing as

"a social and managerial process by which individuals and groups obtain what they need and want through creating, offering, and exchanging products of value with others" (1).

The above definition sounds intimidating, but International Marketing presents it as

"finding and satisfying customer needs better than the competition and of coordinating marketing activities within the constraints of the environment" (2).

So, why all the jargon? Generally, this terminology is the most succinct and definitive way of explaining marketing:


Marketing Terminology

Translation in Terms of Writing



Social & managerial process

Marketing activities

How to get your product to your readers using available resources, and doing it better than other authors.

Individuals & groups


Authors (the suppliers of the product), publishing companies (the distributors of the product), and target readers (the customers).

Creating, offering

Finding & satisfying

Writing the story readers want.

Exchanging products of value

Constraints of the environment

Selling your novel for money and within the limitations set by the market you're playing in.



Other authors and other forms of entertainment.


What does Marketing Involve? How does the Writer use it?

With the jargon out of the way, marketing is a broad topic, with an even broader set of elements.

In short, though, it involves the following:




Market research & analysis

Find out who your target readers are -- the audience of the magazine or publisher you wish to submit to should tell you this. (By the way, the target publication or publisher is also the first reader(s) you must target.)

Satisfying your target market

In the case of writers, writing the story or novel usually comes before the research stage, and it should. This area of marketing also involves the 'marketing mix' (explained in "Promotion").

Beating the competition

Reading widely, in and outside your preferred genre, will give you a feel for who you're up against. For example, in Sword and Sorcery fantasy, you'd be competing with David Eddings, R.A. Salvatore, Robert Jordan, and the classic J.R.R. Tolkien. This type of knowledge will help you pitch your story in a way that highlights its uniqueness.

Marketing activities

These are the strategies and tactics (a.k.a. overall plans and detailed actions) you use to get your work to your readers. It's not just selling; it includes how you position your novel, how you present yourself, what you want to say about your work, where you fit into the market and the message you want to convey. In other words, how you brand your novel.

Working within parameters

You have certain resources you can use, and the market you play in, e.g., the fantasy genre, has a certain set of rules and limitations. You have to adapt to them through editing your novel before it goes to market, as well as through promoting your work after it has been published.


All this sounds overwhelming. However, I suspect you already have most of the information you need:



Examples of Information

Market research & analysis

Target publisher is Corgi, because they publish the type of book you write, e.g., comical fantasy, like Terry Pratchett. Or maybe it's Weird Tales magazine because they target readers of "unique, fantastic and bizarre" (3) stories.

Satisfying your target market

Your novel and knowing what your target readers expect. For example, romance readers generally expect the story to end "happily ever after."

Beating the competition

If you read fantasy, you probably already know works by Eddings, Salvatore, Jordan and Tolkien. But how about Mark Chadbourne, Holly Lisle, Tee Morris, Val Griswold-Ford and others? Not all authors write fantasy for adults; there are YA authors, too, like Diana Wynne Jones and Susan Cooper, as well as Gillian Cross and Chris Pike.

Marketing activities

You know your novel inside out. So the question is, how do you pitch it to an agent? And how do you tell your target readers about it?

Is the theme of your novel man against machine? Is it man against man? What is unique about your novel?

Also, you should be looking at the promotion side here, a.k.a. the "marketing mix." In this instance, the mix is customer, convenience, cost, and communication. (See "Promotion" for details.)

Working within parameters

For example, length of the work, the odds of excellent sales, book signing locations (and getting to them) and what people in that location prefer to read, and so on.


What Is Promotion? And How Do I Apply It?

Because promotion is about letting readers know about your book, promotion is simply,

"(2) the publicizing of a product or venture so as to increase sales or public awareness; a publicity campaign" (4)

In terms of how it works for writers, a definition of the 'marketing mix' needs to be provided first:

The Marketing Mix

Essentially, the Marketing Mix is a (short) list of fundamental components that help the marketing professional create a publicity campaign for their product.

There are two versions of the Marketing Mix, depending on what the product is: a good or a service.

A good is defined as a tangible object; for example, ice cream. Ice cream is made of milk, flavouring, and other ingredients, but its end result is a solid edible object.

A service is defined as an intangible object with tangible evidence; for example, a restaurant. You are seated and a waiter takes your order (the service). The restaurant also provides you with a pleasant place (the tangible evidence) in which to relax and enjoy your meal (the tangible evidence).

Writers produce a good: a novel or story.

Thus, the "Goods" Marketing Mix would be appropriate:





The Reader(s).

The writer's target is their reader(s), the person(s) they want to buy their book.

Question is, who are these readers? What do they want? How do they usually get it?

Target Profile:

Your target is a busy mother. She wants something to relax to that takes her out of her busy life and into something serene. And she does most of her shopping in the supermarket.


The busy mother wants a book about a carefree life, so she looks for a paperback amongst the mess that is the mass market books offered in a supermarket.


Publicise your novel online or at supermarkets (assuming they let you).

Convenience to the customer

Taking the busy mother example further:

In your advertising, you could emphasise the fact  the busy mother can pick up your novel on her way out of the supermarket. No extra trips to the book store. No separate payment. Just on the way out of the supermarket. Easily picked up. Easily paid for, amongst the shopping. Out and into the car and home. Convenient.

A note on location:

Where your book gets distributed is up to your publisher and its distribution network. So, any promotion work you do will have to fit the location.

The supermarket is an example only.

Cost to the customer

The cost is not in terms of your hours or how much the publisher is paying you. It is the cost in terms of the reader, and how much time and money they're willing to invest in your novel.

Your novel must be, in their eyes, worth the money, worth the time. You have written a story that takes your readers on a unique journey through a land they have never explored before. And your story will leave them wanting more.

But, since each novel aims to do this, the essential point is to find the unique angle to your story and highlight that in your publicity campaign.


This covers how you will raise awareness of your novel.

You could take out advertisements in various publications, but would need to weigh the pros and cons of such a route.

Other ways to raise awareness might include online communities and email blasts (just watch out for the Spam legalities!), or freebies at conventions, and so on.

One-line descriptions can help here. They provide a concise summary of your story. And blurbs and book covers also offer summaries you can use to attract readers.

Take a look at your favourite films and study their one-line descriptions. Examine the different covers and blurbs of your favourite novels. Note how they're used in the novel's overall presentation.

There are many ways to raise awareness of your work. You should study the pros and cons of each.


Applying Marketing to Your Novel

So, how does all this information fall together? Below is an example of this information's application. It is basically a very truncated marketing plan. It incorporates the stages of research and analysis, satisfying the market, and beating the competition using the marketing mix and playing within the limitations of the market.

The (Truncated) Marketing Plan

Product & Its Unique Twist:

l  A 100k-word novel, titled "Blessings in Disguise."

l  It is about Allan, the crippled hero, who must escape the realm between six worlds in order to save his birth world from annihilation. There's only one problem: his birth world cast him into the hideous realm between the worlds.

Target Market:

l  Fantasy novels for adults.

l  Sub-genre is urban futuristic fantasy.

Market Limitations:

l  100k words.

l  Tough competition from established authors, both from other publishing houses and from your target house.

l  Single-digit profit margins.

l  Could be considered a saturated market.

Target Audience:

l  Readers of urban and futuristic fantasy who enjoy an epic quest for justice and to save the world.

The Competition:

l  Authors like Mark Chadbourne, Christopher Moore, Jim Butcher, and Ian Irvine.

l  These authors' works and others like theirs range from dark to technologically heavy.

l  They are also well-established and have a steady following.


l  Book stores, supermarkets, comic book shops, and online venues.


l  Cover price for customers of all venues if no author signing takes place.

l  Discounts available for customers of venues with author signing events.

l  Discounts for pre-publication orders.


l  Online campaign, involving writing communities and social networking communities like Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and LiveJournal.

l  Tangible goodies for author signing events might include bookmarks, buttons, book plates, and maybe limited edition writer's notepads.

Expected Results:

l  At least 50% of the target audience is aware of the novel by the end of the campaign's first week.

l  At least 30 copies pre-ordered online.

l  At least 10 copies of the book are sold within the first week of actual shop release.


l  The target audience is paying attention (sometimes, they don't).

l  The book hits its mark and pays off (it doesn't always, despite best efforts).

l  The publisher doesn't suddenly fold (it's been known to happen).

Conclusion / Contingency:

l  Work on the promotion side of the campaign, but already be in the editing / polishing stage of the next novel in case this first one doesn't work out.


Last Words

The Good and the Bad Campaign

Marketing doesn't always work for everyone. It seems like a lot of hard work for little gain. In fact, it's a lot of hard work for a huge gain, when done correctly. When done badly, you get results like those advertisements that make you cringe and wonder who had the audacity to even suggest something so wrong.

For example, there is a soft drinks advertisement where I am that shows the drink's can hitting people. Its message is supposedly along the lines of "So good, you want to share it with everyone." Unfortunately, the message I'm getting from the commercial is, "I don't like this drink, so I'm using its can to hit people!"

But when marketing campaigns work, they leave you wishing you'd thought of that. For instance, the performance for the Beijing Olympics 2008 Opening Ceremony. That left most everyone who saw it in stunned amazement, particularly its ending, when the Olympic Flame was lit.


After All That, I Still Don't Like Marketing

Marketing isn't for everyone. It is hard work. But the challenges and their pay-offs, when met, are immensely satisfying. However, it is a case of defining which part of marketing you don't like. The subject is broad and selling is part of it.

In my experience, many writers do not like the selling part of it. It feels too pushy, too arrogant, or just not something that a writer should do.

The truth is, though, marketing and selling are necessary parts of being a published writer. And understanding their roles in a successful writing career is essential.


Suggested Reading List

An overview and quirky introduction to marketing:

Pocket Guide to the Marketing Plan

Malcolm McDonald & Peter Morris

Butterworth Heinemann, 1997

ISBN 0 7506 2642 9


An A-Z guide to marketing (useful for looking up the jargon):

Pocket Marketing, Fourth Edition, The skills and practice of marketing from A to Z

The Economist, 2001

ISBN 1 86197 361 6


And for anyone who wants to study marketing in-depth:

Marketing Management, Analysis, Planning, Implementation, and Control, Ninth Edition

Philip Kotler

Prentice Hall International Ltd, 1997

ISBN 0-13-261363-8

Marketing Plans -- How to prepare them, How to use them, Fourth Edition

Malcolm McDonald

Butterworth Heinemann, 1999

ISBN 0 7506 4116 9



(1) MARKETING MANAGEMENT -- Analysis, Planning, Implementation, and Control, p.9

Philip Kotler

Prentice Hall International Ltd., 1997

ISBN 0-13-261363-8

(2) International Marketing, Seventh Edition, p.5

Vern Terpstra and Ravi Sarathy

Dryden, 1997

ISBN 0-03-018022-8

(3) Weird Tales Magazine

(4) Concise Oxford Dictionary -- Tenth Edition

Electronic edition.

Lai Zhao lives in an agoraphobic-claustrophobic multinational city in the Far East. The place is perfect for daily immersion in marketing (and inventive oddities), while offering opportunities to write user guides and edit technical copy. It is also excellent source material for writing articles about IT, marketing, language newsletters, using Far East cultures in worldbuilding (contribution to The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy, Vol. 2: The Opus Magus), and networking for writers (contribution to The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy, Vol. 3: The Author's Grimoire).