Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Marketing 101

Most writers equate marketing with promotion, but promotion is only 1/4 of the equation. Say what? Let's start with the basics: the 4 Ps. That's Price, Place, Promotion, and Product. So how many of those 4 Ps does a writer have control over? To at least some degree, writers have control over 3 of the Ps. Since writers have no control over price, let's skip that one.

Place. Once you've signed a contract with a publisher, you have no control over where the book is distributed. However, you do have some say as to where you place your book -- meaning where you decide to submit the manuscript. Let's suppose all your dream publishers, let's call them the Tier 1 publishers, reject your manuscript. You now have the choice of sending it to Tier 2 publishers. It's your product, and you get to make the call. Before you leap, do your homework . Think carefully about how selling to any publisher aligns with your long-term goals.

Promotion. No, you don't have control over a publisher's promotional efforts. Yes, you do have control over what you decide to do promotion-wise, given your budget. I won't touch the specifics of any particular promotional efforts. However, I will correct the misconception that the goal of promotion is to increase sales. It's not that simple. Your first goal is to increase Awareness. In large corporations such as the one I work for, market researchers conduct trend studies to determine a product's (or brand's) purchasing strength with customers. The flow looks like this: Awareness, Consideration, and Preference. As a writer, you can influence awareness. It's a saturated market out there, so what can you do that will be effective? The old adage that word of mouth is the best advertising is true. Unless you can score a spot on Oprah, the best buzz arises out of ... the product itself.

Product. As a writer, you have quite a bit of control over the story ~ at least until you get a revision letter (one that hopefully makes your story even better). To create buzz about your story, you need a high concept (a plot that is immediately apparent to the editor/agent/reviewer) and a unique twist on a tried and true plot. Does having a high concept with a unique plot really work? True story: at a recent regional conference, I sat next to an agent at dinner who asked me about my book. I gave her the tag line and she gave me her card on the spot.

A high concept plot is only part of the story. Now you have to grab readers with compelling characters with whom they can relate. Make your reader care, laugh, cry, and gasp. And deliver on your promises. Easier said than done, but think about those books on your keeper shelf and ask yourself what differentiated them from all the hundreds of other books you've read.

All of the 4 Ps of marketing matter, but Product matters the most. The story is the most valuable marketing tool you've got.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Lucky Charms

Are all writers superstitious or is it just me?

I forgot it was St. Patrick's day when I mailed THE DUCHESS COMPETITION to one of the requesting literary agents this morning. In my defense, I am somewhat fuzzy headed due to sleep deprivation. But this morning, the fog in my head was especially thick, a result of no Coke Zero, my caffeinated bev of choice. My brain was not firing on all cylinders. Actually, it was in idle - a scary thought considering I drove to the post office.

What really frightens me, however, is that I forgot a talisman. Some kind of lucky charm. Something that would bring me the luck of the Irish! I wasn't even wearing green. Sure, I have no green clothes, but I could have cut out a four-leaf clover out of construction paper & pinned it on my shirt. Granted, the other postal patrons might think me a bit odd, but this is My dream. My book. My writing career! I didn't even bother to choose a lucky song. Why, I could have stuck my pet rabbit in the cat carrier and stroked her foot as I drove.

Smacking my head. With my first book, I played Pachelbel's Canon in D over and over (you know, the song played at all the weddings) as I drove contest entries and agent/editor submissions to the post office. I would not allow myself to get out of the car until the song finished. On one memorable occasion, my friend Kristi and I drove our submissions to the post office together & I made her sit in the car until the song finished. Oops, that reminds me, both those submissions got rejected. Not long afterwards, Kristi gave me a CD with about 20 different versions of the Canon. I think she was hinting I needed a little variety.

OK, so maybe superstitious charms and songs don't work. But at the very least, I should have commemorated this glorious day, so I would always recall it fondly after I: a) sold the book in the fiercest bidding war in publishing history, b) made the NYT list, c) rode in a parade in Times Square, waving to all my adoring fans. Hey, it's my fantasy, I can be outrageous if I want to. ;-)

Happy St. Patrick's Day. May your day be charmed and your beer green. And the luck of the Irish be with you!