Marketing For Authors

Authors – especially business authors – are often subject matter experts. They are authorities in their fields. As such, they have something of value to contribute, and so, they write. And if they’re lucky, their work is published, at which point, having said their piece, they should be comfortable trusting their success entirely to their publisher. Right?¬†

Wrong. As the “maker” of their “product,” writers have a tremendous opportunity to “market” themselves, in the very traditional sense of the word….without conflicting, in any way, with the roles of their publisher, their agent, their promoter or their publicist.

In 1960, E. Jerome McCarthy introduced his seminal “4 Ps” approach to marketing. McCarthy divided the marketing process to four areas: product, price, promotion, and placement. Simply put, “product” is what you sell, “price” is how much you charge, “promotion” is how you tell people about your product, and “placement” is how you get your product to market. McCarthy’s simplistic approach provides a gentle roadmap for the marketing novice (and the seasoned marketer as well). A better understanding of the “first P” – product – quickly illustrates the author’s marketing role in his own success.

On the surface, your “product” is your work: an article, a poem, a book. And in the simplest terms, this is correct. But as an author, your product is much, much more.

Let’s assume, for the sake of this article, that you have written a book. Chances are, as you wrote your book, you had an end product in mind. You may have visualized your product by its genre: a novel, a history, a reference manual, whatever. You may have imagined your book as a manuscript, a first edition, or a seasoned bestseller now available in paperback, hardbound, and digital form. You may have even thought of your book as a set of technical specifications (type size, paper quality, cover design, etc.). All of these perspectives would be legitimate as inspiration, and each would provide a different set of guidelines for development.

Now let’s further assume that you had set out to write a novel – specifically a horror novel. Being well-read yourself, you were no doubt familiar with other authors. Some of them you may have considered inspiration, some you held in such great contempt that you secretly feared your work would be compared with theirs. Either way, you probably knew, well in advance of typing your first word, who your “competition” would be – from a product standpoint.

But to think of your product as an object – even one of great imagination – would do great disservice to your potential for success, because your product is not as tangible as any of these considerations would suggest.

Let’s step outside the “4 Ps” structure, for a moment, to consider another important marketing concept: Brand. Unlike a product, “brand” is completely intangible. It is a perception: a concept that exists in the mind of the consumer. You can’t touch it, and you usually can’t smell it, but it’s definitely there.

If you were to ask a room full of people which automobile manufacturer was synonymous with “safety”, a good number of them might say “Volvo.” Now, we all know that Volvo manufactures cars, not safety. But in the process of making cars, Volvo has developed a reputation for making “safe” cars, and in the mind of the consumer, “safety” is the Volvo brand.

Brand has amazing power. It taps into rational and emotional aspects of the consumer’s decision-making process, and distinguishes one product from another. Consumers who are familiar with a company’s brand will draw conclusions about that company’s product, even before they have seen the product.

In your case, you probably didn’t set out to “make” your brand, either; rather, you probably set out to “make” a horror novel. But in the process of developing your novel, you adopted a style, and this style – whether you know it or not – is about to become your brand.

When you were considering your “competitors” as a writer of horror novels, you doubtless thought of a fellow named Stephen King. King is the master of horror. Horror is the King brand. Any reader familiar with King’s work, upon seeing a new cover in the bookstore bearing the King name, immediately knows what to expect from the book.

Yes, brand is powerful. But more importantly, brand lasts! Imagine you were walking through a bookstore 20 years after reading Carrie and Cujo and The Shining­, and you came across a new bedtime story by Stephen King. Would you take it home and read it to your 3-year old?

Here is the great paradox of marketing: “Your brand is not your product, but your product is your brand.” Almost no one sets out to “make” a brand. (Well, if you’re a brand strategist, that’s exactly what you do, but most people “make” thinks like books, or sneakers, or earth-moving equipment.) But in the process of making their “product,” they also develop a brand. And in time, the brand becomes more powerful than the product itself, until, eventually, the only thing the consumer knows about you – even before you make your next product – is your brand.

The message for authors is simple: Take control of your marketing; own your product; make your brand.

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