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Friday, 6 September 2013

Marketing for Writers 101 – Understanding the Marketplace and Customer Needs

Marketing Strategies for Writers

I’ve noticed a trend. Articles on idea generation or developing the discipline for writing are rare.  The reason for this is simple: if you’re serious about being a writer, you will find the time and you’ll find the ideas.

The not-so-simply part is what to do with the work after you’ve finished.  Apparently, selling or promoting their own work does not come naturally to many writers.  It’s like we hope the publishing fairy will sweep through our windows at night, wave their magic wands, and suddenly we are doing the talk show circuit.

But what do you do if the publishing fairy godmother doesn’t show up?

That’s when I remember: oh right, I’ve taught marketing for over 8 years now. I wrote the new marketing curriculum for my college and I spent about a decade in sales and customer service before that. I should know how to sell my book. Shouldn’t I?

I think the problem is selling and being creative seem a bit, I don’t know, oxymoronic. What about artistic integrity? Blah blah blah. For me, art for art’s sake is nothing more than masturbation: you are the only one having any fun. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but I’m not writing just for a giggle. I want people to actually read my work and give me money.

A word of caution: if you are looking to become a poet laureate or gain notoriety only after you’ve been dead for a hundred years or so, these lessons probably do not apply to you.  If you want to make money…well, now we’re talking.

To make things simple, I’m using references from the textbook we’re currently using for our marketing courses.  It is Principles of Marketing (Kotler,Armstrong, Cunningham, Trifts, Toronto: Pearson, 2011).  If you can pick up the book, do. If not, get any book on marketing. Heck, you may even want to take a few marketing courses. Let’s start with the basics: the marketing process.

Today I’m only focusing on the first step: Understand the marketplace and customer needs and wants.


Any serious writer or publisher will tell you to read the work that is already published in your genre. The text states: “Human needs are states of felt deprivation”. Why do people read your genre anyway? What is the motivation or incentive to read horror, romance, mystery, or the type of literature that wins the Booker or Pulitzer Price? People read different genres for different reasons. Learn the elements what must be in place for a piece to be acceptable. For example:
  1. Horror must be scary. If there is no fear of death or injury there will not be any real fear.
  2. Romance must have tension. "Boy meets girl, they get married, the end" is not going to sell.
  3. Mystery needs a puzzling crime. Preferably a murder


To stand out from the competition we need to give more than just the bare essentials. Again, critical reading helps. Remember to read as a peer (someone at the same level as the author), not just a fan. Analyze what they writer did well and try to figure out how they did it. Aside from reading, ask.  Get to know a whole bunch of people who read and like the genre you hope to write in. Ask them what they liked and didn’t like about previous books.

Sometimes the customer does not even know exactly what they are looking for.  They may think they want something they actually don’t want. For example, sometimes in a scary movie we “want” the hero to live. But would The Exorcist have been as scary if the devil said “Okay Father, you win” followed by a fade to black?   Would Titanic be so successful if Jack stayed on the raft with Rose? If you think back to the most “romantic” stories of all time, how many of them had a happy ending?


Price matters. For completely non-rational reasons, many people see $1.00 as much more expensive than $0.99. For equally irrational reasons free is often interpreted as disposable. So, be careful about what you give away for free or you may damage your image as a credible artist. Let me ask you a question.

Imagine you have two books in front of you. One you downloaded for free, the other you paid $4.99 for. Which one do you read first?

Spending money is tied into the artistic experience.  If you are giving away all your work for free you are, unintentionally, diminishing the experience of the reader.

My next article will be on how to develop a marketing strategy that is focused on your customers.

Kotler, Armstrong, Cunningham, Trifts, Principles of Marketing. Toronto: Pearson, 2011. Print

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Marketing for Writers 101 - The Marketing Mix

My next series of articles on marketing is based on the marketing mix (also called the 4 Ps). Entire marketing classes could be spent just going over each of these. I'll be putting a new post up every Thursday on the Marketing Mix.

Firstly, here's a brief video to introduce the concept of the marketing mix (e.g. product, price, place and promotion).

I want to keep these posts short to encourage people to read them. Starting tomorrow I will deal with one one P at a time. 
 I'll end today with another quick video with Steve Jobs discussing marketing. Well worth the watch.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Viral Marketing Checklist - How to Keep People's Attention

There's a solid business reason behind Hollywood's obsession with sequels. One of the hardest things to do in business is get new customers. It is much easier to keep the customers you already have.

When you plan your viral marketing, plan on making at least five videos. Then release them equally spaced apart. Consider releasing one a week. 

My role model for viral marketing is Felicia Day. Many actors sit around waiting for roles. She created her own with the web series The Guild. Starting in 2007, it was one of the first web series. She created a devotes following. Also, she's turned her fame from The Guild into paid acting jobs on several shows, significant music sales, comic books and video games.

If you are not familiar with her, here are few links to get you acquainted.

Why Do You Care about Felicia Day?
She is a role model for how talent bundled with the right 'out-of-the-box' thinking can bring great things. You'll see in this first episode, it doesn't take mountains of money to make a quality product.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Viral Marketing Checklist - 7 Things You Should Be Doing on Twitter


Twitter is not the place to sell your books. It's a place to get other people to sell your books for you.

Too many authors turn their Twitter accounts into billboards. Or worse: infomercials.  Ask yourself, how often do you tweet the following:
  • please buy my book
  • please like me on Facebook
  • my books are on sale today
Now check the Twitter account of a successful writer you admire. Check to see how often HE or SHE tweets about buying a book.

  1. It is social media. Be social.
  2. Have conversations about things other than books.
  3. Respond to people's tweets and retweet them.
  4. Be funny without being offensive.
  5. Tweet things related to topics trending on Twitter.
  6. Tweet about current events.
  7. Live tweet during your favorite shows or while at conventions.

Must-Read Links on Social Media for Writers:
Twitter for Authors by Jonathon Gunson
Social Media Train Wreck Authors Must Avoid

Friday, 23 August 2013

Viral Marketing Checklist - Surprise Your Audience


Do Something Unexpected

If you want your campaign to go viral you MUST do something the audience does not expect. Think about Gangnam Style for a moment. I know that may hurt your brain, but it is a perfect example of the power of viral marketing.  People watched and LOVED this video because it was something very unexpected. Funny and weird.

Do not simply copy the videos below. Throwing your book in a blender or singing your version of "Call Me Maybe" is not going to work.  A few weeks ago, however, your version of Harlem Shake might have. 

  • If you write about vampires, walk down the street with a video camera. Ask random strangers what they think about vampires. Post to your blog and YouTube.
  • If you write erotica, walk into your local adult store. Interview staff and customers.
  • If you write mystery, investigate cold cases or profile famous murder cases in your area.
I'm doing a documentary on the Windsor Hum. It's something that is local to where I live. It's a real-life case of creepiness and Big Business interfering with regular people.

  1. Watch the videos below.
  2. Watch for the moments you laugh or smile.
  3. Relate those moments to something YOU can do.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Sentence Fragments vs. Complete Sentences


A complete sentence makes sense standing alone. Every sentence needs a subject (someone doing an action) and an action. For example:

John ran. 

This is a full sentence. You can easily see who is doing what.


A sentence fragment is any sentence that does not make sense standing alone. If you've written an incomplete sentence (or sentence fragment), it is likely a "subordinate clause". That's fancy English for a series of words that do not complete an idea. Subordinate clauses are also called dependent clauses because they depend on an independent clause to complete an idea.

See below for examples of sentence fragments:

Since John Lennon was in the Beatles. (So what?)
Due to the weather. (What happens because of the weather?)
Unless the gun is found. (What happens if the gun’s not found?)

None of these make sense in and of themselves. They do not complete an idea you wish to communicate. 

See below for examples of how to fix these sentence fragments:

Since John Lennon was in the Beatles, he was one of the coolest people alive.
Due to the weather, the picnic was postponed.
Unless the gun is found, we cannot prove he committed murder.

Each part that is underlined is an independent clause. They make sense by themselves and do not need the 'help' of the part in italics (the dependent or subordinate clause).


Sometimes a sentence fragment is exactly what your story needs. Seriously. If you want to add a sense of tension, emphasize a point or play with pacing, a sentence fragment may add just the right 'beat' to your writing. Just be careful: sometimes your sentence fragment is needed; other times it is the result of bad punctuation.

For example:
"Classic. A book which people praise and don't read." That period should be a colon. "Classic: a book which people praise and don't read."

Here are examples of 'acceptable' sentence fragments that improve pacing or tension:

"I can't believe you're making me do this." She took the gun and shot him. In the head. 

You've created a sentence fragment by adding the unnecessary period after him. However, it adds extra tension or emphasis to "in the head".

I knew then I would love her forever. Until I died.

Again, this example plays with punctuation. "Until I died." is a sentence fragment. Using it adds an extra 'beat' after 'forever'. It may be the effect you are looking for. However, use this structure sparingly or it will lose it's impact.


Viral Marketing Checklist - Neutrality is Useless

So now that you understand what viral marketing is, how do you do it?

As you'll see on the graphic below, one key element is doing the unexpected. Stop doing what all your competitors are doing. You'll never stand out if all you're doing is blending in.

I'll spend the next few posts talking about each item on the checklist below.

1. Stop Being Neutral

Controversy breeds notoriety. Look at Ann Coulter. I think she is a vile human being. She has said so many offensive things many people want her dead. Here's the thing: the only reason she's relatively famous is because she says stupid things. Things that get people talking.

Now, I'm not saying become the next Ann Coulter. Lord knows one of her is more than enough. As a writer, you never want your image to outshine or distract from your work. The one and only piece of credit I will give Ann Coulter is she knows how to get people talking about her.

Here's your homework:

  1. List five public figures (e.g. politicians, celebrities, etc.) that you strongly dislike.
  2. Pick one thing each person has said or done to make you dislike them.
  3. List five public figures (e.g. politicians, celebrities, etc.) that you admire.
  4. Pick one thing each person has said or done to make you admire them.

The below graphic is from the Kissmetrics Blog. They provide html coding if you want to include this on your own blog (because they understand viral marketing.)

++ Click Image to Enlarge ++
The Viral Marketing Cheat Sheet
Source: The Viral Marketing Cheat Sheet Infographic