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Objectives: Begin With the End in Mind (Marketing Plan #5)

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Photo by jayneandd via Flickr

Originally published in ACFW Colorado’s The Inkwell Blog.

The past several weeks, we’ve discussed the elements that form the framework of your marketing plan. Today we’ll begin the section that forms the meat of your plan: objectives, strategies, and tactics.

Starting a marketing plan without defining these three elements is like taking a road trip–without knowing where you’re going, how to get there, or what you’ll do when you arrive. Objectives are the overall goals you want to accomplish: your destination. Strategies are the overarching plans you use to reach those goals: your route. And tactics are the specific steps you’ll use within those strategies: your waypoints.

You’ve probably heard Stephen R. Covey’s Second Habit of Highly Effective People: “Begin with the end in mind.” There is no truer statement in marketing, and your objectives will define this end. Three things are required for a good objective.

  1. It must be specific
    A good objective will lay out a specific goal within a finite time frame. Compare the objective “Increase book sales” to “Increase book sales by 20% by December 2013.”
  2. It must be measurable
    The objective above is measurable because you can clearly define how much of an increase in sales you achieve, either by sales figures or royalty statements. A bad objective: “Do better with online sales.” In this case, better is hard to define and will mean different things to different people. A good objective: “Achieve at least #2 ranking in my category on Amazon by December 2012.”
  3. It must be achievable
    Becoming a millionaire by Christmas might be measurable and specific, but for most writers, it’s not achievable. Choose something that you can reasonably make happen within a specific time frame.

Your overall marketing plan may take into account the long term, but objectives are most easily achieved when they’re 3-, 6-, 9-, or 12-month goals. The temptation to stray off course is higher the longer the time frame.

Not all objectives have to be sales related. If you’re a published author with books on the shelf, your goals may very well be financial. If you’re unpublished or pre-published, your objectives (and your whole marketing plan) might be focused on platform building.

Some examples of sales related objectives

  • Increase book sales by 1000 units by February 2013.
  • Increase ancillary sales (workbooks, audio products) by 15% percent by June 2013.
  • Book 10 speaking engagements in 2013

Examples of platform-related objectives

  • Achieve 400 followers on Twitter by March 2013
  • Get 200 likes on Facebook author page by December 2012
  • Compile 150 e-mail addresses on mailing list by June 2013

This week’s action items: Define at least two objectives for your marketing. Make sure they’re specific, measurable, and achievable.

Next week: Tactics, Your Road Map to Success

Taking Aim: Your Target Market (Marketing Plan #4)

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Photo by comedy_nose via Flickr
Photo by comedy_nose via Flickr

Originally published by ACFW Colorado’s The Inkwell Blog.

I’ll admit it… in every marketing plan I’ve ever written, this is my least favorite section. Not because it’s not important. In fact, it could be one of the most important sections in your plan. But while we often know who our audience is, it can be incredibly difficult to define. It’s even trickier to get hard numbers. It is crucial, though, because having a good understanding of your readership will help you focus marketing efforts (social media, blog topics, promotions) into areas most appealing to your potential readers.

When discussing a market (and market share), there are three factors on which we normally focus.

  1. Market size
  2. Demographics
  3. Psychographics

Market size is a tricky thing to determine. A little internet research will turn up the year’s average sales in each genre, but it’s tough to know how many readers that really encompasses (or how many book sales the number equates to). For our purposes, it’s enough to know how your chosen genre stacks up in the overall book market. Typically, romance is at the top, followed by the generalized inspirational market (which do not get broken down into sub-genres), mystery, science fiction and fantasy, and literary fiction.

Demographics are the physical characteristics of the readership, and a question you’ll eventually need to answer in your book proposals. Most likely, as a reader of your genre, you have a pretty good sense of what type of people read your books. Take a moment to jot down who you think your readership might be. I’ll take Amish fiction as an example.

  • Female
  • Ages 16-80 (but primarily 35-55)
  • Married

Psychographics on the other hand, are the attitudes, values, and lifestyles that determine the buying behavior of your audience. The psychographics for Amish fiction might look like this:

  • Politically conservative
  • Evangelical Christian
  • Focused on family and home
  • Yearn for a simpler lifestyle
  • May live a very modern life, but likes the idea of slowing down
  • Prefers gentler, inspirational storylines
  • Likes to craft and cook

But what if you don’t know these details? Professional writers’ organizations such as RWA (Romance Writers of America) and SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America) conduct market research projects that can give you a very specific breakdown of readership. A little time with Google should turn up many of the studies available online.

Failing that, a little creativity might be in order. My favorite trick is to figure out what types of magazines would appeal to readers of my genre or my particular book– and then download their advertising/media kits. Magazines keep a close eye on both the demographic and psychographic profiles of their readership and provide detailed information to potential advertisers.

Another source of information would be enthusiast forums and reading groups for your genre. Lurk about (or engage participants in conversation). What other types of activities do they enjoy? What topics might interest them?

This week’s action items: Make a list of characteristics of your target market. Download press kits from magazines that are likely to have overlap with your readership. Identify three topics about which you can blog that might be of interest to your target market.

Next week: Defining your marketing objectives.

Stalking the Competition (Marketing Plan #3)

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Photo by fPat Murray via Flickr
Photo by fPat Murray via Flickr

Originally published on ACFW Colorado’s The Inkwell Blog.

Last week, we discussed the importance of reading in your genre and determining both the similarities and differences of books already in the marketplace. Now that you know the books and authors against which you’re competing, it’s time to stalk–I mean, research–the competition.

First, let’s put that Google-fu into practice. Choose a book from last week’s list of comparable titles. Search the author’s name and make note of what comes up. Bookmark the search page.

1. Author website – Cruise on over and take a look. What do you like and what don’t you like? How do they connect with readers through message boards and mailing lists? What do you think is most effective? What doesn’t work as well?
2. Social media – With what social networks are they involved? Facebook? Twitter? Goodreads? Shelfari? LinkedIn? Pinterest?
3. Similar pages – Make a note of the little section at the bottom of the Google results page that says, “Pages similar to.” These will usually be other authors that have similar books, content, or are searched in conjunction with your target author. For example, when I search Denise Hunter, I come up with “Pages similar to” Colleen Coble, Sharon Hinck, Jamie Carie, and Christine Lynxwiler. These authors will most likely also be part of your competitive analysis.

Now, time to Google the book title PLUS the author name. Make a note of what comes up (or bookmark the search page.)

1. What bloggers have reviewed this book? These may be possible targets to review your book.
2. On what lists are they included on Shelfari, Amazon, and Goodreads?
3. How have the books been described in press releases?
4. What elements of the story do readers best identify with, as expressed in reviews and blog posts? These may be the elements in your own story (if present) that you will want to play up in your marketing.

Now cruise on over to Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com and see how the book ranks in its category. Amazon ranking has more to do with overall popularity, as indicated by book sales, inclusion on lists, and additions to wish lists. Barnes and Noble uses book sales as its sole criteria.

Do you think that the marketing techniques used for these books have been effective? If not, what would you do differently?

This week’s action item: Choose at least two books and research both the author and the book’s online web presence and sales rank from online booksellers. Make detailed notes. What books do you think are your main competition?

Next week: Determining your target audience

How Do You Compare In the Marketplace? (Marketing Plan #2)

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apple&orange_med
Photo by Mike Johnson (TheBusyBrain.com)

Originally published on ACFW Colorado’s The Inkwell Blog.

Last week we discussed the importance of knowing who you are as an author. Just as important is understanding the competitive landscape, which means reading. A lot.

I know I’m risking hate mail here, because this is the topic that generates the most pushback from authors. “I don’t like to absorb someone else’s style while I’m writing my drafts.” That’s a perfectly valid point. Read in between drafts, before and after a project is complete, whatever works for your writing process.

But in order to effectively market your work, you must read in your genre.

Why? There are plenty of good reasons that involve mastering your craft and learning the conventions of a particular genre. Each genre has them, and chances are, you chose it because you enjoy reading those types of books. If you’ve been at it for a while, you’ve most likely internalized some of those rules.

That’s a completely different concern from why you must read for research and marketing purposes. Our discussion last week was about determining what makes you and your story unique. By definition, unique means “the only one like it.” If you don’t read, you don’t know whether you’re unique or not.

So let’s go through what you should thinking about as you read through the books in your genre that have been published in the last eighteen months (understanding of course, that it reflects what has been happening in the industry two years prior to the publication date.)

1.) How does is my voice different from other authors writing in the genre? What makes me unique? (Or as we like to say in sales and marketing, what is my Unique Selling Proposition? Why should someone choose my books over another author’s books? What makes me special?)

2.) How is my voice similar to other authors writing in the genre? Do I write concise, snappy contemporary sentences, full of funny internal monologue? Do I write elegant, complex prose full of lavish descriptions? Who else writing in my genre has a similar style? This can give you a good feel for the marketability of your work and possible editors to target prior to publication. More importantly, the readers of those authors to whom your style is similar is your target audience. More about that next week.

3.) What kind of stories are told most often? It’s a fine line between popular and over-saturated. If you’re writing a romance set on a ranch in Texas, you need to be able to identify what makes your book both similar and different from those other books. What do those stories all have in common that drew the editors and readers? What new take are you offering on that setting, situation, or story?

4.) How do authors handle sensitive topics like politics, religion, sexuality, violence, social issues? This is especially important if you’re pushing the boundaries on what’s typically published in the CBA. How far have authors been allowed to go on these topics by their respective editors? How have they handled sensitive situations? Again, this is valuable information when you’re still writing your novel, but even when you’re marketing a book under contract, it can give you an idea of whether you should be identifying yourself as traditional, edgy, or crossover.

This week’s action items: Make a list of books in your genre that have been published in the last 18 months that seem most similar to your story. Buy them, borrow them, or request them from your local library. (Colorado has a particularly good inter-library loan system through Prospector, so make use of it!) If you already have favorite books in the genre, analyze them according to the four points above.

Next week: Analyzing the competition’s marketing presence.

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