Marketing Plan? Prudence First!
Written by
Jane Hanser
March 2015
Written by
Jane Hanser
March 2015

Since I began writing my (now published) book, I’ve put in thousands of search terms, done thousands of internet searches, scrolled and scrolled, scanned the descriptions of the sites that come up, hitting on thousands of them and letting go many more thousands. I’ve bookmarked and read thousands of blog pages and website pages and printed hundreds of them. I’ve filled my recycling bin with hundreds of those. The search terms have changed again and again over these two or three years, as I decided to go from trying to find an agent for my book, to tips on writing, to deciding to self-publish my book, to actually self-publishing the book, then to where I am now. What has happened to all these searches?

Long before the book is published, sometimes even long before the book is even completed, we writers are advised to create a marketing program. This goes for those of us going the route of looking for an agent or those looking to self-publish (although many in the former group end up in the latter). Does this work for a first-time writer? I have found the marketing plan to be so individualized that, just like the very act of writing and revising, it begs being reevaluated all the time. I emphasize all the time. It’s not a plan. In fact, it’s totally fluid, often changing from day to day. And like writing your first book, it’s often something that you are learning as you go along what works, what doesn’t. The woman consultant who I paid (quite a sum of money) to review my original proposal (back when) wanted me to list all the dog websites and magazines whom I could contact for promotional purposes. By the time my book was published, only about 3-4 of those 30 original sites in my target market remained, and only 2 of them did book reviews.

As we writers plan and make choices, my biggest awareness flash is that we writers are the bottom feeders, and there is an entire industry way way above us, seeking to make profit off of what we don’t know, or what we desire. We need many of these services, but we also need to be prudent and make wise choices. How are we to size these up?

  • First, there are the sites that offer to do reviews. Some do reviews for free. I love these people. They love reading, they want to support Indie readers, they write reviews for free, and their enthusiasm is sincere. I love to read the insight that each reviewer or bloggers sees or discovers in my book. I try to link back to their sites on my web page whenever I can, to support them. Then there are the sites that offer to do reviews for a fee. Some charge a small amount, $10. Some will do it for free but charge a small amount for the expedited service: $59 for a review within two weeks, $129 for three reviews within 2-3 weeks, and so on. I have paid as much as $400 for a review (NOT Kirkus). Was my $400 review worth it? Absolutely, because – I discovered, as I was going along in this marketing plan, they were an official editorial and I needed editorial reviews, and that has paid off because the review was enthusiastic, they created a dynamic widget for me for a small fee that I use on my own website, and now libraries are willing to put my book in their collection because of these editorial reviews. But do I need to continue to spend large amount of money like that? Do you? Are you certain that you will get your money’s worth? Remember this, as you switch from writer to businessperson, back and forth, in constant motion. Furthermore, I have concluded that it’s best to see from the independent reviewers and bloggers how your book will be received, overall, before you spend big money for a review that you don’t want anybody to see.
  • Some websites will just flash your ebook cover and blurb, or free book cover and blurb, up there for no cost. One of my favorite websites is because they’ve been there supporting poets and prose writers for a long time and the fee for an expedited spot (no review, just the spot, webpage, Twitter Tweet, etc.) is only $10, minimal. Many Twitter accounts will Tweet your book for a small amount of money but how effective are these twitter blitzes (to anybody other than to Twitter and the account owner)? These are questions you must ask.
  • Next are the bloggers who are offering blog tours. Bloggers who love reading have realized that they can love reading, love reviewing books and support indie writers, and they can also derive some income from this. That’s another area where you have to decide if a blog tour is what you need at this point in time and which site, among the hundreds that are offering blog tours, will hit your target audience, which will hit the largest audience in general.
  • We are told to target our audience and place our efforts there. Magazine – online and print – advertising would seem prime. They would love your business. But is it worth it to spend your huge bucks for an ad or banner, even a small ad or banner, before you have a significant number of reviews and a reputation to back it up? Advertising can begin at a few hundred dollars for only one month. The magazines will profit whether or not the ad produces a sale for you.
  • So many authors promote themselves on their blog by saying they’ve sold 70-100 books a day and if we buy their book about how to make money as an indie writer we will be able to do the same. Will we? Is there any way to verify their sales figures? Does their target market function the same as ours? Other bloggers claim they’ve worked with authors to successfully promote their books, including many Amazon best-sellers, and the logic is that if we purchase their services our books will also be successfully promoted. What authors have they promoted and how successful was the promotion? Going onto the internet to find best ways to promote or market our writing and our books seems like a visit to Las Vegas or Times Square. Be prudent; where it comes to how you’re going to spend your advertising and promotional budget, do not make decisions in haste. Corporations think these decisions out very carefully.
  • There are many indie writers organizations that would also love to get your membership. Which ones are worth it for you? Is it IPBA? Is it NetGalley? Is it NAIWE? Is it ALLi? Is it a regional independent writers association? Maybe you don’t need to make a decision right away. Maybe it’s better to educate yourself first, wait and see how your book is going and what works for you, your personality, and your sales. A large investment may or may not pay off, may or may not suite your book and your personality and where you are in the sales queue. Last week I finally joined a local organization for indie writers; the membership fee was modest, and as an organization it can get us into book fairs to independent book sellers that are otherwise off-limits to indie writers. I had looked at that organization last year but it wasn’t attractive to me at that time. Having subsequently had experience at local bookstore meet-and-greets and in our neighborhood farmers’ market in my city, I now know that my book cover gets attention and I really connect with people who stop by my table and make sales, which this organization will facilitate. I also love the interaction and learn a lot from others. When I joined, I knew that the price of membership was well worth it and, given the reviews I’ve gained this past year, I hope I’ll be well-positioned to take advantage of the opportunities.
  • The day after my book was formally published, I received an email from a local public relations firm. Entering into a pact with this company would have been like marrying on my first blind date. You want people to buy your book but you too are a buyer and caveat emptor!

The list goes on. There are more and more ways every week to spend your marketing dollars because there are more and more people who have figured out that they can make money off of indie writers looking to market our books. That's the capitalistic way, there's nothing wrong with it, but we writers should understand where we are and protect ourselves by sizing up the situation and making prudent decisions.

We indie writers are at the bottom seeking to increase our sales; at the same time, there are many individuals and organizations on the next tier that would love our business. These could be helpful, or not. They could be expensive, or not. When we put in our search terms for best ways to reach the public and market our books, it is best to not plan too much in advance, but to take a watchful and fluid approach.

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  • Jane Hanser

    Thank you, Shelah. I notice you're in that in-between place - - not quite sure what will be... Either way hopefully there's something here in my post for you to help you bring success to your book's public exposure and success. (I just used the word "success" twice in the same sentence... Sorry!!)

  • Shelah L. Maul

    Thanks for this great article Jane! Lots to think about and sort through for sure. :)

  • Jane Hanser

    Debby, yes, there is a lot! I started out very organized (like I usually am) and kept a journal of everything I did. Still, I found the experience overwhelming, until I realized what was going on and why. Hopefully my post has made, or will make the experience a little less overwhelming and allow you to be more in control of your decision-making. Even a genre change can change everything!

  • Debby Carroll

    I plan to read this post again and again. It seems like a lot to take in. I had two books published by big houses in the 90s but my most recent one is a memoir which was a genre change for me. (formerly self-help) So, I went the indie route and two weeks post publishing I'm pretty happy but in desperate need of more ways to promote it. Hence, I love your post and am going to seek some of the outlets for reviews you suggest.  Stop by if you like and see what I'm up to. I take all suggestions happily. Tales From the Family Crypt