Marketing Planning For First-Time Authors

first-time authors

There are two ways first-time authors can plan their book marketing activities. The first is discovery-driven planning, which evolves through trial and error. A second technique views planning as narrative, conducted as you would when writing a novel.

Now is the time to plan your marketing activities for the end-of-year holiday blitz, but many authors and publishers avoid planning in general because they do not know how to do it. Those who do know typically use a conventional, platform-based marketing plan that builds upon previous experience, with goals described as an increase over last year’s achievements. Planners know what did and did not work in the past, so their lists of strategies and actions are based on that familiarity.

Of course, first-time authors have no history of marketing and selling their books, and this inexperience often leads to “winging it.” The results are usually underwhelming because the neophyte author does not sufficiently understand the publishing business.

There are two different ways for inexperienced authors to plan their future marketing actions. One solution is discovery-driven planning in which much is assumed, but the plan evolves over time through trial and error. A second technique views planning as narrative, conducted as you would when writing a novel.

Discovery-driven planning

In this case, the word plan is a verb. You’re doing something, but your actions are based upon proven marketing advice instead of historical data. Done well, you identify your target readers and buyers, take action, track the results of your efforts, and make adjustments as you go along.

  • Start at the end. Discovery-driven planning is not a blind approach to marketing, but traditional marketing done in a non-traditional way. Instead of estimating future revenues and then assuming profits will come, create a “reverse income statement.” Determine the profit required to make the venture worthwhile, then calculate the revenues needed to deliver that profit.
  • Learn effective marketing techniques. Find out what should be done to generate the revenue you need. Read books about marketing. Join the Association of Publishers for Special Sales and the Independent Book Publishers Association. Read both organizations’ newsletters and other sources of information such as Book Marketing Works’ Marketing Matters newsletter. Attend seminars and webinars. Learn all you can about how to profitably manipulate the four Ps of marketing: product, place, price, and promotion.
  • Calculate applicable costs. Decide which actions to take and estimate the cost to do everything required to produce, distribute, promote, and sell your books. If you deduct those costs from predicted revenues, will your plan deliver a sufficient return? If not, go back through it, making calculated changes.
  • Perform the relevant actions. Once you have a plan, implement a proven (by others) series of sustainable actions. Decide upon a price that will enable you to reach your profit objectives given your costs. Contact distribution partners for selling to retailers. Arrange for sales online and to non-bookstore buyers. Perform publicity, do media appearances, take action on social media, and tackle personal selling activities.
  • Test assumptions at milestones. New ventures often require redirection of action, and therein lies the key to successful discovery-driven planning. As you begin to experience results — either positive or negative — evaluate your relative success. Do more of what works, and make changes to — or eliminate — actions that do not work.

Planning as narrative

With this strategy, you approach your marketing activities as you would writing a book. This may be particularly effective for fiction writers.

Step one: Define the characters and their motivations

You, the author, are the primary character. What are your strengths and weaknesses? Another important character in this scenario is your target reader. Precisely define this person in terms of demographics, but particularly why he or she would want to purchase your book. Describe where they shop, for this is where your book should be available. Another character is your publisher. How will you find the right one? What should be in your proposal? Will an agent assist you?

If you choose independent publishing, there are more characters to describe. Buyers at retailers — both inline and online (bookstores, supermarkets, gift shops,, etc.) — take on products that will build store traffic, increase inventory turns, and improve profit per square foot. Distributors to brick-and-mortar retailers want quality books that are supported by the author’s promotion. Librarians want books that will help their patrons. Corporate buyers want to use your content to sell more of their product. Describe how these characters will perform.

One antagonist is your competition. You are competing for your target readers’ share of mind and wallet with a variety of titles and products, depending on which consumers, retailers and non-retail characters you select. Do a quick search for competitive titles in your category. Do this on and go to bookstores to evaluate the other titles on the shelves. Corporate buyers have a large variety of promotional products from which to choose. You vie with these for limited budgeted dollars.

Step two: Write your story

Describe the process of producing and marketing your book. What advice will your accountant, cover designers, and editors give you? What evil forces might prevent you from succeeding? Describe how you will get on and perform on television and radio shows. Tell about the trials and tribulations you experience when arranging distribution and shelf presence. What twists and turns could occur? What new characters might enter? Build to the climax of you reaching the number one position as a New York Times best seller (or whatever your objective is).

Step three: Create the ending and plan for a sequel

Close your story by pursuing the actions that will lead to a sequel or to your next book.

Of course, there is more to writing a book plan than described here, but you get the idea. Define and control the story as much as you do your actions in real life and carefully describe how you will move ahead toward your destination.

Both of these techniques acknowledge that at the start of a new venture, little is known and much is assumed. These approaches systematically convert assumptions into knowledge as your strategic venture unfolds. Proceed with your best-guess estimates, then test and question them as you proceed. When new information is uncovered, incorporate it as necessary into your evolving plan. The real potential of your efforts is discovered as it develops, and you’ll soon have the experience to write a platform-based plan for your next book-marketing endeavor.

Holiday Book Sales Guide


  1. Yet again, another “John Boy Walton ” like victim learns an important lesson in publishing.
    Remember guys, like John Grisham said one time.
    ‘Writing a book is easy. Selling a book is hard.”

  2. Hi Brian My name is Mike, I’m 77 years young, and I have written my first book. My job in life was a Construction manager. So I don’t have a clue about publishing etc. I wrote about 40 poems and I felt that I might try to write a book around them. So I did and (My book is titled “Did i hear my name whispered on the wind”) I happen to see a self publishing company advertisement on TV. I contacted them and we talked back and forth and I not sure whether I should have used them as my publisher. It cost me $3400 for all the work from editing to printing to publishing. My book was finely published in last March this year. I spoke with them the other day and asked them about marketing. There answer was all marketing is on your shoulders, I told them I don’t no beans about marketing. I explained that I have shown my book at Barnes & Noble in Spokane during a book signing. and during this month I shall hopefully be showing my book again at Barnes & Noble in Tri-Cities. By the way I live in Pullman Washington home of WSU. I guess I just feel as if I have been conned and spent money for nothing. Can you give me some guide lines please. I wait for your reply when you have time. Thanks mike

    • In reality, you were not conned. This is the way of not only Traditional publishing but self-publishing. Another thing that surprises many self publishers if the fact YOU have to pay to sell books. In other words if you want 250 books to put on shelves guess who pays for those to be printed. YOU do. Most self publishers leave this deep in the fine print. There you are ready to start spreading your writing joy when it strikes you you have to pay another 1000 dollars to have them printed and shipped to you. One of the things that I dislike about the publishing industry as a whole is the way in which they treat even established authors. In other words, it is upon YOU to make sure your books sell. Meaning writing is not a write and forget job IF you want to sell books. Either self-published or traditionally published you are going to have to market your books. I recommend a good website, twitter, instagram, facebook accounts. LInk your social media to your website. Blog on that website with interesting articles and not buy my book please cause its really great. In fact, many authors have taken to Youtube trying to drum up business for their books. BookBaby, as well as almost every other self publishing firm out there, are here for one reason. To make money. Some are just better than others. Elk Grove press is a semi traditional publishing firm. If you submit a book to them they want to know up front WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO TO SELL YOUR BOOK. In other words. Traditonal or self-published YOU are the head of Marketing.


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