Friday, May 20, 2005

Sculpting a marketing plan

If there is one point that I've made a dozen times on this blog it is this: it is one thing to publish a book; but it is quite another to sell it.

This truth holds good whether the publisher is part of a multinational corporation or a one-man band. Either way you print a pile of books -- whether it's a big pile or a small pile -- and then you actually have to sell them.

In the UK, for instance, the past year has seen the publication of autobiographies or memoirs by such big names (in the UK only, probably) as Greg Dyke, Jon Snow, and Rageh Omaar. In each case, a large advance was paid; and in each case, reportedly, the publisher was left with a lot of unsold copies.

It seems then, that marketing is the key to everything.

In a recent book by Catherine Wald (of which more next week when I review it in full) there is an interview with M.J. Rose. Now for those who don't know, M.J. Rose is the pseudonym of an American woman who had a career in advertising but gave it up to write fiction -- mostly. She also writes a great deal about the business of writing and publishing; and you could begin to get the flavour of her views by visiting her blog.

Catherine Wald's questioning of M.J. Rose produces some vital insights. For example, it turns out that M.J. was offered a contract for her first novel Lip Service, but the offer was rescinded 'because the marketing department felt the book would be too hard to sell.' In the end, after various nonsenses of this sort, M.J. felt that she might just as well publish the book herself. Which she did.

And, of course, nothing happened. At which point a sudden thought came visiting. M.J. realised that she had spent her entire working life in advertising, but she had never bothered to put together a marketing plan for her own novel.

M.J. spent a month working out a complete plan, and in November 1998 she began to implement it. By January 1999, Lip Service had become the highest ranked small press book at and had been reviewed by over fifty internet sites.

In early 1999 an editor at the Doubleday Direct book club asked for a copy of the book, and two weeks later she made an offer for it. This was, in all probability, the first time that anybody had ever used the internet to generate buzz for a novel, and it was certainly the first time that anybody had ever sold a self-published novel to the Doubleday Literary Guild. And this was a book which had started life as an ebook.

Now, what M.J. does not say in her interview with Catherine Wald, but what she has said elsewhere, is that implementing her marketing plan involved a vast amount of work. She sat in front of her computer screen for many hours a day, for weeks on end, writing thousands of emails, requesting reviews, pestering people, getting her name known on newsgroups. And so forth. It was not easy for her.

Since then, M.J. has become a definite guru on the art of book marketing in the digital age. She has written an ebook on the subject, Buzz Your Book, but much of her advice is available for free. And you could begin by reading her blog post of 18 May, entitled Sculpting a Marketing Plan.

In this post, M.J. describes the marketing plan which has been dreamed up by her friend and co-author Douglas Clegg, for his new novel Priest of Blood. I am not going to summarise the plan here, because you can perfectly well read it for yourself. And whether you think it sensible or not, you will certainly take the point, I hope, that being a writer involves a lot more, these days, than just sending off your ms and leaving the rest to the publisher.


Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

I read about the vagaries of publishing and marketing and then come across a piece in BookForum which states that the Nobel Prize in literature in 2004 went to a book (The Piano Teacher by Elfriede Jelinkek) which sold 270 copies prior to the award. Ms. Jelinkek's three previous novels sold a whopping 50 copies -- combined. Does this say something about publishing or does it say more about Nobel jurists?

Noah Cicero said...

The people that were nominated for national book awards didn't sell many books either, of course if you've ever read Lily Tuck you know why. And the movies up for Oscars weren't even in the top fifty best selling movies of 2004.

That says something about publishing, about Nobel Jurists, about the elitism of modern intellectuals, and the state of the world.

In random research I've done for essays, stories and such I found that same kind of elitism in the other diciplines like biology, psychology, and philosophy. There is a lot of questionable behavior amongst supposed intellectuals these days.

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