When writers put down their (often metaphorical) pens and start to look into the world of marketing, a glazed expression tends to appear in their eyes and they frequently experience a sensation of confusion and anxiety. This is partly because the field of marketing appears foreign and strange to them, full of unknown laws and misleading hype —but also partly because they, the writers, have failed to set out their own exact expectations.
If nothing is occurring in a particular field of action, or if there is a sense of being lost or dispersed, it is often because no firm goal or target has been placed there, around which everything else can orientate itself. The same thing may have occurred during the writing of a story — the plot seems vague, the characters start to wander, the whole thing looks as though it might be pointless or beyond one’s capabilities to pull off. The world seems to spin. But once a fixed point is established, all the factors that are in motion immediately adopt a relationship to that fixed point: they become barriers which need to be removed, or assisting elements which need to strengthened. The story begins to find its feet again and everything that goes into it discovers a place for itself.
It’s the same with marketing.
To help you with this, let’s decide now what our targets should be in marketing a book or set of books. What exactly are we trying to achieve?
I’m not talking about money here. If we get these other things right, money will follow as a by-product. What I mean is a more general picture: what should we be aiming for?
If we imagine set of concentric circles (see the accompanying diagram) in the middle of that circle we could place the ultimate goal of all marketing, which is the person who has been transformed into a lifelong and adoring fan of our work. This person will read and re-read our books, sign up to pre-releases, forward our name without being asked, and in general be a devotee of ours for as long as he or she can and with as much power as is available to them. Super-fans like this are priceless, and relatively rare, but we have all seen them in relation to various other franchises that we see in society — the passionate music fan, the follower of particular TV programmes, the person enthralled by a certain celebrity. No matter what the object of their affection does, they are there watching, reading, listening or otherwise supporting it. Part of an author’s job in marketing is to find these people and give them more of what they want. It’s probably true to say that in a world with over seven billion people in it, somewhere there exists a group of super-fans for almost everybody. In other words, even if a book is poorly written and at present little known, somewhere in the world it will have followers waiting to adore it. The trick is finding them.
Examples of poorly written books which have followers? You may have already thought of a few. The book Fifty Shades of Gray, for instance, though badly written and almost universally panned by readers and critics, still has a group craving more of the same. That author will continue to survive on an income from her writing as long as a) that group is of a viable size and b) she keeps writing more of what they want to read.
There are thousands of examples of the better kind of book which has millions of followers. As a writer, you’re trying to be in this group of authors, the ones whose books are actually worthwhile and who therefore have potentially much larger groups of super-fans adoring them.
But not everyone is a super-fan. And super-fans don’t just come rushing out of the woods as soon as you call. There are other circles in our diagram.
The next circle contains the group of what might be called the ‘ordinary’ fan. This is the reader who enjoys your book, may or may not re-read it at some future date, but who will probably buy another book by you if and when it comes out. These people aren’t quite as ‘crazy’ for a particular author’s work as the super-fans, but they are also probably more numerous.
Then we have the emerging fan. This is the reader who, having first encountered your book and starting to read it, is going to like it more and more and will eventually become a fan. There’s a mysterious zone here, straight after a customer buys your book, when they become even more invisible to you as the author as they read the thing. Are they reading it every day? Are they unable to put it down? Or has the book disappeared into a handbag or stack of other books, to be read ‘later’? There’s no way you can know. But this is the most fertile ground for growing fans. By way of analogy, you can think of this as the work of seeds, out of sight under the ground. You can’t see them germinating, but eventually, if your book appeals to them, you’ll start to see tiny shoots appearing in the form of comments, reviews, perhaps a recommendation to a friend and so on.
In the next circle is the crucial individual known as the 'hot prospect'. He or she hasn’t yet bought the book, but is hovering around looking and waiting. Maybe they have even added the book to a waiting list or basket online; maybe they have found it in a library and are getting around to having their own copy. This circle is where the largest proportion of marketing effort puts its attention: you have the person almost ready to buy, and you just need to attract enough of their attention to get a commitment, at which point the prospect moves out of this circle and into the emerging fan ring above.
Outward from the prospect is the other main marketing field: the warm prospect. He or she is passing by a bookshop, or browsing casually online, having only a vague inclination to act. They are interested in other things, distracted by other things, pulled away by other things. Only effective branding, repeat advertising and clever broad-based promotion will be able to hook this person’s attention, probably only at great cost and with prolonged persistence. They are on the edge of dropping into one of the outer circles.
Here in the Outer Rim lie the cold prospects, the people who will probably never buy even though they may be readers of other books. And in the final, much larger circle - or outside the circles altogether - are all those who will definitely not buy from you and are never going to be interested.
How do you use this knowledge to get more people to move into the inner circles?