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Grow Your Marketing Part 3: Portal Products

To some degree, this series depends on you having read, understood and perhaps even applied the principles outlined in the book Crack Your Marketing.

That book gives you a pretty much sure-fire way of acquiring sales for your book or books, and over time building a fanbase which will want more from you = future sales.

What we’re looking at in this series is how to boost all of that so that you approach and eventually achieve viability. We’re defining viability as about 10,000 booksales in a year, which, given an average return to you of £1.00 per book sold, presents you with a reasonable income from writing. You might do better than that — the idea is that you can build things up so that you’ll do no worse.

Key to this is developing a Portal Product, known in general marketing terms as a Lead Magnet.

If you were marketing pizzas or cars or non-fiction, a Lead Magnet is relatively easy to come up with. That’s because your product is considered to be relatively ‘solid’ in the minds of potential buyers, and as such is divisible into ‘chunks’, some of which have more market value than others. You see this all the time with people trying to market non-fiction to you: they take the ‘7 Best Things’ or ’10 Ways’ or whatever it is, and package it up, then offer it to you as a ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ deal, or on a time-limited ‘Doors Close in 24 Hours’ type of thing, in an attempt to prompt you into action.

Fiction writers are unusual in the sense that it’s difficult to divide a piece of fiction into chunks and assign each a value in the same way. Which chapters of E. M. Forster’s Howards End are worth more commercially than the rest? Are there scenes in Shakespeare’s Macbeth which have more value than others from marketing point of view? It’s almost impossible to determine value in this way when it comes to the very ‘unsolid’ worlds of fiction.

You can see some attempts to do so in the world of movies: a trailer is, in effect, a Lead Magnet. It takes the ‘best bits’ from a film and edits them together in such a way as to attract the most attention and convince the viewer of the value of the overall movie — anyone who likes the trailer (given away for nothing in this case) is a ‘lead’ for a ticket sale when it comes to watching the actual movie.

But you can’t do that easily with a book. Which bits would you select? And how would you present them in a way which attracts readers? You can’t very well cut and paste together the best sentences or scenes in your story in the same way as a film trailer — it would be hard to get it to make sense on the written page, not to mention difficult to ‘hook’ readers in or get them to continue reading.

So what you need is the fiction version of a Lead Magnet — a Portal Product.

How to Put Together a Portal Product

A Portal Product is simply your best cohesive piece of work.

It’s the piece of work which, as soon as a reader picks it up, will tell them what you are all about and what you can do for them.

It could be called the first actual step of your sales process: the first thing which is overtly trying to sell them something.

As an example, my own Portal Product is the non-fiction book How Stories Really Work. If a reader picks that up and reads it, they immediately know where I’m coming from and what the rest of my work might have to offer them. But it’s non-fiction — easier to market.

Some examples from fiction might help.

For instance, if you wanted to introduce a reader to the hundreds of thousands of words of J. R. R. Tolkien’s work, what book would you pick? Perhaps The Hobbit, because it’s short — but because The Hobbit was written as a children’s book, it might give some readers the wrong impression about what to expect from the rest of Tolkien’s opus. So Tolkien’s ‘portal’ is probably The Lord of the Rings. Reading that opens the door to the rest of Middle-earth — you know what kind of things you might find there.

Dickens’ ‘key work’ might be A Christmas Carol. Why? Because it introduces the reader to Dickens’ style while also touching on his major themes of social justice and morality. Having read A Christmas Carol, a reader could go on to explore and enjoy other Dickensian masterpieces. You might choose another of Dickens’ novels as an introduction — there is no right and wrong here. The point is that every major author has a Portal Product, or more than one, through which readers can progress smoothly into the created world or worlds within.

Often these portals for fiction writers are shorter works or short stories. A portal into Thomas Hardy’s works, for example, might be the short story ‘The Withered Arm’ or the short story collection Wessex Tales.

What does this have to do with you and your works?

Well, firstly, you need actual ‘works’. One book is unlikely a career to make, something that remains true no matter how many times people quote Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird at me. 'Works' means more than one book. For the Marketing Mantra from Crack Your Marketing to operate successfully in creating a viable career for you, you need to fulfil the final step, ‘Provide more’.

But assuming that you have a body of work available to readers, you make a Portal Product like this:

Take a representative work from your opus, revitalise it and refresh its look, and make it available for a relatively low price.

Then focus your marketing efforts on that one book.

This has the potential to completely transform the way you talk about your writing business, and how you sell books.

It has many advantages.

First, a Portal Product makes it very clear to all interested readers what the first step is to becoming a reader of your work more generally. Instead of long, drawn-out advertising campaigns or conversations (which expend a lot of time and energy) spread over all kinds of things that you’ve written, you prompt all potential readers to buy this one product.

This saves tons of time and energy. It turns the sales process into one relatively short step. You get paid to deliver a piece of work that then works to elevate your credibility in the mind of the reader.

Secondly, Portal Products make you easy to talk about and share with others, which creates an organic marketing campaign (formerly known as ‘word of mouth’).

Having a Portal Product is like educating your fans on something simple and interesting to say about you.

Thirdly, Portal Products take the pressure off. Whenever money changes hands, reader and writer have different expectations. The reader expects to get value, and can let down their guard because they aren’t being bombarded with salesy ads about a whole range of things; the writer has already delivered value (the book may have been written years ago) without the pressure of having to turn each individual reader into a fan with every single piece of writing that they have produced.

Furthermore, Portal Products demonstrate that your work is valuable. And because the reader paid for it, they will value it more highly than the free books they got from elsewhere. When you give your books away, you undermine your own value and credibility. People simply don’t value free things as much as things that they have paid for.

A paying reader is already a more committed reader.

Those that buy this Portal Product are buying into you. Once they’ve made that commitment psychologically, they are much more likely to go on and read more of your stuff.

So — what’s your Portal Product? Out of all the work you’ve produced and published, what is the best introduction to you and your writing?

It bears careful thought.

And it’s just the beginning of the road to viability…

Stay tuned.


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