Monday, September 16, 2013

Be A Winner - Marketing Your Book

By Jennifer Lovett Herbranson

It’s Football Time!

Bring on the tailgates, the barbecue, and the excitement. I’m originally from Birmingham, Alabama, and there is nothing in this world like a Saturday in autumn down south.

RV's park themselves outside the game field a week before the game. Crowds litter every available inch of real estate on campus and set up tents, grills, coolers and yes, even televisions. Strange new phrases reappear in the lexicon after a six-month hiatus. “Roll Tide,” “The Swamp” and “Suuu, eee” are heard from Savannah to Texas. Can’t you hear the marching band and the cheerleaders?

What does this have to do with marketing your book? Everything.

Legendary Alabama Head Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant once said, “Everything you ever need to learn in life can be learned on a football field.” With six national championships under his belt, I think he might be on to something. So grab a box of hot wings, a cold iced tea, and some Dreamland Barbecue Sauce. We’re gonna' talk football.

First, what do Peyton Manning, Tim Tebow, and Joe Namath have in common? He married his college sweetheart; he wrote a book about faith; and he played football with my Daddy, respectively. So nothing, really, other than they were all SEC quarterbacks who made it to the NFL.

Quarterbacks are in charge. They read the field, decide the play, and either let go or keep the ball - all before the barreling monster of a defense lineman squashes him to a pulp. In the writing world, you are the Quarterback. The head honcho of your team. The one to decide when to release the ball and when to hold onto it.

And here’s the deal: whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, if you want to sell your book, everyone expects you to do the marketing. Yep you. Even if you get the Big NY Deal, you are still expected to do the marketing because, frankly, there is no reason to gamble on a new or mid-list writer, which means little-to-no marketing money. And who wins? The guy with the biggest motivation and perseverance. They guy who reads the field and decides how to make the plan.

Repeatedly, writers tell me they just want to write. They hate marketing. They don’t want to learn and don’t see the point. I understand. Really. But if you want to sell that book, listen to Knute Rockne: “Build up your weaknesses until they become your strong points.” He is often considered one of the greatest football coaches of all time.

Once you decide you’re gonna' dig in and go for it, the first thing you’ll do as the quarterback is find a way to fend off the defense. For writers, that can be anything. The massive defensive end coming at your left side is self-doubt, the one on the right is procrastination, and the guy coming up the middle? That’s the competition. Finally, that defensive line blocking every move you make? That’s the industry. In spite of all this, crush ‘em head on because “when you win, nothing hurts” and Hall of Famer Joe Namath, veteran quarterback of the NY Jets and the University of Alabama, should know.

And winning is only possible with a Coach. You need a Coach who will yell and scream and holler and cheer and push and hug all at once. In the world of writing, there are a lot of different coaches: writer's conferences, marketing programs, books, mentors. These coaches will teach you to develop, understand and tackle the game plan. Do you understand why you need to market on specific outlets? Do you understand the outlet? Do you know how to reach people online and turn them into readers? Seek out the people who can help you with this. “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.” - Archie Griffin, the only two-time Heisman trophy winner. So get out there, high five the coach and fight, fight, fight!

Why? Because there is nothing sweeter than stepping into a fan-crazed stadium pushing its outer limits with pandemonium. Look around. The world is your stadium and it’s bursting with fans screaming and cheering. The band is playing and the cameras are popping; they want you to succeed. So after you find your coaches, you need a game plan.

Coach Bryant said there are three rules: 1.) Surround yourself with people who can’t live without football. 2.) Recognize winners. They come in all forms. 3.) Have a plan for everything.

In the biz, the marketing plan, or playbook, is called a communications plan. The best way to learn the playbook is find out what is working for other writers. After that, create your own.

Every game plan should include:
  • Target audiences
    • Readers
    • Interest Groups
    • Media (TV, radio, print)
    • Bloggers
    • Other Writers
    • Agents, Editors and Publishers
  • Online strategies
    • Website and/or Blog
    • Facebook Author Page (not the personal one, a professional one)
    • Goodreads (for giveaways and author discussions)
    • Twitter ('cause it’s fun & all the publishing industry is on it)
    • Pinterest (it’s the up and comer)
    • YouTube (3rd ranked search engine behind Google and Facebook)
  • Face-to-face strategies
    • Attend club meetings
    • Hold a signing at a hardware store
    • Speak (schools, civic organizations, anywhere)
  • Messages and themes
    • Define the overarching themes in your story and use those to help sell it
    • What message are you trying to get across in your novel?
Ask yourself: Who will you market to? How? What will you say? Put all that in your playbook. Be as bold and creative as you can. Include offensive and defensive methods.

You will be successful, but it takes time. Start slow and make small goals. Inch up to national championship status with daily interaction on all outlets. Most of all, hang in there. Writing, just as with “Football, is like life – it requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, dedication and respect for authority.” – Vince Lombardi.

In the life of writing and marketing, the game never winds down. You play, you practice, you watch game film, revise the game plan, sometimes you’ll even switch out the players. But it is all part of the continual cycle of getting better, finessing your game and playing to win.

Now “Winning isn't everything, but it sure beats coming in second,” said Coach Bryant. “And I ain’t never been nothing but a winner.”

Now, go out there, find your game and Be A Winner!

About the Author: With a combined 12 years of active and Reserve time as a US Air Force Public Affairs Officer, Jennifer Lovett has marketed books, shows, concerts and more. She is currently an Air Force Reserve Public Affairs Officer at Patrick AFB in Florida and in her full-time life, pursuing a career as a fiction writer.


  1. I don't love marketing, but I LOVE football. Thank you for helping me see the parallels, Jenny. I think maybe I can tackle me some marketing now!

  2. It was fun for you to write and it was fun for me to read! I like being a quarterback! But seriously, great points.

  3. Jennifer, sorry, but I really must take issue with the following: “...there is no reason to gamble on a new or mid-list writer, which means little-to-no marketing money.”

    If there’s one thing I’ve found in my 52 years of life, and almost as many years writing and observing this and other industries is that anyone can sell anything if they put enough resources into the effort. If “resources” means money, so be it, if “resources” mean thought, so be it. I know all about how mid-list writers fulfill an important part in the overall book world, but--it seems to me--the bottom line should be if publishers don’t want to put any resources behind something they take on, then they shouldn’t have taken on the work to begin with. It does so much--sometimes irreparable--damage to a writer and their career, if they don’t sell through on their first book. Gee, it used to be their first two or three books. Now it’s down to one. Why is that, I rhetorically inquire?

    There’s “little-to-no marketing money” because bean counters and execs are throwing all their money on “sure bets” (and I used “bets” intentionally, over “things”). Come on, does a King, Rowling, or Patterson really need all the resources they actually get, once it’s announced a new work [from them] is available? Can some of those resources be better spent on others who don’t yet have the market recognition, but are every bit as good? I’m sorry but saying something like that (again, IMHO) is picking low-hanging fruit. The problem involved in today’s book industry (as is elsewhere evident) is in the mindset of those running “the shows.” It’s not that there’s no money. If there really was “no money” then no one would be getting any of the millions being dumped into promotion of the Big Dogs. If it’s “so easy” and “low cost” for the Nobody Writer to do social media, etc., then why don’t the Big Five partake in it? Hire unpaid interns (if this is still the practice; low-paid, otherwise) to create these campaigns for the works these companies take on? Or, hey, here’s a thought, maybe take on less authors?...only those authors whose work publishers really do believe in, and are willing to actually devote some resources (including real thought) to in the first place, instead of throwing their works again public walls like so much partially cooked spaghetti?

    ANYTHING can be sold.


    And, no, we all know but perhaps don’t readily admit to ourselves, no, the product doesn’t even have to be good! Do we really need $4 coffee? Bigger screen TVs? Do we really N.E.E.D. these things?

    People buy what’s put in front of them. If they have choices eliminated from them, intentionally NOT put in front of them, how can they even consider them?

    So, with all due respect to you, Jennifer, and all the others out there who feel the same as you, and will heartily disagree with me and my kind, and try to rip me a new one with “stats, and facts, and whatever” (stats and facts and whatever can all be manipulated; I used to work with them, and know firsthand how they can, indeed, be manipulated), there ARE reasons, very good ones, to gamble on new writers, because there is good, undiscovered writing out there...writing that is not formulaic and is every bit as powerful as the “sure bets.” Writing that is profound and thoughtful and funny as hell. This industry loves--thrives-- on blaming the writer (their work isn’t “ready,” the writer isn’t “big enough,” the writer doesn’t have a “platform,” etc.), but sometimes it’s not the’s the Gatekeepers. Yes, all kinds of “holes” can be poked in my position, it’s all been said before, but it’s not about whether or not holes can be poked into my argument. There is another way of doing’s just intentionally being overlooked.

  4. Frank (fpdorchak), could you clarify for me what exactly "your position" is?

    You say you take issue with Jenny's statement “...there is no reason to gamble on a new or mid-list writer, which means little-to-no marketing money.”

    I believe it's true that publishers are reluctant to spend money on new and mid-list writers. I don't think Jenny was saying the publishers don't HAVE the money; just that they're increasingly reluctant to spend it on authors who are not a "sure bet" as you say.

    It seems to me that you (Frank) agree with Jenny's sentiment, if not her phrasing, and that the veracity of this statement is exactly what makes you angry. I think your point is NOT that the publishers do or do not have this perspective, but rather that they SHOULD not. If so, your beef is with the publishers, not with Jenny.

    I hope I don't come across as someone "trying to rip you a new one," Frank! I'm genuinely just trying to wrap my head around what you're saying.

    1. Chris, I'm really sorry I have to do it this way, but all of what I need to say does not fit into the 4,096 characters allowed, so I posted it to my blog:

      Again, apologies for having to do it this way, but I hope it answers the mail.

    2. Thank you, Frank. I read your response on your blog, and also the reply you posted to Aaron Brown's blog at, and I think I understand better now what you're saying--
      that by accepting the notion that "there's no reason to gamble on a new or mid-list writer" perpetuates that belief.

      I understand that you feel the publishing industry should not be that way. I agree.

      BUT, I think it is that way.

      I understand that you feel the more we (writers, the public) accept this "reality" the more real/entrenched it will become. I guess I'd agree with you here, too.

      BUT, I don't think that I as an unpublished writer will benefit from bucking the system and refusing to accept this state of the publishing industry.

      I think that as an emerging author, I have a lot more to gain from understanding the existing dynamics in the publishing industry and learning how to play their ball game.

      There are certainly things I'll take a stand on and rage against the machine, but this isn't one of them. Maybe this makes me part of the problem. What I hope this will make me is a writer whose books sell.

      Thanks for engaging in this discussion, Frank. I've missed you! I'm so glad you're still writing, and I can't wait to see the forthcoming novel.

  5. Hi Jenny, Great tips as usual.

    I agree with Frank about the fact that a good marketing campaign can sell work that isn't that great. Word of mouth is really the best way to get a book recommendation.

  6. The unfortunate part of all this is that so many writers and readers (and apparently Jennifer Lovett) buy into the idea that writing is all business. They seem to have forgotten that writing is art. Now that corporations have acquired all the major publishing companies, the only thing that matters to them is profit. Artistic merit is left to independent publishers, most of whom can't compete with the big publishers when it comes to marketing. The result is that many readers think the only books worth reading are the ones the big publishers promote. And since profit is largely determined by success in the mass market, the big publishers rarely take a chance on a book that doesn't fall into already successful categories. So the mainstream is saturated with sentimental, poorly written books. Many of them are incredibly weak second or third efforts by authors who have had success (I know, I was book review editor at LA Review for four years). Too bad, because publishers used to take many more chances on new writers before the bean counters took over.

    Even worse, big publishers essentially missed the boat on adapting to digital formats. To make up for lost revenue, they have placed the economic burden on the backs of writers, forcing them to accept horrible royalty deals and in all but a few cases to do their own marketing and promotion, as Jennifer describes. That means the most successful writers are really just the best salespeople, not the best writers.

    Writers must decide for themselves whether they want to pursue business success or artistic satisfaction. It's a shame we can no longer pursue both.

  7. Clearly I set off a time bomb here.
    My objective was to share what I know about marketing for writers who want to learn it.
    Whether or not the publishing industry is doing the right thing by writers is a different argument. Whether or not writing is art is also a different argument.
    However, I think writing is whatever the writer wants it to be, art or business. It's personal to the writer.
    I also think that the harsh reality is if a writer wants to sell books, the publishing industry, traditional or indie, will require the writer to do the bulk of the marketing. Yes, it does come down to the “best salesman.”
    Is it fair? Of course not, but right now, it’s the publishing world we live in. I'm just offering what I've learned in the hopes of alleviating some of the pressure from a writer who is overwhelmed by it.

  8. The business is what it is--what it is becoming--regardless of what we as authors may want it to be. I applaud your post, Jenny, for addressing the reality of the market. Whether or not it's "right" isn't really something we can affect, since we aren't the financial powers that be. But savvy, successful writers adapt to what it is if they want to succeed. Art IS a business--I think it has to be on a certain level--and any artist needs to be at least part businessperson so that all that gorgeous creative output finds an audience. It's not up to us to try to resist the changes that are happening, but to learn to operate within the realities of the business we chose when we decided to pursue our art. Great post.

  9. Thanks so much for this post, Jenny. As I often do, I agree with everything Tiffany wrote, so I won't repeat her good points. I would add that there's no reason to think that marketing can't be a fun and creative endeavor if you learn how to do it well. Marketing these days is about forging relationships, being creative, and discovering the core of your book and communicating it well. Why not embrace that?

    1. Great way to look at it, Aaron. That's how I think of it--a fun challenge. Because why not? It's the nature of the beast, so if we're going for it, we might as well find enjoyment in the necessary parts that support the artistic parts.

  10. I've gone ahead and taken a cue from FP and written my own extended reply to this topic. If anyone is interested, you can find it at:

  11. You had me with Bear Bryant. Roll Tide!

  12. The words engraved on the ourside of our Memorial Stadium are: "In the deed the glory."
    I think about this a lot with my writing, too.
    Yes, I really really (really) want to WIN THE GAME and by that I mean sell books. But yet, I must remind myself that first I must create art that is true and worthy. That, in the end, is the more than what I think I *want,* it is what is right.

    As always Jen, Thank you for sharing your brain with us, you are always helpful and inspirational. And remember, everytime you talk football, you're asking for a bit of trouble :)


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.