Podcasts like Novel Marketing tend to get more advanced as each episode builds on previous episodes. That’s why I occasionally like to go back to the basics.
Many marketing classes begin with the 4 Ps of marketing or what is sometimes called McCarthy’s Marketing Mix. (Seth Godin added a fifth P-Purple Cow-to the marketing mix about a decade ago).
If you wonder why something isn’t selling, you’ll find the answer in the 4 Ps. If you want something to sell like crazy, the 4 Ps have the power. The four Ps are Produce, Price, Place, and Promotion.
In this article, we will focus on the first P of McCarthy’s Marketing Mix: Product. Get “product” wrong, and your book won’t sell regardless of what tactics you employ. Get “product” right, and everything gets easier.
If marketing your book feels exhausting, understanding what makes a product “good” may change your life.
An author’s primary product is a book. If you are a public speaker, your primary product is your speech. A podcaster’s primary product is their podcast. You may have multiple products to sell, but we’ll focus on your book in this discussion.
Of the 4 Ps, product is most important because, as David Ogilvy says, “Good marketing helps a bad product fail faster.”
Sadly, most authors find Ogilvy’s statement irrelevant because they believe their book is already a good product.
We must stop asking, “Is this book good?” and start asking, “Is this the kind of book people would want to buy and want to read.”
Sometimes, a book is so good that it overcomes bad marketing and becomes popular because of word-of-mouth recommendations. But no amount of good marketing can save a bad book.
What makes a book a good book?
Many wrong answers to that question lead authors to poverty. Those wrong answers include:
- Your Publisher
- Your Mom
- Your Agent
- Your Editor
- Your Friends
- Your English Teacher
- Writing Award Voters
- Book Store Owners
- Writers Contests
- Future Generations
The Audience Determines Quality
If you want your book to sell, the only opinion that matters is your reader’s.
Your reader determines the quality of your book.
But not all readers are the same.
One key step to writing a good book is identifying your target reader. Once you know who you are trying to thrill, you can write a book to thrill that specific person.
A product is “good” only if it is good, according to the consumer. A book is good if the readers love it.
Beginning authors often make the mistake of writing a book for themselves. But a product made for you-the author-is for an extremely small market. Writing a book for yourself can be a great way to work through your trauma, but that type of book is not ready for the market.
More established writers often make the mistake of falling out of love with their fans. Some authors even start to despise the fans they have. The grass looks greener in another genre with other fans.
Betraying your fans for other fans doesn’t work. Hollywood has tried it, and the result is often an expensive cinematic flop. If you want to make a Star Wars movie for people who don’t like Star Wars, go ahead and make it, but don’t call it Star Wars.
If you want to write a totally different kind of book for a different audience, do it under a pen name.
Don’t covet your neighbor’s fans.
Find Your Timothy
To write for a specific audience, you must choose a real human as your target reader. I call this person “Timothy.” If you can thrill one person, you can thrill many. If you can’t find one real-life person to love your book for the book’s sake (not for your sake), then your book is doomed.
Writing for a Timothy gets you out of your head and starts you down the path of writing for an audience. Ideally, your Timothy would be willing to be a beta reader for you.
To learn more about writing for a specific person and audience (also known as writing to market), check out the following episodes.
- How to Find Your Timothy
- How to Write to Market with Chris Fox
- How to Use Marketing Data to Sell More Books
We see examples of writing to market in the music industry as well. Oliver Anthony recently went from being a heavy equipment salesman to a music superstar. He spent years listening to men in hard hats talk about their hard lives and how they feel the country keeps kicking them down. Then, he wrote a song for those men.
His song shot to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s the first time an artist with no charting history has hit #1. His other songs were all over the top ten on iTunes, even though he recorded them on his iPhone.
His success is not despite the fact that he is independent; it is because he is independent. The gatekeepers in the music industry don’t care about men in hard hats.
Oliver Anthony takes the time to meet each person who comes to his concerts, which are outdoors in the middle of the day in triple-digit heat. Who would attend a mid-day, outdoor concert in the heat of summer? The kind of people who work outside in the heat every day.
Knowing who you are writing for is the first step toward having a good product, but it’s not the only thing you need.
Product Quality: Master the Fundamentals of Craft
Every professional chef must learn to chop quickly and keep their workspace clean, no matter what they’re cooking. Likewise, every author must master certain writing fundamentals regardless of their genre.
While different readers look for different things in a book, all readers want to read books by authors proficient at writing.
- Complying with the rules of English grammar
- Correct usage and punctuation
- Correct spelling
For fiction, this also means mastering things like:
I don’t talk much about writing craft on Novel Marketing, but I do on my other podcast, the Christian Publishing Show.
The fastest way to master the craft of writing is to read books on craft and write short stories to apply the principles you learn. To learn more, check out my course, The Five-Year Plan to Becoming a Bestselling Author.
Product Life Cycle
For everything there is a season, and nothing stays popular forever.
Every product has a life cycle, especially novels. Readers will pay a premium to read the book their friends are reading, but over time, demand for that new book declines. Used copies eventually flood the market, driving down demand for new books. At your local discount store, you’ll see shelves of $1 books that are only a few years old.
How many of the following top-ten titles do you recognize from the New York Times bestseller list for June 5, 2016?
- THE FIREMAN
- 15TH AFFAIR
- THE WEEKENDERS
- THE LAST MILE
- THE NEST
- BEYOND THE ICE LIMIT
- EVERYBODY’S FOOL
- EXTREME PREY
- THE HIGHWAYMAN
- ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE
I imagine you recognize fewer than you would have expected, even though the list is only from 2016. Amazon is currently selling copies of the number-one book on that list for just $5.50.
Brandon Sanderson often sold more books during his pre-order window than he did in all the days after publication combined. His loyal fans want to eat the cookies hot out of the oven. One friend of mine takes a vacation day when Sanderson releases a Stormlight book.
While Sanderson is an extreme case, most books get the most sales during the first 60 days after release. That’s why having a strong book launch is so important.
Books are not the only form of entertainment with a life cycle. Movies, video games, TV shows, and music also have life cycles. The kids aren’t jamming out to What Does the Fox Say like they used to. And I don’t know anyone who is still Livin’ La Vida Loca.
From a product perspective, one of the best ways to boost your sales is to write a new book. Readers love the new, and promoting a new book can rejuvenate interest in your previous books.
Professional writers continue to write.
Below is the list of the authors of those top-ten books from 2016.
- Joe Hill
- James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
- Mary Kay Andrews
- David Baldacci
- Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
- Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
- Richard Russo
- John Sandford
- Craig Johnson
- Anthony Doerr
You probably recognize more author names because those authors kept writing new books, which kept their names top-of-mind for readers like you.
When an author releases a fifth book, they’ll typically see a sales increase for their first four books.
As a book’s popularity wanes throughout its life cycle, used copies find their way onto Amazon and can cannibalize sales of new copies. It is hard for your $4.99 ebook to compete with a $0.99 used copy. More popularity means more used copies that eventually drive down the price of new copies.
For more on product life cycle, listen to my episode, The Lifecycle of a Book: How to Extend Your Book’s Life With Effective Marketing.
You can have more than one product and more than one kind of product.
The key to success is to offer complimentary products. For example, a restaurant might sell drinks and salty food because they complement each other. As you eat salty food, you want to drink more.
A series of books that continue the story is the best complementary product for a novel. The first book helps sell the second and vice versa.
You can offer many kinds of products in your product mix. Other complementary products could include:
- Public speaking
- Email Newsletter
- Radio Show
- Online Courses
- Live Events
- Virtual Summits
- Substack Short Story Subscription
- Short Story Anthology
The key to success in product mix is to find the right mix for you and your writing. For some authors, the best mix is to write more books.
Another aspect of your product is the book’s design. Your book design includes the front and back covers, but it also includes the less obvious elements like formatting, layout, and typography.
The famous Dummies books are known for their design. Each book follows the same formatting guidelines and features:
- A table of contents
- icons to make the topic scannable
- “Part of 10s” section in the back.
- Brilliant cover design
The covers may be ugly, but they work. The bright yellow jumps off the shelf, and the consistent branding connects across books and topics.
When I was a kid, I learned about computers from Dummies books. In middle school, Networking for Dummies helped me set up my first Local Area Network. Web Design for Dummies helped me design my first website. Every time my mom took me to the bookstore, I would come home with another Dummies book. My room had one shelf for Star Wars books and one for Dummies books.
Web Design for Dummies was not the best book on web design. I had other books that were written better or written by authors with more specific expertise. But Web Design for Dummies had the best design. If I needed to look something up, I could find an answer faster in the Dummies book than in any other books I owned.
How can you design your book to be more appealing to readers?
Episodes on Product Design:
- Effective Book Cover Design
- How to Pick a Strong Book Title
- How to Create a Design Brief for Your Book Cover
- How to Use Your Book’s Back Matter to Sell More Books
- How to Write Bestselling Back Cover Copy
- And more!
Does the Book Deliver on Its Promise?
Each book makes a promise to the reader through its title, subtitle, genre, category, cover, and promotion. If the promise overlaps with the reader’s wants, the book is much easier to sell.
A Dummies book, for example, makes the promise, “This complicated topic will be made so easy to understand that even a dummy could do it.”
The most common promise a book makes is “This book will be similar to this other book you already like.”
Making the right promise is a key part of your product. If you make the wrong promise, readers won’t even give your book a try.
But you must also deliver on your promise.
A dummies book that is hard to understand violates its promise. That violation causes negative reviews and can undermine the brand.
Speaking of brand, your brand is another element of your product. As you consistently deliver on your promises, you develop an author brand.
The most important part of your brand is knowing your target reader and consistently thrilling that person.
When a company forgets who their target audience is, they lose money. For example, CNN fell out of love with its progressive fans and wanted to bring more conservatives to their channel. As a result, their ratings are down 20%-60%. Conservatives don’t want CNN. The company’s move toward conservatives now turns off progressive viewers who watched CNN and have switched to watching MSNBC, which is clearly geared toward progressives.
Bud Light made the same mistake in the opposite political direction. Bud Light fell out of love with their conservative customer base who was buying their beer. They also wanted progressives to buy their beer, so they made a hard left with their marketing. As a result, their sales are down 30%- 40%. The conservatives they shunned have moved on.
As the adage goes, “Dance with the reader who brought you.” As an author, you must keep your specific reader happy with your books.
Making your target reader mad won’t gain you favor with people who don’t like you. You can’t make them like you. So, be true to your readers and your brand. That is the path to success.
The easiest way to keep a consistent brand is to stay in one genre. Authors who wander between genres often fail to attract readers.
Bottom Line: Write the Book People Already Want to Read
Marketing is not magic. You can’t use marketing to turn people into the kind of readers who like what you wrote. But you can write the kind of book people already want and then use marketing to show them it’s the book they’ve always wanted.
Authors always tell me, “I wrote a book, and now I want help marketing it.” Sales for these authors are doomed. They baked a cookie without sugar and want me to sprinkle marketing sugar on top.
If you want people to like your cookie, the sugar must be baked in. Your marketing must be written into your book. Think about your reader as you plan to write, as you write, and as you market. In other words, think about your reader the entire time.
To create a successful product, write a book for your readers rather than trying to find readers for your book.
Obscure No More is the cookbook and a pantry of ingredients that will help you build a platform. It will help you pick an approach(the recipe) that will work for you. It will also give you the ingredients you need to implement that approach.
You won’t need to implement every approach in this course to build a platform, but everything you need to build a platform will be in Obscure No More.
In this course, you will learn how to:
- Develop a brand that fits you and resonates with readers.
- Grow an email list of subscribers ready to buy your book.
- Spend less time marketing by playing to your strengths and avoiding time-wasting marketing myths.
- Craft blog posts readers will want to share with their friends and family.
- Build an author website that ranks high on Google and your books.
- Start your own podcast that builds a connection with your readers.
- Go on a media tour of radio, TV, and podcasts.
- Speak from the stage about your book.
- And more!
Obscure No More also includes live office hours where I answer your questions and a 24/7 online community where you can connect with other Obscure No More authors.
Learn more at ObscureNoMore.com.
Three hundred years after a great war shattered the Council of Races, the warrior Rüddan have all but eradicated their cousins, the faerie Aethel and enslaved mortal Humanity. In order to save her people from being wiped out by the Rüddan, Sabine, a Human healer, must overcome generations of bitterness, suspicion, and fear and forge an alliance among enemy races. But what chance does she have when one of those races is extinct, and her dreams of freedom threaten every remaining race on the planet?
- Effective Book Cover Design
- How to Pick a Strong Book Title
- The Lifecycle of a Book: How to Extend Your Book’s Life With Effective Marketing
- How to Find Your Timothy