has been called the de facto gatekeeper of Christian speculative fiction. Jeff is an editor, novelist, publisher, cover designer, typesetter, fiction teacher, and Writers Digest author. He is best-known as the award-winning editor and publisher of Christian fantasy and science fiction works, including those put out by his own small publishing house, Marcher Lord Press. He has recently launched FictionAcademy.com as part of BestsellerSociety.com. He usually leaves the marketing questions to Thomas Umstattd, who runs MarketingAcademy.com, also a part of Bestseller Society.
By this point in this series on marketing fiction, I’m sure you’ve heard a number of great ideas. There is lots of good advice out there, and certainly some novels seem to do well with the marketing and publicity they receive.
However, and with absolutely no disrespect to the others giving their ideas, I have come to believe that nobody really knows how to market fiction. LOL. Myself included.
Oh, sure, if you’re promoting a book by an author who is a household name—or if you have an unlimited budget (and preferably both)—you can successfully market the novel.
But the rest of us are more or less anonymous and have a significantly non-unlimited marketing budget. It’s these folks who could really use some surefire advice for marketing their novels.
Unfortunately, there isn’t any. If there were some three-step plan that guaranteed bestselling numbers for your novel, every fiction publisher and author would be using it, and every novel thus promoted would be a bestseller.
But it simply isn’t true. Novels with massive marketing budgets often perform miserably in the marketplace, and novels with a shoestring marketing budget sometimes shoot the moon (to mix my metaphors).
Marketing fiction is a bit like predicting hurricanes. You can use past results and future projections and prevailing trends to inform your predictions, but in the end it’s just a guess. There are forces beyond your control at work, whether we’re talking about the behavior of winds or the fiction market.
So try out all the things you hear in this series about marketing fiction, if they make sense to you and you can afford them. It’s probably very solid advice. But just know that what worked for novel X may not work for your novel.
But don’t hear me saying that you should not market your novel. That’s not my message at all.
Especially in our day of small presses, self-publishing, and vanishing marketing departments/budgets at CBA houses, it’s more important than ever that you market your book.
Yes, but Jeff, you just said—
I know, but I didn’t mean you shouldn’t market. I just mean that there is no surefire advice or action plan that anyone can do that will inevitably cause your novel to be a bestseller.
Having made all of those disclaimers, let me tell you what I do think you should do to market your novel.
It begins from my observation—from my own novels, the novels and authors I published at various CBA houses, the novels and authors I publish through Marcher Lord Press, and my hundreds of multi-published Christian novelist friends—that there is a direct connection between how much an author markets his/her book and how well that book sells.
There is a link, in other words, between elbow grease and sales.
These hundreds of novelists all promote (or fail to promote) their novels in hundreds of ways. I’m not here to give you a few marketing tricks that, if you do them, your novel will certainly become a bestseller.
But the one thing I have seen is that the harder a novelist works to promote his/her novel over time, the higher will be that novel’s sales.
The corollary is also true: The less a novelist works to promote his/her novel over time, the lower will be that novel’s sales.
If you want your novel to sell well, do stuff to market it.
Now, it’s still possible that an extremely hard-working marketer will not see his/her novel rise to bestseller status. But it almost 100% guaranteed that the novelist who does little or nothing to market his/her novel will certainly see that novel’s sales crash and burn.
And it is also almost 100% guaranteed that a novel that is marketed hard, at least for a season, will do better over that same span than a novel that is marketed little or none. Further, as soon as you stop marketing a novel, it will probably cease to sell.
Now, of course, we’re all hoping that we can work and push for awhile, and then word of mouth will take over, and the money will just roll in. Hopefully, that will be your experience. (Then you’ll write a book on how to market fiction, and others will do what you did, but they won’t get the same results. LOL.)
But probabilistically speaking, your novel will sell at the X+1 level for as long as you’re marketing it hard, at the X level when you’re marketing it a little, and then at the X-1 level (or the X-times-zero level) when you stop marketing it.
Still, X+1 beats X or X-1 or zero, right?
Hopefully this is encouraging to you, not discouraging. It means that what you do to market your novel does matter. It means that marketing works. This should inspire you to market that novel.
To give you a plan for how to harness this perspective, I have created what I call the 30:1 Rule of Marketing Fiction.
The 30:1 rule states that you have to do 30 things to market your novel to get 1 that “works” or gives you some traction or a positive uptick in sales.
The problem is that you probably won’t know which 1 of the 30 was the 1 that worked. To further compound the problem, even if you did that 1 thing again, it wouldn’t work again.
So you have to keep doing a new 30—or the same 30—again and again to get your 1s.
But if you do enough 30s, you’ll begin to pile up 1s. Get enough 1s (and the number that is “enough” varies for every novel), and you’ll finally pass that tipping point, and word of mouth will take over.
Don’t despair: Your 30 things don’t have to be expensive. Most of them can and should be free or very low cost.
Ideas include doing guest blogs, writing free articles (with a byline that mentions your book), writing to a reviewer asking if s/he would review your novel, contacting your local paper to see if they’d do an article on you, speaking at a local writers group, adding a link to your book’s Amazon page in your e-mail signature, printing up cheap fliers to put in a waiting room or airport you’re passing through, beginning a low-budget Facebook advertising campaign...and many of the awesome ideas given by other writers contributing to this series.
The secret isn’t which marketing effort you’re doing, but that you’re doing marketing efforts.
If you do one thing a day to market your novel, even if it’s just telling your neighbor about your novel, by the end of each month you will have done 30 things. And 1 of them will have been especially effective in promoting your novel. And if you do one novel-marketing thing a day for six months, you will have six “1s,” and maybe that will be enough to push things over into word-of-mouth territory.
If you take from my post only one thing, let it be this: There is a connection between how hard you promote your novel and how well it sells. Work harder and longer on promoting it, and it will sell better. As soon as you stop working it, most likely it will stop selling.
Novelists who want to only write and not promote may find their books getting written and published but not read. Unless that’s what you’re going for, I urge you to push that book.
That doesn’t mean you’re leaving no room for God to decide what to do with the sales of your book. It means that you’re giving your utmost for His highest.
(I believe there is a substantial opportunity right now for freelance marketers/publicity people. Some authors so dislike marketing that they’d be willing to pay someone else to do it for them. That’s where these freelancers would come in. But perhaps that’s a discussion for another day.)
So be encouraged: What you do to market your novel, even if it’s something very small, really does have a positive effect on sales. Keep it up—do not grow weary of doing good—and you will see sales improve.
Jeff’s latest fiction how-to book for Writers Digest is The First 50 Pages.