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What Marketing Means

Marketing means focusing on the customer

This is the one thing everyone does agree on. Every marketing definition I have ever seen mentions the word ‘customer’.

So, thinking about this from the author’s point of view, what kind of people buy your books and why? Don’t assume that they are all like you. I heard Margaret Atwood recently describe her readers as hugely diverse, defying any group categorisation, and that this had been realised through her very large and varied postbag. She summed them up as ‘Dear Reader’.

If your titles are aimed at a specific market (for example, educational or professional) then categorising your readers becomes much easier, but there is still a range of questions that you should be asking yourself. (And it is you who should be doing the asking, rather than the publisher; your overall market knowledge will be better than theirs.)

  • At what stage in their professional career will they benefit from your book?
  • How will they use it? What needs (current or future) will it meet?
  • What job title do they have? This will probably need several variants – try to provide them all.
  • What professional associations do they belong to and how often do they meet up? Can you source the relevant lists of members?

Marketing needs a long perspective

Effective marketing cannot be achieved overnight. It takes detailed thought, and thought takes time.

If your publisher were to double the amount spent on marketing your titles tomorrow, you would probably not see the effect on sales by next week. It might even produce the opposite effect, as spending too much money on a promotion can alienate a market. For example, imagine making a decision to increase the production specification (in other words, improve the overall quality of the materials being used) for a mailshot appealing for money for starving children. The most likely result would be to repel the market; it would look as if too much had been spent on production, and therefore less had reached the children in need.

Along the same lines, think about how long a promotion piece is going to be around for and whether contemporary events referred to in the leaflet will date or change in how they are perceived. In addition, watch out for words that, although currently popular, are likely to date, and in particular those words that are used by politicians to describe new initiatives. If your material must last a long time, the words must too.

Effective marketing means using all the resources at your disposal

Effective marketing means using all the resources of a company to promote sales, not just those of one department. In practice, this means that the various departments within a publishing house should be communicating and working towards the same end.

Certain publishing houses are known to produce particular kinds of books. Thus, simply saying that a poetry title comes from Bloodaxe, or a music-teaching title from Bloomsbury, means that it will get greater respect from the market and those reviewing it than would be the case if they had never heard of the publisher.

If you become aware that a publishing house is not particularly efficient at internal communication, then you will have to work doubly hard to ensure that the information you send in is seen by all who need access to it – it’s probably best to send two copies!

Marketing means being both innovative and flexible

This is true of marketing in all fields. We tire quickly and are eager for the new and different. Some of the recent marketing successes flew in the face of conventional wisdom: for example, initial market research on the Sony Walkman was not positive, as the benefits of a tape recorder into which you could not record were not seen.

Some of publishing’s big successes in recent years have been as much of a surprise to the publishing house as to the public. The books of Bill Bryson, Joanne Harris and JK Rowling all began as relatively low-budget promotions; they caught the reading public’s imagination and the rest, as they say, is history.

It is also important to keep track of what else consumers spend their money on, and how these products are marketed. So start reading your direct mail, ask people you meet what they think of bookshops and what makes them pick up new titles, and read advertisements for products in the street. I find my children an endlessly fertile source of market research.

Marketing depends on relationships

This seems to me a point of fundamental importance. Effective marketing builds up relationships between all those you wish to include: shareholders, purchasers, existing and potential employees.

This point seems to me to apply with particular force in publishing. The relationship between reader and writer lasts a long time, as the book is read, remembered, and usually kept. And the deeper the experience inspired by the book (whether positive or negative), the truer this is.

Writers report that the letters, and increasingly emails, they receive from readers can be extremely perceptive, and website- chatrooms also attest to the involvement felt – some raising copyright issues when ideas develop so far from the original creator. Those who write to authors, and receive a satisfactory answer, enthuse wider, and so your audience grows.

The same goes for relationships with publishing houses. For example, I remember when the Virago books first appeared. I loved the books themselves (Rosamund Lehmann and Radclyffe Hall were two authors I discovered this way) and also the format – the rich green, largish print and beautiful cover images. Virago published authors who were out of print and forgotten, and I bought many. They then seemed to start publishing books which, although still beautifully packaged, were perhaps deservedly out of print. I lost confidence and, after a couple of unenjoyable reads, never bought a Virago paperback again. This was not a vindictive decision, and not something I realised until years later. It was just that my confidence was dented and I started to look elsewhere – so other authors undoubtedly benefited from my change of allegiance.

Lastly, remember that relationships do not have to be good to be remembered. Memories in the book business can be very long, as those who have had negative reviews of their books will be aware.

Marketing is logical

This means you need to think about what you are trying to achieve and then attempt to realise your goals. Planning is essential – and so is being informed.

As you become involved with a publishing house you enter a world of new words and formats. You may be confused about the range of promotional materials that publishing houses produce, but in Chapter 3 I describe each of these, and the logic behind them, so that if asked to contribute to or comment on the copy you understand why it is being created.

If you found this article useful, you might want to take a look at:

What an author can do to help the publicity process

What to establish at your first marketing meeting with the publisher

Book marketing: what happens and when?