Monday, July 31, 2017

Marketing plans for novels


Why are agents constantly scheming to make us crazy? Opps, that’s not really my question. It just sorta slipped out.

I recently got a full request. The agent asked me to include a "marketing statement.” Well, I don’t know what that is, and wanted to respond immediately, so I wrote about the special kinds of kids (it’s YA) that might be particularly interested, described some crossover potential, suggested that I was willing to put in miles of shoe leather, and proposed (what I hope was) an imaginative and (I also hope) not too stupid marketing approach. It’s too late now to do anything about it, but I’d still like to know how badly I screwed this up. What do you think the agent was really asking for?


Hearing this makes me a little nutso cause it's bad enough we make you jump through query hoops, but those extra little side dishes of torture are really unfair.

Publishers have a marketing department that is pretty good at reaching general book trade outlets. Depending on the size of the publisher there may be a person whose sole job is selling to Barnes & Noble (or more realistically, solving problems with the orders B&N places); another might be selling to Sam's Club, Walmart, Costco and other big box, non-book retailers.

A marketing plan from an author assumes the publisher knows how to get books to those big vendors.

You can also assume they know how to get books to libraries, and indie stores.

What they don't know how to do as well (depending on the publisher) is everything else.  So, if you have a mailing list, that would be a key component of your marketing plan.

If you have a robust social media platform, that would be part of your marketing plan.

If you have established relationships with schools for school visits, that would be part of your marketing plan.

A marketing plan is who you know and how to reach the people/companies/institutions that you think will buy your book.

Now, that funny sound you hear is every single author reading this blog post, falling to the ground and weeping.

While we wait for them to regain their composure, here's a scene from a vastly underrated movie Boiler Room





(it doesn't have anything to do with today's topic, but I love Ben Affleck)

An agent who wants a marketing plan for a novel at the query stage has the cart before the horse.

The time for a marketing plan is when you know you're going to offer representation, and you work WITH the author to develop one.

That's one of the many things we do here at New Leaf: we work with you on this stuff, we don't expect you to know anything about marketing when you query us. If you do, terrific. If you don't, I don't care.

I care about one thing: did you write a novel I can't wait to dangle in front of editor noses and say "read this or live with regret for the rest of your life."

As for your question: If you screwed anything up it's the agent's fault. Asking for a marketing plan without giving any guidance on what it should contain, or what s/he is looking for is arrogance of the worst sort.  You can quote me on that.  

25 comments:

french sojourn said...


"Marketing plan, we don't need no stinkin' marketing plan."

~~~ slinks back outside to prune the vines and work on dialogue. ~~~

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

My marketing plan is sold at CVS, Walgreens and even cheaper at Walmart. It's a big piece of poster board and a box of colorful markers.
My penmanship is stellar.
Raising my right hand: I promise to stand on street corners, wearing my sandwich board, with a bag of books. In rain or shine I will sell, sell, sell.
Ah, um, may I borrow your umbrella?

kathy joyce said...

I've run into this too, and not with a request for a full. Submission requirements have included query, pages, synopsis, marketing plan, list of recently read books.... Someone even had a specific order they were to appear in the email: synopsis, pages, then query.

I think it's all about ways to reduce queries. The harder it is, the fewer you'll get. Buyer's market and all. :(

MA Hudson said...

Holy moly. I watched that whole Boiler Room scene thinking that's how publishers talk to new authors about marketing plans. Yikes!
Thanks for the reassurance that what you really want is a great story. Why can't all agents be as straight forward as you?

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Please hold while I regain my composure. I thought one of the reasons I wasn't self-publishing and going through traditional channels was so I would not be asked to produce a marketing plan all by my little tiny self. Oh. Publishing hard.

Colin Smith said...

Marketing plan?? What happened to loving the novel? Seriously? An agent will turn down a project she has just fallen in love with because the author couldn't come up with a decent marketing plan? Yes, I'm sure it frustrates agents no end when writers display no understanding of how publishing works, and expect the agent and publisher to do all the heavy lifting. But seriously? Can't the marketing conversation wait until "The Call"(TM)--that time when the agent talks to the writer she's interested in to find out how much of a nutcase he is, or how little she knows about publishing.

Like Janet said, cart-before-horse. I wouldn't worry about it, Opie. An agent who turns you down because you don't meet his or her expectations vis-à-vis a marketing plan probably isn't an agent you want to work with.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

whew~ it's ok if I don't know how to market. I mean, I know how to do some social media but marketing plans? Now...connections? That I can figure out and have some already in place through employment, past and present, that may have some interest in my story.

Focus on writing a compelling story. Great.

And I like knowing New Leaf's ways of working with an author. I'm hoping there are other agent houses that do that same. But New Leaf's at the top of my place to query. Once I get there.

Right. Time to get back to that WiP.

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

My marketing plan:
Break into people's houses, take $14.99 from their wallets, leave behind one paperback. Repeat until news is peppered with stories of the "Charming Young Thief" (as all the book titles contain the word 'charming'). Wait for curiosity to drive up regular sales while disavowing all knowledge of the b&e. Maybe it's one of my fans. There's always a crazy one in the bunch.

Elissa M said...

I can't help but think that agents who insist on marketing plans before they've even signed the writer are shooting themselves in the foot. I'm like E.M. Goldsmith in that I'm sort of expecting publishers to bring something to the table, too.

I do understand the need for authors to promote their work. But sometimes it feels like the "professionals" are piling more and more onto the author's shoulders (unless the authors are established best-sellers). When they start requiring authors to do all the marketing, all the publicity, all the editing, etc., etc., self-publishing will become more and more attractive. And jumping through agents' hoops will be superfluous.

Mister Furkles said...

I’m not a big fan of Ben Affleck, although I do like the duck.

Still, it’s not Ben Affleck’s fault that the writer has a limited vocabulary or that the director has no experience with powerful people. Rather imagine it’s Donald Sutherland. He doesn’t say ‘fuck’ or ‘ass’ and his voice is just above audible. But he does have penetrating eyes and everybody if frightened of him.

I met a man who knew David Rockefeller and traveled with him on business trips. He said, “When the president of the United States went to Saudi Arabia, he was treated like royalty; when David Rockefeller went, he was Caesar.

I doubt David Rockefeller would say ‘fuck’ twenty times in a business meeting.

BJ Muntain said...

I'm weird. I have a marketing plan. But then, I used to work in marketing, and all the things I was learning at that job made for nice daydreaming about what I'd do when I got published. I'm now reading Your Book, Your Brand (thanks, Janet!), and learning more.

For someone who sometimes stutters, whose vocabulary flies off into the universe, leaving me stranded when I'm trying to make a point... I love marketing.

Craig F said...

I have a bunch of ideas for things that I can piggyback onto a publisher's marketing plan. If I have a list of places the book will be available it would help.

Simple enough, I will tell several thousand of my closest friends where I will be, tell them to bring a book and I will sign it. Then there are Comic-cons. I enjoy watching other weirdos too.

Craig F said...

O.T." I went to bed last night with a low front sitting above me. Woke up to Tropical Storm Emily splashing ashore. Gotta love this place.

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

It always seems a little weird to me when I see things like marketing plans or whatever mentioned at a query step, like they want to try to weed people out further for not having one/knowing what it is. Or maybe I'm overly suspicious/prickly.

Boiler Room is underestimated! It also contains Vin Diesel, who is one of my favorites, and Giovanni Ribisi who is an impressive actor in all ways.

Barbara Etlin said...

When I worked at a small Canadian publisher in the 70s, the marketing plan was concocted by the publicity department. Even at a small house, there were two people responsible for that. Relax, Opie. When you need a marketing plan, you don't have to do it alone.

Lennon Faris said...

Huh? what happened? I seem to be picking myself up off the floor...

Actually I've seen this before at the query stage. It definitely surprised me.

OP, I'm glad you were able to think up something. Maybe the agent is just testing the waters - see if you have any practical creativity, make any effort, that sort of thing.

Joseph Snoe said...

My current “hobby” is winning free giveaways on Goodreads and reading what I won. Some of the giveaways are Advance Reader’s Editions. At least two of the AREs included “marketing” plans. Or at least thumbnail outlines of one.

One was short: (National publicity, radio interviews, 5-city author tour, National print and online advertising, online promotion, the author’s website, the author’s facebook and twitter accounts.)

The other was 18 items long. It included all the above plus things like 25-city Radio Satellite tour, Author Appearance in Chicago, Consumer Sweepstakes, early Galley giveaway to consumers, 10-stop Blog Tour, including reviews, features ,and giveaways, “Authorperk” E-mail messaging Campaign, outreach to thriller and mystery bloggers, feature in “Scene of the Crime' Newsletter, Feature at Malice Domestic, Thrillerfest, and Bouchercon Conferences, Prepublication serial excerpt campaign, e-book backlist price promotions with current book teaser excerpts, deep distribution of Advance Reader’s Edition, 10-copy signed cartons

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

I'm querying... and reading guidelines. When an agent's guidelines ask authors to include a marketing plan with the query? I move on. Maybe that's what they want.

Many agents have a "Tips for querying" page. I read them all. Nearly all of them say, "Don't address your query to 'Dear Agent'... Use the agent's name."

We all know that. Anyone who hangs out here for more than two minutes knows that.

I queried one such agent who emphasized the never say Dear Agent rule. Shortly after hitting send on my properly addressed query an auto-reply came in, acknowledging receipt of my query. It was addressed to "Dear Author"... I'm sorry, but I thoroughly cracked up.

This, apparently, is not a two-way street with aforementioned agent. Especially when just about 100% of auto-reply acknowledgements insert the sender's name. The ones I've received, at least.

Joseph Snoe said...

You made me chuckle, Mister Furkles.



I'm not a fan of Ben Affleck since he messed up the Daredevil movie.

I adore Jennifer Garner. He better not mess up their marriage, too.

Theresa said...

2Ns and Heidi have the best marketing plans!

kathy joyce said...

So, if anyone is still around tonight, I have a question about book tours, signings, and so forth. Who pays? Is this on the author or publisher?

BJ Muntain said...

Kathy of the BEST last name, as I understand it, it used to be the publishers, but now that rarely happens. Usually, it's the author paying for it. Unless the publisher wants to help out. I guess book signings aren't the most profitable type of promotion out there - not enough bang for the buck. Unless you're a big name, of course.

But this is just what I've heard. I know Janet and others will know better than I do.

Kate Larkindale said...

I work in marketing, but I find it WAY harder to market my own books than other peoples' movies… I guess I'm just uncomfortable blowing my own horn. Having just had a book come out, I'm experimenting a bit, trying to see what channels work better than others. If anything flies, I will be sure to let you all know.

Karen McCoy said...

Late to the party because I was AWOL yesterday, but I sincerely hope this can be added to the treasure chest, Sir Colin...

theliterarydesperationisflipped said...

Thank you for saying this. As a new 'author' but someone with a ton of large company leadership experience and agent experience in a different industry, I have been surprisingly appalled at the request for information from writers that should just simply not be their expertise. Just as I would never expect a great painter to be good at the business end of things (and if they are...that is just a plus), I find it offensive that agents are requesting the leg-work of the author that is the responsibility of the agent and publisher. At least in my experience, most other industries do not work this way. It is no wonder there are some of the difficulties and major change happening in literature right now. I completely understand an agent and a publisher saying, "Okay, if we take you on, you need to do x, y, and z to help promote your book. And, by the way, do you have any other great ideas of what you can do?" Any author wants to sell as much as possible and any author who doesn't, isn't worth taking on. There are too many agents asking up front for the author to 'tell them how they are going to sell their book'. The shoe is on the wrong foot in this industry. If the agent feels the book has potential and feels the author has what it takes, from that point it is the agent's responsibility to sell why he/she is the right agent to make the project take off.