Marketing Plan–You Be the Judge

Blogger: Cynthia Ruchti

Marketing plan–two words that shiver the timbers of many a writer, both published and published-in-waiting.

marketing planIt’s a topic that deserves more than one blog post. But it doesn’t have to call for antacids and prescription painkillers. Putting together a meaningful* marketing plan may seem like felling a mighty redwood. Perhaps a bad example, since 82-90% of redwoods are protected against harvesting. But any tree can be…pardon the pun…whittled down to size using the right tools and techniques.

*Meaningful in this case means a plan that makes a positive impression on an acquisitions editor or marketing director.

Just for today, everyone reading this blog is an acquisitions editor. You have forty thousand (only a slight exaggeration) proposals waiting for your decision. A hundred of the forty thousand are good. Twenty are excellent. You have publishing slots for five of the twenty. Which ones will move forward in the process? Note: May substitute temporary agent for acquisitions editor for today’s discussion.

You open the proposal. Hmm. Interesting concept. Nice job following the guidelines. Intriguing author voice. Platform? Not bad. Comparables? Adequate. Marketing plan?

The debut author wrote:

     If asked, I’ll be more than happy to appear on the Today Show to talk about my book.

     I will go on a book tour of all the bookstores in my county.

     I’m pretty sure all the authors in my critique group will purchase a copy of this book.

     The book is likely to be purchased in bulk by most churches.

     And, yeah, I’ll cooperate with whatever the publisher’s marketing department creates for me.

You–the acquisitions-editor-for-a-day–sigh. Deeply. And slide the proposal to the Rejection Pile. Why?

marketing tv showIt borders on arrogance to assume a book will interest any television producer, much less a major morning show. Does it happen? Yes. Often? No. What if the author had said (truthfully), “I discussed the book with the producers of the Today Show when I served as an intern at the studio last year. I’ve received endorsements from two of the directors. And I was invited to appear on the show the week the book releases”? Bingo! Specific. A supportable assumption. And a legitimate invitation rather than a pipe dream.

The author assumed a tour of the bookstores in his/her county constituted a marketing plan. But editors are looking for wide-reaching endeavors. They expect to see efforts that are likely to net significant sales of the book, not six here and twelve there. What if the author had said, “I speak to audiences of 500-1,000 several times a month”? What if the author included this: “Because of my connections as president of the National Association of Grief Counselors, I can reasonably expect to promote the book at our annual convention with 14,000 in attendance”?marketing plan bookstores

The author used sales to a critique group as part of the marketing plan? Publishing houses look for plans to reach readers, not other writers, unless the book is about the craft of writing. And unless the critique group is 10,000-strong, mentioning them in the plan is counter-productive.

marketing booksAssuming a book will be purchased in bulk by “most” churches fails as a plan on multiple levels. A writer’s own church isn’t a guaranteed sell. Churches rarely buy in bulk unless their pastor or a renowned leader in the Christian community (or C.S. Lewis) wrote the book. The statement again borders on arrogance and presumption. Only a handful of authors have that kind of clout.

Listing “I’ll cooperate with the publisher’s marketing department” is a sure sign of an amateur writer. Cooperation is expected. The marketing plan section of a proposal is an opportunity for the publisher to see what the author will bring to the table.

So, taking off your paper acquisitions editor hat and replacing it with your bad-hair-day-writer’s-best-friend-baseball-cap, how can you make strides in strengthening the Marketing Plan section of your book proposal.

THINK CREATIVELY in your marketing plan.

Don’t assume the creative work is only reserved for writing the book. Allow yourself to think creatively when putting together this element of the proposal. What talking points from your book would make interesting guest blog posts, speaking topics, interview subjects? How can you capitalize on your networks, your built-in audience, your unique gifts? Is your theme tied to an upcoming major anniversary or event? How can technology’s advances play into your designs to reach a wide audience?

BE SPECIFIC with your marketing plan.

List your upcoming speaking events. If you have significant connections on a regional or national level, name them. If you plan to use downloadable images related to the book, get specific about their purpose and who you can reasonably expect to reach with that offer.

BE REALISTIC when preparing your marketing plan.

Dream big. Pray big. But don’t make empty promises. Make your plan grand, but doable.


If after reading your proposal, the editor and marketing department feel like you have a good grasp of what it takes to reach readers, that you’re invested, and that you’re a team player, your proposal may hopscotch over others that are less likely to impress marketers.

You’re an agent or an acquisitions editor again. What advice would you give an aspiring writer about creating a meaningful marketing plan?

27 Responses

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  1. The best marketing plan turns one heart at a time to realize that life will be incomplete without that particular product.
    * Be personal; you’re not talking to millennials, you’re talking to individual young people who are trying to find their way.
    * Be specific; don’t say “This book will change your life!” Say instead, “This book will help you end that dreamy first date with the assurance of a second date.”
    * Be firm; in marketing, there is no Plan B.
    * Be honest; if your “Riding The Rapids Of Romance” is for single Christians in their twenties, don’t try to make it out to be an all-singing all-dancing WonderBook spanning generations yet unborn to those with one foot in the grave. If it reaches beyond its intended audience by itself, cool, but you can’t market your way there.
    * Be flexible, and treat suggestions from a publisher’s experienced marketing staff as directives to be followed (unless otherwise advised by your agent). They know their wholesalers and retailers, and they’ve worked hard to stay in business by presenting attractive product. Plus, they have an internal marketing culture which they have invested in, and value…and speaking of culture…
    * Be careful, if you wind up on the Today show. Them folks got some real weird culture a-goin’ on. T’ain’t upright, and t’ain’t natural.

  2. Thank you, Cynthia. Great information. I look forward to learning from everyone’s insight as well.

  3. Thank you, Cynthia. I love this post. I know firsthand how important it is for an author to be involved in the marketing of her book. However, what—specifically—to put in that section of a proposal has been a tad confusing. This post helps a lot!

    One thing that HAS helped me is to make a list of the “influencers” with whom I have a genuine relationship or connection. Then think through WHY that connection is meaningful as it relates to engaging the market about your book. It is helping me think more specifically rather than simply broadly as I consider this area.

  4. Carol Ashby says:

    Cynthia, I would LOVE to see an example of a marketing plan by a debut fiction author that you would consider sufficient. With nothing in market to stimulate speaker invitations or hundreds of established fans eager for your next release, with no recognized expertise like a nonfiction author might have, what would seem plausible to marketing pros?

    • Cynthia Ruchti says:

      Every novel has sub-themes. It’s a place to start when creating marketing plan items. For instance, for Song of Silence, included in the sub-themes were the deaf community, autism, step-parenting, the challenges of husband-wife relationships in retirement years, healing parent/child estranged relationships, job loss… Looking at that list, I could tap into ministry opportunities with an organization that helps equip churches to provide well for Special Needs families. I had a number of talking points for potential guest blog posts, magazine articles, and interviews–from the “he’s home all the time!” theme to what happens when your dream dies, etc. I listed some blogs and magazines with whom I already had connections, but also several I intended to target with reasonable expectation that the article would interest them…because I’d done my homework about the kinds of articles they published. Interesting tidbits of historical research can also form “ins” with magazines, newspapers, bloggers, and libraries looking for intriguing articles or events. Does that help?

  5. Amanda Cox says:

    I loved how you challenged us to slip out of our writer perspective in order to look at marketing from the mindset of the publishing side of things. (And you offered reality without sounding bleak! Loved that!) It can be easy as the writer to get tunnel vision, and forget that our creativity can’t end when we finish the story. We can’t expect our publishing team to do more for our story than we are willing to do ourselves. Like getting creative in marketing.

    Right now, I’m brainstorming ways to make personal connections with potential readers. In a world bombarded with messages and advertising, I think finding ways to bring a personal touch and cultivating an environment for people to share their bits of their own stories is key.

    • Cynthia Ruchti says:

      Good thoughts, Amanda. Building relationships–not for personal gain, but to create that environment you spoke of–will lead naturally to interest in your book when it releases. As they say, people don’t care what you’re “selling’ until they know that you care, you understand, and you want to meet their needs.

  6. Thanks for the good ideas, Cynthia. This post certainly makes one think as we are not the person sitting behind the desk reading all of those proposals. Such a valuable exercise.

    • Cynthia Ruchti says:

      It’s almost always enlightening to imagine ourselves from the other person’s perspective, in parenting, marriage, commerce, faith, and publishing.

  7. Thank you, Cynthia. I so appreciate the suggestions and the examples of how to turn vague ideas into specific action points. In a world where authors are expected to do a bulk of the marketing of their books, it is crucial we know how to write a plan that will convince a publisher we know what we’re doing (at least we fake it till we figure it out….). And, having a plan in place is helpful for keeping focused when it actually comes time to do the marketing end of things. Great post!

    • Cynthia Ruchti says:

      It also helps keep us focused AS WE WRITE. As something appears in the book, whether creating or editing, I jot a note of a possible marketing opportunity that springs from it.

  8. I love your post Cynthia because marketing involves adventure, creativity, and taking well thought out risks.

    I would begin by listing my strengths and expertise. For me, some if those strengths would include my over thirty years of nursing in various cultures of people in the United States, my experi8in patient and staff education, and my comfort with public speaking and being on film.

    It would also include any education and further development in areas specific to my writing a d areas of expertise such as my degree in Christian Studeis with cooperative studies in communications and nursing, as well as being a graduate of the Institute of Children Literature and six years in the nationally awarded Minnesota chapter of ACFW.

    My marketing would also include past activities that I have already done and could do again, speaking at various venues and churches, going on specific missions trips that deal specifically with helping those who have been ie, abused and/or the up in trauma or dysfunctional homes/relationships and take people with me via Facebook or my vlogs/YouTube with me or the mission–thinking of El Refuge, in Panama City, Panama.

    Be as specific as possible.

    Be willing to be innovative and take risks. Think through the risks first though, be wise. This could be live Facebooking on the streets or at universities, etc asking pertinent questions that lead toward presenting your book, website, blog, vlog and Youtube. Get real with people..

    Always, always, always be gracious. Remember, we are epistles read of all men, as Paul said. In all you do make sure it honors the Lord before it markets for you.

  9. Karen says:

    What a helpful post. I think the marketing aspect of the query is the most difficult. You comment on using sub-theme information is a great example using what you have.

  10. Dana McNeely says:

    I’m late coming to this post, but I so enjoyed the suggestions from Cynthia and others here. As I’ve thought about marketing in recent months, I realized there are many blog post opportunities in the research I did for my biblical fiction. I’ve signed up for a year of guest blog posts, one per month, on another author’s established blog. I’ve also been approached about speaking at two local writing groups, one ACFW, one RWA. These are some initial steps I can take, even though I’m not a New York Times Bestselling Author.

  11. Love this post as I am actively creating a proposal. So helpful! I will re-read!!!!