Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure and honor to speak with many authors about their book marketing plans. The common question always seems to be, where do I start?
The problem is, there is no set answer that fits everyone 100% of the time. And that’s because where you start depends a lot on where you are now and what you hope to accomplish.
If you’re a first-time author with a small platform, your first steps will look very different than if you’re getting ready to release your twenty-fifth book. And if you’re working with a publisher, there may be things you don’t have to even think about that a self-published author would.
Yet, the most important thing when it comes to establishing your personal book marketing plan is to know what it is that you hope to accomplish. Once you know that, it’s relatively simple to chart a path to get there.
As the founder of Emerald Lake Books, I developed an exercise we use with our authors that’s foundational to each of their book marketing plans. And I’d like to share it with you here.
It’s called the Dear Author exercise, and I describe it to people as a “verbal vision board.” I know plenty of people who get a lot of value out of creating their vision boards each year, but I think in words, not pictures. So, this version works really well for me.
The Dear Author Exercise
Imagine that it’s 18 months after your book’s release. Future You is reflecting back on everything that went into getting where you are today. But you remember how you felt right before your book’s release. The myriad emotions you felt left you feeling anxious and uncertain about what to expect and where to start.
So, Future You decides to do something to help. You decide to write a letter of encouragement to the You of today. In it, Future You shares that your readers are loving your book, and it’s been a huge success! You relate everything that’s been accomplished, both planned and unplanned, since your book was released, and you highlight a few things that brought you special joy when they happened.
The whole idea of this letter, as far as Future You is concerned, is to encourage You not to give up, to put in the hard work, and to know before you even begin that it’s all going to pay off. Here’s a framework you can follow for the letter.
- Who was this book written for?
- What were your hopes when the book was published?
- How was your book received by readers?
- What impact did the book’s success have on your personal life and business?
- How have you used those results to make the world a better place?
Keep in mind, this is not a questionnaire. These questions are simply meant to guide the content of your letter. The results will be significantly better for your marketing plan if you approach this as a letter-writing exercise.
I encourage you to stop here and take a bit of time to actually write yourself that letter. And don’t worry about what you include in it. No accomplishment is too big or too small. Just make sure it’s meaningful to you. Date your letter 18 months in the future and address it to yourself. Share all of the good things that have happened because you had the courage and tenacity to put in the hard work of launching and marketing your book.
Go ahead. Take your time. I’ll wait…
Okay. Are you done?
Here’s the next step. Take a highlighter and mark each of the accomplishments you outlined in the letter.
On a separate sheet of paper, write those highlighted entries out in a list. Take some time to reflect on them. Then pick the top three things that would be the most meaningful to you if they came to pass. Don’t worry about the rest of the list. We’re going to hang onto it. But focus on finding those top three items for now.
Those three are going to become the basis for what you're trying to accomplish with your marketing plan. That means taking an objective look at where you are and where you want to get to, then charting a course that outlines the steps needed to reach your goals.
As new opportunities come along, you’ll be able to check them against your goals and easily identify if they’re going to move you closer to where you want to be or if they’ll distract you from your path.
This process will keep you focused on what you want to achieve, and once a goal is reached, you can go back to the rest of the list and decide which one you want to add to your top three goals next.
Some goals are going to be harder than others to achieve. But as Norman Vincent Peale once said, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”
Your goals are going to inform the actions you need to take to get there. For example, if you want to sell a massive number of books, you’ll want to focus on strategies that allow you to sell books in bulk, leveraging other people’s audiences, rather than tactics that involve selling one book at a time.
Going through this exercise helps you reconnect (or connect for the first time) with what you're really hoping to get out of your publishing experience, and why you even started on this path in the first place. It may even highlight roadblocks that you are afraid you’ll encounter along the way. These are good things to think through now, because it allows you to prepare for them in your book marketing plan.
So, if you cheated above and didn’t take some time to write your Dear Author letter, I encourage you to do it now. It will give you the focus, encouragement and energy you need to tackle the business of marketing your book!
Tara R. Alemany is a multi-award-winning author of seven books. She is also a speaker and publisher, as well as a serial entrepreneur.
Although she’s started many businesses during her career, her favorite is Emerald Lake Books, which she co-owns with her best friend, Mark Gerber. This boutique publisher specializes in working with positive people to integrate a book into their marketing or sales funnel to build their business.
In her spare time, Tara leads a writers’ critique group and is a winemaker, a military Mom to 2 young adults (one of each), and is owned by a black cat.