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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Marketing for Writers 101 – Understanding the Marketplace and Customer Needs

I’ve noticed a trend. Articles on idea generation or developing the discipline for writing are rare.  The reason for this is simple: if you’re serious about being a writer, you will find the time and you’ll find the ideas.

The not-so-simply part is what to do with the work after you’ve finished.  Apparently, selling or promoting their own work does not come naturally to many writers.  It’s like we hope the publishing fairy will sweep through our windows at night, wave their magic wands, and suddenly we are doing the talk show circuit.

But what do you do if the fairy godmother doesn’t show up?

That’s when I remember: oh right, I’ve taught marketing for over 8 years now. I wrote the new marketing curriculum for my college and I spent about a decade in sales and customer service before that. I should know how to sell my book. Shouldn’t I?

I think the problem is selling and being creative seem a bit, I don’t know, oxymoronic. What about artistic integrity? Blah blah blah. For me, art for art’s sake is nothing more than masturbation: you are the only one having any fun. Not that there’s anything wrong with that but I’m not writing just for a giggle. I want people to actually read my work and give me money.

A word of caution: if you are looking to become a poet laureate or gain notoriety only after you’ve been dead for a hundred years or so, these lessons probably do not apply to you.  If you want to make money…well, now we’re talking.

To make things simple, I’m using references from the textbook we’re currently using for our marketing courses.  It is Principles of Marketing (Kotler,Armstrong, Cunningham, Trifts, Toronto: Pearson, 2011).  If you can pick up the book, do. If not, get any book on marketing. Heck, you may even want to take a few marketing courses. Let’s start with the basics: the marketing process.

Kotler, Armstrong, Cunningham, Trifts, Principles of Marketing. Toronto: Pearson, 2011. Print
Today I’m only focusing on the first step: Understand the marketplace and customer needs and wants.
Any serious writer or publisher will tell you to read the work that is already published in your genre. The text states: “Human needs are states of felt deprivation”. Why do people read your genre anyway? What is the motivation or incentive to read horror, romance, mystery, or the type of literature that wins the Booker or Pulitzer Price? People read different genres for different reasons. Learn the elements what must be in place for a piece to be acceptable. For example:
a)      Horror must be scary. If there is no fear of death or injury there will not be any real fear.
b)      Romance  must have tension. Boy meets girl, they get married, the end is not going to sell
c)      Mystery needs a puzzling crime. Preferably a murder

To stand out from the competition we need to give more than just the bare essentials. Again, critical reading helps. Remember to read as a peer (someone at the same level as the author), not just a fan. Analyze what they writer did well and try to figure out how they did it. Aside from reading, ask.  Get to know a whole bunch of people who read and like the genre you hope to write in. Ask them what they liked and didn’t like about previous books.

Sometimes the customer does not even know exactly what they are looking for.  They may think they want something they actually don’t want. For example, sometimes in a scary movie we “want” the hero to live. But would The Exorcist have been as scary if the devil said “Okay Father, you win” followed by a fade to black?   Would Titanic be so successful if Jack stayed on the raft with Rose? If you think back to the most “romantic” stories of all time, how many of them had a happy ending?

Price matters. For completely non-rational reasons, many people see $1.00 as much more expensive than $0.99. For equally irrational reasons free is often interpreted as disposable. So, be careful about what you give away for free or you may damage your image as a credible artist. Let me ask you a question.

Imagine you have two books in front of you. One you downloaded for free, the other you paid $4.99 for. Which one do you read first?

Spending money is tied into the artistic experience.  If you are giving away all your work for free you are, unintentionally, diminishing the experience of the reader.

My next article will be on how to develop a marketing strategy that is focused on your customers.


Amazon: M Joseph Murphy on Amazon: Paperback and ebook
Smashwords: M Joseph Murphy Author Page on Smashwords
Kobo: M Joseph Murphy Books on Kobo

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