Three Keys to Marketing Fiction in the Current Environment

This is a guest post by Eric Mullet, Marketing Director for Thomas Nelson’s fiction division. You can follow him on Twitter or connect with him on Facebook. If you want to guest post on this blog, check out the guidelines here.

Fiction marketing in the current publishing environment is an evolving art. Some have described it as the “Wild West,” where anyone can win big. Others have hailed it as the “end of publishing” as we know it.

Man with a Megaphone - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/lisegagne, Image #651734

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/lisegagne

But for those willing to take a chance—and responsibility—it’s an environment that is full of opportunity. The question for authors is this: How can you best leverage your stories and your brand for the long haul in a quickly evolving market?

If you are a novelist (or want to be), you need to consider three critical areas:

  1. Identity: Definition, Message, and Consistency. Think you know who you are? Try defining it in a sentence or two. Okay, maybe give it a paragraph. It’s not easy, and it’s not a trite exercise. If you don’t do it, someone must do it for you. While you and your stories may be complicated, marketing requires a message—preferably a simple, concise one.

    Most novelists aspire to develop several series or stand-alone novels. As a result, it’s important to identify a central focus with your brand so you can determine what to write next for your growing fan base. You may evolve and branch out from that, but typically that is a privilege to be earned through consistency.

    Recently, we asked one of our authors to list all the words that she would like to be associated with her work. We then narrowed it down to five and defined them more. It insured that the marketing team, editorial staff, and the author were all on the same page. By her own account, this exercise made her next book much easier to write.

  2. Assets: Access, Connection, and Baselines. Online assets are what give your fans access to you—and you, connection with them. These assets could include Twitter followers, Facebook fans, or a well-read blog or newsletter. You might engage in all of the above or just focus on one to start if it seems overwhelming to do more. Regardless, it’s important for fans to have a place to make a connection with you—and to feel a sense of “insider status” for doing so.

    As a novelist, you’re an expert at creating worlds within your books. So apply that to your online presence. What should it feel like for your readers to live in the world you create there? The more you draw people in for the long haul, the more you will grow your brand and sell your books.

  3. Community: Engagement, Development, and Consistency. Perhaps you are thinking, Wait a minute. Isn’t this the same as assets? No. Assets are simply that, assets. Community is what you do with them.

    In other words, you can keep the treasure safe by burying it and then running from your responsibility to your readers. Or you can leverage the treasure for an even greater return by being involved and responsive to your online audience.

    The key is authenticity. This comes from committing to a brand definition and message you believe in. Michael Hyatt gives provides several strategies for balancing of personal, professional, and promotional messages in social media interactions in his post about 12 Reasons to Start Twittering.

Your goal should be to develop a long-term, consistent brand and marketing strategy. By consistently meeting—and exceeding—your followers expectations, you develop trust. This includes trust in who you are, the community you are inviting them into, and your long-term commitment to create the best experience for everyone involved. Because fiction readers have so many options, keeping your fans depends heavily on delivering what you promise.

We have engaged fans with something as simple as voting on covers to something as complex as geo-caching games. More recently, we identified a rabid group of fans, sent them the first thirty pages of a new manuscript, and with minimal instructions asked them to see if they could figure out who the author was and then mobilize.

We thought it would take weeks to build momentum. Instead, fans communicated with each other, set up a Flickr page on their own, hounded those who hadn’t posted to their Facebook pages, and had it done in less than a week! The feedback was that they loved it.

As I said, in this environment, novelists have more opportunity than ever. The question is, how will you leverage your identity, your assets, and your community for the maximum impact and results?

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  • Anonymous

    Eric – I think this could easily have been titled ‘Effective Marketing’ – period..  

    – that’s an awesome post on brand and online identity marketing! 

    Thanks for the insights. 

    • Anonymous

      Thanks, Paul!

    • Joe Lalonde

      Paul, I was thinking the same thing. This could apply to almost any type of business, not just books.

      • http://twitter.com/jmhardy98 Jim Hardy

        Joe,

        You are correct. I was just thinking about how these observations apply to my organization.

        Jim

  • http://brettcohrs.com Brett

    For novelists, what is a recommended blogging ‘strategy’? Is it a good idea to serialize the work? Is it a good idea to discuss general writing life? Is it good to drop in a few delicious bites of prose here and there?

    Do you have examples of good fiction writers’ blogs that you could share or suggest? 

    • Anonymous

      Brett, the strategy can vary between genres but overall we encourage our authors  towards consistency in terms of timing and the idea of serving your readers and their interest–that means listening well.  I am proud of our full author roster and the way they participate with their readers, but two very different bloggers that are good examples are Jon S. Lewis (sci-fi) and Colleen Coble (romantic suspense).  They are consistent, offer writing advise (because their fans engage on it) and engage well.  Hope that helps!

    • Anonymous

      Also, Brett, our Publicity Manager @KSBond (Katie Bond) gives examples and advise often and can be a great resource on blogging.

    • Joe Lalonde

      A novelist that does a great job blogging is Ted Dekker. Check him out at http://www.facebook.com/teddekker

      There’s a few other novelists that do an awesome job but I cannot think of them at the moment.

      • http://brettcohrs.com Brett

        @Joe – Thank you for the link

        @Eric – Thank you… I forwarded those names to my friend. I have a colleague who’s written a couple ‘suspense/mystery/w/ a twist of romance’ novels and he’s bucking against the social media/blogging thing. Let’s say he’s old-school. I’m trying to encourage him to dip his toes in the water.

        • Joe Lalonde

          Brett, you’re welcome. I hope you get some great ideas for your colleague and that it helps him move forward.

      • http://twitter.com/jmhardy98 Jim Hardy

        Joe,

        Thank you for sharing. I think some of these thoughts also apply to leadership and how to run an organization.

        Jim

        • Joe Lalonde

          Jim, it’s my pleasure. It always amazes me how these principles can be used in multiple areas of your life.

        • http://www.forward-living.com W. Mark Thompson

          Great point, Jim. It’s transferable to several areas of life as well. Lots of great meat in there.

  • http://uma-maheswaran.blogspot.com/ Uma Maheswaran S

    I believe fiction writers must create an online platform more intentionally than non fiction writers. At least, non fiction will pull audience with similar subject and background knowledge. But, I feel that the competition under fiction is more cut throat than ever before. Though we can divide fiction by genres, it is still important for the novelist to create a team of loyalists through effective marketing of his brand in all possible ways. BTW, I am not a great fan of fiction.

    • Anonymous

      For not being a fan, I think you are on track, Uma.  Connecting over a fiction title can take more effort but once the connection is made–it can be extremely loyal.

  • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

    How did you use geo-caching to engage fans?  Or, what novel were you trying to promote that a geo-caching game made sense?  That sounds like fun.

    • Anonymous

      Robert,  the best example was with Skin Map by Stephen Lawhead.  A sci-fi title with really energetic fans.  Without passionate fans, it can require too much work, but the right fit really strengthens communities. 

      • Joe Lalonde

        Eric, I never heard of the book Skin Map. I’ll have to look into it as I’m big into geocaching.

      • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

        That’s very interesting. I’ve read about geo-caching before, but I’ve never really tried it. I actually downloaded a geo-cachine app for my phone after reading this post, to see if there were any caches in my area.

    • Joe Lalonde

      Robert, I’m unsure if this is the novel that Eric was referring to, but for the book Abomination they made a geocacher profile and series of caches for it. You can check out the profile and caches at http://www.geocaching.com/profile/?guid=0ca9b461-21b0-40fd-a04e-a3a21d9b0ca2&wid=2edc628d-40c9-4be3-8891-54924c5a72a6&ds=2

      • http://twitter.com/colleencoble Colleen Coble

        Thomas Nelson also had some special coins created that were given out. they were GORGEOUS!

        • Joe Lalonde

          Oh yes. The geocoins looked great. I was amazed at how nice it looked when my friends Lost-In-Woods? and cache_hunter2 showed me their prizes.

      • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

        Thanks for the link, Joe.

        • Joe Lalonde

          Robert, you’re welcome. Just wondering, have you ever done any geocaching?

          • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

            No, but I downloaded a geocachine app to my phone after reading this post, and I’ve read about geocaching before.

            Question: if I were to start, where would you suggest that I begin?

          • Joe Lalonde

            Robert, you will need to create a geocaching account at http://www.geocaching.com. Once you’ve done that, you can search and get coordinates for geocaches near you. I would recommend searching for regular and larger sized caches as you first start out. They tend to be easier to find, contain more swag, and bring you to better locations. There’s also a checkbox to highlight caches that are good for beginners after you search for geocaches nearby. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.

  • http://successbeginstoday.org/wordpress John Richardson

    As a self published fiction writer, I can really relate to your post. One of the hardest things for me is to try to explain to others what my book is about. I will usually relate my book to popular authors who have written in a similar genre. “My book is similar to Og Mandino or Andy Andrews,” I’ll say. Unfortunately, many people have never heard of either of them. 

    If that is the case, I’ll go with location, “The book takes place in Cambria, along the central coast of California, and then leads offshore to the Channel Islands.” This is helpful to set location, but many people have never been there. Finally I’ll get really basic… “It’s a page turning mystery novel… an adult version of the Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew.” Almost everyone can relate to that.

    To help people envision the story, I created a short book trailer that lays out the basic storyline. It’s fast paced and many people are curious about the book after they see it. The problem is getting people to the website. I’ve been experimenting recently with Quick Response Barcodes on business cards. I hand someone a specially designed card with a QR barcode on it. They scan the code with their smart phone and instantly my video is playing on their phone’s browser. This is by far the easiest way to handle… “Tell me what your book is about?” I put up a short post for authors who want to create their own cards here…  http://goals4u.us/qkE9iO

    • Anonymous

      Sounds like you are doing some great things, John!  Thank you for sharing with everyone.

    • http://twitter.com/jmhardy98 Jim Hardy

      John,

      Thank you for sharing.

      Jim

  • http://twitter.com/AndrewComings Andrew Comings

    Thanks for the very helpful post.  Of all of them, I think that perhaps being involved with your online audience presents the greatest challenge–and is the most time-consuming.  Not to say it is not vital, it’s just not easy.

    • Anonymous

      Agreed, Andrew–it is the most time consuming but can also reap the greatest return.

  • http://twitter.com/RookieWriter David Barry DeLozier

    Thanks Eric.  This is extremely helpful information  for someone like me looking to launch a fiction writing career.  I’m constantly impressed by the generosity of MH and his guest bloggers.  It’s fun to thnk of fiction writing in this day and age as the “Wild West.” I hope to rope and ride soon! Thanks again. 

    • Anonymous

      My pleasure, David–and hope you enjoy the ride!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you, Eric, for a post full of great thoughts that strikes a hot nerve with fiction writers. Your three bullet points, and the insight that the third is really the extension of usefulness of the second, are apt and well-said. And, I love this: “But for those willing to take a chance—and responsibility—it’s an environment that is full of opportunity.” Thanks for encouraging those who see it as an opportunity to be taken.

  • http://www.leighkramer.com/ HopefulLeigh

    Great post, Eric!  I especially liked the idea of  coming up with the words you want associated with your work.  That seems like it would be very insightful.

    • Anonymous

      Thank you, Leigh!  And nice meeting you the other night!

  • Joe Lalonde

    I think I heard about the geocaching themed marketing campaign. Was it for the book “Abomination”? I know a lot of local geocachers had fun doing the caches for that book.

    • http://twitter.com/colleencoble Colleen Coble

      It sure was, Joe! How fun that you actually remember. :) That was my book and it was so fun to interact with the geocaching community-especially when my husband and I enjoy geocaching ourselves. 

      • Joe Lalonde

        Colleen, great to hear that you and your husband enjoy geocaching. It’s a great hobby and way to get outdoors.

        I remember hearing about the series due to a couple of friends who found it and received the book. Then my wife happened to purchase it.

        This post reminds me that I still need to get up there and do the series. Looks like all the caches except one are still active.

        Are you from Michigan or were we just the honored ones to have the cache series placed in Michigan?

        • http://twitter.com/colleencoble Colleen Coble

          I’m from Indiana but SO love God’s Country. :)

      • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

        That sounds like a lot of fun, Colleen.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, Leigh!  And great meeting you the other night!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, Leigh!

  • Anonymous

    Thank you, Jennifer!

  • http://blog.cyberquill.com Cyberquill

    Whatever you do or write, just make sure it doesn’t look like you’re following any kind of marketing program or formula, even if you are. 

    It’s fine to practice “five steps to this” and “seven ways to that” as long as I, the consumer/reader, am unaware you’re implementing some strategic game plan you’ve learned in a seminar on how to maximize your reach. I, for one, don’t want to see the business cogs turning behind a creative project.  

    For instance, it turns me off when I see a cover or a title that clearly looks like the marketing department came up with it.  (In the end, if the content is great, the cover won’t matter, but in order to get to the content, I must first overcome my being turned off.) 

    And I can’t stand these suspiciously confidence-inspiring author pics (the ones with the broad smile) that give me the sense  they were picked based on criteria set forth in “Nine Points to Consider When Selecting Your Author Picture.” 

    Manifestly adhering to check lists and recipes gives me too much of a painting-by-the-numbers feel. The results may be somewhat effective, but the approach imbues the whole project with an air of sterility, I find. 

    Hard to define. 

    Give me the rebel. Give me the renegade who convinces me that he or she is the kind of artist that’ll take any book titled “Seven Steps To Sell Your Novel” and toss it into the fireplace. 

    Give me the sense that whatever you did, you did it your way.

    • http://twitter.com/jmhardy98 Jim Hardy

      Great Job, I am a visual  person and I like the steps.

      Jim

    • Anonymous

      Interesting post, Cyberquill and to the point of always working to be authentic, I agree.  But when the idea is to give someone a place to start, simplicity is key so that an anchor of understanding can be established.  Steps or key areas facilitate that well.  And the ideas I’ve really come to admire, whether from Seth Godin or Apple–they understood the rules and then broke them with a fervor that changed their part of the world.  Do it your way, yes, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it smart.  And if you have to start simple, do it.

    • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

      Yes, people can be turned off to a product (especially books) if they think that you’re just making it to fit a formula. I remember a story in the last year of a story on Huffington Post that looked like it was written merely for SEO purposes. I think it was a story about the date, time and place of the Super Bowl.

  • http://twitter.com/jmhardy98 Jim Hardy

    Great points. I really concur with the point of being authentic.
     
    Jim

  • http://www.marydemuth.com Mary DeMuth

    This was entirely encouraging to me. I’ve recently gone through a transition to redefine (hone actually) my brand to Live Uncaged. As both a fiction and nonfiction writer, these simple two words encapsulate what I write about: folks becoming free.

    I am particularly thankful you delineated between online presence and community. It’s one thing to have a website, blog, facebook presence and twitter account. It’s another to use those platforms as a way to minister and connect.

    I liken marketing for novelists as a long gravel driveway where there are five stones with red paint on the other side. Our job as marketers is to be diligent to overturn every stone until we find those five red stones. There are strategies to finding them, sure, but most of it is a lot of work. And of course all of it depends on God’s strange sovereignty.

    • Anonymous

      Really appreciate your comments, Mary and so glad you were encouraged!  And while there could be more than 5 red stones, it’s worth the work (and it is work, you are right!) to land on what you will commit to and hone your craft around.

    • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

      Yes, it takes a lot more time to make a community, rather than just an outward-facing webpage.

  • http://twitter.com/colleencoble Colleen Coble

    Loved this post, Eric! And that brainstorming time of pinpointing my brand has been phenomenal for me. I wish I’d done it sooner! Your ideas have been such a blessing to me personally. :)

    • Anonymous

      Thanks, Colleen!

  • http://twitter.com/JohnNemoPR John Nemo

    Well stated and spot on advice. I’ve read in several places (John Locke’s e-book being the most recent) about how critical it is to engage with your community of friends/followers online, build that trust over time, and then later on, once you’ve built those relationships, leverage that trust for a “sell” – asking them to buy or promote your book, etc. Gary Vaynerchuk’s book “Thank You Economy” is also a great example of how this works too.

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  • http://refreshmentrefuge.blogspot.com Gina Burgess

    Eric, consistency is a very key, keyword here. As a book reviewer for hundreds of books (both fiction and non-fiction) http://uponreflectionblog.blogspot.com there are several authors I do not have to know what the book is about because I know they are excellent writers — Colleen Coble, Ted Dekker, T. Davis Bunn, Bob Liparulo are just a few.

    You mentioned fans, Eric, but not book reviewers in your marketing strategy as an asset and BookSneeze is a marvelous avenue for that because it gives the book reviewer every thing needed to do a professional book review. There are other avenues that authors take for book reviews that leave a lot to be desired.

    Here are a few no-nos:
    1. Sending the book without any notification of where it came from except the mailing label.
    2. Sending the book weeks or months after the reviewer has said they would review it.
    3. Not providing digital information such as cover graphic, author bio, and book blurb.

    Even if an author (or publisher) does every thing correctly, they still might fail to follow-up, check that the reviewer did post the review, give links on author’s blog to the book reviews (Davis Bunn does this for every book he writes). Leave a comment on the reviewer’s blog about the review. Back links are a powerful SEO tool that most authors don’t take advantage of these days.

    • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

      Gina, thanks for the link to your blog. I really liked the look. Thanks also for the suggestions for book reviews. I do reviews as well, and have run into some of the same things that I dislike.

      • http://refreshmentrefuge.blogspot.com Gina Burgess

        Robert, what are some of the things you’ve found to be a problem with book review? I’d be very interested to know :)

        • http://brevis.me Robert Ewoldt

          I had one publisher that sent a book I’d requested months after I requested a copy… response time is huge.

          • http://refreshmentrefuge.blogspot.com Gina Burgess

            Yes, and by that time, you’d totally forgotten you’d requested it; and it was already on bookshelves; and no time to interview the author…

  • Audrey4j

    Your post started the creative juices for my nonfiction ebook. I’m wondering how to connect with male and female young adults (ages 13-30). Any further thoughts on this subject would be carefully read and considered. I do appreciate your posts. I read nearly every one.
    Audrey Hebbert

  • http://www.livewithflair.blogspot.com Live with Flair

    I would love to hear more about what you mean by “responsibility to your readers.”  What if you find an amazing story written by a reclusive soul who doesn’t have an online presence?  Is the story doomed because the writer has no branding or twitter following?  I’m so sad!  I fear that authors are now celebrities to be followed and photographed instead of skillful writers who want to give their art to the world.  Hmmm.  I’m thinking about this.  Many of my favorite writers were inaccessible, mysterious, and hidden from the world.  I think that’s why I like them! 

    I have a great story I want to write this year, but I don’t want to sacrifice my writing time to build an online presence (when I just want to write)!  Does anyone else feel this way?  It sounds like I have to be famous before I can submit to an agent.  Help! 

  • http://www.authorcynthiaherron.com Cynthia Herron

    Wow! What an exciting post, Eric!

    Since I’m a contemporary, Christian romance novelist, my tagline is “writing heartfelt, homespun, contemporary, Christian romance.” It says right up front who I am and what I do. My series revolves around a fictional town within the Ozarks (because it’s what I know and do well) and I intentionally blend the “old” with the “new” to showcase our culture, heritage, and geographic locale. The “contemporary” aspect is apparent within the stories themselves. Since I live near a tourist mecca that boasts literally millions of tourists per year, I’m definitely incorporating aspects of my “community” within my marketing strategy, and I’ve come up with some fun, creative ways to network without breaking the bank. I started thinking about “brand” long before I’d secured an agent because I believe in being proactive, but I’ve learned, too,  it’s a continual process and one that needs to be on board with the changing times.

    Thanks so much for your informative post today! So much “meat” to chew on!

  • Anonymous

    Great post! Thanks for the insight, especially on identity.

  • http://www.forward-living.com W. Mark Thompson

    Great content in this post. Specifically, I LOVED:
    > “marketing requires a message—preferably a simple, concise one.”
    …along with the exercise at the end of point one.
    > “The more you draw people in for the long haul, the more you will grow your brand.”
    > “You can keep the treasure safe by burying it and then running from your
    responsibility to your readers. Or you can leverage the treasure for an
    even greater return by being involved and responsive to your online
    audience.” <<< This one is the Story of the Talents. Awesome!

    There's so much more I really liked, but this is supposed to be a comment area, not another post. So I'll leave with thanks.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the advice, it’s given me more to ponder.  

  • http://beckfarfromhome.blogspot.com/ Beck Gambill

    Michael, thank you for providing the tools to navigate this new world of writing. Offering so many tips and insights in one spot makes learning so much more efficient.

    Eric, thanks for a great article! I have found that blogging has helped me define and distill who I am and what my message is. I actually have been surprised in the last few months of writing by the themes I’ve seen emerging. I think it is making my book and my blog stronger because of it. I still have a long way to go in learning how to create a loyal, consistent community. But I’m working on it!

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  • Chad Jackson

    I think we can respect where Jobs took Apple but don’t look at him as the poster child for a guy that did everything right. 

    From the love child he denied to the temper that terrified his staff, the dark side of the iPod god Steve Jobs
    Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2030274/Steve-Jobs-From-love-child-denied-temper-terrified-staff-dark-iPod-god.html#ixzz1WH0wQP4B

  • http://www.extremejohn.com Extreme John

    It’s funny how difficult it is to achieve the brand you wanted to become. Even a simple definition of who you are is a difficult challenge. It’s like easier said than done. But then these three keys are excellent especially for businesses. Thanks for the share!

  • Anonymous

    Great post Eric, very insightful. Thank you!

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  • http://www.jondale.com Jon Dale

    I love Eric Mullet! And this is brilliant.  Sorry, I know one isn’t “supposed” to leave comments that are just praise and one should always add to the conversation and all that…but this is brilliant as is.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Jon. I am sure Eric will appreciate it, as do I.

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  • http://twitter.com/RechelleOwens Regina Mize

    Excellent tips that are applicable to any genre!

  • http://www.shortstoryguy.com/ Jose Cervantes

    Thanks for the insights!