The Case for Creating a
Killer Marketing Plan
by Ellie Alexander
I remember the day I received the call from my agent letting me know that we had an offer for a three-book contract. After dancing around the living room and toasting with a celebratory pint of hoppy Pacific Northwest ale, the next thing I did was get right to work on my marketing plan. It might seem strange that, instead of savoring the sweetness of landing my first book deal, my thoughts immediately turned to marketing. The reality of publishing in the 21st century is that, in addition to writing a page-turning mystery with plenty of twists and red herrings that lead readers down dead ends, we as authors are also tasked with publicizing and selling our books. The sooner we embrace that, the more creative energy we can pour into crafting a killer marketing plan.
Now, let me be clear about what I mean when I say that we are responsible for selling our books. I do not mean employing the strategy of screaming in ALL CAPS on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or Tik Tok, “BUY MY BOOK! BUY MY BOOK!” I see so many examples of authors spinning their wheels and spamming their social media followers with constant, in-your-face messages about nothing other than buying their book. Imagine this in the real world. You walk into a bookstore, eager to sip a coffee while you peruse the shelves, but upon entering the store you’re greeted by an author waving their book in your face and demanding that you buy it. They then proceed to follow you around the store shouting that their book is the best you’ll ever read and you’ll regret it if you don’t buy it today. I’m going to guess that this might be a turn off. Am I right?
Book marketing, like marketing in any other profession, requires thoughtful planning designed to build a loyal and engaged audience of readers. How do we achieve this? By thinking inside the book. This is more important now than ever, given that traditional bookstore signings, library talks, and events are on hold due to the pandemic. Rather than trying to scream the loudest on social media amongst all of the noise, invite readers into your world. Offer them a taste of what they might find inside the pages of your book.
For example, my Sloan Krause Mystery series is set in the charming Bavarian village of Leavenworth, Washington and features a female brewer turned part-time sleuth. I’m fascinated by the craft brewing culture. It’s truly science meets creativity at it’s best. Brewers are like magicians. They take four simple ingredients hops, water, yeast, and grains and produce completely unique beers from there. I want to share that chemistry with readers, so when I was sketching out my marketing plan for the series, I reached out to a variety of professional brewers. I asked if they would be willing to do video interviews and live chats on social media to talk about their process and craft. It’s a symbiotic relationship. I get to offer readers insight into a new world and the brewers get to share their knowledge with a new audience.
Not once did I demand that readers buy my book in these interviews and live chats. The book is secondary. I’m providing highly specialized content to readers that ties back to the book. I might weave in comparisons on how Sloan prefers to add fresh hops to the mash tun or talk about the hours I spend “researching” (aka tasting) different beer styles to make sure that my descriptions of a dark chocolate coconut stout or honey Pilsner are correct. Readers chime in with their questions about brewing and books. They connect by sharing their favorite or least favorite beer experiences. (Insert beard beer here—yeah, that’s a real thing. Google it.) These are the building blocks of community, and ultimately the reason a reader will end up buying your book.
Creating an authentic marketing plan is one of the easiest ways to ensure long term success as an author. Use themes, settings, ideas, or people from your book as a launching point. Welcome readers into that space. Ask questions. Start conversations. Listen. Have fun! Marketing doesn’t have to be serious. It can be giving away beer-themed coasters and stickers to your readership in celebration of release day. Hosting an online pub crawl where readers stop by different breweries to pick up clues at each spot—both in real life and in digital space. Or, holding a photo contest for readers to share their funniest beer pics. Use the same creative energy you tapped into to write the book, to formulate a marketing plan.
In my Mystery Series Master Class, I teach new writers the tools of the trade and walk them through building a comprehensive marketing plan while they’re writing their first book. Setting the tone and the stage for inventive ways to reach and build lasting relationships with readers is perhaps the single most important thing you’ll do, aside from writing the actual book. Not only will your future readers thank you, but immersing yourself in the process of crafting a marketing plan will likely bring you unexpected insight into your writing.
Cheers to that!
Ellie Alexander is a Pacific Northwest native who spends ample time testing recipes in her home kitchen or at one of the many famed coffeehouses or pubs nearby. When she’s not coated in flour, you’ll find her outside exploring hiking trails and trying to burn off calories consumed in the name of research. She is the author of the bestselling Bakeshop Mystery and Sloan Krause Mystery series. Sign up for her e-mail newsletter to stay up to date on new releases, appearances, and exclusive content & recipes.
Ellie also loves hearing from readers and interacting with them on social media, so be sure to follow her to learn about her mystery series master class, upcoming books, special events and giveaways, and more!