I love writing. More specifically, I love storytelling! The number of dreams I’ve had about fantastic characters and events could fill a dozen manuscripts, each one winning a Nebula Award, each one ready to become the next bestseller, or blockbuster movie.
Unfortunately for me, writing is only a hobby. Just like everyone else, I’ve got a “day job.” I was sure, though, that there should be some method of using what I’ve learned from my years of “on the job experience” that could help me with promoting my novels. After all, my “day job” is often unique and full of surprises. I knew there just had to be a way to combine the two.
For years, I have focused a significant amount of time to understanding the U.S. military’s targeting methodologies. Through that research and experience I have become somewhat of an expert on the topic. Author’s Note: I sometimes also play Risk and can defeat my kids in total world domination! With these types of achievements, it was easy to deceive myself into thinking that I could apply those same targeting principles to book marketing for my personal gain. “After all, what real difference is there in focusing your efforts against a key target and a niche reader?” I wrongly assumed.
Early attempts failed, so I studied in earnest fundamental principles of marketing; I wanted to understand everything from establishing my own brand to author swag.
Now, I knew with confidence, I would be able to effectively reach my target audience. Armed with an understanding of marketing principles and a willingness to try new things, I was sure that the internet would make book marketing, for a new fantasy fiction writer like me, simple.
Social Media Marketing is anything but simple. The days of becoming a successful writer solely based on the outstanding content of a novel are likely over—if there ever was such a time to begin with. I have also learned a valuable lesson; there are no silver bullets in book marketing.
Today’s writer must understand the principles of marketing, targeting the correct audience, locating where that audience resides (within the internet cloud) and how the readers will receive your marketing message in the shortest amount of time. There is a lot to research, and I am not here to proclaim that I know it all, or that I have successfully applied this understanding to sell thousands of books. Time and again, however, I re-discovered that there are some basic principles that a new writer must embrace. A writer needs to understand the relationship between the Messenger, the Message, and the Medium, as well as the dynamics of Social Media Marketing.
So why do I feel compelled to write an essay on this important topic when I have not successfully applied the principles to my own marketing strategy? Good question. There is always something useful to share from your experiences, even when they are negative.
In the military, targeting is often about focusing limited assets to detect the signature of what you want to impact, whether the desired effect is to destroy the target or positively influence the target. One analytical model that I like to use to describe the inter-relationship of associated targets is called the “Modified Oil Spot Analysis”. Essentially, the Oil Spot analogy is about the spreading effects of an insurgency within a population. The first drop of oil into water is the start point from which the oil looks for a path of least resistance. The oil finds ways to move away from the initial drop point until it has covered a vast area. Similarly, an insurgent operation often starts with an ideological “hard-core” base that reaches into the local population by recruiting those that are motivated, for various reasons, to join the insurgent’s cause. The insurgency’s abilities to impact the government, and society, are accelerated once there is a defined network of supporters, skilled technicians, financiers, and leaders embedded within the population. See Figure 1. Modified Oil Spot Analysis.
My analytical mind went wild as I imagined various elements of the publishing world, within the context of the Modified Oil Spot Analysis model. Why couldn’t the ideological hardcore base in the center of the model be replaced by those entities that a writer needs to influence, like the media, wholesalers, retailers, critics, publishers, and agents? These large “prize targets” rely upon skilled representatives throughout the publishing community to help them reach potential readers. If a writer wanted to use the same middle-men that control access to the core publishing group targets, why couldn’t I use that to also reach out to potential readers? In essence, the nexus targets, gate-keepers, middle men, or whatever you want to call them, would be the primary focus of a new writer’s marketing strategy. By positively influencing several of these people, a writer (I thought) would be able to reach hundreds, maybe thousands, of potential readers rather than waiting on positive word-of-mouth, or Twitter to reach individuals. See Figure 2. The Adapted Model for Book Marketing and Figure 3. My Grand Targeting Strategy.
My plan was to focus all of my energy at personally connecting with those individuals that influenced both the core target group in the center, as well as readers. I was sure that these individuals would quickly see the value of my book and use their contacts to spread the positive word about my novel to the rest of the reading world. Yeah, that’s what every new writer is also thinking. The harder truth that I have learned is that the Social Media Network that writers think will create instant buzz for them and their novel is not a simple interconnected web of people; there are groups and sub-groups within every reader niche. Connecting with one supportive genre forum administrator, reviewer, or writer does not automatically equate to positive word-of-mouth to everyone that they know. More often than not, people are connected based on a shared commonality, like family relations, classmates, work, and hobbies. A new writer trying to inject himself into the middle of that network may be welcomed to join the sub-group, but they will be judged more by what they contribute, socially, to the group than by the product they plan to convince others to buy and read. That’s why it’s called social media network. Also, imagine hundreds of new writers attempting to accomplish the same thing; a new writer’s motives for entering a group often become suspect.
Several leading experts in marketing seem to profess that the essential elements of any successful advertising plan consist of the following: the messenger/the medium, the market, and the message. In the publishing world, the novel is often wrongfully identified as the message but it is not. The writer and the novel are the messengers conveying a particular message. The message is the central idea that you want conveyed to the market (potential readers). You will want to read my book because it not only has an exciting adventure story filled with flawed characters but because the novel highlights societal issues about western civilization during the initial years of the Global War on Terror (through the use of allegorical convention). Successfully reaching a large number of potential readers with your message and convincing them that your message is right for them, as quickly as possible, is what leads to increased sales. The messenger (the writer and the novel) deliver the promised message. The medium are the various platforms the writer can use to deliver his, or her, message. Examples of various mediums include the author’s webpage, genre reader forums, radio interviews, TV commercials, web-based book preview trailers, Facebook Fan page, etc. See Figure 4. My Triple M Triangle Model.
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