My suitcase on wheels clacked behind me as I followed my boss’s determined strides. Like most business trips with her, we traveled frugal and opted to walk to our hotel from the airport. She opted. In fact, this trip was all about her wanting to leave a legacy for her thirty-plus years as general manager of one of the nation’s most successful natural food grocers. We had flown from Minneapolis to St. Louis to attend a conference among international business leaders of companies that had nothing in common with our industry – most were big manufacturers.
We Were in Town to Learn The Great Game of Business (GGB)
Not only was I dragging my suitcase, but I was also dragging my feet. The idea of teaching our employees how to play business encroached on my marketing department. After ten years of successful building, I had a structure and team in place that was on fire. We had just won another national award for our store’s bi-monthly publication; received recognition as the top store in our category in the nation. My boss often loaned me out to other stores as a brand auditor and consultant. I didn’t want to involve the rest of our employees in marketing.
If my boss has a legacy, it’s tenacity. As reluctant as I was to buy into her vision, I warmed to the idea of the GGB. The concept teaches that if employees learned the rules of play, they’d have more ownership of the outcome. Weekly, we implemented meetings open to all employees who could learn the numbers that governed our budget, express ideas for a weekly promotion, and receive results the following week based on the impact.
It wasn’t bad, and it offered our business the kind of transparency my boss’s style of leadership favored.
When I left my position as a senior marketing and communications manager, I packed much in my bags of experience. It surprised me, though, when the GGB popped into my mind as a way to teach authors to market strategically. Yet it’s true – if you want to be successful as an author, you must know how to play by the rules of marketing.
Why Play the Game?
Many authors are as reluctant to market as I was to attend that GGB conference in St. Louis. They drag their books around, hoping readers will notice the “Buy Me” bumper sticker across their suitcase.
When an expert mentions branding, a shield goes up – many authors prefer to hide behind a photo of a kitten or insist they brand their book instead.
If you’ve ever read Stephen Pressfield’s The War of Art, then you know the negative power of resistance. (And if you haven’t, it’s a powerful and quick read that will compel you to become a professional author.) He writes, “Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.” If you resist strategic marketing, it’s an indication you must do it. You must break the resistance.
Pressfield will say become the professional. I’ll tell you to step up and play a professional game. If you want to win the game of marketing, you need to play the game. Overcome your resistance.
Games Have Rules, Scores, and Outcomes
Although you might think of a game as rollicking and free-form, the opposite is true. Games have structures; they have rules, scores, and outcomes.
When I was a kid, I lived in a small remote mining town. Families frequently moved in and out, and over time the mix of kids changed. Regardless, we all played a version of hide-and-seek unique to a semi-ghost town. We had boundaries and rules. No matter who was new, they quickly learned the rules. The idea was to hide and be the last person not found. If the call went out to signal the seeker could not find the last person, that hider won the round.
Author marketing is played to win. It has rules. The score reflects goals. The outcome determines how well you played and if you need to adjust your game. Each author sets their own goals and determines the winning outcome or numbers. Selling books is like that game of hide-and-seek. A new author comes to town and joins the mix of existing authors. To play, you must learn the rules.
In marketing, the rules uphold an ongoing cycle which gives structure to the game and offers strategies to win. The marketing game includes Seven Rules:
- 1Define What You Write
This is the easiest rule to remember because it gives meaning to why you write. It could be a burning message you need to voice. Maybe you see stories all around you or in your imagination which compel you to create. In the beginning, writing is an urge, an expression. But as you revise you also refine what your project is – a novel, an e-book, a script, a series. You shape it to a genre, a way to describe where your book belongs in a library or bookstore.
- 2Research Your Audience
Where, how and why they read and buy books. Think of readers as whole people with lives beyond the pages. Readers work, play, raise children (or not). Who are your readers? Think about their daily lives, what technology they have, what dreams inspire them, what escapes they want. The more you can connect to readers as people, the better you can understand their reading motivations.
- 3Innovate a Book That Serves the Audience (Write the Book They Want to Read)
We all write the book we want to bring into the world, but if you want others to read it, you need to revise your book to fit your readership. The easiest way to see this dynamic is in the romance genre. It’s formulaic because romance readers want that emotional escape and happy ending. Do your readers want intellectual stimulation? What do they want to learn or experience? When you revise, have your reader in mind.
- 4Establish Accessible Channels of Distribution (Global, Amazon, Libraries, Colleges, Book Events, Local Bookstores)
A channel is a way to get your book to the reader. Research those avenues. Find out (before you publish) where your library orders their books and how you can access that channel. Knowing will impact your publishing decisions.
Are you big enough to go global? Maybe not. Maybe a small local press will fit where you want to sell. Amazon is almost a given and difficult to avoid. Learn about their book marketing programs. Know your options and decide on your channels. Base this on your readers and anticipating where they will buy.
- 5Set a Price Based on Genre, Distribution, Profit & Audience Spending
Price isn’t arbitrary. Free isn’t sustainable. If you loved to bake and one day opened a cupcake shop, you wouldn’t give away your cupcakes. Price matters to a professional. You can do promotional coupons and discounts. You can work price into a strategy for sales. This is not a rule to overlook because it will add up to one of your most important numbers – sales profit.
- 6Promote, Advertise, and Publicize Your Book
This rule is often misunderstood as all there is to marketing. Marketing includes Rule 6; it also includes six other rules. Winning the game means you can define your book, know your audience, provide what your audience wants, distribute your book through channels, and set price strategies. You must have all the other rules completed to execute the promotional one. Ads, PR, and events need a target.
- 7Evaluate All Your Research, Responses, and Strategies and Start the Cycle Over Based on What You Learned
After you have played by all the rules, the final one is to measure your success. You aim for goals and measure the outcome of how close you came. You can find gaps or decide to improve strategies. Evaluation helps you get better at playing the game.
Establish Your Goals for Your Game
While the rules of marketing don’t vary, goals do. Authors write for many reasons. If your goal is to “finish that book,” think about the next goal – now what? You finished the book, and you set another goal – to sell, to get workshops, become famous, to land a contract, to see your book in a local store. Whatever the next goals are, write them down. Write about them to get clear enough to say, “My goal is…”
Define your vision of success.
Your goals will dictate your outcome. To measure success, you need to set numbers – how many books will you sell, how much profit will you gain. You can set other goals, too, including the number of events you want to do per quarter or how many libraries you want to carry your book. If your goal is to educate, how will you use your book as a tool? Set up workshops or library programs. If you want to share your story, do readings.
Have your goals in mind so the outcome drives success.
Importance of Winning the Game
Some authors might feel uncomfortable with the idea of “winning.” Often authors say they want to write. That’s fine, but then I’d ask, why are you selling your book if you “just want to write”? Those are two different actions. You can be an author who writes but don’t expect anyone to read if you don’t play the game of marketing.
Your goal could be to build a readership – to find those like-minds who would enjoy what you write. That’s legitimate, and it still requires that you market to that small niche. The rules apply no matter how big or small your goals might be.
Winning must be your reason.
It's your game.
Forecasting Game Outcomes
When we implemented the GGB back in 2011, one of the key components we taught was forecasting. It differs from goal-setting in that you take your most important numbers (for an author, that could mean sales of books) and predict an outcome for your strategies. This especially applies to Rule 6.
For example, if you purchased a Facebook ad, they will estimate how many views your ad would get. From that number, you can forecast how many sales you will make. The better you get at forecasting, the better promotional decisions you can make.
An author can play the game of marketing and improve over time. Learn and practice the rules. Forecast and adjust. Marketing can even be fun if you think of it as a game. At the very least, understanding the rules will help your outcomes.
Charli Mills, writer and lead buckaroo at Carrot Ranch Literary Community, received a BA in creative writing in 1998 and began telling business brand-stories thereafter. By 2010 she earned the Master Cooperative Communicators designation, recognizing career achievements. She won multiple national awards for writing, publishing, and her presentation, “Telling a Compelling Story.” In 2018, she published her literary community’s, “The Congress of Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology, Vol 1,” which earned a 5-star review from Readers ’Favorite. Branding remains a cornerstone of Charli’s career success. She conducts brand audits for authors to build strategic platforms to reach target readers.