Friday, July 5, 2013

Countdown to a Book 10: The Marketing Questionnaire

Once editorial interaction draws to its conclusion, the author’s main contact at a traditional publishing company will be with the marketing department. This new relationship will not grow organically over drinks and tapas. Your publicist will want to come up to speed quickly by learning anything about you and your book that will help you do business together—and to get that ball rolling, Sourcebooks (like other major publishers) asks its authors to fill out a 65-part form.

This Author Interview Questionnaire took me four full, long days to complete, even though I was more prepared than many to take this step. Thanks to an agent who requested a marketing analysis with my submission a few years ago, I’d already done most of this work.

Judging from reactions I heard, my guess is that this agent’s request for a marketing analysis weeds out unwanted submissions from writers not yet ready to think beyond artistic concerns to business concerns. I recall others saying, “I’d never do that, she’s just trying to rip off my marketing ideas so she doesn’t have to do the work!” But then I needn't tell you what most writers feel about marketing when a picture will do.


Photo via Flickr

When confronted with the hair-pullers and whiners, I’ve found it is best to quietly shoulder past and get on with the work of building a career as an author. I was right to do so—as it turned out, I returned to this document often, just as my publicist will return to my Sourcebooks questionnaire again and again to inform her efforts.

What goes into a marketing analysis
Here are some of the points I built into my two-page, single-spaced marketing analysis, each of which prepared me to complete the Sourcebooks Author Interview Questionnaire. For your benefit I’ve included one example for each.
  • Current headlines related to your book’s theme that can create media talking points for your novel. Headlines about body image abound—one at the time was “Jenny Craig Fires Kirstie Alley for Getting Fat Again.” 
  • Nonfiction titles selling well that are tied to your book’s theme. Sarah Nilsen’s Does this Book Make my Butt Look Big
  • Comparable fiction titles and how yours differs. Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner: mine differs in that the treatment is less humorous and the stakes are higher—unlike my protagonist’s career as a dancer, Cannie Shapiro’s newspaper job was never at risk due to her body shape. 
  • How you used these themes to make your novel relevant for the reader. On the brink of losing everything, new friends support Penelope Sparrow as she reinvents herself on a shoestring; a recession need not always demand the sacrifice of dreams. 
  • Why you were the right person to write this tale. Background as self-employed dancer, choreographer, and dance critic; lived through husband’s suicide; academic and personal interest in body image. 
  • Pop culture trends that make you believe the book will sell. Proliferation of reality television shows about dance; Dove’s Campaign for Beauty).
  • Who your target market is and how you might reach them. This section had many parts, but the most obvious was women readers who consider their bodies’ idiosyncrasies as imperfections, reached by reviews in the women's magazines they turn to for tips on diet and exercise. 

In addition, the Sourcebooks Marketing Questionnaire fished for relevant PR contacts—where I’ve lived, where I went to school and when, where I worked. They wanted to know whose books I read and what blogs might review my book. They asked what media experience I’ve already had, leaving me glad I jumped on opportunities to do cable television shows and radio interviews and to speak to writers and other community groups.

If you are a submitting author, consider doing a marketing analysis now. This preparation will inform your queries in a way that is attractive to a prospective business partner. The agent will sense that she is plugging into an existing business model rather than stroking the ego of an author unsure of whether his writing is any good. Then, when your book is ready to sell—whether to a traditional publisher or through you, directly to the public—you won’t be riddled with anxiety as you pray that one of your PR efforts will hit its mark. You’ll be able to move forward with the confidence born of having a plan.

And if you end up at a traditonal publisher, having to fill out a lengthy marketing questionnaire, your hair will thank you.

Just catching up? Here are links to the other posts in this series:
Countdown to a Book 1: Joining Hands
Countdown to a Book 2: Pitching
Countdown to a Book 3: Getting My Agent
Countdown to a Book 4: Developmental Editing
Countdown to a Book 5: All About Image
Countdown to a Book 6: From Writer to Author
Countdown to a Book 7: Five Tips for Getting Blurbs
Countdown to a Book 8: The Manuscript Becomes a Book
Countdown to a Book 9: Why an ARC?



Kathryn Craft is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, an independent manuscript evaluation and line editing service. Her work is represented by Katie Shea at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. Her monthly series, "Countdown to a Book," details the traditional publication of her debut novel, The Art of Falling, by Sourcebooks in January 2014. Connect with Kathryn at her Facebook Author Page and Twitter.

19 comments :

  1. I admire your analytic approach. Also, thanks for the list with the links, so I can catch up on some of the details, and perhaps apply them to my own upcoming release.

    Morgan Mandel
    http://www.morganmandel.com

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  2. Thanks Morgan, and best of luck with your upcoming book! Since you have already built a following, it would be interesting to have a post from you some time about how you've tailored your marketing efforts over time, and what methods you use to try to expand your reader base at this point.

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  3. I almost submitted to an agent who asked for this once. I couldn't answer it. But if you are serious about marketing your books, you should be able to come up with something. Otherwise, it will probably fall into the "We don't know how to sell this" category. I'm going to print this off.

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  4. Diana it really can be hard, especially if your book isn't a "ripped from the headlines" kind of thing. And thinking up comparable authors or similar books can be a real challenge for those of us who write stories because they're the ones we'd like to read yet we haven't found any like it yet. But one thing's for sure: every author who's struggled through the exercise has empathy and appreciation for the publisher who must find an audience for your book.

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  5. Great post, Kathryn. You've given us some advice and knowledge that is very important.

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  6. I'm echoing Helen's comments; thanks Kathryn for giving me a great deal to consider when it's time for me to take off my creative hat and don my practical one.

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  7. Thanks Helen. And Elspeth, somehow I think even your practical hat will be a fascinator. ;)

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  8. Yikes ... no wonder my market efforts are so pathetic.

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  9. My goodness. None of my publishers did anything like this. Of course, their books didn't sell well, either, which is why I've left them. Basically, their marketing sheets said, "get out there and promote your book."

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  10. Doesn't have to be a traditional publisher. More small companies are doing this too. And if you hire your OWN publicist, you'll do the same thing for them! It's probably not a bad exercise for any author self-promoting to really think about these questions regarding their life and anything that might help promote the book. We overlook much in the mirror. Another person can often spot history, goals, skills that have terrific marketing potential!

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  11. Dani, I agree that anyone who has a product to sell would benefit from this type of exercise. "We overlook much in the mirror"—insightful comment,

    Christopher—quit looking in the mirror!

    Terry, I'm surprised. I've seen several Facebook posts by writing friends saying "this marketing questionnaire is so lo-o-ong." Guess not all marketing departments are created equal. It seems marketing approach/support might be a good thing to ask about when trying to decide whether to accept a traditional book deal.

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  12. This is valuable information and it is so difficult to answer all those questions when you are first starting out. I kept asking myself, how do I know who my readers are going to be before I even sell my first book? The marketing hat is a heavy one!

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  13. Heidi I think you raise a good point—it's hard to "start." But after I filled out the questionnaire—quite thoroughly, I thought—I've returned to it a half dozen times so far to add this or that.

    I think you have to open your mind to the possibilities and allow one thing to lead to the next, just as if you were drafting your novel—only you are drafting your marketing plan.

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  14. I've contacted a very good publicist friend I know and I think we might pursue this questionnaire angle a bit more in the future. I'm sure some readers are wondering exactly what questions are being asked. I'd like to share some of them. Kathryn, you could post the ones you are answering on Saturdays if you feel like it and/or if your publisher is okay with it. I know how time-consuming this job is, and it would be really interesting to explore a bit more.

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  15. Thanks for sharing this! Very informative.

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  16. Thank you so much for this post, Kathryn. It hadn't even occurred to me to think about these points, but now that you've written about them, they make a lot of sense. This is great info.

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  17. Late to the discussion since I was offline most of the time from Wednesday through Saturday, but wanted to come by and see what you had to say about marketing, Kathryn. I just did a questionnaire from the publisher that is bringing out my history book and it was quite enlightening. It was for a specific kind of non fiction, so what you shared here gives me things to think about for my fiction titles.

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  18. Thanks for stopping by, Uriah and Swati!

    Glad you found this post useful, Maryann. A market analysis is crucial for nonfiction because you have to know why the reader should pick yours off the shelf as opposed to any other book on the topic—but at least the focus should be apparent. It can be trickier for fiction, but just as necessary!

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  19. If ever I doubted that marketing my books is serious business, this puts that doubt to rest. Considering the massive number of works available to a finite reading audience, it is serious business indeed.

    This one's a keeper, Kathryn.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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