Developing Your Book's Promotional Plan
An article by Mark Ortman


Promoting a book is generally the most important and demanding function for self-publishers. There are more than 3000 new titles released each week, nearly two million books in print, and the average bookstore stocks only 50,000 titles. This contributes to a very crowded and competitive arena. The trade has just one question: "Will your book sell?"

A book is a product, and like any other product, it requires publicity and promotion. Potential readers must be made aware of your book, how it differs from similar books on the market and where they can purchase it. Proper planning is essential to give your book the best chance of success. Your Promotional Plan answers the questions:

WHO is your audience?

WHERE are they to be found?

WHAT will be done to create the demand?

WHO is your audience and WHERE are they to be found? Typically, there are multiple audiences for your book. A technique to help you figure out Who will buy your book is to spend time in the library compiling lists from directories of organizations, associations, corporations, hobbyists, occupations, experts and anyone else who will find value in knowing about your book. List those you want to reach first, second, third, etc. Review the list and see if there is any overlap. This will help you direct your efforts more efficiently and give you insight into the best ways to reach them. The self-publisher actually has two categories of customers: The Trade and The Reader. The Trade consists of bookstores, wholesalers and libraries. The Reader is your target audience or end user. Research and promotional efforts must be allocated to both, particularly when pursuing conventional channels of distribution (Bookstores, Libraries).

WHAT will be done to create a demand? How will you let the reader know about your book and where to purchase copies? There are six general ways to reach the Reader through your promotions: Mail, Fax, Phone, Computer, The Media and In Person, each having its cost advantages and disadvantages. People today are more accessible, yet harder to sell, stressing the importance of a tightly targeted and strong sales message. Instead of thinking you are selling a book, look at it as selling a message. If people like your message, they will buy your book. Typically, people are looking for something newer, better or easier. Translate your book's message so as to meet your audience's needs. Complile a list of key selling points to use in promotional materials and advertising copy. Find that unique twist or angle to your topic. particularly if other books have been written on the same subject. In other words, differentiate your book from similar ones on the market.

With your message in hand, following is a list of general activities of what an author can do to sell more books:

When is the Trade and the Reader in the most favorable buying mood? Does your book have a seasonal twist? Publishers introduce new releases throughout the year with an emphasis on two seasons: Spring and Fall. The industry's largest trade show, Book Expo America (formally the ABA), occurs annually around the end of May. This is a key time for publishers to show their new titles to the Trade. Readers purchase books throughout the year with an emphasis on the holiday and gift seasons. The nature of your book is also a consideration as the timing may be built into your product and the reader or industry you intend to reach.

With so many options, self-publishers have the luxury of time to systematically test several promotional options to find what works best. What works for one book may not work for another, thus the importance of proper planning. In the end, tracking sales will clearly define who and where people buy your book. Thus, you can adjust your promotional strategy accordingly.

Copyright © 1999 Mark Ortman

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