What is marketing? Some folks want to believe that marketing is magic pixie dust you just sprinkle on a product and it automagically makes it into a bestseller. It’s not!
Marketing is finding the audience that didn’t yet know they needed your product, and making them aware that it exists.
How’s this work? Let’s work an example with a product that pretty much everyone who reads this agrees they need: toilet paper.
By the time a human in the first world is housebroken, they tend to agree on the need for the product, and all that remains is convincing them that your product is better than the others.
What is better? Now, that’s where people prove to be a wild variety, and so many different markets exist to cater to each perception of better.
For some people, cheap is better, and low price outweighs everything else. For others, comfort (soft! fluffy! has lotion!) is better. Still others want a higher level of functionality (won’t tear when used! / Safe with septic systems!) Some people want to be amused or entertained (crossword puzzles, poetry, or insert politician’s face here printed on the paper.) Others want to feel virtuous (carbon-neutral / recycled pulp!)
All of these markets, though, want a basic level of functionality. You cannot sell them a non-functional product and hit any market at all.
Okay, you say, but stories aren’t functional. So what’s my point?
Well, actually, stories are functional. They function as entertainment. (Unless you’re writing non-fiction, in which case you need to inform in a reasonably entertaining / engaging manner.) Genre fiction functions as an emotional catharsis, same as movies do: allowing their consumers to build up tension and emotions, then release them with a satisfying ending.
And if your story isn’t functional, then no amount of marketing magic is going to be able to make the customer happy with what they got. In fact, no matter how beautiful your cover art, how awesome your cover design, how tight your blurb, or in the case of audiobooks, how wonderful your narrator’s voice, pacing, and delivery…
The heart of it all is the story.
For an example of good production values and good narrator on a story that wasn’t ready to release into the wild, check out this video below. Warning: Class III beverage alert! Do not consume or hold drinkables or breakables while watching!
You see that? Don’t do that. First, make sure you have a story, not a pile of vaguely related events (unless you’re writing literary, and intend to do so.) Then, make sure you have editing, even if it’s from beta readers or another author you swap services with. Then, and only then, should you start working on the marketing.
Two more notes:
1.) Sometimes, the size of the potential audience is huge, like urban fantasy. Sometimes it’s small, like weird west. Sometimes it’s hard to find and reach, like westerns or golden age pulp scifi aficionados. Practically speaking, the reach of your book is limited by the size of your audience. If there are only 4,000 people out there who will like your story, hey, put it out there to find them! But don’t expect to sell 400,000 copies in the first week. Sometimes a story will appeal to a lot more readers than expected, and go viral… but there’s no guarantee!
2.) Speaking of guarantees, the only sure things in this life are death and taxes. Anyone who holds themselves out as a marketer or promoter and promises you will get a certain level of return is lying to you. Back away immediately! I don’t care how confident they sound or you feel – remember that confidence is the “con” in “con man!”
And for happy non-ranty news: Lois McMaster Bujold has a new novella out in the world of the five gods!
Penric and the Shaman in which Penric has grown a bit, and Desdemona…well, hasn’t. But between them, they do just fine at unsettling everybody on their way to the solution!