It's always fun to meet interesting people through the magic of the Internet. Recently I met author Clark Vanderpool on Twitter and I was so impressed by a recent post on his blog that I invited him to share it with my readers. In my Book Marketing Plan Workshop, I stress to authors that "book marketing is a marathon, not a sprint." Clark's article is a great reminder of that point.
Why Book Marketing is Like Gardening
It is the curse of Adam—no, not marketing—that one must toil to produce from the ground. It takes sweat and effort to turn a seed into a fruitful plant. I do see a parallel, however, in what I will simply call gardening and the business of marketing a book. I am not an accomplished gardener. Neither am I especially adept at marketing, though I spent a couple of decades in sales. But I am an author who wants to market my books.
Acknowledging that every analogy will eventually break down, I would like to offer three thoughts about personal marketing as illustrated by a comparison to personal gardening. By way of caveat, I realize that there are those who love the process of gardening and those who love the process of marketing. I approach the matter here from the position I believe most writers share—a reluctance to dirty their hands in either.
1. Work The Dirt.
Producing a fruitful garden starts before the seed is planted. The soil must be prepared by loosening and fertilizing. Even before the book is completed, the author should begin to prepare the way for the time it will face the light of day. The "soil" that surrounds it may be already rich with established recognition, irrigated with channels of contacts, and cleared of any obstacles that would shade it from the required exposure to sunlight. Or the "soil" may be fallow, an unprepared plot of ground previously unplanted. The latter is most often the case for the new author. Regardless, if the "book garden" is to grow, the groundwork must be laid.
I laid out a small garden this year. I had no idea how to begin, so I referred to and relied on experts, those who I knew to have green thumbs, those who had demonstrated success in the past. Armed with that knowledge, I dug in. I tilled and fertilized a small plot in a sunny spot, because that is the required preparation for producing, in this case vegetables. I could have hired someone to do it altogether, but that was not the option I chose for various reasons.
Likewise, as I finished my first book and decided to self-publish, I knew that marketing would fall largely to my efforts. Hiring a professional gardener, I mean marketer, was not a viable option. Still, I turned to professional advice to determine a strategy. I searched and researched blogs, books, self-published authors, and any source I could find on the steps for marketing my own book.(A partial list of sites appears at the end of this article.) There is a wealth of information out there. Most is free, some may require a monetary investment. All require an investment of time and labor—as does any garden.
2. It Takes Time.
I go out to my little garden every day. I stand and look down on the plants. They stand and look back at me (so to speak). I want to say, "What is taking you so long to grow? Can't you pick it up a little? I want to see some fruit." I imagine if they could, they would reply, "Look, Pal, Romaine wasn't built in a day. Keep your shirt on. This is a process. Just keep giving us a drink and taking care of the weeds." It is the same with the "growth" of book sales. There is a tendency to get frustrated with the slow results of marketing. It is rare that sales of a new book, especially from a new author, will jump skyward early on. Even with good preparation, growth requires cultivation. I can no more force the growth of the book sales than I can make the plant grow by grabbing hold and pulling on it. I have to trust to the process.
Pulling on the plant is at best a waste of effort and at worst will yank it up by the roots and kill it. It is the same as over watering or over fertilizing. You can not hope to achieve results by piling on the manure. That is perhaps an indelicate metaphor for the author who repeatedly self-promotes to the same audience in the absence or ignorance of the fundamental process. I'm referring to authors who flood their social media outlets with repeated appeals to, "Buy my book" with little or no effort to establish who they are or why a reader should be interested.
In most cases, the best promotion starts with cultivation of the readers' understanding of who the author is and how the author thinks, which leads the reader to buy the book based as much on that developed interest as on anything else. That author could be more effective by contributing to other authors' blogs or offering a newsletter, etc.
3. Growth Is Typically Not Linear.
As my little garden grows, I have noticed an amazing thing—the more the plants grow, the faster they grow. In layman's terms, plants get their energy to grow from the sun as the sunshine is absorbed by the leaves. It is called photosynthesis. As the leaves grow, the surface that can process the sunshine gets larger, which in turn promotes more growth. Growth promotes growth.
It is often the same in marketing a book. Efforts which yield sales often expand exposure. More exposure tends to generate more opportunity for sales, which generates more exposure. See the parallel? One of the main keys to marketing a book is to take full advantage of the exposure you have so that more exposure will result. Let the sun shine in. The successful gardener/author-marketer has to recognize first of all that he or she is not the sun. Secondly, he or she must recognize that the most effective extended exposure for the book comes from other sources that draw the sunlight to it.
To summarize, marketing a book takes effort that most writers would rather invest in writing, but someone must toil—accept the fact. It is a process that takes preparation, continued cultivation, and patience. Effort invested typically yields expanded results eventually. There are many who have sown and reaped already. Use their experience and expertise to get started. Don't be afraid to hire some of that help if you can.
Each gardener is going to do things a little differently than the next. Some try new things and reap a good harvest. Some are satisfied with tried and true methods. However it is approached, the harvest of the book plot is not unlike the harvest of the garden plot. Here's to fruitful results.
Here are links to just a few of my favorite sites (in addition to The Savvy Book Marketer) that provide help for authors who want to publish and market their work:
About the Author
Clark G. Vanderpool is the author of The Falcon Dirk, a mystery novel available in print and for Kindle. He also enjoys songwriting and cartooning. His blog, Smudged But Legible, is devoted to the art and science of writing and related topics. Follow him on Twitter @CGVanderpool.