Elements of a Fiction Book Proposal: Your Marketing Plan

The fourth part of your fiction book proposal is your marketing plan: what concrete steps can you take to market and publicize your own book?

To recap, a great fiction book proposal essentially breaks down into five elements:

  1. About Your Book and the Target Market (What can you do for us?).
  2. Your “Comparables” (What’s your niche?).
  3. Your Biography (Who are you and why should we care?).
  4. Marketing and Publicity (How can you help me to help you?)
  5. Sample Pages

Today, we’re going to talk about how to prepare a marketing and publicity plan for your fiction book proposal. This is the meat and potatoes of your fiction book proposal, so buckle up, buttercup.

Your Marketing and Publicity Plan

This part of a fiction book proposal should outline your ability to promote your novel, and a plan to do so.

For example:

  • What is the size of your current email list, phone/fax list, and physical mailing address list (if you have them)?
  • Are you active on social media (if so, how many friends/followers do you have)?
  • Do you have a website and/or blog?
  • Do you have lecture, seminar, or workshop experience?
  • Do you have publicity or public relations experience?
  • Do you have a business that will help promote your book?
  • Do you have any reviews, blurbs, or testimonials for your book?
  • Do you have a list of people that you believe might give you testimonials, or otherwise help you promote your novel?

The question you are answering in the agent’s/publisher’s mind is: What can you specifically do to market and promote the book?

Never discuss what you hope to do; after all, if wishes were fishes, we’d all have dinner. Only discuss what you can and will do (without publisher assistance), given your current resources.

Many people write their marketing plan in extremely tentative fashion, talking about things they are “willing” to do if asked. This is deadly language. Avoid it. Instead, you need to be confident, firm, and direct about everything that’s going to happen with or without the publisher’s help. Make it concrete, realistic, and attach numbers to everything.

  • Weak: I plan to register a domain and start a blog for my book.
  • Strong: Within 6 months of launch, my blog on [book topic] already attracts 5,000 unique visits per month.
  • Weak: I plan to contact bloggers for guest blogging opportunities.
  • Strong: I have also guest blogged every month for the past year to reach another 250,000 visitors, at sites such as [include 2-3 examples of most well-known blogs]. I have invitations to return on each site, plus I’ve made contact with 10 other bloggers for future guest posts.
  • Weak: I plan to contact conferences and speak on [book topic].
  • Strong: I am in contact with organizers at XYZ conferences, and have spoken at 3 events within the past year reaching 5,000 people in my target audience.

The secret of a marketing plan isn’t the number of ideas you have for marketing, or how many things you are willing to do, but how many solid connections you have—the ones that are already working for you—and how many readers you NOW reach through today’s efforts. You need to show that your ideas are not just pie in the sky, but real action steps that will lead to concrete results and a connection to an existing readership.

If I already have diddly-ump-million followers, what do I need an agent/publisher for?

This is a question I’ve heard from a number of self-published authors who, upon reaching out to agents and publishers, were told that the agent/publisher only considers new authors with a certain base minimum of followers (usually in the tens or hundreds of thousands).

It’s a fair question. If you already have a following that makes you a living, you clearly don’t need an agent or publisher to reach those followers. And if the number of followers required is ridiculously high, it may be that you’ve approached an unethical agent or vanity-publisher who isn’t going to pump any of their own money into your marketing efforts, and who intends to poach your friends and followers for their own mailing lists. If that’s the case, run hard and fast in the other direction.

But if you don’t have a following that makes you a living, or you have higher aspirations for world-domination, the right agent or publisher can still do a lot for you, even if you already have an impressive list of your own.

  • The right agent or publisher can multiply your own list by bringing their own resources to bear to increase your reach.
  • The right agent or publisher can get you in touch with influence-marketers who work with them: other, better-selling, more well-known authors than yourself; celebrities; academics; et al. These influencers can provide testimonials for your book, to add the weight of their authority to your marketing efforts, and they can multiply your list again by reaching out to their own followers.
  • The right agent or publisher can get your book into markets and media to which you don’t have already have access, including popular radio and TV shows, podcasts, vlogs, sales of foreign translation and movie rights, and wider distribution channels.

So an agent/publisher who only wants to work with you if you’re already a big fish is (if ethical) simply not interested in working with little fish. Don’t take it personally, and don’t assume that you can do it all for yourself just because you have a list of that size or bigger.

Marketing is NOT Beneath You, Unless You Enjoy Starvation

I’ve said this in a previous post, but it bears repeating here, because many authors are ambivalent at best about their own marketing, and outright opposed at worst.

The most important thing about a fiction book proposal is the writing itself. Your sample chapters will really have to shine before you’ll capture an agent’s or editor’s attention.

So that’s the good news for the high-falutin’ “I am an artiste!” types who think they’re too good to dirty their hands with real work.

But here comes the bad news:

Nearly as important as the story itself is the marketing aspect. Much of your proposal isn’t about the book at all, but about how you can help market your own book.

The publisher will invest money in the production and design, distribution and sales of your book, so it’s in their own best interest to also invest in the marketing of your book, and yes, you should be very wary about signing with a publisher who offers no marketing support of their own.

But right now, as the agent/publisher looks over your fiction book proposal, they haven’t made that investment yet, and they might not unless you can show them that a market already exists, who that market is, why that market will be interested in buying your book, and what you can do to help your potential agent/publisher (and yourself).

Also, keep in mind that, as an author, you work for a company called “Me.” Even if a global traditional Random-Penguin publishing giant picks up your title, they’ll expect you to be available for book signings, public appearances, and other marketing functions.

And it behooves you to make those appearances, because the more connected the reader feels to you as a person, the more likely they are to buy your book. And the next one. And the one after that.

If you think you’re “too good” for this sort of marketing, keep in mind that J.K. Rowling still shows up for movie premieres and book signings for her Harry Potter books, as well as her other projects.

What Goes Into a Marketing Plan?

A proper, holistic book marketing plan includes both traditional and online media advertising, marketing, and promotion. The purpose of a marketing plan is to spread the word about yourself and your upcoming new book, and to give potential readers (aka, customers) access to a point of sale where they can purchase the book ahead of, on, and after the launch date.

Savvy authors who want to get covered in traditional and online media must present themselves as professionally as corporations do, creating and maintaining a viable online newsroom to be relevant to today’s media.

Book marketing plans outline the overall book sales strategy, covering items such as these:

  • Your goals for the book
  • Description of your book and competing products
  • How your book will be packaged, priced, and distributed
  • Description of your primary and secondary target audiences
  • Characteristics, needs and wants of the target audiences
  • How you will reach your target audiences and promote to them

A book promotion plan is part of the marketing plan for a book, and it goes into detail about how to reach the target audiences. A comprehensive book promotion plan would include timelines and budgets.

There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all book marketing plan. The best marketing plan for your book will depend on the type of book you’re selling, the audience, your budget and time constraints, and your skills and interests.

Traditional Book Marketing

The traditional book market has changed considerably over the years, and sometimes, the old ways are the best ways.

Traditional book marketing activities include some or all of the following:

  • Testimonials and endorsements
  • Book reviews
  • News releases
  • Radio and TV talk shows
  • Book signings
  • Award programs
  • Speaking
  • Advertising and direct mail
  • Trade-shows, book fairs and festivals
  • Book clubs

Social Media Marketing

A recent 2017 BookBaby survey of self-published authors (“Revealed: The Methods of Successful Independent Authors 2017“) shows that 59% of self-published authors either “agreed” or “strongly agreed” that maintaining a Facebook author or book page is a great way to reach and interact with readers and promote an author brand.

This is not news to the agents and traditional publishers you’re targeting with your fiction book proposal. They’ve been active on social media as well, promoting both their own products and the authors who produce them. So all authors should consider some or all of the following online social media marketing activities as they prepare their fiction book proposal:

  • Author blog and website
  • Ezines and email marketing
  • Freemiums
  • Relationship marketing
  • Affiliate programs and joint ventures
  • Article marketing
  • Social networking and social media
  • Amazon promotions
  • Virtual book tours
  • Bestseller campaigns
  • Audio and video promotions
  • Contests
  • Online advertising

Short- and Long-Term Marketing

The best book marketing blueprints develop and implement a strategic plan that includes both short-term and long-term strategies in order to succeed.

Short-term marketing strategies are those that bring you a temporary boost in traffic. Although these techniques are very important to your over-all plan, they are only a temporary traffic source and must not be solely relied upon.

Short-term marketing strategies include:

  • purchasing advertising
  • forums/discussion boards
  • search engines

Long term marketing strategies are those that bring you a steady stream of targeted traffic over time. These strategies will continue to produce results even years down the road.

Long term marketing strategies include:

  • Opt-in List (Ezine)
  • Free Trial
  • Articles

By creating and implementing a balanced marketing strategy, using both short-term and long-term strategies, you will increase your sales considerably.

Advanced Reader Copies

As a marketing tool, publishers have provided free copies of new titles to booksellers, journalists and even celebrities since time-out-of-mind.

Such books are variously referred to as readers editions, an advance copy, an advance reading copy, ARC or ARE. It’s the book privately released by its publisher before the book is printed for mass distribution.

Readers editions generally lack the final dust jacket, formatting or binding of the finished product; the text of an advance edition may also differ slightly from the market book, released after comments are received from the reading group, or late errors are found in the manuscript. When a celebrity reader or journalist gives an endorsement, that’s added to the dust-cover and other promotional items.

Reader books are normally distributed three and six months before the book is officially released to reviewers, bookstores, magazines, and (in some cases) libraries.

Like coins or stamps with errors, book collectors seek readers editions as being the “real” book, possibly containing text, errors or typos that add value.

On rare occasions (for instance, the publication of an eagerly-awaited or controversial book), a publisher may require the recipients of advance copies to sign a confidentiality of content agreement. However, in most cases the sheer number of ARCs produced and distributed makes that impractical. A typical genre publisher may create 5,000 ARCs for a new book by a moderately popular writer.

Publishers also produce uncorrected bound proofs, also known as galley proofs, in advance of publication. Galley proofs were historically only used in the editing and proof-reading process, but publishers have recently begun to use them as ARCs. These galley proofs may have bindings and illustrations similar to that of the final copy, unlike old-style galley proofs which were usually bound in plain paper covers and without illustrations.

Galley proofs differ from ARCs in that ARCs are printed in full color and in the same format as the published book, while galley proofs are generally printed in black and white and are significantly larger in size than the market book. Publishers who produce their galley proofs in electronic form do not use them as ARCs.

In today’s digital world, these ARCs may also be distributed electronically, in PDF or other digital formats, which greatly reduces the cost of ARC production and distribution.

Bringing It All Together

A marketing plan for your fiction book proposal is very much like the business plan for a small business. If you were opening a hair-and-nail salon, you’d use many (if not all) of these same marketing strategies. As such, business planning software such as Business Plan Pro from Palo Alto Software can be very effective in helping you outline and fill in the book marketing plan for your fiction book proposal.

Below is a sample book marketing plan outline for your proposal, to give you some ideas of what to include in the marketing plan for your book.

  1. Goals – why did you write this book, what are you trying to accomplish, what are your sales goals
  2. Author Platform – qualifications, prior media experience, speaking skills, social networks, blog readership
  3. Sales Channels – distributors, wholesalers, retail bookstores, online bookstores, direct sales, bulk sales, other channels
  4. Finance – pricing, re-seller discounts, payment methods, order processing
  5. Additional Revenue Sources – spin-off products, affiliate products, advertising, sponsorships
  6. Online book promotion
  7. Traditional book promotion

Many of these pieces you’ll have to make up for yourself, based on best-guesses and solid research, but the more detail you can add into your marketing plan, the more likely you are to impress your potential agent/publisher with your professionalism, even if your actual numbers are pie-in-the-sky dreams rather than actual hard figures.

And congratulations! You’re almost done preparing your fiction book proposal! The only thing you need now is your writing sample, and we’ll talk more about that next week!

Until then, write on!


Hedge King in Winter, by Michael E. Dellert











Michael Dellert is an award-winning writer, editor, publishing consultant, and writing coach with a publishing career spanning 18 years. He is currently working as an independent freelancer. He lives in the Greater New York City area.

Posted in The Business of Writing, Writing Life

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The Author
Michael Dellert is an award-winning writer, editor, publishing consultant, and writing coach with a publishing career spanning 18 years. He is currently working as an independent freelancer. He lives in the Greater New York City area.
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