Ever wondered this? Sometimes it's easier to know what a marketing plan isn't. A marketing plan is not a SALES plan. A sales plan is a plan for maximizing revenue and closing deals. Sales is what happens when a customer takes a book to the cash register of a local bookstore and hands over his or her credit card. Sales is getting said bookstore, novelty shop, big box chain, book club, etc., to stock/list your title. Marketing is also not PUBLICITY efforts, which you might consider the attention-grabbing actions that require payment, such as placing ads in teen magazines (virtual or paper) and sometimes producing professional book trailers or other promo materials (note: publicists also arrange for radio/tv appearances but let's assume you're NOT Chris Coifer or Tyra Banks, 'kay?). YOU (the book author, exceptions noted in intro, above) can rarely impact point-of-sale. And, if you're like me, you have no personal publicity budget. BUT you can make a strong contribution to marketing, because...
MARKETING is a collection of "cost-free" (as in dollar cost, not time and effort) things done to connect with prospective book buyers. Marketing is reaching out, persuading, enticing...
This is merely a working definition because, as in many industries, children's and YA book publishers' trade marketing plans have significant overlap with publicity and educational marketing.
For many titles, the marketing plan is a pro-forma document including such generic phrases as "online promotion & social media outreach" and "ARC distribution and blogger outreach." Sometimes, there's no actual written plan at all. You can ask (nicely) to see your in-house marketing plan but don't freak if one isn't forthcoming. This is nobody's fault. Big-name authors and highly anticipated novels will get the most attention in-house and everywhere else. But there's a bright lining to this cloud: The more bland your in-house marketing plan, the lower the sales expectations likely are for your novel. You have more opportunity for small victories and less risk of flaming out. Embrace the very typical scenario that you're getting low-level marketing attention, and that much of the marketing effort will fall to you (e.g., that "blogger outreach"? - your job!).
But you can still help yourself along. Keep in mind that you are a WRITER, not a marketing professional (some exceptions surely apply) and that you probably have a limited amount of time to support your publisher's marketing efforts. Here are some ways to be efficient and a solid team player. First...
IDENTIFY YOUR MARKET
Take a sober step back from your beloved manuscript and ask yourself: WHO WILL WANT TO
READ THIS BOOK? WHO WILL LIKE THIS BOOK? More specifically, answer these questions:
1. WHO are three other authors who I believe have similar readership? And how are their books marketed?
2. HOW might I draw the narrowest parameter around my "ideal" reader (e.g., age 7-9; girl; horse-lover; suburbanite - OR - age 16-20; girl; educated; sexually curious; child of divorce). And, are there magazines, websites, blogs, specialty stores, clubs, etc., that speak to this same reader?
3. DOES my book have more than one type of reader? If so, repeat exercises A & B. This may especially be the case with crossover titles.
4. WHO buys books for my ideal reader (parents, friends, readers themselves, online or in-store)?
5. DOES this book have CLASSROOM POTENTIAL (go learn about the Common Core Standards and write 2-3 bullet points showing any connections).
That's a lot of work, but it is important for a writer to answer these questions for him/herself. they are the equivalent of your "elevator pitch" for the next leg of the author journey. Whether or not you already have a virtual platform or other marketing springboard, you are now becoming a smart advocate for your book, ready to jump in and help your publisher draw eyes to your lovely cover. You are in a position to ask your publisher for help because you have done some serious work to identify your market and are not wasting time asking for broad, expensive help that will really only be given to proven superstars and lead titles.
WHEN SHOULD YOU ASK YOURSELF THESE QUESTIONS? As soon as possible after you've finished revising the ms (don't tweak the ms for marketing--very bad idea).
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO (SPECIFICALLY) WITH THE ANSWERS?
Keep your answers and get ready for next Monday's worksheet/questionnaire: Identifying the Resources You Already Have...