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  • Writer's pictureElaine Marie Carnegie

How Not to Market a Novel

Publishing Without a Plan by D. A. Ratliff

Please welcome D. A. Ratliff to the Writers Journey Blog this week with her take on the Marketing Issue!

How Not to Market a Novel

Publishing Without a Plan

I have always wanted to write a novel.

So, I wrote a novel, or two or three.

I never published—until now.

The one thing I missed along the way was marketing the book.

As an adult, I began writing my first novel when I convinced myself I had the time. I had stars in my eyes. I would write what I hoped was a good story, find an agent, and sign a book deal with a publishing house.

I was naive.

The realities of publishing and how independent publishing had changed the marketplace surprised me. The difficulty in acquiring an agent, much less a contract with a traditional publisher, drove many authors into the indie market, some successfully and some not. The independent author became writer, publisher, and marketing manager with the click of a mouse and, sometimes, an editor and cover designer too—a lot of responsibility for someone who only wants to write.

Editing and cover design can be contracted depending on the writer’s budget, as can book promotion. The question is, at what cost? With high competition for readers, it is difficult for many writers to recoup their investment and decide when they stop spending money to prepare a book for publication.

In today’s publishing world, the brutal truth is that traditional publishers provide only minimum marketing efforts unless you are a best-selling author. Fortunately, many resources provide information on how to market your book.

So, what do we do?

Although I followed my dream and wrote a few novels, life and other responsibilities always got in the way of taking the time to publish. I had done all the research, written articles about marketing, and had marketing responsibilities in former jobs, but when it came to my first novel, I did little. The intent was there, but the execution was lacking.

Faced with that fact, I decided to publish anyway. I haven’t embarked on a marketing campaign, but frankly, I am at a point where I want to publish. I am running out of excuses.

I am fortunate to have some graphics experience and have made book covers for anthology collections.

I am also lucky to have friends who are editors. My need to pay for these services is minimal, which leaves me some financial leeway to pay for advertising.

However, with this first novel, I will forgo paid advertising and promote only on the platforms where I have a presence. I was working diligently to improve my following on my blog and was quite satisfied with the numbers. Then my blog crashed, and due to an oversight on my part, I could not retrieve my account. (a word to the wise, update your phone number when it changes). In an instant, I lost all the hard work I had done and a considerable number of followers.

The thing is, how much do followers matter? In many instances, fellow authors follow their peers for mutual support. Not all will be fans of our novels’ genres and may not be potential readers. While our fellow authors give support, it might not always be by purchasing our books.

I could enter into a discussion of the many avenues available for marketing—newsletters, email campaigns, advertising on Facebook, Amazon, free giveaways of eBooks, the list is endless. However, that would be pointless since I am not doing any of the above for this first novel. While the efforts are essential, to what extent do they work?

One author I know, who writes in a niche market, began her marketing efforts a year before publishing her first book. Another author markets through newsletters and advertising, and both are successful. Yet, many marketing stories are unsuccessful despite engaging in the exact activities.

Building an email list can be daunting. While there are many ways to acquire email addresses, it is often a slow and tedious process, and statistics show that the return on any marketing effort is in the twenty percent range. The email list needs to be extensive to be effective, and that takes time and effort to build and money if choosing to purchase an email list.

Contacting influencers and potential reviewers feels a bit like selling your soul. While reviews are akin to gold for an author, seeking them always feels like pandering. Advertising can be effective, but to be so must be planned for the long-term, which can become expensive and often ineffective.

So, what works?

I wish I knew, and I imagine I am not alone in the struggle.

My tardiness in publishing is my fault. Being responsible for a large writing group and providing content to keep members interested and informed as well as the group publishing several member anthologies certainly stood in my way—but only because I let it. Life issues often interfere as well, but the fact is, I could have taken the time to publish, and I did not.

I had envisioned a roll-out with a book launch, press releases, advertising, and book signings. Despite marketing experience during my professional career, I did not anticipate the time and expense involved in marketing a book. Careful planning is possible, but it isn’t easy to manufacture time. At least, we tell ourselves that, but like money, we can budget time.

Regardless, I am about to publish my first novel and have done nothing. That’s a bit of a misnomer. I have done a few things. I have been promoting the upcoming release on my blog, author page, and Instagram, but my efforts are minimal.

What I do know is that I must start somewhere. So, I chose to publish now and not wait any longer. And with that begins my marketing plan for the next book.

I watched one of my favorite online writing coaches recently as she discussed writing a series or stand-alone novels. One thing she said that stuck out to me is that a published body of work was often an excellent marketing tool. If you have several books available for a reader to read, chances are if they like one of your books, they will read the others. Sounds like a good marketing plan to me!

In a few weeks, I will self-publish, and that novel will be part of my marketing strategy for the next book. D. A. Ratliff, author of “‘insert title,” has a ring of credibility and might help market my second book. In addition, I might start a tad earlier on that promotion effort.

I have no delusions of grandeur when it comes to success. While I am proud of the finished product, I am under no illusion that any novel or any author will become successful. I choose to take satisfaction in the process and hope someone will enjoy reading it.

The moral of this story is do not do what I have done and neglect the things you can do to improve your success. While we have no guarantees, planning for success is much better than having no plan.


Bio: D. A. Ratliff is a Southerner with saltwater in her veins and a love of writing. A career in science and human resources allowed her to write policies/procedures and training manuals, articles, and newsletters, but her lifelong love of mystery novels beckoned. Deborah began writing mysteries, and her first novel, Crescent City Lies,will be published in 2022, with a second novel, One of Those Days, to follow. Deborah has published short stories in numerous anthologies. She regularly contributes articles on writing to the blog Writers Unite! and serves as an administrator on the Facebook writing site, Writers Unite! which has 75,000+ members from around the globe.

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