Writing a novel is an immense undertaking, and before you finish it you think it’s the most daunting thing you’ll ever do. Then you DO finish it, and suddenly you need to figure out how to get people to read it.

Before long you realize you need to learn this strange sorcery called marketing, so you start asking around, reading blog posts, and digesting anything else you think will help. Then you start posting ‘look I wrote a book’ to Facebook, Twitter, and anywhere else you think people might see it.

People throw rotten tomatoes, and you quickly retreat back into your introvert shell. You realize that all the Facebook groups you joined are full of other people like you who are also yelling BUY MY BOOK as loudly as possible.

The method described above is the hunting approach. Your prey are readers, and you are stalking them through the internet wilds. The sad reality is that isn’t very effective. Readers are canny prey. You must get them to come to you.

Brute force isn’t going to work. Spam isn’t going to work. You need to find a way to get your book in front of the right people, and do it in such a way that they are receptive to even hearing about a book.

You need to take the farmer’s approach. A farmer knows that harvesting a crop will take an entire season, and that if they don’t tend to their crop it will wither and die. It isn’t a quick process, but if they are diligent the day will come when they reap a bountiful harvest.

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Plant the Right Crop

sprout-plantA farmer begins by selecting the right soil, and planting the right crop. They don’t haphazardly scatter seeds. They plan. They visualize their crop, and know what they want their harvest to look like before they even get started.

For writers this means writing the correct book. If you’re an unknown author writing poetry, you’re really going to struggle to get traction. No amount of marketing will get people to shell out money for it.

Simply put, there is no market for it. If you want to succeed at this publishing thing it begins with writing to market. I realize that phrase makes many people feel dirty, but that’s largely because most people don’t understand what it means.

Writing to Market doesn’t mean cranking out a Hunger Games clone, or that the only route to success is shifting to romance when you want to write science fiction. It means you need to make sure there’s an audience for what you’re writing, and that you’re writing it
in such a way that your target audience recognizes that this was written for them.
That’s a lengthly topic, but fortunately (shameless plug) I’ve written a book to teach you all about it. Check it out if you’re curious.

For those who want the quick and dirty version about writing to market, here it is. There are dozens of subcategories for every category on Amazon. Let’s say you like science fiction, and you’re considering writing a book about aliens invading. I’ll give you the hunter version, and the farmer version.

Hunter: Write your awesome invasion book. Get a cool cover. Write the best blurb you can. List the book on Amazon. Start marketing, which means alerting social media, maybe buying some Facebook ads, and possibly submitting your book to book sites like ENT or BookBub.

This method could work. People might really like your book. Or, it could totally fail. It’s really a roll of the dice, because the market is a fickle place. Following the hunter version is taking a big risk, and the odds are against you.

Farmer: The farmer goes to Amazon and looks at the Alien Invasion subcategory. They study the books there. What are the covers like? How do the blurbs read? What are the tropes those books are using? What are the heroes / heroines like?

The farmer reads a few best sellers to get a feel for what readers are buying. Then and only then does the farmer try to plot their novel. They’re still writing their kick ass alien invasion story, but they’re also making sure it conforms to what’s currently working in the market.

A farmer’s work begins before the first word of the novel is written. Farmers are all about preparation. Hunters might find game, or they might come home empty handed. They trust to luck, hoping that they’ll find game in the jungle.

 

All-Writing-Books

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Plant Many Seeds

4588169-Little-lettuce-sprouts-brown-field-green-vegetable-outbreaks-perspective-Stock-PhotoFarmers know that only a portion of the seeds they plant will bear fruit. Some will wither. Others will get parasites. So they plant a lot of seeds. They water all of them, but they focus on the ones that sprout.

You need to do the same thing. A full 75% of the things I try in marketing fail miserably. They produce no results, and in some cases have cost me many hundreds of wasted dollars. But you know what? 25% do work. They sprout, and the instant I see which ones do I know where to focus my energy.

When I launched No Such Thing As Werewolves I spent over a thousand dollars on paid advertising. I only generated about $100 in sales, and because I didn’t know what a Kindle Countdown Deal was I only received half the royalty I’d have otherwise gotten.

At the same time I started talking about the book on a few gaming forums where I was a regular poster. I was simply telling friends, because I was proud of what I’d done. I wasn’t trying to sell books. To my surprise, I started selling books. A lot of books. People knew that I was a genuine, active, and authentic gamer geek. Just like them. So they wanted to support me.

So how does this relate to our alien invasion example about? I’ll give you both approaches.

Hunter: The hunter does an immediate media blitz when the book launches. They post ‘hey my book is out’ on Reddit, Facebook, and everywhere else they can think of. This all happens over the course of a few days.

They end up with a whole lot of down votes, some angry comments, and a few people unfollowing them. They might get a sale or two, but rarely more.

Farmer: The farmer puts their new book into their signature on a couple forums. They may announce it once to show off their snazzy new cover. They become more active in places where people might like their book, like the /r/scifi subreddit over on Reddit.

The farmer approaches some of their favorite science fiction podcasts asking if they can be a guest. They network with other authors in their genre, and study how the successful ones behave. They give of their time, knowing that eventually those favors will present opportunities.

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Tend Your Crop

070206_Sheung-Shui_Ying-Pun_Farmer-in-Field_2A farmer doesn’t plant his crop, then show up three months later to harvest. The farming approaches requires slow, steady work to succeed. It requires deliberate planning. That farmer is out there every day doing the work needed to get his crop to grow.

You need to do the same. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Every day you should be doing something to help grow your brand. That can be a blog post, contributing to forums in your genre, networking with other authors, or a dozen other activities.

The key is consistency. Work continuously to strengthen your brand. You don’t need to do a massive amount of promotion on any given day, and in fact it’s a good idea NOT to do that.

A better approach is doing one small thing, even if that small thing isn’t directly related to your books. When a farmer kills aphids it won’t immediately generate tomatoes, but it will help ensure that months down the road he has a bountiful harvest.

I talk about my love of fantasy books on the Fantasy subreddit all the time. Not because I want to sell books, but because I love fantasy and was doing it long before I started publishing. This has generated quite a few sales, because every one of my posts has ‘writer Chris Fox’ written next to it.

I’m never consciously trying to sell books when I post, but that daily activity sells them anyway.

Hunter: The hunter isn’t concerned with the long term health of their crop. They want sales, and they’ll do whatever they think will achieve them. They’ll spam Twitter, Facebook, and any other channel they can to get eyes on their book. This only ends up pissing people off.

Farmer: The farmer contributes. They become active in a lot of communities where people might be interested in their work, but they don’t actively push that work. Over time people learn about it, and they embrace that person, because they’re an authentic part of the community.

 

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The Power of Orchards

c339cabeaf97fb27cabeb8e9c79b1022_XLOrchards take years to grow before you see your first fruit. But once you have grown that orchard, the trees will continue to flower year after year. The same is true of many of the basic marketing tactics you should employ.

Articles like this are a great example. I wrote one a while back about how writers can use gamification to increase their word count. People loved it, and it generated a ton of immediate traffic. It will live on my blog for years, and contains a link to at least two of my books. People still share it, and periodically I may trot it out again on social media. I’ll continue to see traffic as a result, and the more articles I write, the more residual traffic I see.

This will work for fiction too. Let’s say you write epic fantasy. Presumably, you also love to read it. Why not make a top 20 favorite fantasy novel post? Or review Jim Butcher’s latest work? Every time you write an article that potential readers might stumble across you’ve planted another tree.

Over time you’ll grow an orchard, and see a slow but steady flow of the right kind of traffic to your site. Note that you can’t just plant anything for this to work. If your audience loves apples, then you’d better be planting apple trees.

Right writing is key. Know your market.

Hunters: This should sound familiar now. The hunter will keep spamming the same channels. They may add a few new channels, but it won’t matter because saying buy my book over and over is a sure fire way to make sure no one buys your book.

Farmers: Farmers make sure to create content that will interest their target audience. This could be free short stories that tie into their novels, or articles that link to other authors their fans might enjoy. They’re always providing value.

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Conclusions

Marketing is a slow, steady process. And that’s okay. If you keep experimenting, if you keep growing your brand, then eventually you’ll reap the rewards. It requires patience. It requires diligence. Writing is hard, and marketing is even harder.

So plant a lot of seeds. Water them daily. Stick with it, farmer, and your harvest will come!

 

Marketing is Farming, Not Hunting

Comments

  • This was very informative. I’ve been working on a marketing plan for my upcoming book, but I may tweek some things now. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Sure thing! If you liked this you might consider checking out the marketing principles series under For Writers. There’s more info there aimed at authors trying to market =)

      Reply
  • Reblogged this on firefly465 and commented:
    A wonderful steady approach to marketing your book, very good.

    Reply
  • I loved this thank you. I do best with visual aids and the farmer v the hunter helped me a lot to understand what has up till now been a nightmare for me to understand. I am a fantasy/horror geek have been since yadda yadda and I`m loving the advice you have posted here. Thank you once again.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Adele! When I thought of it this way the whole marketing thing sort of came together. Glad you find it useful =D

      Reply
  • I really like the analogy of farming and hunting, and long term versus short term thinking. Particularly when it comes to the ‘buy my book’ spam, which does a disservice to everyone.
    Btw, I saw your post on the Writer’s Cafe about going full time. Congratulations! I already snapped up both of your writing books and pre-ordered the new one, and I’m really looking forward to reading it. Thank you.

    Reply
  • I really like the analogy of farming and hunting, and long term versus short term thinking. Particularly when it comes to the ‘buy my book’ spam, which does a disservice to everyone.
    Btw, I just saw your post on the Writer’s Cafe about going full time. Congratulations! I already snapped up both your writing books and pre-ordered the new one and I’m really looking forward to reading it. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Thanks! I’m more than a little terrified about going full time, but I’m going to give it my best shot =)

      Reply
      • It’s going to be interesting to see how being full time improves your production schedule. Thank you for documenting everything, it’s hugely inspiring.
        Do you have more non-fiction books planned? And have you considered making a Udemy course or something similar for visual learners? 🙂

        Reply
    • To answer your question below, I do have more non-fiction books planned. I have at least three more in mind this year =)

      Quite a few people have asked me to put together a course, and I’m considering it. Now that I’m full time I might be able to devote some time to do that. If I do, I’ll make sure to include you in testing!

      Reply
      • That’s excellent news, Chris. And I’d be more than happy to help with testing and supporting in any way I can. Thank you 🙂

        Reply
      • Excellent article and great news about the course, Chris. I’m anticipating the new Write To Market book!

        Reply
        • Thanks, Buddy! I’ll announce it here as soon as the book goes live.

          Reply
  • Reblogged this on YOURS IN STORYTELLING… and commented:
    I’m a farmer as well. I’ve never hunted in my life, although I did help drag a bear out of the woods after my stepdad had shot it. Hey, it was good eating.

    Reply
  • Reblogged this on Pearls Before Swine and commented:
    Very informative post. I love the Farming analogy. Most excellent article.

    Reply
  • Excellent post – thanks!

    Reply
    • My pleasure. I have a few more coming in weeks to come =)

      Reply
  • Building and contributing to a community has definitely helped me in my non-fiction writing. Just as you say, providing value (in my case through free content) to people who are also my target book buyers, helps build trust and a loyal fan base. It probably also taps into the law of reciprocity, but I think readers are savvy enough to realise if you’re doing something only because you have an ulterior sales purpose. If you genuinely care, it shows through..

    Reply
    • It’s amazing how contributing and helping others ultimately rewards us. =)

      Reply
  • Great post and the analogy is spot on. Living in a semi-rural community, I see how hard it is to farm. Writing is no different. Can’t wait to read the book.

    Reply
    • Thanks, Adam! I also agree that we need to link up soon.

      Reply
  • Super post, Chris. I’m going to take this to heart. I’ve tried the hunter method and all I ever got out of it was crickets and a bad feeling inside, like I was doing something that didn’t feel right to me. I’m going to focus more on contributing and getting involved, which I must prefer to getting on the rooftop and shouting look at me!

    Reply
  • Very positive article. I will add that writing good books that readers enjoy reading is also farming. You provide value.
    I’m only wondering about Chris Fox writer next to your Reddit account. Did you manually do it? I know most people don’t hand out on Reddit. Most prefer one or two places. But Reddit has a lot of potential.

    Reply
    • Reddit only has potential if you already hang out there and are a real part of the community. If you try to use it for self-promotion, they’ll chase you out with pitch forks. But they’re also really loyal to their own.

      You get the tag by doing an AMA (ask me anything) on the fantasy subreddit. To do one of those you need to approved by the moderators, and a lot of people ask. If you’re not part of the community, it’s unlikely they’ll allow you to do one.

      If you want to investigate Reddit I’d find the genre you like to write, and see where that’s represented. There’s subs for everything. Try posting and see if you enjoy it. If you do, then try to become an active part of the community.

      Reply
  • Very good post. Would have added that email list is one of the main tools for farming but otherwise, very good post.

    Reply
    • I couldn’t agree more about mailing lists. They’re the lifeblood of long term success for any author.

      Reply

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