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In this article, we’re going to discuss marketing fundamentals. The five Ps of marketing have remained constant from industry to industry throughout the decades.

Just as a basketball coach would run drills to make sure his team has sharp dribbling and passing skills, we coach authors on marketing fundamentals so that in the heat of the publishing game, you’ll default to sound marketing practices.

In the 1960s, Jerome McCarthy came up with the four Ps of marketing, but we’re going to add one. When we’re done, you’ll have a broad understanding of the marketing principles college students learn at business school.

The 5 Ps of Marketing

1) Product (Book)

Your product is your book, and it’s the most important of the five Ps. 

Good marketing helps a bad product fail faster. David Ogilvy said, “Great advertising will cause the inevitable to happen faster.” If you have a great book, good advertising will raise awareness for your book. If it’s a bad book, good advertising will drive people to it in droves, and they’ll quickly discover how bad it is, and your product will die.

Success always comes back to whether you’ve written a good book. 

In the publishing industry, we don’t measure “good” by whether or not your English teacher would be proud of you. We measure a good book by whether it is the kind of book your target reader wants to buy and read.

Product Life Cycle

Every product has a life cycle. This is particularly true for fiction. When your book is released, people are excited to read it, but that window of excitement is short. 

At a traditional publisher, the life cycle of a new book is 30 days. If the book does not sell well in the first 30 days, the publisher will move on to the next book. 

That’s why old fiction does not generally sell well. People are willing to pay a premium to read a new book their friends are also reading. A short trip to your discount book store will show you shelf after shelf of $1.00 books that are only a few years old.

Sometimes authors continue to market a book long after its life cycle is over. The best way to revive sales of an older book is to move on and write another book.

There are rare exceptions, but you are probably not the exception.

Product Mix

Product consistency is key. You want a focused brand with books that complement each other. In publishing, product consistency means writing in one genre. The best way to have product consistency in fiction is to write a series of books. Book #1 helps sell Book #2 and vice versa.

Think of it this way. An Italian restaurant doesn’t serve sushi. You’d be mad if you went to an Italian restaurant for great lasagna, but sushi was on the menu when you arrived. On the other hand, you’d be delighted if you went for lasagna but discovered a new signature dish of spaghetti and meatballs.

When you write in four different genres, people don’t know who you are, and they don’t know what to expect. Inconsistency angers people and causes you to lose customers. Consistency delights those same customers.

The key to success is not to mix genres.

2) Price

All prices are relative. A good deal is all about how a book is priced compared to other books. 

When you consider that three $20 books could teach you as much as a $1,500 college course, those three books are an absolute bargain. 

On the other hand, if you’re used to reading books for free, a $20 book sounds expensive. Many book promotion sites offer ebooks for free. Compared to free, everything is expensive.

Books are much cheaper than movies if you measure the per-hour-of-entertainment cost. You might watch a two-hour movie for $6.00 per hour of entertainment, but you can read a novel for $1.00 per hour of entertainment. 

Books used to be priced according to what it cost to produce the book. Hardcovers with more pages were more expensive, and paperbacks with fewer pages were less. 

Now the price of a book communicates the quality of the book. Big-name authors can sell ebooks for $10.00, whereas lesser-known authors usually need to price their books lower. 

Your readers evaluate your price by comparing it to other books they buy. Your book’s price will be affected by the price of competing books. 

There is no magic price point we can give you, but when people spend as little as $1.00 on a book, they’ll be more likely to read it. Free books tend to be downloaded and forgotten.

Price communicates value. If you want people to believe in your book, ask them to spend money on it. 

Remember to consider your product mix while choosing your price. It may make sense to offer the first book in a series for free in order to suck people into buying the later books in the series at full price. 

3) Promotion

When most people think about marketing, they think about promotion. All advertising is marketing, but not all marketing is advertising. All ham is pork, but not all pork is ham.

Promotion is how you tell potential readers about your book. If your product is a fire, think of your promotional efforts as the embers that float through the air and bring fire to other places. 

Promotion always costs either time or money and often both. If you are self-publishing, you need to set aside money for promotion. Product and price alone will not make your book a success. You need to budget time and money for promotion.

You can budget some time to find a news hook for your book. Write a press release that connects your book to a recent piece of news, and you’ll likely get some free PR.

Set aside some money for your promotion. Learn about your promotion options and the return those options typically yield. You may have to research whether $5,000 is better spent on building a website, buying advertising, or hiring a PR firm. 

You will find promotional tools for every budget. Determining your promotion budget ahead of time will help you decide which tools to use. Some require time. Others require money. 

If you’re cash-rich and time-poor, you’ll spend money paying others to help you. If you’re time-rich and cash-poor, you’ll spend time learning to do things yourself for free.

Hiring a sales team for your book is also part of promotion.

4) Place

Place tells people where they can buy your book. 

People need to know where they can buy your book, and once they get there, it must be easy to buy. If people have to jump through hoops to buy your book, they will be less likely to purchase it. 

The airport bookstore is the gold standard for placement. When a traveler’s flight gets canceled, and they’re tired of scrolling or watching TV, they’ll visit a bookstore with a high intent to buy. Even if they don’t buy a physical copy at the airport, they may see a title that piques their interest and download it to their ereader. 

If an airport bookstore carries your book, it’s a great place to host a book signing.

Independent authors can be placed in airport bookstores, but you’ll need a sales team to help you go through the right channels.

5) Purple Cow

A few years ago, marketing guru Seth Godin suggested that a fifth “P” be added to the traditional list of four. He called it “Purple Cow.”

What do you do if you’re driving down the road and you see a purple cow? You remark, “Wow! There’s a purple cow!” A brown cow wouldn’t elicit the same response.

“Purple cow” is another way of saying that you need to be remarkable. If a book is remarkable, it’s worth talking about. When a group of people remarks about your book online, it starts a “buzz.”

A book can be remarkably

  • Helpful
  • Funny
  • Controversial
  • Bad 

Ask yourself how your book differs from other books. What would make people remark about it?

One of the best ways to be remarkable is to be controversial. When authors try to write for their critics and try not to offend, they are essentially painting all their purple cows brown.

The purple cow effect determines whether your book “goes viral.” Most books are not purple cows.

When you understand the five Ps of marketing, you’ll better understand why we make certain recommendations for your book, and you’ll be off to a great start with all your marketing efforts. 

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