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Aggressive Growth (Branding/Discoverability)

12 August 2017

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

Here’s the surprising post. Many of you who read this blog regularly probably think that I’m opposed to major marketing campaigns. I’m not. I’m opposed to them when they’re done incorrectly.

What’s incorrectly?

Pretty much everything you see from traditional publishing to most indies. You have to look outside of publishing to see how to do a smart, aggressive growth campaign designed to grow an audience.

Why do I say traditional publishing and most writers do it wrong? Because…(wait for it)…an aggressive campaign to grow your target audience is part of a long-term strategy.

Publishing has turned aggressive growth campaigns into a short-term strategy, one that has no real upside.

Here’s what I mean.

Traditional publishing in modern times is based on the velocity model—selling a lot of books fast, then ignoring the product, and moving to another product.

Standard business growth is the exact opposite. You develop your company, develop your brand, cultivate your consumers, and then, once your business is large enough, consider making that business bigger.

When you decide the time is right to aggressively grow your audience, you should pull out every trick in the book and design a few of your own. You will work very hard on getting people to sample your wares. Most of the people who try your books will not continue reading them. Most people—because they didn’t like the book they sampled or they have only so much time or other favorite authors—will not return to your other work right away. And that’s okay, because your efforts here should have netted you 5-10% of the readers you targeted.

In other words, a properly done aggressive growth campaign, will get you more readers. Just not all the readers you expected.

. . . .

Readers are not predictable folk. So, of the 100,000 new readers who bought the book, 50,000 actually read it in a timely fashion (meaning the first three months). 25,000 read it eventually, and 25,000 more might get to it one day.

Already your “readership” is down to 75,000, and one-third of them might not have read the book they own by the time the new book comes out. Generally speaking, the release of a new book reminds slow readers that they already own one of your books, and they should read it now.

Of the 50,000 who’ve read book six by the time book seven comes out, 10,000 were unimpressed and will not buy your next. Another 10,000 liked it, but not enough to run right out and get another book with your byline. The remaining 30,000 split in a variety of directions.

Some read the series from the beginning. Some go back to book five. Some buy book seven and forget all about books one through five.

You can measure some of this. After a huge marketing push on book six, you will see a lump of readers work their way through the entire series. Even if the series is compelling, the lump will spread out over time. Why? Because some readers don’t like binging. So they’ll read one of your books, then five books by other writers, then another of your books, then ten books by other writers—and so on.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Advertising-Promotion-Marketing, Kristine Kathryn Rusch

10 Comments to “Aggressive Growth (Branding/Discoverability)”

  1. Generally enjoy what Christine Catherine Rush has to say, though I’m not sure about this concept of marketing Incorrectly.
    I guess it depends on the goals you’re trying to achieve, though I think that if you have a good number of people reading your books, you are probably doing something right.
    I do believe that the traditional publishing industry markets well For a small number of high-end authors, The belief there seems t seems to be that those top-selling authors can support the publishing industry.

    • What the BPHs do these days isn’t marketting.
      It is promotion.
      They get out the word that MR/Ms Big Name has a new book out. They do not do anything to tell you why *you* should get *that* book.


      Promotion – the publicization of a product, organization, or venture so as to increase sales or public awareness.
      synonyms: advertising · publicizing · marketing · publicity, or, alternately, a publicity campaign for a particular product, organization, or venture:

      “the paper is reaping the rewards of a series of promotions”

      Marketing is more elaborate:

      The American Marketing Association Board of Directors defines it as:

      Marketing- Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.
      (Approved July 2013)

      And, btw, it’s necessary twin:

      Marketing Research – Marketing research is the function that links the consumer, customer, and public to the marketer through information. Infirmation used to identify and define marketing opportunities and problems; generate, refine, and evaluate marketing actions; monitor marketing performance; and improve understanding of marketing as a process. Marketing research specifies the information required to address these issues, designs the method for collecting information, manages and implements the data collection process, analyzes the results, and communicates the findings and their implications. (Approved October 2004)

      While promotion is usually a part of marketing, it is not always so. And shotgun promotion is not the same thing as actual marketing. Which usually starts by finding out who *in general* you expect to buy the product even if you don’t know who they are specifically or individually.

  2. This piece is part of a series on branding.
    From the beginning she made it clear that everything in the following columns should be seen in that context.

    In this piece she is addressing the difference between short term promotion and long term brand marketting. Doing it right or wrong in this context isn’t about ROI or getting more cash. Rather it is about getting more cash now and *later*. It is about building a perception of the author and their books that not only sells the promoted title to the *right* reader (whether you know they are or not) but it greases the skids for books to come.

    Examples do it best:

    Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: all the promotion was about “a new Harry Potter story!”. Only if you read the metaphorical fine print (or the metadata) did you realize it was a working draft script for the London Play and it wasn’t by Rowling herself. She was involved in defining the story but plays (like movies) are collaborative works. The thing sold, of course. People were annoyed but that brand is strong and probably will survive. But it left a sour taste for a lot of readers expecting Rowling prose and wit. Brand-wise it is a minus.

    THE GOLDFINCH is another book that sold a ton…mostly to be abandoned midway or not read at all. What happens to the next book by the author? “Oh, its from the author of GOLDFINCH? Oh, no. Get me once, shame on you; get me twice, shame on me…”

    Everybody around here is familiar with the big selling, brand-name authors out there. Just the name, tells you what to expect.

    Grisham = legal thriller
    King = the horror in mundane places
    Rice = mystical horror
    Rowling = fantasy
    Butcher = Dresden Files
    Clancy = Technothrillers

    That did not happen by accident.
    In those days publishers knew how to build a writer’s career. And not just for the big ones. In the SF&F world names like Alan Dean Foster, Christopher Stasheff, and many others are “names to conjure by”. They deliver consistent quality writing whether it be in their signature series or other projects. Readers see the name and book gets a closer look.

    That is proper marketing and promotion do over the years and decades.

    It. Is. Not. Easy.

    • Felix — exactly, there’s a lot of nuance here that most folks miss.

      A lot of writers seem to think that Marketing = Selling More Books. If they’re selling more books, they figure they’re doing their marketing just fine.

      But you can sell more books without doing any marketing at all. If a popular book blogger reads your book and posts about how great it is, you might wake up to ten thousand new sales you did nothing to get. If John Scalzi tweets about how great it is, and Will Wheaton and Neil Gaiman retweet, you might wake up to fifty thousand new sales. That’s not marketing; that’s really awesome word-of-mouth.

      Even if you were doing something at the time — like running a contest, or participating in a blog hop (do people still do those?), it still wasn’t your marketing event that drove those sales. Your marketing might’ve been a total failure, but you still have those 50K sales because of that great Tweetstorm.

      It’s hard enough to figure out why a bunch of people suddenly bought one of your books. Maybe your newsletter got the word out, or maybe someone started a discussion about your books on a locked forum you can’t find with Google, and a dozen book clubs picked one or another of your books for next month. Who knows? All you can do is try things, see what happened, try something else, see what happens, try the first thing again, see what happens, etc.

      Harder yet is trying to figure out whether something some other writer is talking about is actually why they sold a bunch of books. Guessing whether what they did will sell a bunch of your books? Yeah, good luck with that.

      At least if you’re aware that there are different reasons to do marketing or promotion, different outcomes to shoot for depending on your short- or long-term goals, you can start sorting through the possibilities and maybe make a better guess at what might accomplish what you’re trying to do.


  3. My experience with marketing is somewhat different that KKR’s and I see some fundamental differences between software products, with which I am familiar, and publications, with which I wish to become familiar. About thirty years ago, I started saying “You don’t know your product until you have a hundred installations.” A few years later I started saying “You don’t know your product until you have a thousand customers.” Now, I say “You don’t know your product until you have a fifty thousand subscribers.” For each stage in the growth of a software product, the product has to change. Part is a change to the base product to technically accommodate the needs of a growing user base, but you also have to build a support organization for a growing number of users who use your product in ways you did not anticipate. Eventually, you find yourself pruning the product to remove features that are difficult to support and do not deliver marketable value.

    Publishing seems to be quite different. Authors do not often go back and remove characters that do not attract an audience. Instead of tailoring the product and its support apparatus to its growing audience, authors discover new ways to expose existing products to growing audiences and plan new products to appeal to markets established by existing products.

    Those two processes are significantly different. When I was building software I had two things to watch: First, what was happening in business that drove new software requirements? Second, what was being discovered on the technical side that made new products possible?

    Is there an equivalent in fiction? I think not. Although a lot of froth is whipped around virtual reality and video novels, Jane Austen’s work still attract large audiences. Readers don’t seem to be chasing after the last technical innovation. Story forms seem to be constant, although desires, relationships, and resolutions do change with the times.

    Authors don’t have to ask “Is my story ready for the next order of magnitude of readers?” If the readers are there, the story is ready. No innovation required. But looking at the writer’s career, the question is “Will my next story attract and satisfy the next order of magnitude of readers?” This is a forward looking question, which is much harder than the backward looking question “how can my story better satisfy my current customers?”

    I see book marketing as much more of a crystal ball job than the kind of product marketing I used to participate in a decade ago. The old paradigm was simple: find out what customers like, what they don’t like, where they hurt. Check the innovation engine for new possibilities. Enhance the likes, eliminate the hurts, use what you can from the new stuff. Do all these things well and profits grow. Do them poorly and profits shrink.

    I wish it were so easy for authors. They have to rely on their ability to sense the directions of the market and respond with stories that follow the beat of the future and find an audience that senses the same beat. Marie Laveau, where are you when we need you?

    • First:

      I don’t spend too much there, but have you looked into the practices of BAEN BOOKS? They are a publisher that does marketing and they do it in very creative ways. Long before “social media” became a thing they had a thriving online community where they readily and constantly engage their reader base.

      They do it so well, MacMillan’s TOR BOOKS has been copying them for several years. The result is, as one would expect, a NYC corporate mess. The difference between the two being the difference of a true grassroots movement and a paid-for mob at an astroturf rally.

      And, of course, BAEN spends a fraction of what MacMillan’s contractor costs, yet achieves way better results.


      I think that to properly translate your software industry expertise to publishing you would have to move a step up from single author to a small press or author coop with at least a dozen authors. At that level you aren’t talking about directing you marketing behind specific stories but behind series or subgenres. The product they need to know and promote is more of a product line. Like, in an age where the big guys are overflowing with dark and gritty dystopias, do you:

      A- join the party
      B- spoof it with a parody
      C- counterprogram it with a fun and frothy adventure in a bright and hopeful milieu
      D- change the subject and do a contemporary romance, historical novel, an alternate history, epic fantasy, fractured fable, or straight space adventure

      Even a small publishing house has options on how to spend its resources, which projects to take on, which ones to fast track or backburner, which to regretfully pass on.

      An Indie author publisher has less leeway: for most, their name is their brand.

      But there are ways.
      Quite a authors have managed it.
      Some by luck, most by careful work building and marketing their brand of storytelling.

      There’s many kinds of brands and many ways of building one.
      There are also many ways of killing them.
      Strong brands survive a mistep or two.
      Few survive more than that which is why proper marketing is key.

      But you already know that last part, right? 🙂

  4. FWIW:

    I’ve done a fair amount of observation and thinking about author brands. How to build, market, and maintain one. Not in general, but in one specific area, which is what I’m interested in.

    So here’s the obvious: it starts with at least good enough writing but after that it is all about consistency.

    Consistently good writing is the foundation. But consistency in approach, subject matter, style, and genre are all important.
    Because branding is about repeat business.
    Finding and keeping the thousand true fans.

    From time to time KKR has raised hackles by admonishing against “writing to market”. Her prescription is that authors should write whatever they need to write, however they need to write, and *then* figure out how to market it, how to direct it in the general direction of a receptive audience.

    That is more easily done under the umbrella of one or more strong brands.

    If your brand is for a type of light and frothy romance and you’re itching to do a gory horror under the same name, you’d better have a strong brand and loyal following (a lot of people were left wondering when Patterson, know for his detective mysteries, suddenly dropped a YA fantasy series, MAXIMUM RIDE. Double take time). And your marketing would need to be clear about the tone and topic.

    Some authors deal with this by cultivating sub-brands or multiple brands in the form of series or named narrative frameworks. Or using pen names. Or maybe your brand is for doing anything and everything in your own unique style.

    As far as I’m concerned, brand management is job 2.
    Ahead of research.
    Ahead of packaging.
    Ahead of marketing.
    Ahead of promotion.

    Only actually doing the writing is more important because everything else exists within the context of the brand.

    Most cautiously, until KKR started the current series I’ve seen little talk among authors on brand management. I’m sure it happens. I just haven’t seen much talk of it.
    Maybe I don’t get out enough. 😉

  5. Traditional publishing in modern times is based on the velocity model—selling a lot of books fast, then ignoring the product, and moving to another product.

    Sure it is. And that’s perfectly reasonable for a publishing firm. A publishing firm is in a different business than the individual author. Each has its own marketing needs and challenges.

    Publishers are selling a group of books, not one book. They continually renew that group as books enter and exit. One measure of their growth is the size of the group of books.

    High velocity selling is based on high velocity acquisitions. Publishers can do that, and it then takes one type of marketing. Independents are based on low velocity acquisition, and the subsequent low velocity selling.

    These are two different businesses targeting the same market.

  6. Felix– Your comments are fascinating and helpful. I have an observation from software that may shed some light on “writing to market.”

    Often, I was urged to respond to competitors’ new features with equivalent features in our own products. I found that responding to the competition was often required to enter a market, but not a route to increased market share. Doing a better job than the competition is not enough to win.

    Why? Because analyzing competitor’s product is not a substitute for firsthand market research. By market research, I mean answering basic questions about potential customers’ requirements, needs, and hurts. Understand the basics and you can design products that customers want and need. Match the competition and you are just same-old same-old.

    I think “writing to market” is likely to fail when it is taken to mean “match the competition.” For example, if erotic dystopias are riding high in Amazon ranks, you could match the competition by writing your own erotic dystopia and publishing it. However, checking the rankings and writing something like whatever ranks high is not what I would call market research because it skips the step of discovering needs and hurts of potential readers. After doing the market research, you might decide to write your own erotic dystopia, but you would have an understanding of your market to guide your work. If the analogy to software holds, this guidance will substantially increase the likelihood that your erotic dystopia will click with a significant audience.

    But don’t listen to me. If I knew how to do what I theorize, I would be a far more successful author than I am.

    • Dunno but your points sound valid to me.

      From what I’ve seen, just matching competitors’ features (in software or narrative fiction) really isn’t enough. You need to say why you and not the other guy. Also, you’re missing out on the first mover advantage. You might presence from being the ten thousanth writer doing a hoarding school for gifted you whatevers, yes, but as you said ME2 products don’t typically get very far because most consumers prefer the originals to knockoffs.

      Wouldn’t the time and effort put into just showing up be put to better use in crafting something wholly yours?

      One of the bits of writing advice I ran into long ago (sadly, I don’t recall if it was Asimov or Dennis O’Neil) was: first, have something to say.
      I take it to mean something uniquely yours, that nobody else could say quite that way. Might be a statement, might be a question, might be a warning.

      Too make Me2 or series projects amount to going through the notions of a familiar dance. Done competently it can be a pleasant diversion. But too often that is all the effort brings. It’s a marketable product but if that’s all it offers…

      Some creators are a bit more ambitious. Sometimes you get a glorious failure (VALERIAN, a labor of love that ended up a beautiful but hollow light show) sometimes you get a celebration of something awesome (DUNKIRK, a labor of love that reminds the world that at a time of crisis, british civilians stood up and did something truly inspiring).

      Sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you. But at least both directors did something that came from them. The projects weren’t just about getting a paycheck but about something that mattered to them.

      And in the end, isn’t that what going Indie is supposed to be about? Owning the outcome? Succeeding or failing on your own?

      The market for narrative fiction is vast enough and readers are hungry enough for content that most any effort can find an audience. But for it to find the “right” audience is non-trivial. Marketing is rarely fun.

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