Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, written in the 5th century BC, remains a classic for military strategists as well as corporate marketers and salesmen. Today, I’ll show you ways in which to use Master Sun’s lessons to market your book.
The Art of War gives advice for generals on outsmarting and defeating the enemy. Naturally, you, as the author, are “the general”. But how to define “the enemy”? For all practical purposes, it is the crowded marketplace of books, the skeptical or complacent customer, and the competing authors in your genre. Regarding the latter, the best way to “defeat” them is to outshine them through your marketing.
“All warfare is based on deception”: Let’s begin with the book’s most famous line. What kind of “deception” are we looking to use here? This applies to writers who have not yet published, as well as published authors who are looking to market their new book. For those who have not yet published, here are some “deceptive” strategies:
- Choose a title that is catchy instead of just informative. A great example of this is seen with the book If You Want to Be Rich & Happy, Don’t Go to School, by Robert Kiyosaki (author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad). Kiyosaki’s publisher wanted him to call the book “The Economics of Education”, to which Kiyosaki replied that he would probably then only sell two copies. The more catchy title made the book much more attractive to shoppers.
- A more extreme method of deception involves choosing a strategic pen name. A good example of this is Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher novels, whose real name is Jim Grant. Child chose his pen name because he wanted his books to be between Raymond Chandler and Agatha Christie on the shelf in a bookstore. Hence, if you are a horror writer, choosing a last name that would fit in between “King” and “Koontz” would be a good move!
If you’ve already published your book, there are still many strategic gambits that you can use:
- Headlines and titles: One of my professors, during my Masters Degree, wanted the department to come to a somewhat dry lecture about how Sir Walter Scott’s writing style occasionally took a feminine turn. He titled the lecture, “Sir Walter Scott in Drag”, and the lecture hall was filled. Likewise, you can advertise your book using any headline you wish. If your book has a title that isn’t particularly attractive in a marketing sense, use a headline for your ads that is enticing.
- Another devious tactic involves placing your book on the shelves of bookstores, even if they haven’t stocked it. Similar to the strategy employed by Lee Child, you can then have your book next to the superstar authors, and in the genre that you want. Shoppers are bound to consider you as of a similar caliber, just by being there. I used this ploy with my self-help book, Winning the Fight to Be Happy, and placed it next to a book by the Dalai Lama! Yes, your book technically won’t be for sale in the store if someone tries to buy it, but with enough interest shown by shoppers (your “spies”, as mentioned later), the store will eventually want to carry a book that will make money for them.
“Know your terrain”: In other words, know the marketplace. A good example of someone who studied the marketplace and has become a huge success is Meredith Wild, author of the erotic thriller Hardwired and numerous other books in that genre. Wild somewhat “piggybacked” on the success of E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey, and actually advertised her book in movie theaters just before the film version of Fifty Shades of Grey came on. For erotic thrillers, it is also important to have an e-book version of your novel, as many readers in this genre are too shy to buy it in paperback at the bookstore. This was actually the case with Fifty Shades of Grey.
Knowing your terrain means knowing the target audience of your book, what genre it falls into (and subgenre), and how to capture that demographic – i.e. understanding customers’ buying behavior in your genre, and also where they are likely to come into contact with your book. If you write fantasy or sci-fi, try to attend one of the many conferences, such as Comic-Con, with plenty of business cards and copies of your book to give out. Join chatrooms and websites where these types of readers spend their time. As Master Sun says, “He who has a thorough knowledge of himself and the enemy is bound to win in all battles.”
“Attacking with Fire”: This means being proactive and keeping an arsenal of “weapons”. When Sun writes, “The material for raising fire should always be kept in readiness”, this relates to both your advertising and promotional material and — if it is possible for you – some money to run the ads. Here are some weapons you should always have at your disposal, many of which don’t cost a penny:
- Carry a copy of your book with you at all times
- Have photos of yourself holding your book, in your phone and on your computer, and indeed anywhere else where people can see it
- Have an “elevator pitch” for your book: be able to describe your book in one to two sentences to a complete stranger
- Have a short “abstract” of your book, two to three paragraphs, in case a newspaper asks you for one
- Set aside a small budget in case you need to print posters
- Have an author page and an author website, and post frequently on social media, especially Facebook. When you post, use catchy headlines and pictures.
- Contact bookstores and ask if you can do a book-signing. The worst they can say is “no”.
- Make sure to always have at least ten spare copies of your book in your house
Throughout all of these, do not simply market your book haphazardly, hoping that random onslaughts will create attention. As Sun says, “Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your troops unless there is something to be gained.”
“The Use of Spies”: In your case, “spies” will be your friends and family, whom you will ask to help you with promoting the book. Don’t be shy about asking others for help. As the old saying goes, “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.” Their “spying” activity can consist of giving you any information about promotion, and simply spreading the word. One of my friends mentioned my book to a bunch of her friends, and I ended up giving a motivational talk to the sales team at one of their companies – selling some copies of my book in the process, and ending up with some new friends, some of whom promoted me on their Facebook pages. Your “spies” can also give signed copies of your book to people as gifts – everyone is always happy to know a published author – and can leave copies at strategic locations – including bookstores!
–By Tom McKinley