Image: Matthew Loffhagen
There are a lot of differences between self-published authors and those working with a publishing house, but when it comes to book marketing, we’re all in the same boat. At a time when many authors find their marketing stipend barely covers the basics, writers of every stripe need to know how to market their own work effectively. If you have some money to splash around, you have a few options (such as marketing services and book trailers), but if your funds are limited, you need to know about guerrilla marketing.
That’s why, in this two-part article, I’ll be taking a look at exactly that. Here in part 1, we’ll talk about what guerrilla marketing is and how it works, while in part 2, we’ll look at the tips and specific techniques you can employ as a guerrilla marketer. So, apply your camouflage, keep low, and let’s get started.
What is guerrilla marketing?
A guerrilla fighter is someone fighting a lopsided war with limited equipment and little backup from any larger organization. Self-publishing authors are definitely guerrillas entering the fight for readers, but authors working with publishing houses can also find that they’re handed limited resources and left to sort things out for themselves.
Guerrilla marketing is all about doing a lot with a little, and for authors that means an approach built on two core concepts:
- Spending time and effort instead of money,
- Choosing tactics that offer maximum reward for limited input.
When it comes to the first concept, there isn’t much to say that we didn’t cover in Nobody Beats The Triangle, But You Can Be Prepared For It: you can use time and effort to make up for a small budget, but you have to plan ahead to do so well. Of course, time and effort are limited, and that’s where we come to the second core concept.Guerrilla marketing uses sparse resources to incredible effect.Click To Tweet
It’s not enough to just plug away at your marketing. You can only do so much, and at a certain level, money can achieve a reach that one person’s maximum effort just can’t. That means that you need to be pouring the resources you do have into the actions that will give you the biggest reward. For example, getting forty random people to read your book is nothing compared to putting it in the hands of one prominent book blogger. Likewise, a marketing campaign targeted at a group likely to be interested in your subject matter has far more value than a bigger campaign with a more general focus.
In this way, it’s not enough to keep working and hope for the best; you have to work smart and hard, and neither really works without the other. But that assumes that guerrilla marketing works at all, so the question is… does it?
What guerrilla marketing does
Marketing doesn’t work quite how many people think, especially at different levels. For the biggest sellers, advertising isn’t about persuading someone to buy a product. When Coke advertise, they’re usually not trying to make you think Coke is a good product; they’re already big enough that they achieved that, so their advertising is geared more towards remaining ubiquitous. The big sellers just need to keep reminding customers that they exist – that they’re available for whoever wants them. Then, whenever the customer goes to buy that type of product, it’s their brand that comes to mind. Get big enough and potential customers don’t think ‘I want a soda’, they think ‘I want a Coke’.
This may sound specific to a certain type of product, but it’s also true for fiction. At this point, J.K. Rowling doesn’t need to advertise how good her work is. The brand is so big that it’s more effective to simply focus on telling people there’s something new under its umbrella (and if they can also attract potential new readers, that’s a good secondary goal). Rowling sold a huge number of scripts for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, even though it’s a medium with which many readers have no familiarity. As long as she keeps up a stream of new ‘products’ and the standard doesn’t dip enough to drive away her base, her marketing only ever has to say ‘remember me?’ This is why so many book adverts for established authors are along the lines of ‘The NEW book by X’; the brand is big enough that it’s doing the selling for them.Different products rely on different types of marketing, and self-published authors shouldn’t be using the same tactics as bestsellers.Click To Tweet
That’s not what guerrilla marketing is about, and it’s not something you’re going to be able to achieve on your own. Likewise, guerrilla marketing isn’t – and stick with me here – about finding individual readers.
This is the domain of mid-size marketing; people see your advert and they know your book is for sale, maybe they’ll buy it. This is the type of marketing where it’s worth putting billboards in train stations – with enough money, widespread marketing brings in enough readers to pay for itself.
This type of marketing isn’t usually that effective for books (unless they have a specific, unique role that lodges in people’s heads), and it’s not really feasible for guerrilla marketers. It’s hard for one person to advertise their book so widely that the number of readers they get back justifies the effort.
Instead, guerrilla marketing is effective as a cumulative effort. It doesn’t just net individual readers (though, again, that’s a good secondary goal), it creates an environment in which your book is being discussed. Ideally, it turns the people who encounter the marketing directly into your salespeople.
In marketing his book The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature, the titular author held a reading in a train station bathroom. The aim wasn’t to advertise to the few people who attended, but rather to create the type of story that news outlets would be hungry to report, and report they did. Pollack reached a huge audience with his work, communicating its irreverent nature and setting it up as a talking point; a level of marketing success far in excess of his budget or even time commitment.Modern marketing has more than one audience, and the first isn’t always the biggest.Click To Tweet
A less creative example might be a carefully calculated competition. Offer an interesting prize, extend the competition long enough to get people talking about it (and your work), and you reach a host of people for the cost of rewarding one. Ideally, you’ll also have a compelling website to direct them to and be collecting the email addresses of entrants to form a mailing list. Maybe your prize, or the conditions of the competition, are even unique enough to get you some press.
This is where guerrilla marketing works; carefully considered, meticulously executed moves that make the most of your time, money, and effort. I’ll get on to exactly how you can apply that logic in part 2 of this article, but for now, let’s close by looking at a case study of great guerrilla marketing in action.
The success of Masquerade
In 1979, Kit Williams published Masquerade, a book of art that tells the story of a hare delivering a splendid necklace to the sun. Concerned that people didn’t focus on the details in art books, and challenged by publisher Tom Maschler to do something new, Williams created a book that was also a treasure hunt. With the release of the book, Williams declared that he had also created the golden necklace from the story, and that the book contained all the information anyone could need to find it.
The story of the treasure hunt itself, and how the book worked as a set of clues, is fascinating (and skillfully related here), but suffice to say that Williams’ announcement was a staggering piece of guerrilla marketing. Williams couldn’t have foreseen the interest that would be aroused or how long the story would remain in the public consciousness, with news reports (and thus more advertising) breaking out whenever someone had a wild theory. Indeed, even the controversy surrounding how the treasure hunt was eventually resolved catapulted it back into public consciousness. For his time, effort, and skill, Williams sold hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide, and books (like Bamber Gascoigne’s Quest for the Golden Hare) have even been written about the process itself.Creativity doesn’t have to stop with the book itself – artistic marketing is both possible and effective.Click To Tweet
In the computer age, this type of marketing is even more effective. Since fans can now communicate across great distance, ‘game’ marketing can create communities and arouse huge interest for comparatively little input, as was the case with Alex Hirsch’s Gravity Falls: Journal 3, which relied on a variety of code-breaking and treasure-hunting activities to create a vocal, close-knit community of fans. (Something I talked about in Want A Cult Following? Hide Secrets In Your Writing.)
With blogs, Youtube channels, and even major news outlets hungry for content, the right piece of guerrilla marketing can be an absolute game changer.
So, that’s why you should consider guerrilla marketing and the logic behind some of the most successful tactics in the marketplace. Next, check out Everything You Need To Know About Guerrilla Book Marketing – Part 2, in which we’ll dive into how you can design and carry out your own successful guerrilla marketing.
What’s the hardest part of marketing our book, and how have you worked around marketing constraints in the past? Let me know in the comments below, and check out our extensive marketing archive for more great advice.