Establish a S.M.A.R.T. book promotion goal

iStock_000018615175XSmallBook Promotion Tip of the Week #9: Figure out how many copies of your book you want to sell before you start promoting.

(You can always adjust your targets later.)

After floundering around in the book promotion literature for quite a while now, and blogging about what doesn’t work, I am learning that one principle is more basic than the rest: if I don’t set some promotion goals for myself, I’m never going to get anything done. I could continue to research promotion forever, rather than doing anything about it.

Not that I’m giving up the research, but I’ve decided that even if I haven’t read and learned everything that’s out there yet (by a long shot), the moment has come when I must start to make a focused effort on the actual promotion.

A key word here is “focused” — because I’ve also come to the realization that the goal I set for myself cannot be “to sell books.” That just isn’t a very “SMART” goal.  If “to sell books” is all I’m striving for, I’m never going to get anywhere. It’s like setting myself the goal “to lose weight” or “to read Tolstoy” or “to learn another language.” Those are ultimate goals, but they are not specific, measurable, attainable, relevant or time-sensitive goals, which is what SMART stands for (more on S.M.A.R.T. goals later).

First I need to decide what I want to do with my promotional efforts. Do I want to get to number one (which I think is the general hope that most of us have as we set off on our non-specific promotional adventures)? If so, what does this mean? Do I really think I am going to sell 300 copies of my book EVERY DAY on Amazon? According to this article on Salon, that’s what it takes to make a book an Amazon bestseller. I must face whether that is my specific goal and intent, or whether that is a pipe dream.

And even if that IS my goal, then how many days of 300 sales/day am I aiming for? Would I be satisfied with 300 sales for just one day? – enough to get my book to the top of the Amazon list just once, at which point I could legitimately say (for promotional purposes) that my book had been an “Amazon bestseller” (as in, “My book was once an Amazon bestseller”)? How much practical good is that going to do me in the long term?

Maybe it is The New York Times bestseller list to the top of which I wish to climb. That one is far more prestigious, of course, when it comes to putting a plug about it on my promotional materials. The NYT list is based on weekly sales of books and ebooks across the USA, and no one really knows how many copies of each book must be sold before you make it to the top of that particular mountain, but I’m pretty sure it’s more than I can realistically plan to sell at this point.

Maybe I just want Don Valiente to top the list of bestselling Westerns on Amazon for a day, or for The Whole Clove Diet: A Novel to appear and then stay in the top-ten list in women’s fiction. Maybe I’m eying a local newspaper’s weekly posting of the top ten fiction books sold. (Or maybe I’ve written a family history and I’m not interested in top-ten lists at all: maybe I’ll be happy if I sell ten books, period.)

According to whomever wrote the Wikipedia entry on “bestsellers,” the term is relatively recent and means so many different things in different contexts that it actually means nothing. The entry points out that, depending on the venue, in the U.K. a “bestseller” can mean anything from 4,000 to 25,000 copies sold. In Canada, 5,000 copies sold (ever) constitutes what we call “a national bestseller.”

Why do the numbers matter anyway?

There are a couple of reasons why the numbers of copies of books sold matter (quite aside from the royalties that accrue). First, purchasers do respond to books that are at the top of bestseller lists, even though such lists have nothing to do with quality. (I go back to my Fifty Shades of Grey example which proves that book-buyers can be total sheep exhibiting no taste, and no sense of literary or even erotic discernment whatsoever.)

In addition, and of equal importance, in the case of Amazon when you reach a certain level of sales, the site starts recommending your book to other people who have bought or looked at similar books – which means that Amazon is now doing some of your promotion for you.

And yes, once your book has made a bestseller list, you can call yourself a “bestselling author,” and no one can ever take that away from you. (Although I guess they can demand to know which list you were a bestseller on, and for how long, and they could ask you that in a radio interview, so be prepared.)

It is for such reasons as these that some writers are paying to get onto bestseller lists which – as I reported last week – you can do if you have enough friends and money.

Does the number of books you want to sell affect your promotional efforts?

I think it does, even if you aren’t aiming for the top of a bestseller list. This is the crux of the question when it comes to this week’s Book Promotion tip.

In recent days, I have been thinking about S.M.A.R.T. goals. This is a term which has been in use in the business world for decades, and which I keep coming across in my reading about marketing and even in some of my editing for clients. The acronym stands for  Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-sensitive. Many experts consider these five attributes to be key indicators when it comes to establishing and attaining goals in such areas as personal and professional development, project management, employee performance, etc.

If your goals don’t have these five attributes, such experts would point out, how can you possible attain them? “Selling books” has none of those attributes, and therefore it’s a lousy goal. (For me it also leads to madly riding off in too many directions at once, as I have several books to sell, not to mention my podcasts on grantwriting, and dozens of places I could sell them, and dozens of ways I could approach the promotion in each case.)

So for me, here is what I am setting as my first S.M.A.R.T. goal: Within six months, to attain at least thirty days of sales of at least ten copies a day of The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid (Kindle version). I have chosen this number because I estimate that this will get us onto the “top 50 Westerns” list on Amazon for those 30 days, which will help to propel us towards ongoing sales with diminished effort.

This goal is Specific because it says I am going to focus only on Don Valiente and ignore my other books for now, and it also sets a specific number of sales per day for a specific number of days.

This goal is Measurable because six months from now (mid-September) I will be able to tell whether I have attained the goal. I can see on my KDP page how many copies we are selling. (I can also track our progress vis á vis other western novels on Amazon. If we need to up the sales numbers per day to get to the top 50, we can do that.)

This goal is Attainable — with an attractive promotional campaign that targets readers of Westerns, given a consistent promotional effort for six months that (at no significant cost to us) positions our books in as many places as possible, I believe that this goal is attainable.

This goal is Realistic. It allows for the fact, for example, that if I send out a review copy of Don Valiente, even if someone does review it, the review will likely not appear for three to four months at least. On the other hand, hitting The New York Times bestseller list is not a realistic goal. I don’t even think that getting into the top 10 list of bestselling Westerns on Amazon would be realistic, when I consider the competition. And I know me: if a goal doesn’t seem realistic, I am going to give up on it very quickly.

This goal is Time-Specific. I have given us six months. (I am now putting a memo in my calendar to report back to you here then, and let you know what happened.)

Do you have a SMART goal for your book promotion? Do you want to declare it in public here so we can cheer you on?

Do you think that setting goals is necessary or of use?

Let us know! I love your comments and so do my readers.

Next week: a book promotion tip that is more specific — that takes less time to write. :)

Sell That Book: Building A Promotional Campaign From The Ground Up (I)

Sell That Book: Building A Promotional Campaign From The Ground Up (I)

I Have Been Spurred To Action

A good friend (thanks, Larry Anderson!) recently introduced me to another good friend of his who is also a writer who is in a similar position to the one I am in re: book promotion. Both of us have recently published books, but due to the other demands on our time we have found no time to market them — much less figure out the most effective ways of doing so in this brave new world of publishing, where there are too many options for everything.

Her name is Kathryn Burke and she lives in Edmonton. Her first book, An Accidental Advocate – A Mother’s Journey with Her Exceptional Son, has already been on several non-fiction best seller lists. She is working on her second book now; entitled Preventing Conflict In Special Educationit is likely to enjoy similar attention as it addresses the concerns of innumerable parents, teachers and students. Kathryn, who works part-time as executive director of the Learning Disabilities Association of Alberta, is also the brains behind, a site that was designed “to help people affected by learning disabilities share their experiences.”

For my part, I have three recent projects that are available for sale:

  1. my third novel, The Whole Clove Diet;
  2. the Really Effective Writing suite of MP3 audiocasts – based on the grant-writing book Write An Effective Funding Application: A Guide for Researchers and Scholars – with one series customized for each of three groups: a) researchers and scholars; b) community groups and non-profit organizations; and c) writers and other artists; and
  3. ta-dah!! A new novel, co-authored with my good buddy, the endlessly fascinating lawyer cum writer John A. Aragon of Santa Fe, New Mexico (who is also too busy at the moment to do book promotion). It is entitled The Adventures of Don Valiente And The Apache Canyon Kid and it has been described by the noted Canadian writer of westerns and other fine novels, Fred Stenson, as a “bold and sexy chase from end to end.”

Promotional Challenges (Ones I Suspect Other Authors May Be Facing, Too)

For the most part, aside from subscribers to my blogs (not an insignificant number, but not millions of people either) and my friends and family, and a few others, hardly anyone knows that these products of mine exist. For the past few months–in fact for the majority of the time since The Whole Clove Diet was published and I completed the audiocasts–I have not only become very busy with freelance work, I have also been utterly overwhelmed by the range of possibilities that exist at this time in history the for promotion of books–and other communications products.

What do I do”? Do I attempt a traditional book-promotion strategy involving media releases, bookstore communications, the distribution of review copies with an author promo package? Or do I embrace the new media and devote my attention to Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn and other social-media platforms? Do I create a video or two for YouTube?

Maybe I need to consider entirely different tacks – invent a video game based on my grantwriting book for example (just a little joke) or turn The Whole Clove Diet into a reality television series (also a joke). Perhaps I should take a leaf from the late, great book-promotion schemer Jack McClelland and do something outrageous that will bring the media to me: indulge in guerilla marketing, in other words (I am not excluding this idea at all. It appeals to me enormously). Maybe I should just hire a damned publicist (although I’ve heard of too many who have produced disappointing results and I can’t afford it anyway. Besides, I really do enjoy the promotional part of my work.)

In this digital era, the promotional opportunities are endless, but so are the number of new writers out there vying for readers’ attention (and recent stats say that book-readership is going down as fast as the average quality of the writing that is being published. Pretty soon there will be more “writers” than readers).

The only thing that is limited – and it is severely limited – is time. How do I maximize the hours that I do invest in book and audiocast promotion so that I still have time to serve my freelance editing clients and maybe even write another novel? Not to mention hanging out from time to time with my kids, my grandkids, and my fellow.

Despite the fact that the prospects have been so overwhelming that I have done nothing much at all in a focussed way to promote the books and the grant-writing audiocasts I have mentioned, I really do believe in them. And what reviews there have been so far have been excellent. It is time to get serious about this.

Campaign Kickoff

Life has a funny way of helping out when you need something (not, I believe, because of anything magical, but because needing something makes — or should make — you open to recognizing and welcoming opportunities that are really always there). Thanks to this introduction to Kathryn, and our first Skype meeting to compare notes, I am now really eager to get going on this project.

Kathryn and I have  committed to hold Skype meetings one a week and to do something (anything! :) ) in the meantime that we can report on that relates to promoting our books. I am  feeling optimistic. And so is she. Already I’ve attended one webinar entitled “Be Your Own Publicist,” which was hosted by The Writers’ Union of Canada. I’ll provide details on it in my next post. And I have signed up to attend another one next week from the Wildfire Academy entitled How To Become A Bestselling Author, which Kathryn recommended.

Our books have nothing in common, really, but therein lies some of our strength. Kathryn and I are going to be finding out how to approach publicity and promotion in ways that should benefit all writers —- whether thy write fiction, non-fiction or poetry, whether they write literary or commercial books, whether they write for adults or for children. We want to sort the wheat from the chaff — not among books, but among ways of promoting them.

The most important part of this journey is going to be to share it. Not only with one another, but with our fellow writers (including Larry!). Hence this journal of our investigations, our findings, our observations and our conclusions. We welcome readers’ input as well: if a man can crowdsource healing of a brain tumour that the doctors haven’t yet been able to contain, surely Kathryn and I can find some helpful advice from those who have tried promotional ideas I haven’t thought of – or have found widely touted methods to be useless — or have applied traditional promotional methods with new twists. We can all learn together.

Need Help From Current or Prospective Grant Applicants

Update 11 p.m. Tues., Sept. 27 — Thank you for the responses so far! I am still looking for one artist (any discipline except writing — visual arts, performing arts, multimedia etc — preferred, as two writers have already volunteered) and three people involved with writing grant proposals for community groups or non-profit organizations (small to large groups/organizations welcome.)


I am developing THREE series of audiocasts (6 in each series) based on my book, Write an Effective Funding Application: A Guide for Researchers and Scholars"" (The Johns Hopkins University Press).

The courses are being developed for three different audiences of prospective grant applicants: Researchers and Scholars, Creative Artists, and Non-Profit Organizations/Community Groups.

I have developed preview audiocasts for each of these courses and they are now available as MP3s. I am looking for people who are planning to write applications for funding in one of those three categories, and would like to listen to these preview audiocasts and tell me what you think.

If you are interested in helping, please contact me at marywwalters at marywwalters dot com (note the double W) or by responding through this website.

If you don’t like the audiocast (which is about 25 minutes long and comes as two MP3s), I win because I get to incorporate your suggestions for changes in the recordings before I “go public.” If you do like it, you win, because I will be happy to provide you with the six audiocasts that form the modules of the course at no charge as they become available — as long as you keep providing feedback on what you hear before I post them. :)

I want three “beta listeners” for each audiocast. I have two already for the researchers and scholars preview recording. I am therefore looking for

1 researcher/scholar (PhD student/candidate, PDF, assistant or associate prof etc. Any discipline)

3 creative artists (including writers, visual artists, filmmakers: anyone who would like to learn how to write an effective grant application to support their creative projects — from a foundation or other funding agency, for example)

3 people who would like to learn more about writing effective funding applications on behalf of community groups or non-profit organizations — from water polo teams to national galleries: block (operational) funding or project grants.

The series is relevant to those who are working in any geographical location where grants are available.