How does a writer proceed with a marketing plan?
A friend of mine sold several novels to numerous small presses. All well and good. However, most of these titles have not seen distribution through any major outlet, and therefore his ratings are slim. These ratings don't relate to the quality of his work, but rather how well he sells, how much of a brand his name may be or stand a chance of becoming. It's difficult to sell well if one doesn't promote one's work, or if that work isn't on display somewhere for the casual or not-so-casual shopper.
A few folk have waved away this concern. "It doesn't matter where you're published, as long as you're published," some say. "If you're good enough, you'll shine through. Persistence will pay off. Eventually, the larger publishers who pay more will recognize you and be forced to buy your manuscripts and market you."
Others may comment, "There's always the electronic publication path. Sell your book on Amazon." Or, "I don't care about the corporations. They don't care about me. I know I can do well self-publishing and be my own boss." Hmmm.
With the business in such flux, the choir of discordant voices is understandable. Look at how many titles are being cut by publishing houses, look at Border's current bankruptcy and the recent celebration of the rise of the ebook. Look at the drop in actual readership, and especially the drop in young readers. Look too at the manufactured author, the one chosen by a multinational corporation and promoted to godhood even before a book is released (not that I'm blaming Justin Cronin for jumping at the opportunity).
In the end, what is the unknown and unloved author to do? My personal belief, for what it is worth, is to have a marketing plan, one which is adaptable and comfortable. Study your market, look at the call for submissions; if you haven't been published, then turn to the net and seek publication there. If you are published, then (my opinion) be careful of the ratings. If you have a novel, try and sell it where there is distribution. If there isn't distribution, your ratings drop and it will become harder for a publisher to interest a distributor to push your book through the chains. If you're an author who had ratings and saw them plummet two or three books in, then perhaps its time for a name change and reboot of a career. Or not.
There's no one path. But I believe stumbling into the marketplace without some knowledge and foresight is a guarantee of failure. The author who writes without a marketing plan is the author who would do well to buy a lottery ticket each time he or she sends out a submission. Actually, that might be a good practice for anyone sending out submission.