Work In Progress Marketing
And what the hell does that even mean?
Work in progress (WIP) marketing is a phrase introduced by Georgetown professor Eric Koester.
Professor Koester and I have spent the last three years establishing a b-school program helping students and working professionals create manuscripts, collaborate with editors, and build an audience.
In the very first week of the program titled, The Creator Institute, I teach students how to “Post Like An Author.”
There are always groans and even a bit of push-back on this.
And rightfully so.
“Doesn’t marketing come after the book is published?” students ask.
“Or at least after the first draft is finished?” others say.
The answer is simple — marketing, or building your audience, should begin well before the book is released.
IT TAKES TIME.
Now, this doesn’t mean making an official book announcement — that comes later — instead, positioning yourself in the bookish/writing community.
Work in Progress (WIP) Marketing begins with a few steps:
Authority + Network
Writer’s Digest contributor and literary agent, Chuck Sambuchino, spoke at the Creator Institute this summer and advised authors to determine:
1) Authority — or what subject they are qualified to speak on (the book’s core themes and topics).
For me, this would be horror fiction but specifically — mental health in horror, classic horror film, horror books, and creative writing.
2) Network — thought leaders, creatives, and enthusiasts of your authority.
Identifying Your Platforms
Once authors have determined their authority and network, they should research where their potential connections are most active.
So, begin with thought leaders or renowned creators.
As a horror author, I began with some apparent individuals and personal heroes, including filmmaker Mike Flanagan, legendary author Stephen King, horror hostess, and author, Cassandra Peterson (aka Elvira).
The best part about starting with these infamous names was that I got to see where potential fans of my own participated.
Narrow this down to those who share specific corners of your authority — i.e., Elvira and classic horror movies or Mike Flanagan and mental health in horror.
After conducting this research, I determined I would create author platforms on Twitter and Instagram while using my current Facebook and LinkedIn to leverage my existing connections — friends, family, co-workers, professors, etc.
I updated my bio before engaging with “constant readers” (die-hard King fans) on King’s Twitter and Instagram. Your bio should always, always include:
- “Author” (yes, even before you publish, you should use “author”).
- The title of your work in progress — it’s okay if your title changes.
And it can be a post on its own! Let your audience help you decide the final title down the road.
- The expected publication date (Ex: Spring 2022)
- Something that refers to your authority.
Here is my Instagram bio for reference:
Author of Not Another Sarah Halls & Take Your Turn, Teddy
Should be writing, probably watching Vincent Price movies
CR: Cunning Folk
- “CR” = Currently Reading
Note how each element in my bio recalls my identified corners of authority.
Create A Content Calendar
And stick with it!
WIP marketing isn’t about spending hours upon hours on social media. It’s about concentrated and consistent engagement — posting at least one or two times per week and always ensuring your content aligns with your authority.
Sambuchino shared with students at the Creator Institute that he wouldn’t tweet asking for the best restaurants in Arlington as someone who has established his authority on writing/publishing.
We recommend authors spend an hour every week brainstorming content ideas and keeping them on a note on your phone, Google doc, spreadsheet (as shown above) or whatever works for you.
Then, you’re not staring at a blank tweet trying to think of the perfect thing to say to connect with your audience.
Begin with simple posts, or what we like to call “Posting Like An Author:”
- Sharing your writing space
Sharing your space is an excellent way to tease a project before making the official announcement, and this idea can be recycled. One day I’m writing next to my life-size Pennywise cutout in my office, and then the next, I’m in a haunted cabin in the mountains.
Readers want to see what life is like as an author.
Yes, even for a first-time author.
- Interviews & Research
What research are you conducting to help you write? What podcasts are you listening to? Who are you interviewing?
These can be secondary interviews too. Readers love hearing what I learned from reading psychological evaluations and interviews with notorious killers like Edmund Kemper and Ed Gein.
It’s like giving your audience a seat behind the director’s chair.
- Writing Milestones
Share any milestones you hit along the way — your first 10,000 words, your first character backstory, first complete rough draft, to name a few.
Let your audience be a part of the wild ride of writing a book. Not only does it help you engage with your audience, but it’s a hell of a way to sidestep that imposter syndrome and makes you realize, people are waiting for your book!
- Passion & Curiosity
This is the easiest of them all.
Be a fan of your topic/genre. If Stephen King releases a new book, you better believe I’ll share a wicked photo of my copy once it arrives. If Mike Flanagan releases a new series, I’ll share a review or live-tweet my thoughts per episode. The same goes for all things Elvira!
Engage, Engage, Engage!
I mentioned above that I interact with Stephen King’s tweets from time to time. Of course, I hope to flag him down one day, but I do so primarily to continue building my place in the horror community by interacting with a leader of the genre.
This approach has also helped me connect with King fans, including book clubs and librarians who have snagged copies of my books because of the embedded King nods.
Secondly, you’ll want to engage with people on a smaller scale. Search via hashtag to find others within the community of your authority — ex: #horrorbooks, #midnightmass (Mike Flanagan’s most recent Netflix series), #YoursCruellyElvira (Elvira’s latest release).
Comment on these posts, share them to your page’s story, etc.
Engagement helps you grow!
And see what tags and content other users in your niche are using!
Lastly, be sure to reply to every person who comments on your post. Not only is this polite, but it ensures you’re creating genuine connections.
WIP Marketing doesn’t mean putting out your best sales pitch — I always think of the annoying car salesman in Hitchcock’s Psycho.
Remember, it’s all about concentration, consistency, and engagement.
Professor Haley Newlin
If you want to learn more about the Creator Institute or apply click here.