How to Build a Marketing List

by Kent Bridgeman
published in Community

You’ve sweated through your drafts, labored countless hours by candlelight, walking to your writing shed 10 miles through the snow, with nothing but your five year old Converse.  Well, maybe not, but it was freakin’ hard, just the same.  You’re finally done.  At least as done as you’re gonna get.  You can’t make it any better, and here you are, a proud story parent.

Now what?

There’s plenty out there about how to reach to agents, contests, publishers and the like, but there’s scarce mention of who to reach out to.  Who can help you get your short story, novel, screenplay or whatever read by the your prospective audience?  How do you even know who your prospect audience is anyway?  Where do you start?

Who’s Reading?

The best place to start is to define your target audience.  Maybe you know your audience, maybe not.  If you do, it doesn’t hurt to take a second look.

For much more about this process, take a gander at my previous article: Defining your Target Audience

For now, suffice it to say, knowing who you want to read your book will greatly improve your chances of actually getting it read.  I know what you’re thinking, “I want everyone to read my book.”  Be that as it may, targeting a specific group doesn’t limit who reads you book.  In fact, by getting highly specific, you increase your chances for all kinds of folks to read your story, counter-intuitive as that may seem.

The most famous example is the Harry Potter series.  Those books were written specifically for boys ages 10 – 15.  In fact, J.K. Rowling was asked by her publisher to use her initials, instead of her full name (Joanne), because they were afraid that young boys might be a bit reluctant to read a book by a female author. (For more about this, check out J.K. Rowling’s Wikipedia page). Now, you know as well as I do that not only young  boys read Harry Potter.  Those 11 year olds read it, talked about it and others, started reading.  When it became clear that adults were reading The Sorcerer’s Stone, the publisher changed the cover in the second run of the book so adults wouldn’t feel embarrassed by a “kiddy cover”.

The point is not to hone in on a key demographic, but rather to answer the question “Who would enjoy reading this book the most?”  I tend to think of it in terms of likes.  For example: “This book is for people who like post apocalyptic sci fi. 

What is it?

Next, define genre, as different folks have specialties by genre.  Sci fi people are different than literary fiction people.  They have different agents, publishers and readers (with a good amount of cross over, of course, but don’t split hairs at this point).  Write out what your genre is as clearly as possible and maybe make a list of similar stories.  The point of knowing this, is to seek out people who have worked with similar stories and are actively seeking those stories.

If your book is a lot like “The Hunger Games”, you might want to look up the agency that represented that book.  Doesn’t mean they’re currently looking for something like that, but it’s not a bad place to start.

What Are Your Goals?

What you want to do with your story will change who you need to talk to.  If you want to win a contest, or get into a literary magazine, you’re going to target different people than if you want to traditionally publishing a manuscript. Remember, marketing isn’t just about selling.  It’s every connection you make it the process of bringing your product to market.  It’s every human interaction from here to when your readers having a crack at it.

Define the main goal of your story (at the moment). There’s a lot of different goals out there, but for now, let’s say the top priority is to find an agent.  Normally, finding an agent is the first step in traditional publishing.  Agents, in a nutshell, represent your book to publishers.  Some folks call them the gatekeepers of the publishing world, but a good agent will also act as a champion for your career.

Although, as the publishing world is changing, so are many agents.  A lot of agents are now representing so called “hybrid” authors, who publish traditionally and also self publish.  Even if the goal is to self publish, you might want to consider reaching out to agents who are into this kind of work.

(One caveat: never submit sub par work to an agent.  Always make sure that the work you are showing them is the best that it can be.  If that means working with a freelance editor before you submit, then that’s what it means.  Those guys usually aren’t cheap, but the confidence is worth the moola.)

Do Your Homework

Based on your list, start searching for specific individuals.  Start with Google.  Start small, add only a few people at a time.  Go deeper, rather than going for a ton of people.  Ask yourself “Can this person really help me achieve my goal?”  Don’t be too picky though.  If there’s any doubt, add them to the list and prioritize later.

Another good place to look is the Writer’s Digest Tutorials.  Look for people who teach Writer’s Digest seminars and webinars.  Agents and all kinds of people do this.  They are also highly targeted to genre.  Get a few names and move on.

Of course, there’s always the good old Writer’s Market.  Save a few dozen trees and sign up for the online version, which is only $7 per month and updates its listings quarterly (opposed to the print version, which is yearly).

I’m not the biggest social media fan, but I’ve heard tell of people connecting with agents via Twitter and LinkedIn.  Just, follow the grandma rule.  If you say it to your grandma, don’t tweet it to an editor.  Use common courtesy and don’t be a troll.

Also, don’t just limit your list to people.  Consider adding events, conferences, classes, seminars and networking events.

Go to Work

Compile your list and notes as you go.  Once you’ve got maybe 10 names or so, start reaching out, keeping track of who you talked to (or submitted to), how and when.  Most writers I know think that spreadsheets are the devil’s work, but they work wonders for organizing this type of info.

Try to form a habit, maybe daily at first.  Or set a goal for chunks of three days at a time, and then take a day off to evaluate your efforts.  Adjust your goal for the next three days and put your nose back down to the grindstone.

Reality Check

Try to stay realistic.  If you’re submitting your work to agents, you’re going to get rejected.  It’s going to suck, a lot.

This is not sexy or fun work most of the time.  It can be a real slog.  Many times, I’ve found myself cleaning out the cupboards or dusting between the window blinds instead of working on a marketing list.  You really have to keep your eyes on the prize.  Keep your goals in mind and keep going back to your list.  It will help you stay sane.

I’ll often take five minutes before doing this kind of work and try and visualize the end goal as specifically as possible.  Imagining yourself winning a Hugo (or whatever the end goal is) can be a real motivator.  Imagine what it looks like, what you’re wearing, who’s presenting the award.  Relish the moment of triumph, whatever that is to you.

Then, get back to work, this book ain’t going sell itself.


HeadshotKent Bridgeman is a freelance writer and marketing strategist who also writes short stories, screenplays and poetry.  He helps his clients clarify their marketing messages and craft potent content. He lives in Chicago with his lovely fiancée D, and a grumpy parrot named Poncho. Check out his work at


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