Plan Your Marketing With the Power of Story

by Kent Bridgeman
published in Community

“Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” – Kurt Vonnegut

Conflict, rising tensions, epic rivalries; we writers love to finger paint with all of it.  But what if you could use the same raw materials of story to map out your marketing efforts?  How fun would that be?  Today, I’ll show you some simple strategies to do just that.

At its core, a story is what happens when a need butts heads with an obstacle. The actions a character takes to overcome that obstacle drive everything forward and keep us reading.  In other words:

Story = Need + Obstacle + Action

Luke Skywalker needs adventure, but has to stay home and take care of the farm and family.  So, Luke sneaks out to take care of some weirdo droids and… the rest is history.  Of course, the needs and obstacles will change throughout the story.  But usually, there’s one core need that doesn’t.  Luke still needs adventure even after his Uncle and Aunt are vaporized, but now there’s revenge mixed in, so we get some adventurous revenge.  His obstacle is still his duty, but now it’s his duty to help Leia (still his family, unbeknownst to him at the time).

Now let’s talk about you.  You’re the main character in your marketing story.  How do you take these building blocks of conflict and use them to map out a marketing plan?  Let’s start with need.  What do you need?  It’s a much harder question than at first glance.

The Need

Maybe you have a pretty good idea what you need to focus your marketing efforts on as a writer, maybe not.  Whatever the case, here are a few questions to help clarify things.

  • What do I need to communicate right now?  To who?  Why?
  • What’s the highest priority in my writing life?
  • What goal would make me the proudest to achieve?
  • What would really stick it to that (insert your own jerky authority figure) that said I’d never amount to anything?
  • If I died tomorrow, what would I regret the most not having done (in terms of writing)?

After you’ve gone through these, you should be able to formulate a statement like this:

Right now, what I need most is to build an audience for my self published sci fi novel.

Now, you may have a couple of needs.  But for the moment, pick one and stick to it.  Whichever resonates the most with you and feels right.  Remember, needs can and should change, but right now, we’re just picking a focus.

The Obstacle

No story, not even the story of your marketing efforts, would be complete without some conflict.  What’s standing in the way of you publishing your novel?  What’s the obstacle?

When I’m formulating a goal (of any kind), I like to list out as many obstacles as I can think of and then look for patterns.  Set a timer for five minutes and write down as many obstacles as you can think of. Your list might include:

  • Too much work at day job
  • Not enough money to pay for a babysitter
  • Too lazy to write query letters on the weekend
  • Too tired in general

And so on.  Then you boil it down to one or two BIG obstacles.  From this list above, we can assume that the big obstacle is lack of time to spend on marketing.  Now that we know what we’re up against, we can plan according.

The Action

What differentiates stories from real life?  Characters, when backed into a tight spot, take action.  In real life, we might just buy some popsicles and binge watch Gilligan’s Island on Netflix.   In this case, we need to imitate fiction.  We need to proactively ride out to meet our obstacles, and attack them with overwhelming force. Again, free writing a list helps.  Mind mapping also works well.  Bottom line: use whatever works for you.

If you don’t have enough time to market your novel, you might:

  • Cut back your hours at your day job.
  • Ask a relative to watch the kids on the weekend.
  • Not go to bed until you’ve sent out two query letters.
  • Try a new scheduling app so you can squeeze in time where you can.
  • Cut back on TV or cut it out altogether for a month

I’m not advocating any of these choices; the point is to get some ideas on paper.  Write down what you could do, not what you have to do.  You don’t have to make any decisions until you’re ready to. But when you are ready, pick three to five actions that you can take, and start putting them into action right away.


What are some things you can use to make your actions more effective?  Sure, you can throw a rock on your own.  That’s an action.  But a slingshot will help you fling a rock three times as far, with a lot more precision.  That’s a tool.

Tools are anything that can help you supercharge your efforts.  Maybe a website where you blog about your upcoming novel.  Self publishing is also another tool (and also a whole other can of worms, too big for one article).  Contests, social media, writing groups; all of these are incredible resources to tap in your marketing efforts.


Who are you as a writer?  Why do people care about what you have to say? This is something you need to know to tell your story.  A small three sentence bio can help you enormously when reaching out to agents and publishers, but also when working on your writer’s website or other marketing materials.

It also helps you in your own quest, when things look bleak.  Who am I?  I’m a sci fi writer. It’s what I do.

One great way to put this together is to write a character bio for yourself.  There are lots of great ones out there, but a simple one pager should do the trick (like this one).

Putting it all together

By the time you’re done, you should be able to put it all in one place.  Below is a basic template with the examples we used above.  Feel free to use this in your own marketing plan.

Need: Right now, what I need most as a writer is to: (Publish my Novel)

Obstacles: The biggest obstacles I’m facing are: (Lack of time because of work and family obligations)

Action:  I will take the following Actions to overcome my obstacles: (Stop watching TV for month.  Spend at least 30 minutes daily brainstorming ways to market my novel.)

Tools: I will use the following tools to maximize my efforts: (My writer website, my beta reader Max, mocha cappuccinos, social media)

Identity: As a writer, I am can be summarized as: (I’m a Sci Fi writer who lives in San Diego with my husband and parakeet.  I have written short stories for various Sci Fi Anthologies.)

Something that works really great with this is Gabriela’s writing goals tool worksheet.  Check that out here.  It’s really powerful to know what your writing goals and your marketing goals are, and to be able to look at them once a week, once a month, or whenever you need some inspiration.

Getting specific and getting it on paper makes your goals real, and not as easy to blow off as the daydream of you winning a Hugo.

Last thoughts

As writers, we need to tell stories.  So, why not map out your market strategies as a story?  What are some other ways that you can use the elements of story to get published, get an agent or achieve your other marketing goals?

Post in the comments below.


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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