Big-Picture Ways to Think About Marketing: Vitamins, Spaghetti, and Ships

Big-Picture Ways to Think About Marketing: Vitamins, Spaghetti, and Ships

There are no shortcuts for authors to market their books. Sharon Woodhouse presents her series, "Big-Picture Ways to Think About Marketing Fiction." Read Part 1, "Maxing Out All the Themes."

My next-up big-picture way to think about marketing fiction is what I call vitamins, spaghetti, and ships. These concepts focus on three different ways to rotate fresh sales and marketing ideas into your marketing efforts.

As authors committed to ongoing promotion of your works, you probably know you need to try a range of things in your quest for greater visibility, increased sales, and new revenue streams. You may also realize that when you hit on what works you should do more of those things and eliminate the duds. You might further surmise that you should calibrate the things that work so that you’re maximizing their possibilities.

And as you go about the above, it’s helpful to think in terms of vitamins, spaghetti, and ships:

  • “Swallow” a reliable, healthy formulation of activities daily to remain healthy and prevent decline—vitamins!
  • Throw a bunch of untested ideas at the wall and see what sticks—spaghetti!
  • Send out a fleet of well-funded, intricately-planned ideas to distant lands, like the royalty of yesteryear—some long-shot gambles that will pay off big if they return—ships!

Let’s look at these three things—how to use each to your advantage and how they can work together—so that you can generate and work with all types of new and proven sales and marketing techniques in a blend that works for your book and author promotions.


Vitamins are the proven formulation of daily or weekly sales and marketing activities that keep your book promotion strong day in and day out. Think of these activities as the basic, measurable building blocks of marketing that you rely on, tweaking here and there as new data suggest.

For example, your current “vitamin” formula may be:

  • 1 blog post every week (.5 hours)
  • 2 emails to your customer list per month (1 hour)
  • 25–35 Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter posts a week + interaction time (2.5 hours)
  • 5–10 Facebook posts a week + interaction time (.5 hours)
  • 15 customized pitches to member of the media per week (2.5 hours)
  • 10 calls to new bookstores or sales outlets per week (1.5 hours)
  • Setting up 1–2 new author events per week (1 hour)

All that? Yes, it’s a hard pill to swallow. This formulation requires about 9 hours a week or 1.5 hours a day on 6 days.

What is the special combination of routine activities you nourish your marketing with on a daily or weekly basis? Is it keeping your promotion and book sales at a sustainable hum or should elements of it be tested to provide greater vigor? If you don’t have such a habit, begin considering what such foundational elements might be and testing out their routine implementation.


Spaghetti refers to any of the inexpensive, handy, easy, commonplace, white-flour ideas that may come to mind from time to time. Throw them all out into the world as your time, energy, and budget allow and see what sticks—which methods, which messages, which audiences.

Build momentum on that stickiness without investing all that much.

Here’s an excellent pasta example I saw this past year: A neighborhood sports bar located near my city’s central vaccination site had written in chalk outside the center: “Free shot with proof of your shot! Major Goolsby’s two blocks away …” Arrows indicated how to get there. This promotion was low-cost and required no real extra thought, effort, or time. Brilliant.

It probably popped into someone’s head, and they tried it out. Who knows how many people claimed a free shot between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., but if they did, it’s likely they also purchased a snack, a meal, and/or another drink. The thing is, I had seen at least four other such sidewalk chalk messages over the last several months from Major Goolsby, which tells me that they may have discovered some sticky spaghetti of their own.

How can you use this category for the benefit of your book?

Have a system for tracking all the low-friction ideas you want to throw out into the world and plans to grab and test things from the list when time allows. When you find your best sticky ideas, decide how you will use them going forward and add them to your routines and calendar. The right gummies may even become part of your vitamin recipe.


Vitamins may keep you healthy. Spaghetti adds low-investment variety and testing. But for the big payoffs, the big leagues, appreciable growth, you’re also going to have to launch ships regularly. Not as often—it takes forethought and proper planning, an investment of creativity and energy, to send out a ship.

It also takes guts and deep reserves of self-confidence, patience, and vision to cushion you against long lead times and inevitable failures. Shore up your kingdom and wait for your prizes to make their way back to you.

Some real-life examples of ships authors I’ve met have launched:

  • YA novelist touring the country, giving school programs with advance book sales through the local indie bookstore.
  • A novelist/poet becoming an in-house blogger/narrator for an upscale hotel.
  • A crime novelist delivering her book one chapter at a time by email over several months as a library fundraiser, with the final chapter revealed at a gala event where finished copies of the book were provided at each place setting.
  • An historian and writer of historical fiction becoming a syndicated columnist.
  • A comedy writer teaming up with a marketer, a chef, and a bartender to create an underground dining club.
  • Authors and local food companies partnering with convention planners to provide regional-themed gift baskets.

Now you.

Start your plan to send out ships by scheduling a day this week to brainstorm on paper or with a compadre:

To what ends will you summon your boldness? What sort of ships align well with your broader goals and desires? To what ships will you devote a real investment in time, energy, and exquisite, thoughtful planning (because it’s worth it)?

Next, decide what makes sense for you:

On what schedule will you launch new ships? Weekly, monthly, quarterly? It may depend on how spirited your planned undertakings. Perhaps put six months’ worth on your calendar, allowing a week for this one, two months for another, three weeks for yet another. Figure a realistic time and double it.

Now, pick the coolest idea and start on that ship this week. As with your spaghetti list, keep a ships list. Over time, you will discover the best way to work these into your overall sales and marketing program.


  • The concepts of vitamins, spaghetti, and ships can help authors organize their sales and marketing activities in a way that promotes stability and growth.
  • This threefold division of ideas is a way to generate and track possible promotional ideas, rotate and test fresh efforts, and maintain a healthy routine of what’s known to work humming in the background.
  • Vitamins are the formulation of daily/weekly activities that sustain awareness of you and your writing, preventing decline.
  • Spaghetti refers to easy, low-cost ideas that you can test as time, money, and effort allow by throwing them out into the world and seeing what sticks.
  • Ships require real investments of creativity, energy, time, and sometimes money—and they are gambles. While many may fail, the ones that succeed can be game-changers.

Next up, unexpected ways your readers spend money ...

*Feature photo by RODNAE Productions (Pexels)

Learn more about indie book marketing with our Symposium session by Leila Siddiqui, a book marketer at Simon & Schuster—Marketing for Indie Authors.
Sharon Woodhouse is the owner of Conspire Creative—coaching, consulting, conflict management, project management, book publishing, and editorial services for authors, solo pros, and small businesses.
More posts by Sharon Woodhouse.
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