How to Sell Books

You all know that I’m not a marketing maven. But I have developed some strong opinions about what works and what doesn’t over the last couple of decades. Here’s the distilled version:

— Is it a good manuscript? In what way?

— Who is already looking for a book like that? Why? What needs are driving them? Even novels are read to fill a need. Define it more narrowly than entertainment: different people find different things entertaining in large part because they fill different emotional needs. Know the needs that your book’s audience wants to fill.

— How many of these target readers can you find? What media, social or old-style, are they following? Who influences them? What messages or stories are they paying attention to in those groups?

— How does your manuscript fill the needs that are most discussed in those groups?

— How can you increase the benefits that your readers will take from your book? How can you demonstrate that you can deliver those benefits? Tip articles, second serial sales (aka excerpts), short stories or anecdotes (for a novelist, especially), offering advice in social media, comp copies to influential figures: the list is long.

— Worry if you hear yourself say the word “should,” as in “Everyone with ADHD should read this book.” It’s a danger signal. It means your about to try to get people to pay to be force fed the things you think will help them, instead of allowing them to pick out the things they think they need.

And last, but not least, don’t spam. Don’t post information about your book with every comment on new media. Don’t advertise. Don’t give books away indiscriminately.

Instead, demonstrate the benefits that your book will deliver, without mentioning it prominently (or at all, in many arenas). Leave a trail of breadcrumbs so that those who like what you have to say can figure out that you have a book, but don’t be in their face about it all day long. Those who are interested will find the book, and they’ll be so proud of themselves and their relationship to you that they’ll give it great word-of-mouth buzz. That’s effective marketing.

Reader-centered marketing. It works.

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