How Selling Books is not Like Selling Everything Else

from, who just so happens to have a fantastic halloween comic up on their site today.  click to see it (if it's still halloween when you read this)
from, who just so happens to have a fantastic halloween comic up on their site today. click to see it (if it’s still halloween when you read this)

As part of my re-branding process (you know, the one that included updating the site to include more pictures of my ugly mug and actually opening up a facebook fan page that asks for help from time to time? (speaking of which, go nominate me here!), I’ve spent a large amount of time reading through marketing strategies and attempting to develop my own process, realizing that the standard acts performed by most authors don’t really seem to do much toward separating them from the crowd.

In fact, I’ve been creating a rather large document with plans on how to move forward, how to increase ‘brand awareness’, create ‘valued content’, and all sorts of other buzz word catch phrases that causes a little bit of bile to rise up in my throat every time I say them.

It’s important, I get it.  If I want to sell something, I need to start acting like a salesman.  And I’m trying.  I’m trying pretty damned hard, if I say so myself.

However, in my research, I’ve come across one very specific issue that makes it difficult to really know what parts of marketing advice I should use, and what parts I need to completely ignore.

Selling books is different.

I actually feel pretty dumb saying that.  I mean, I’ve got all of a week of marketing experience under my belt, and these folks who guarantee their 30 item bullet list will ensure you sell more of whatever you’re selling, well, they probably at least have a three week course that they took down at the Ramada under their belts.

No, I’m not an experienced marketer.  I don’t know all the techniques that will cause people to buy.  But I do know people.  It’s actually something I pride myself on as an author/ex-actor (yes, I will be appearing on the stage in a week, but I don’t consider myself much of an actor anymore…just someone who can sometimes be convinced to appear on stage).  Knowing what causes people to do things, how they will react to things, well, it’s something of an important knowledge for someone who tries to recreate people in fiction.

And one thing people can be very good at, is sensing absolute bullsh*t.

So, take this piece of advice offered on one site:

Link your product benefits to outcomes that core customers want”

Sure, if I were to be able to convince you that you would lose thirty pounds while sitting around reading The Legend of Buddy Hero, you might have a much better chance of purchasing it.  If I were to state that all you needed to achieve that outcome is an incredibly slow reading speed and to attach the book to a moving treadmill…well, you might not be as likely to go about it.

Yes, perhaps I could state that The Legend of Buddy Hero is a humorous adventure tale that is certain to help you escape your boring day life and truly see what it would be like to be you, but with super-powers.  Maybe you’d be more willing to buy it, but more than likely you’d just see that as the same as every other piece of entertainment you’ve been offered ever.  Yes, my books are a great form of escapism.  Yes, so is turning on The Avengers for the fiftieth time.  Why get attached to new characters when you’re already having tons of fun with old ones?

There are many things I could do to attempt to convince you to read my books, but ultimately, you’re probably like me with choosing books.  You just want to know whether or not it’s going to be a waste of your time, whether you’re going to enjoy it enough to warrant spending the 3-5 hours total reading it.  The benefits of the book, for most people, don’t really get much greater than: Will I like it?

At least, that’s the way it is for me.

Another example of marketing advice from the gods:

“Design your product to match the experience your core customers want.”

This actually mimics what you’ll hear as advice from many agents/publishers/other authors.  Figure out what the next trend will be and ride that wave like a maniac.

Of course, that’s not really what readers want.  Sure, they may finish reading Twilight and wonder what other sparkly vampire tales they could read next.  People are fickle like that.  That’s why there’s something like 500 superhero movies already scheduled to appear over the course of the next 2 weeks.  Trends are a big deal.

But what happens when the trends die out?  What other vampire romance novels actually matter to the mainstream public?  Magic realism (Harry Potter)?  Dystopian is a bit different as we do have several different book series that have gone “platinum”, between Hunger Games, Maze Runner, Divergent, and the resurrection of The Giver, but in the end, it seems like only one of those series will really have any staying power with most folks…at least from what I’ve been seeing so far…I’ve only read one of the series, so can’t speak too directly to the others.

The idea of trends misunderstands the point.  When someone finishes a book they love, they crave reliving that experience…just like that time when you invite all of the same friends over for a party like that last one you had which was really awesome, but instead of being a great party, you all just look at each other blankly, wondering what changed.  People think they want the same experience, but what they really want is another great experience.  Matching the trend might help you for a while, but it will make you even more likely to get lost in the crowd.

In reality, I could go on for forever about how these marketing folks will direct you to craft your product in order to ensure the best selling capabilities, and they might work…they probably will work.  But I severely question the sustainability of such methods.  When creating art, you want to stand out from the crowd, not join it.  And when marketing art, you need to think along those same means…find what makes you different, not how you’re actually the same.

For myself, I’m working on developing that method of presentation, that way of showcasing who I am, not that image that people want me to be.  It’s a difficult concept, to open up like that and really show who you are, hoping that the world will care.

And…honestly…none of this is still any actual marketing…this is just advice on how to package the product.

The real advice that’s necessary is how to get people to even find it in the first place.

Those pieces of advice, I’ve found, are few and far between.  And they’re even harder to find if you’re not willing to abuse the system.

Anyways, I’ve got some more marketing research to get to.  And a Halloween costume to design (and determine…)…Oh yeah…and I’ve still got a ton of writing to do!

Have fun out there!




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