When selling your book you can’t think like an author, you have to think like a marketer. -Steven Spatz, VP of Marketing for BookBaby
Writers are different than businessmen. Readers don’t want to be sold to, they want to have authentic interaction with an author as a person. -Kristen Lamb, author of We Are Not Alone: A Writer’s Guide to Social Media
This past weekend I attended the Philadelphia Writers Conference. And it was awesome! Several things stood out to me. One of the most controversial was the session lead by Steven Spatz, VP of Marketing for BookBaby, about selling your eBook. What Steven proposed seemed to directly contradict what Kristen Lamb, my personal hero on the subject, advocates.
Okay, so neither of the above are direct quotes, they are me paraphrasing each expert. But I think the statements encapsulate the pith of what Steven and Kristen were each saying. Are these diametrically opposed philosophies? Are we being given mixed messages? Who is right? How do we know what to do?
Yeah, that’s what I’ve been asking myself for a couple of days now.
As I see it, the two approaches to selling books that I have now been presented with are masculine and feminine approaches to the universal problem that all authors have. Let’s take a closer look at each.
Steven’s approach comes from a marketing perspective. One of the first things he stated in his presentation was that you cannot look at your book as your perfect baby. You have to look at it as something you want to sell. He stated that you must view your book as on the same level as toothpaste or toilet paper. It’s a product and you want to sell it.
He advocated doing this with traditional marketing techniques: finding your target audience and hooking them with incentives. He used the marketing analogy of a funnel: leads go in one side and filter through, and sales come out the other. To find leads he recommended all of our standard social media tools, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, all that stuff. His method involves setting up email lists, running promotions, extending those promotions, and closing the sale.
Kristen has a different philosophy. She maintains that you cannot sell a book the same way you would sell toothpaste or toilet paper. A book is an emotional purchase, and as such a reader must approach an author as a person, not a product. Therefore, to “close the sale” a writer must interact authentically with potential readers. The focus should be on the “soft sell”, creating meaningful content that draws readers in and sparks their interest in your book.
Kristine notes that word of mouth is the most important tool in selling your book. People follow personal recommendations, not promotional messages in all their glory. If you spam people with email they will only get annoyed.
Okay, so who’s right? And what do I do next?
Here’s that I think…. They each possess a degree of rightness.
Steven’s approach feels very masculine to me. It’s aggressive and, in a way, dominant. You come out of the gate strong, gather and analyze your data, then plan your attack and execute it according to plan. My gut tells me this approach would work well for non-fiction or fiction aimed at a type-A personality.
Kristen’s approach feels feminine to me. It relies on communication, on empathy and connection. You make friends, show an interest in people’s lives. You share and relate. Word of mouth rules. Instinct tells me this approach would work brilliantly for romance, YA, and literary fiction. If you’re reading a book because you’re interested in the characters then it would follow that you’re also interested in the writer as a character.
Because in essence, both Steven and Kristen are recommending the same tools for the job. They just advocate a different way to use those tools. And to a certain extent I think they are suggesting those tools be used in a different order.
Here’s another thing I learned this weekend about selling books: what you write matters.
I write Historical Romance. My buddy Samantha Warren writes Paranormal and YA Paranormal. Samantha has outsold me by at least 20-1. The statement was made several times that Paranormal is super hot right now. Still. So is YA. Sam and I were talking about this and she said “With your writing being as good as it is you could make a killing writing Vampire Erotica!” To which I responded, “Yes, but I have no interest in Vampire Erotica at all.”
How do you sell books? Write Vampire Erotica. I’m not being flippant there. Book sales, like bell-bottoms and shoulder pads, are effected by trends. Today it’s Paranormal. Sucks to be me. Does that mean I won’t sell any books? Of course not! Historical Romance will always sell, but I will have to be a little more patient, work a little harder, and use a lot more of the tools available to me to seek out those leads, as Steven called them, to find my audience. I wish it could be easier, but that’s books. Someday the Paranormal folks might be pounding the pavement to find readers.
But hear this! No matter which approach you try, the one thing everyone agrees on is that the absolute most important thing you have to do to sell your book is to WRITE A DAMN GOOD BOOK! That is so much easier said than done. And guess what? Once you’ve done that it’s still going to take a hell of a lot of work of whatever type to stand out from the crowd and be noticed by readers.
You cannot slouch. You cannot limit yourself to one method. And most of all, you cannot ever, ever give up!