How to Sell Your Book – The Masculine Way/The Feminine Way

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!

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11 thoughts on “How to Sell Your Book – The Masculine Way/The Feminine Way

  1. Excellent post! Having sat in on the Steven Spatz workshop, I pretty much agree with you on every point. They are two very different mindsets and I think each style has their advantages and disadvantages. I did learn a bit from the Spatz speech, but Kristen has taught me a lot more.

    Genre definitely does matter at this point. E-readers have brought out a new group of readers, mostly younger folks, and they’re interested in paranormal, YA, and the like, as well as shorter fiction. But trends always change. That’s the nature of the beast. It’ll be interesting to see where things go in this rapidly evolving world of publishing.

    And thanks for the mention! 😀

  2. Pingback: Selling a book…. | Dreaming in Ink

  3. Well I don’t know what method you use but you gave me a copy of the Loyal heart to read and review and I enjoyed it so much I bought the faithful heart and am not so patiently waiting for courageous heart to be written and released! (So hurry up!)

    So here’s from a readers POV…..For me as a reader, not a writer I very rarely take the chance and spend money on new authors unless I have had the chance to read their work and see if their writing style works for me. I think using the sample option to let the buyer read the first 3 chapters free (try before you buy) is a good way to go……….because if your work is good enough the reader will be hooked by that that point and buy the book!

    As for genre trends…….. Well romance is always a hit with women of all ages, you only have to look at M&B or Harlequin, they sell a LOT of romance novels including historical, so you have to try to target the right audience. (even try submitting to one of the large romance publishing houses!!…..I found Nora Roberts through M&B and read everything I find of hers now!) More and more people are changing to e-books, I’m 46 and have a kindle, my mum at 73 has a kindle and most women I know of all ages own an e-reader of some description. Yes YA paranormal is a trend at the moment (everyone is searching for the next twilight……it’s the romance factor that made that so good not the vampires though…….. and even M&B jumped on the trend with their nocturne series!!!) but more and more people are turning away from them now because they are becoming bored with the same old same old! There are also millions of people out there like me that don’t stick to one genre but like a variety just to keep things interesting so I wouldn’t worry about trends just about finding the audience because it is there and always will be!

    Anyway I found this a really interesting topic and am so glad I’m not trying to sell my work because it must be difficult and frustrating before it gets to be satisfying!…. I wish you all luck and remember, write from the heart and the sales will take care of themselves……(If only lol)

    • Those are some really great points, Jane! And it’s always good to hear what readers really think. I think that the hardest part of writing is reaching readers. I’m a firm believer that in the future it’ll be review sites like yours that saves our butts!

      And you know, The Courageous Heart may be a few months out yet, but there’s this really neat western…. 😉

  4. Really thanks for this post, Merry. And let me weigh in on this subject of book marketing. I think the Steven Spatz approach probably works for many authors and readers of nonfiction, but I totally agree with the Kristen Lamb approach: readers, at least my kind of readers, want to interact with a person, not a marketer. They want to hear about little Mary’s gold star or the dog’s trip to the vet; they want to hear about the writing process, how it feels to publish your book or the agony of getting stuck in the middle of a scene with no words.

  5. I would like to think that reviewers help but it’s a hard one to call, my favourite site is goodreads but I don’t chose a book because of how many good reviews it has, I chose a book that has a decent review off a hand-full of reviewers whose opinion I trust and I have come to learn that we have a very similar taste in books. Sometimes I review books that have already picked up lots of 5* reviews only to find that my opinion of it is VERY different, but then I follow a strict check list for my ratings and never deviate even if the author is a friend personally or via FB/twitter etc.

  6. Hello Merry,
    Thanks for posting this article about my talk at the recent Philadelphia Writer’s Conference. Yes, I have to say my “Think Like A Marketer” discussion could be considered a bit controversial and counter to some of the popularly held concepts about book marketing. However, I think that the points I made and those you’ve highlighted from Ms. Lamb’s discussion are probably more complimentary if used together. For instance, some of my marketing oriented tactics and strategies are best executed with emotion-laden, authentic content directly from the author. Frankly I believe our discussions are really the book ends (pun intended!) to a powerful 360-degree marketing campaign for most any kind of book. If you or your readers have any questions or comments, please feel free to email me at: sspatz@bookbaby.com.

    • Thanks Steven! Yes, I definitely think that there’s a place for all sorts of different kinds of marketing in the indie world. And as the saying goes, different strokes for different folks! I enjoyed hearing your presentation. 🙂

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