The WANA Theory of Book Economics–Why Traditional Marketing Doesn't Sell Books

Welcome to WANA Wednesday, the day I dedicate to helping you rock it hard when it comes to social media and building an author platform. Last week I talked about the dreaded Spam Toad. I know sometimes it seems I am being critical in my blogs. I want any writer who has made these mistakes to appreciate one thing…I made them too! Don’t feel badly. It’s an honest mistake.

There are a lot of marketing experts who are benevolently offering flawed advice. They don’t mean to. Most of these experts (at least the ones I have met) have a genuine desire to help and serve others. They see writers who need to market so they offer what they believe is a good plan. And, it very may well be a good plan…just not for books.

The problem is that most marketing experts have a disconnect. Since most of them are not writers to begin with and haven’t worked in the publishing industry, they often fail to appreciate that not only are writers unique, but our product is too. What works for Starbuck’s and Levis and Joe’s Car Wash will not work for authors and books. Why?

First, the CEO of Honda is not personally responsible for building every car. An author, however, is solely responsible for producing the product. Not just a product, but an EXCELLENT product and in a timely fashion. Writers cannot be on a half a zillion sites, doing blog tours and pod casts and on and on…and still have time to write good books.

Yet, even if we could change the fabric of space-time and add more hours to the day, it wouldn’t matter how many social platforms we blitzed with marketing. Why? Traditional marketing does not sell books. Never has and never will. Don’t ask my opinion, mega-agent Donald Maass  (and anyone working in publishing) will tell you that there are only TWO things that sell books…good book and word of mouth. Period.

I remember years ago hearing that traditional marketing didn’t work for selling books. I didn’t want to believe them and I did a lot of running my head into a wall. Finally, I realized they were right, so I wanted to understand what made this particular product (books) so different from pizza, televisions and Frappuccinos. After a lot of study, a few cases of Red Bull and a massive brain cramp, I came up with my own theory—The WANA Theory of Book Economics—WANATBE (get it? Wanna to be? I crack myself up).

The WANATBE  is going to super-duper simplify Marketing 101 so you guys can plainly see why blitzing and advertising about your books non-stop is a bad plan that will do little to drive sales. Yes, traditional marketing will drive some sales, but won’t offer the life-changing numbers all of us want. WANATBE is very simplified, but I tend to believe in Occam’s Razor—the simplest explanation is usually correct. Time to explore why traditional marketing doesn’t sell books.

Commodities are often divided into two types of commodities:

Low Consideration Purchases

High Consideration Purchases

Low consideration purchases are of low social influence. If I drop three bucks to buy a tube of toothpaste and hate it, it is not big deal to toss it in the trash and buy a different kind….unless you are my mother.

Most of us aren’t paying attention to friend recommendations for toothpaste and I would guarantee we aren’t surfing the web looking for blogs and articles about the latest developments in fluoride so we can finally settle the Crest versus Aquafresh debate. We won’t need support and approval from peers that we made a good choice in toothpaste.

And if you do? That’s, uh kinda weird.

High consideration purchases on the other hand, are like cars, vacations, 3-D televisions, and jet skis. These are products where peer opinion weighs heavily upon the decision. If I am about to drop 30 grand on a bass boat, you better believe I have lost my mind I am going to check out consumer reports and on-line resources to get opinions from others.

High-consideration purchases are almost always emotionally driven.

Corvette. Enough said.

But what about books? Some books cost even less than a tube of toothpaste and none cost nearly as much as a flat screen TV. Are books high-consideration or low-consideration?

First, I want all of you to forget the mythos of the Book-A-Week Reader. To the person who devours books like candy, books are a low-consideration purchase. The problem, however, is that this type of reader makes up a VERY small fraction of the overall literate population in need of entertaining or informing.

You want to know how Stephenie Meyers, J.K. Rowling, and Dan Brown became such mega-huge successes? They mobilized the fat part of the bell curve made up of people who normally would not define themselves as readers. There are people out there who have never read any other books, but who own every last hard cover of Harry Potter. These books ignited word of mouth so powerful, that they were able to mobilize the largest segment of the population that is traditionally the toughest to move.

These authors’ books became so popular that they transformed into a social definition. I would have never picked up The DaVinci Code or Twilight on my own. But, finally so many of my peers had read the book that I felt like an outsider. To fit in with my peers, I had to read the book.

The fat part of the bell curve—people who believe they do not enjoy reading—is like a huge boulder sitting on the edge of a cliff. It takes a lot of energy to get moving, but once it does? There is no stopping it. And this is how legends are made.

Yet, too many writers are focusing all of their efforts looking for the ever-elusive avid reader. Why? Who cares if someone only reads one book a year if it is your book?

How much advertising is happening in bookstores, on book blogs, book review sites, and author web sites…the very places we will probably NEVER find regular people in need of entertaining or informing? Writers are all in search of the White Stag (the avid reader) and, in the process, passing up thousands of brown deer. Wait too long on an anomaly and we can starve.

A massive percentage of Americans do not consider themselves to be readers, so to them, books are now a high consideration purchase. If we merely look at price, we can get sucked into this notion that books and toothpaste require the same low-consideration purchase approach. But, when we look closer, we see that books cost something more precious than money…TIME.

So books are tricky. To the avid reader, books are a low-consideration purchase. This is why traditional marketing does not drive the big sales numbers. Traditional marketing (for books) targets a select group of people who already love to read. They don’t have to be talked into giving up their time to read. This person was going to be reading anyway. Traditional marketing does work for this small percentage of the population, because they love books and need help choosing from all the options.

Yet, for the BIG numbers, we have to mobilize the fat part of the bell curve, and that can be a MONUMENTAL task. We have to convince this non-reading group that our book is worth giving 12 hours of undivided attention (average time to read a novel). Unlike music or video, reading is not a passive activity where we just soak up entertainment like a sponge. We can watch a movie while we fold laundry or listen to music while we do dishes. Books are different. They require our full attention.

Thus, our job is to convince this non-reading group to forgo all other fun hobbies for an activity they don’t even believe they enjoy. We have to convince them to turn off Monday Night Football, stop chain-sawing monsters on X-Box, or turn off Dancing with the Stars.

How do we do this? We have to make buying our books an emotional decision driven by peer influence. This is not as tough as it might seem, but we are out of time. We will talk more about this next week. If you must know the answers right away, I encourage you to pick up a copy of my best-selling book We Are Not Alone—The Writer’s Guide to Social Media.

What are your thoughts? Opinions?  I love hearing from you! And to prove it and show my love, for the month of August, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of August I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

Note: I am keeping all the names for a final GRAND, GRAND PRIZE of 30 Pages (To be announced) OR a blog diagnostic. I look at your blog and give feedback to improve it. For now, I will draw weekly for 5 page edit, monthly for 15 page edit.

In the meantime, I hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left over to write more great books! I am here to change your approach, not your personality.

Mash Up of Awesomeness (This week’s is very short. Power has been on and off. Will make up for it next week.)

Nationally Best-Selling Author James Scott Bell addresses back story. Awesome post!

The brilliant and talented Jody Hedlund talks about time-management and productivity.

What scares you that you can’t get enough of? by Angela Wallace


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  1. I’ve recently heard a lot of “book marketing experts” whining that they’ve tried Twitter and they’ve tried other social networking sites and they don’t see even a blip in sales due to all their efforts.

    And on first reading those posts, I got discouraged because I love your books and really believe you have the right idea. Then, because I’ve always asked too many questions and I’ve always been too curious for my own good, I checked out the social media sites of these people who were claiming it didn’t work. I only had to glance at their sites to know why they weren’t having success.

    First, they were basically spam bots. 98% of their posts were “Me! Me! Me!” with no giving to others, no links to anything other than their site and their books.

    Second, at least on Twitter, they were the people you often see with the skewed numbers–1000 followers, 5 following. They can’t hope to interact with others in a way that will motivate them to check out their book or tell their friends about it if they can’t even be bothered to follow back real people who took the time to follow them.

    They were trying traditional marketing, and it just doesn’t work for books 🙂

    1. Exactly. We are going to talk more about that next week. Thanks for the wonderful comment :D.

    2. Nobody on Twitter should follow somebody in expectation that that person will follow them back. The whole point of Twitter is that people should follow the people that they’re interested in hearing from.

      There is no value in following back. None. If you follow someone back in order to keep them following you, congratulations! You’ve clogged up your own timeline in order to keep a link to someone who isn’t interested in you, but just followed you in the hopes of inflating their follower count.

      Every person you follow to boost your stats or to be polite takes your attention away from the people who you actually want to learn from, who actually make you laugh. And if the response is, “but my client hides most of my followers,” well that’s not interaction. You have the exact same relationship with the people that you pretend to follow as you do with the people you don’t follow. But in the second case, at least you’re being up-front about it.

    • SandySays1 on August 17, 2011 at 3:00 pm
    • Reply

    Your “about” says you make speaking appearences. Could you pub a schedule? (Maybe I just haven’t found it-sorry if that’s true) I’d love to hear you speak.

    1. I don’t have anything officially on the calendar until 2012, but I will update. Thanks!

      1. I’m going to DFW! Is that one of your gigs?

        Also, did you apply to be at RWA National in Anaheim 2012? It’s right near me!! (All WANA crowd can be assured that I will bring wine and chocolate to the room parties *begging for visitors*)

  2. Talk about a brain cramp; I didn’t know any of this high/low-consideration stuff. I was aware of people being more careful with what books they buy because it was a time investment, but the fat bell-curve and non-readers just blew me away. Thanks for the great insight.

    One question: what about the niche books? How are they going to appeal to a large audience?

  3. Sometimes the universe conspires to teach me things by sending them my way twice (I’m a slow learner when it comes to “signs”).

    This post mirrors a conversation I had two days ago with creative non-fiction author Marcello di Cintro. I was interviewing him for a feature I’m writing on how blogging can improve writing (for authors). He said that there’s a big secret out there. And that secret is that traditional book tours don’t sell books. And they never have. Sure, people come to readings (sometimes), but most of those people would have purchased books anyways. What it’s good for, he said, is accumulating frequent flier miles.

    So, what did I do when I got off the phone? I went and got one of his books. I’ll buy his next one when it comes out. I have a personal connection. He’s an interesting man (whose books are well reviewed).

    Social media, if done properly and sincerely as you advocate, can sell books.

  4. Your advice is sound as always Kristen. The book “The Tipping Point” talks about word of mouth products and could just have easily been titled “Moving The Boulder Off The Cliff.” if you haven’t read it, it is worth the effort. Warning – It can be statistically challenging at times due to the author’s academic background. Again, worth the trouble.

    Thanks for the great info Kristen.

  5. Kristen, your take on marketing makes total sense. I recall hearing Donald Maass saying “word of mouth sells books.” The bell curve imprints a meaningful picture of the process. I am aware of authors in my writer’s associations that have good books to sell, but for some, their promotion morphed into an irritant and I stopped reading anything they posted.

    I accepted advice two plus years ago to get familiar with social networking. I can navigate through social media, but need to streamline the time efficiency, both for me and for any followers. Their time is as golden as mine. But thanks to you, the fog is lifting from the platform and brand issues. And I must finish my manuscript!

  6. What you say makes perfect sense if one is dreaming of a bestseller. If the goal is to self-publish an e-book (particularly a genre book) and have at least a few hundred people read it who don’t know either the author or her mother, I don’t know about spending a lot of time and energy on trying to convert non-readers.

    1. Selling a few hundred books is not easy. And writers are all busy fishing the same ponds. There are better ponds with more fish and non-readers do read…they just don’t define themselves as readers.

      And, if a writer has a great story for sale, why would she worry about it being so hard to interest someone who isn’t an avid reader? All people like good stories. It isn’t as tough a sale as it might seem.

  7. Ooh, thanks for the mention! 😀

    I’ve never really understood traditional marketing. I don’t think any commercial or billboard has made me want to buy the advertised product (except maybe food). I get that it creates awareness, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to sales. Will this ever come easily? 😉

  8. I’ve read WANA – yet I can’t wait for tomorrow’s post. I need the reminder, Kristen!

  9. I’d always wondered how certain books took off and sold like hotcakes. I can’t wait for the next installment of this topic. But is it really just those suspense/paranormal/thriller/vampire/pre-adolescent scorceror books that bag the brown deer? Say it ain’t so!

  10. Thanks for bringing up a point I’ve expounded upon repeatedly—buying a book is much more than an investment of a few dollars; it’s an investment in many, many hours of active, attention-stealing commitment on the part of the purchaser. As such, the decision to purchase is not so much the price point as it is the entertainment potential.

    There are a lot of 99¢ authors out there that just don’t get that. They insist upon flooding the market with what is in many cases a poorly constructed “bargain” product that, in the end, isn’t really a bargain at all.

  11. I guess it helps to have lots of friends or at least acquaintances because then they can tell their friends of “this great book” they read and they know the author. Other ways to spread the word by “mouth” is probably social media (i.e. Twitter, blogs, FB, ect.). I know I’d be more likely to buy a book from someone I “know” from social media. I’ve already bought books based on them popping up numerous times on the social media sphere.

    Looking forward to more MYWANA.

  12. Thanks for making this so clear–and using marketing terms to help counter the marketing people who say, “social networking doesn’t sell books”. Those are the people who are trying to sell books like tubes of toothpaste. I never realized that traditional marketing DOES work for hard-core readers, but of course it does. If I’m reading the NYT book review, a full page ad for a book is going to get my interest. But if I’m watching Dancing with the Stars, it won’t. If you want the DWTS reader, you’ve got to go elsewhere.

  13. You’ve just made a sale. 😉

  14. Interesting stuff. Using social media incorrectly, in my experience, does have a negative impact on sales. I’ve blocked a number of people on Facebook who shove their books in my face ad nauseam. And these are Christian authors–people who are not supposed to be so self centered. I’m glad to learn this before I publish my book. Hopefully, I won’t fall into the same self-destructive pattern.

  15. Lawd thank you! Here I was feeling all guilty-fied for not getting out there and touting myself from here to Kingdom Come. In fact, I’ve dropped off some things – forums or sites of various doodlee dah ding dang – because if I tell my editor, “Um, I’m not going to make my deadline because I’ve been running like the cliched chicken with its head wacked off – but all for a good cause, yes, sure – so people will NOTICE ME NOTICE ME!” – But fortunately for me, my editor had said early on, “Book signings don’t work. Do them if you enjoy them for bookstores you love, but don’t feel you have to … just write your next book(s)” Bingo!

    Still, there was that part of me slinking around, looking at other authors/writers doing all these really cool things on their blogs and twitter and facebook and google plus and stumbleupon and book tours and blog tours and knick knack paddy whack . . . I felt guilty and as if I weren’t doing enough. Did you hear the BIg Arse Sigh Of Relief come your way as I read this? Now, I’m getting back to work. Hi ho hi ho . . .

    Thanks for taking the time I know it takes to write these posts . . . !

  16. I’m over halfway through WANA and loving it, I’m so happy I discovered you Kristen. I wasn’t in terrible shape as far as the social media appearance stuff already because I’ve always had a keep it real attitude, but even as I make slight adjustments to things like my blog, I’ve begun to notice a lot more activity in my social media. It’s very exciting. Thanks for spelling it out for all of us who don’t know any better.

  17. I agree with all of this, because word of mouth is how I choose my own books as well. Even though I write books, I do not have the time or inclination to follow thousands of potential authors, when I can have a three minute conversation with a person I trust to suggest a good read.

    Thanks for posting this, and I’ll be checking out your WANA book quite soon – because my friend suggested it. 🙂

  18. Excellent post! I love all your little nuggets of wisdom. Can I call you my guru?

  19. “A massive percentage of Americans do not consider themselves to be readers, so to them, books are now a high consideration purchase.”

    This is actually the saddest, most true sentence I’ve read in a while.

    And people wonder why our educational system is falling apart. Parents who don’t read produce kids who don’t read.

    Great post. Beyond that quote, too, of course.

    1. Take heart. People are reading more now than ever, and that will only improve. E-readers have breathed a lot of new life into this past-time. The flawed thinking is that this sector of the population doesn’t read. They DO read, and they are very loyal. Yet, most would not call themselves “readers.” If convinced a certain book is THAT good, this part of the population are the best fans to have.

  20. I definitely agree with the building relationships part. That’s paramount. Though I do wonder how the “appeal to non-readers” applies to writers not writing mainstream fiction. I write erotic romance, which is a pretty specific niche. Most non-readers aren’t going to select the one book they read all year to be an erotic romance, lol. (Though they totally should!) It’s something you kind of have to work your way into–i.e. you are a romance reader and decide you want to read something a little spicier. So I’m left wondering how on earth I would appeal to a non-reader. It seems my best bet may be trying to find those who are already readers but who may be open to trying something a little different. I don’t know, just thinking out loud here. : ) Your posts always make me think.

    1. We will talk about that next week. Actually non-readers can be simpler to convert than most writers believe. Also, since the typical non-reader doesn’t have a stack of books waiting for her attention already, she is more likely to be a highly loyal/focused fan (I.e. Harry Potter). There are a lot more non-readers out there and so the sale is actually easier. It is just training writers to adjust their focus. But, again, I will explain more next week. Thanks for commenting Roni. And never underestimate the power of personal connections. I rarely read your genre, but fully intend on buying your book ;).

      1. Me too, Roni! I just love the make-over you did to your site.

  21. That’s a great post – It make so much sense! I think writers have a hard time “getting” the low-consideration vs. high-consideration thing when it comes to books, because we are all such avid readers ourselves and can’t imagine NOT being one.

  22. So true. Due to my wallet, every book purchase is a high risk consideration, but I do consider We Are Not Alone and Are You There, Blog to be very good investments.

  23. I think the tipping point has something to do with it: attracting mavens, connectors and salesmen, as Gladwell calls them. I’ve thought actually a lot about this one, I’m just still trying to figure out the application.

    As for “boulder at the edge of a cliff” being the way “legends are made,” were you intentionally nodding toward Greek Mythology there? If so, that’s quite witty of you.

  24. For the me, the equation is definitely time over money and has been since my early twenties. High consideration indeed. I currently have eight books on my Kindle PC plus a stack of thirty sitting next to my desk (and that isn’t remotely all the unread books I own). Estimated read time, if I don’t add anymore, is about a year. That is how much time I have for it, but I do finish one every ten days to two weeks.

    Great explanation, Kristen. As always, you make complete sense. Thanks 🙂

  25. Very interesting. You hit the nail on the head when you point out most authors are targeting the avid reader when they need to look elsewhere. In the same way, too many authors are marketing to other authors. I’m looking forward to your answers on this because you’ve zeroed in on something very significant. Thanks.

  26. Couldn’t agree more. Super post.

  27. I just finished WANA today. I won an Amazon gift cert in a contest. See, where there’s a will, there’s a way. WANA makes perfect sense to me and I can see the mistakes I’ve made. WANA is helpful that I also bought Are You There Blog. I’m with Terrell as far as my purchases these days needing a lot of consideration, but I know it will be worth the investment. WANA sold me on your other book. I need to review parts of WANA again to fully absorb all of it. My brain can only process so much at a time, but I do thank you for your most helpful advice.

    1. Thanks, Lynn. AYTB is a bit more updated. I hope you enjoy it. Oh, and don’t worry about mySpace. They committed digital suicide two weeks after WANA released. Now you see why I teach you guys to focus on people and relationships instead of gizmos. With a solid brand you will be able to ride out the upheavals in social media without having to start all over.

  28. I bought both your books this week — they arrive in a few days. I can’t wait to read them, because even though I’ve only been following your blog for a couple of weeks now, I love what I am reading. Your post today makes SO much sense to me (and I am an avid reader…although one with a lot less time than I used to have to read!).

  29. Good analysis. People value time more than $0.99 and thus they need assurances that the tome they’re picking up is the next Jon Locke. Now, can you tell me how to generate such assurances? Reviews are subject to being gamed, but I think they provide a start.

  30. Your argument makes sense but the granular details of it escape me.

    1) If people are not readers, i.e. not intellectually curious or adventurous they may well not be my audience at all. My books (like many others on the market today) are non-fiction, topical and heavily-reported, not cute, lite beach reads or chick lit. From the very deeply divided reviews my new memoir is getting — love it, loathe it — it’s becoming quite clear to me who my ideal readers are. And they are not the majority of these non-reading people. Fine with me.

    1a) My point is that people who want simple amusement will not find it within the pages of many fantastically written books that deserve much wider audiences than they will ever find, no matter how much you chase them down. Because those books are NOT meant primarily or exclusively to entertain.

    2) “Word of mouth” is a great phrase. People only have one mouth and most normal people have a small and limited circle of friends, colleagues and Facebook pals. If 100 people tell 10 people about your book, you’re probably doing really well. Does that mean you’re now going to sell 1,000 additional copies? I doubt it. Yes, some lucky books will receive a rave review from a blogger with 1 m views, so their word may carry tremendous weight and credibility. But if people are not actively seeking recommendations from their reading friends, word of mouth can’t carry you very far.

    1. But what I am going to teach you guys how to do is to get non-readers to love your books. It does happen.Since this group rarely reads, an endorsement from this sector is HUGE and can catch like wildfire. Too many writers are all basically selling to each other. There are better ponds with more fish that don’t happen to already be buried in unread books.

      Social media is the new village marketplace and if people are talking about our book, that is good news. Print ads, book trailers. book tours or full-page spreads in newspapers do very little to drive sales and this is why. The largest sector of the population isn’t moved by ad space the same way they would be for a Best Buy advertisement. It is a different process. Writers keep marketing book like they are marketing toothpaste and it doesn’t generate decent sales. So either we can beat our heads against the wall or we can apply some common sense and do things differently.

      Don’t underestimate word of mouth. It has the potential to spread news globally, especially now that we are in the digital age. And we never know when we might hit that tipping point. Ronald Regan held up a copy of Tom Clancy’s “The Hunt for Red October” and suddenly Clancy’s career exploded and he’s been a mega-author ever since. Someone knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who happened to be able to hand that book to Reagan. If that can happen in an age with no computers, what are we capable of?

      People generally seek out books for information or entertainment. In my opinion, even informative books need to be entertaining or why not spend our free time reading tax codes or college text books? I don’t understand how any book can be “fantastically written” but not “entertaining.” I think that a book doesn’t have to be fluff to be entertaining. And if these books are written to target an elite audience, then by definition the numbers will be small. But I think that many people underestimate the typical non-reader. Remember, many of these folks made “Tuesdays with Morrie” and “The Road” a mega success. They DO read, they are just more picky than the self-professed “avid reader.”

  31. My background is in marketing, so I always find these types of posts very interesting. I love keeping in the know on these matters. Thank you, Kristen! 🙂

  32. Good discussion.

    There’s plenty of room between selling 100 books to friends and your mom’s friends and the Meyers-Rowling-Brown crowd–and this is the area that traditional publishing does not serve and never has. One of the reasons so many good books never got published in the past is that selling “only” 15,000 copies made you a failure. Now, if you sell 15,000 self-published ebooks and make $3 each and you have five books up for sale at once, you can do all right. You’re paying your bills and buying a car and no one can tell you you’re a failure. Hell, even if you sell 1,500 books, or 150, you’ll be doing better than if you queried 200 agents, heard nothing in return, and gave up.

    As for marketing not working, I think getting a few authors interested in helping your initial launch by retweeting your announcement or letting you guest post on their blogs certainly can’t hurt. Writers don’t just know other writers–they know people in a lot of fields, and those people know people, too.

  33. Again, thanks for the clear thinking. Can’t wait to hear what does work.

  34. To quote the Dread Pirate Roberts, “Truly you have a dizzying intellect.” Great breakdown here. I feel like Forrest Gump when I say, “Kristen always had a way of explaining things so I could understand them.”

    And it’s worth reading Bob’s comment up there about how too many authors are marketing to other authors. That’s even worse than just targeting avid readers.

  35. This will make you happy. Your comments about the “time” value really stayed with me. I thought about it all day, in fact! I’ve read your book. I’m collecting twitter followers; I’m interacting–all that jazz. It’s the time factor that even for me as an avid reader that keeps me from taking on too many books onto my Kindle. Maybe, it’s a clutter factor or an obligation factor. I want to read, but I need to write. Maybe, potential readers struggle with this same push-pull of obligation? I’m making little time for either reading or writing right now because I’m getting lured in to the marketing side of things with my books. It’s the twittering and the facebooking and blog reading that sucks me in!

    And yet, I am garnering a few readers who sing the praises of my book(s) and write reviews (without me asking) and tell their friends. It’s that Word Of Mouth factor; huh? It’s a power I need to harness and finesse more of. I’m just not sure quite how, yet.

    Regardless, I love where you’re are going with this. I get it. Thank you for the thought-provoking post.

  36. I am reading We are not alone at the moment (one of my ROW80 goals for this week!) and loving it. I even created myself a MySpace page today – still have no idea how to use it, but I am sure I will get there.

  37. Great post as always, Kristen. Like so many others that have already commented, I did not realize that we should attempt to reach all those people who are not already avid readers. I look forward to next week’s installment for tips on how to do that.

  38. I stumbled upon your post and I’m riveted. Finally, someone who is saying something different than build your social media platform if you want to be published/sell books.

    I’ll be back for your next installment. I’m also going to check out your book (although I’m a low-consideration book buyer – I read almost everything that is recommended to me).

  39. I had never given it much thought as to who I needed to try and get buy my book. Wow it’s a lot to think about. Thanks.

  40. This is my first time reading one your posts, Kristen, after trying to make sense of the #MyWANA hashtag many of the writers I love best use! I’ve read many of the big marketing blogs too, and none really speak to me as a writer. You’ve nailed it.

    Harry Potter made a reader out of my non-reading teenage niece, yet another reason for mobilizing the fat part of the bell curve.

    Oh, and congrats on selling WANA in one superbly-written post. I just downloaded it to my Kindle!

  41. This is perhaps the most cogent description of marketing books I have ever read. Congratulations!

    I was particularly struck by your reference to TIME. Readers devote time to reading, not necessarily money, and time is by far the more precious of the two. I remember having this discussion with my magazine publisher twenty years ago, and he didn’t get it.

    I’ve already tweeted the post, and I’ll add a link on my blog! Your ideas are definitely worth sharing as widely as possible.

  42. What a concise and insightful post. As someone who used to study marketing and retail, I’ve been confused by so much of the “platform-building” advice out there, because it just strikes me as wrong. Now I see why. They advice is wrong: we aren’t selling widgets, we’re selling experiences, and that requires an emotional connection. Or peer pressure. Loved how you stated the elusive obvious regarding the middle of the bell curve. Thanks for a great post. Will link to my blog:

  43. I am new to Twitter and yet I found your blog post through a tweet today, so that works for blogs. I agree about using social media to sell books. When i sit down to read, I want a guarantee that I am not wasting my time. There is no such thing and in my small book club we have rarely been in consensus about liking a book.
    Great post!

    1. Sorry, that I just reread my comment and it wasn’t very clear.
      I am in agreement with you about not relying on social media to sell books. It hasn’t sold me yet. You have such a great point about the peer pressure influence in the market.
      I am following your blog and look forward to more enlightening posts.

  44. Brilliant! As soon as I saw the post topic with the high and low consideration, I was like the annoying kid in class raising their hand – Ooo, ooo, but it’s the time factor. So I completely agree.

  45. I always wonder about that. Books tend to hurt our pockets a little bit so yes, they’re hi consideration purchase. However, there is such a thing as library. 🙂

  46. Thank you so much for this post Kristin! I began neglecting blogging when I started writing fiction, believing that blogging/social media was for non-fiction writing. Now I am inspired to get back into it and tackle that blog again, with tidbits from my research. I love the research part, but find the creative part of writing to be a bit on the agonizing side, or at least getting started is often rough. I can see I’m going to have to camp here on your blog for awhile – great stuff!

  47. I agree that writers should develop a social media presence in order to self-promote their books, but what about all those potential readers who don’t go near Facebook or Twitter, or who have stepped into those virtual worlds but have gotten lost in the jungle?

    Social media can be considered part of the NEW traditional marketing of books, but certainly other methods, even old pre-Facebook ones, should be continued as well.

    1. They don’t work. Traditional marketing doesn’t sell books. It’s a waste of time and money that makes writers “feel” like they are doing something, but the numbers really show no difference. Writers would be better off doing nothing and writing more books. And NO, social media treated properly is nothing like traditional marketing. Traditional marketing is uni-directional with a fixed message. Social networks rely on word-of mouth and relationships because they depend on others liking the message then sharing it. When Best Buy send me a mailer, they aren’t counting on my photo-copying it and sharing it with all my friends and family.

      Writers who treat social marketing like traditional marketing will see dismal results and it will wear them out. When we treat social media like traditional marketing, we get about a 1% return. This means we have to have 20,000 followers on Twitter before any activity will be meaningful for sales *(and even then the ROI is pathetic). I can do more with 2000 followers than someone using traditional marketing with 20,000. It’s called working smarter, not harder.

      1. OK, at this stage I will take your word on what works and what doesn’t. I am going back to the two things that sell books = a good book and word of mouth. Right now I am concentrating on the first part of that equation.

  48. Thanks for the great article! I will be at a “non-avd-reader” event this weekend and am looking forward to employing this psychology. I linked to your blog on my own at

  49. Hi Kristen!

    First, THANK YOU for all you do. Your book, “We Are Not Alone,” made me feel precisely that! Writing can be a solitary lifestyle in many ways and many of us carve our own paths. I plowed through your first book — feeling as though I was chatting with an insightful friend — in one day/night and am mid-way through “Are You There, Blog…” now. Your philosophies are influencing my life, career and mindset on multiple, positive levels. So again, thanks!

    I love your points regarding writers’ proper focus. Admittedly, I’ve been feeling a bit Sybil-like lately.

    I write health and wellness-related articles for a living and am building my platform for my brand, August McLaughlin — suspense author.

    With your background in fiction and nonfiction, do you find it difficult to wear multiple hats? Do your nonfiction efforts support your fiction and vice versa, or are they two entirely separate animals (brands)?

    I hope I’ve made some sort of sense! Hoping that tomorrow I’ll awake with epiphanies…

  50. Traditional marketing certainly doesn’t sell books, and every time I see a big poster at a train or Tube station I wonder about the sense in spending all that money on ineffective marketing. Yes, it creates awareness. But there are more effective methods out there.

    Word of mouth is huge in all industries, not just books. And yes, each person only has one physical mouth, but many people have a Facebook account, a Twitter account, etc. and can spread the word in many other ways…using their digital “mouth”.

    One of the big mistakes people make when starting out using social media to promote their books is that they mistake inbound marketing for outbound marketing. Marketing has changed so much over recent years that some people haven’t caught on and are using social media to blast their message at people. Doesn’t work. We have to create a community and engage with them. It’s about networking. Relationships. Blasting out a message is easier, but it’s counterproductive, as at least one commenter above expressed.

    It all comes down to knowing your target market of readers. The most successful small businesses these days are catering to a niche market, and the most successful self published authors are writing to a niche. Get to know your niche, find out where they hang out online and offline, and you’re set. That’s where to start spreading your word of mouth…not by blasting out your message, but by getting to know your potential readers and engaging with them.

  51. Excellent post however I was wondering if you could write a litte more on this
    subject? I’d be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit further. Thanks!

  1. […] – Why traditional marketing does not work with books, by Kristen Lamb:…  In a nutshell, books sell by word of mouth, which I completely agree with. I have to say that one […]

  2. […] Kristen Lamb explores why traditional marketing fails when it comes to digital media in Why Traditional Marketing Doesn’t Sell Books. […]

  3. […] Kristen Lamb talks about why selling books is a unique marketing proposition.  Wait, how many blogs do I have of Kristen?  Oh yeah, ALL of them.  They’re all great.  The WANA Theory of Book Economics–Why Traditional Marketing Doesn’t Sell Books « Kristen Lamb&#… […]

  4. […] Kristen Lamb talks about The WANA Theory of Book Economics – Why Traditional Marketing Doesn’t Sell Books. (It’s even a cliff-hanger blog post, if you can believe that. EVIL!) (She also didn’t […]

  5. […] media is not necessarily the gateway to greater sales, read this article by Kristen Lamb about Why Traditional Marketing Doesn’t Sell Books. I found it really interesting, but we’ll have to read the second half next week. (Or we can […]

  6. […] week I exposed why traditional marketing doesn’t sell books.  Sorry. I didn’t make the rules. Anyone in publishing more than a minute will tell you that the […]

  7. […] Out to Fresh Blood & Bringing New Readers “into the Family” Last week I exposed why traditional marketing doesn’t sell books. Sorry. I didn’t make the rules. Anyone in publishing more than a minute will tell you that the […]

  8. […] weeks ago, I introduced you guys to the WANA Theory of Book Economics and explained why traditional marketing doesn’t sell books. Books are not like cups of coffee or breakfast cereal, and thus they require a different approach. […]

  9. […] the past couple of weeks, we have been talking about the unique nature of marketing books and the equally unique challenges this can present to writers…who need to market yet still need […]

  10. […] There is A LOT of misinformation about what constitutes an author brand. Many social media experts don’t understand that writers are different. Yes, we really are special unique snowflakes. Author brands are highly unique and complex. What works for Starbucks doesn’t work for writers and for selling books. Go here if you want to know why traditional marketing doesn’t sell books. […]

  11. […] books the same way we buy toothpaste.  The awesome-dipped-in-glitter (TM) Kristen Lamb explained the disconnect between traditional marketing and book selling by pointing out that although books are cheap in price, they are expensive in the time required to […]

  12. […] The world is changing faster than any of us can keep up, and publishing is certainly not immune. Yet, one constant remains. There are only two ways to sell lots of books–good book and word of mouth. Period. Book trailer, bookmarks, giveaways, and flare are fun, but are certainly not major drivers of book sales. If you want to know why, take a few minutes to check out one of my earlier posts that explains why books are not tubes of toothpaste and writers are not tacos. […]

  13. […] interesting interview of a book blogger) in and of itself, this one also sidetracked me into “The WANA Theory of Book Economics” (which is definitely worth a read by anyone even tentatively maybe possibly thinking about […]

  14. […] ineffective. It is also traditional marketing, which doesn’t sell books. Never has and here is why. The best way to sell a lot of books is to write a darn excellent book. Tune into this blog Mondays […]

  15. […] There is A LOT of misinformation about what constitutes an author brand. Many social media experts don’t understand that writers are different. Yes, we really are special unique snowflakes. Author brands are highly unique and complex. What works for Starbucks doesn’t work for writers and for selling books. Go here if you want to know why traditional marketing doesn’t sell books. […]

  16. […] summer I wrote a rather controversial post The WANA Theory of Economics. I explained why traditional marketing doesn’t sell books. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it […]

  17. […] of all, marketing does NOT sell books and here is why.  But this reality aside, whenever I teach writers how to use social media to build a platform, I […]

  18. […] panacea offered to replace social media. If social media doesn’t sell books, then what does? Ads don’t. Never have. Promotions are time-consuming, expensive and have a dismal ROI (Return on […]

  19. […] ineffective. It is also traditional marketing, which doesn’t sell books. Never has and here is why. The best way to sell a lot of books is to write an excellent book. Then go write some […]

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