Why Traditional Marketing Doesn't Sell Books
Ah, it’s the last WANA Wednesday of 2011, and we are careening toward 2012. There are all kinds of writers and all kinds of paths to publication these days, but the down-side is that the competition is growing exponentially by the day. Many writers who would have simply made a resolution to query an agent with that finished manuscript are now just going to bypass the agent and upload their novel for sale. Not that this is a bad thing, but it can open a Pandora’s box of problems. We will talk more about that in the coming weeks.
The Tough Truth About the Brave New World of Publishing
Here’s the hard reality. Saying we are a “published author” these days means almost nothing. It did mean something when back when publishing was locked up tighter than Martha Stuart’s liquor cabinet with gatekeepers. To say we were published meant our work met a certain standard of quality. These days? Rankings and sales will probably become the new mark of author validation. Ok, we are published, but are we #5,339,076 on Amazon? Or are we in the top 100? 50? 10?
I’ve met writers who proudly paid to have beautiful covers designed and build web sites for their self-pubbed book, and yet, when I got a look at their first pages, I wish I could have stopped them. That’s the problem with being new. When we are really new, we are too dumb to know what we don’t know.
So before we make a decision to self-publish, we must make sure we get a professional to look at our book and let us know the hard truth, even if it hurts. It is way easier to have an editor send a private e-mail telling us that our book is a disaster than for a book reviewer to do it on a blog or for readers to blast us on Amazon. Also the BEST way to positively impact sales is to write excellent books. No amount of social media can help a bad book.
But this is another blog.
Not all self-pubbed or indie pubbed books are poorly written. Quite the contrary! Some of the freshest and most innovative writing is now coming from the non-traditional routes. Yet, when an author decides to go it alone, without any support from a traditional publisher, it is a lot of work no matter how excellent the writing. Don’t let anyone fool you. When we go it alone, we are an entrepreneur and we will have to work like a dog to be successful. Ah, but here is where I can help. Why work harder when we can work smarter?
Writers are Not Car Insurance and Books are Not Tacos
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?
Yes, Writers Really are Special, Unique Snowflakes
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 that I call The WANA Theory of Book Economics—WANATBE (get it? Wanna to be? I crack myself up). We have talked about this before, but it is worthy of mentioning again, especially this time of year.
Why Does Traditional Marketing Bomb when it Comes to Books?
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?
Reconsider the Potential Market—Tunnel-Vision Will Get Ya Killed
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.
Peer Pressure–Not Just for Teenagers
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 books that I felt like an outsider. To “fit in” with my peers, I had to read the books.
Peer pressure is the only explanation I have for why The Girl books are popular. I tried reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and I just couldn’t get into it (Please don’t send me letters. I don’t have to like all books). Yet, I can’t count how many times someone has said, “Oh, the first 100 pages are rough, but once you get past those the books are amazing!”
Who in their right mind would give a book A HUNDRED pages to get interesting? Peer pressure is what makes the difference. Peer pressure was the only reason I gave the book 50. I NEVER give books more than 20. Ah, but with peer pressure, everything changes. Enough people around are promising a pay-off.
Back to my point…
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, author web sites, and in Facebook “reader groups” (which is code for “bunch of authors trying to sell books”)…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.
So What is Our Mission?
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.
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 simply 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. Traditional marketing does not have the power to do this. If writers approach social media using a traditional marketing approach, what happens is we become no better than spam. It’s a TON of work for very little pay-off and it will leave next to no time to do what’s most important….write more books.
Learning to affect peer influence 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? Challenges? I love hearing from you.
And to prove it and show my love, for the month of December, 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 December I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!
I also 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 the biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left to write great books!