A couple weeks ago, I started The Road to Success series with The Road to Success Part One–What Kind of Author are You? Then I apparently saw something shiny, and so last week we talked–passionately–about Blog Trolls. How to spot them and how to handle them. Thus, I thought it would be a nifty idea to get back on track with this series. Today we are going to talk about book sales.
*cringes* I feel your pain, but as professionals we do need to talk about this stuff.
I’ve been doing this “social media for authors thing” for quite some time and have taught thousands of people. In my experience, most writers, in the face of having to “sell books” have fairly predictable reactions. They either unwittingly turn into spam bots because they are trying to be “good little marketers”…or they run away screaming to the nearest liquor store. Those remaining either live in denial that writers don’t need to know about sales…or they change the subject to Chris Evan’s pecs.
Okay. Sally forth. Nothing to see.
So today I am gonna help y’all out, no matter what your opinion of book sales happens to be. I am going to give a little insight that will save tons of time, effort and embarrassment.
First, a little story….
Years ago, when I was in college at T.C.U., I was blessed enough to get a job at Successories. They were a wonderful company that treated their people as if they mattered, and it didn’t hurt that they paid better than most retail jobs. I loved going to work there because I always felt that I was serving some higher purpose. What could be a better job than helping people be inspired? To reach for the stars? A motivational store is like Disney Land to an ENFP.
The thing about working in a mall is that there can be a lot of down time, especially during the week. I am not a person to be idle, so after everything was sparkly clean and neat and organized, I would read…until I’d read every book in the store. I read all kinds of stuff. I read everything they had by Zig Ziglar, Vince Lombardi, Anthony Robbins, Dale Carnegie and on and on. I studied Abraham Lincoln and Benjamin Franklin. I read books about leadership, sales, business and marketing. I read every quote book until I knew them by heart.
Why did I do this? Aside from filling in the long hours of nothing, I did it with a motive to serve. See, every worried mom who came in looking for the perfect graduation gift, every employee looking for the right poster to hang in the employee lounge, and every teacher hoping to inspire her kids to reach higher got precisely the perfect tool for the job. When I came to work for this store, the sales had been so low that it was on the block to be closed. Within two months, we had the highest sales in the region.
So why am I talking about this and why does it matter?
When it comes to sales, any kind of sales, people can sense motive. I didn’t make any commission off those sales at Successories. I didn’t have daily quotas to meet. In fact, I think the company would have probably been fine if I just showed up on time, kept the place clean and didn’t steal out of the cash register.
Yet, I did more.
Not because they made me or threatened me, but because I wanted to serve. I loved the company and loved their products (still do) and I longed to help because I liked THEM. In serving others and being authentically interested in others, I had the highest sales, because customers liked ME.
Was my goal the highest sales? No. My goal was to help others, and, by helping others, the end result was that I had the highest sales. Customers sensed that my objective was to serve them and they responded favorably with purchases.
Zig Ziglar was one of my favorites to read when I worked there. My favorite quote by him is, “You can have everything in life you want, if you will just help other people get what they want.” In fact, this quote affected me so powerfully that I base all of my WANA teachings on this maxim. So how does motive affect an author’s approach to social media?
Brave New Publishing World
These days a lot of authors are going the indie route or even self-publishing, and that is fantastic. Yet, when you are the sole person who can make or break your book sales, it is easy to fixate on sales numbers. This is where things can go sideways, especially in the business of selling books. People can sense a motive. If our motive is primarily to sell more books, other people sense that and it turns people off.
Why do you think we dissect everything a car salesman says? Every compliment he gives us is like a move on a chess board. It is a maneuvering to part us from our hard-earned cash. We think, “This dude wants my money and that’s the only reason he’s being nice” whether that is the truth or not.
NO ONE cuts the car sales guy a break.
Books are Not Tacos, and Writers are Not Car Insurance
One of the reasons I feel a lot of self-published authors have gotten a bad reputation is due to their approach to book sales. I cannot count the number of times I received a simply beautiful compliment, and, when I responded favorably…I immediately was sent a link or a DM to buy this writer’s book or “Like” their fan page. What they call “good marketing” I felt as “emotional manipulation.”
Tactics like this are a perversion of Dale Carnegie. Tactics like these make me feel used. They make me feel duped. It isn’t a pleasant emotional experience so it certainly isn’t an experience I long to share, and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this. I have no want or need for phoney-boloney compliments to get to my wallet.
So the trick in social networking is to be able to build a platform that will translate into sales…without thinking about the sales. I admit, the WANA way is a challenge and can be quite counter-intuitive…but it works. Why does it work? Because we are selling to flesh-and-blood-people. WANA methods appreciate the WHY behind the BUY:
People don’t buy for logical reasons, they buy for emotional reasons. ~Zig Ziglar
To be able to sell books, we must understand that what will sell non-fiction will NOT work for fiction. There is a good reason that The South Beach Diet can effectively use an infomercial, but a novel cannot.
Why is this? They are two different types of products selling to fill two very different needs.
Why do readers buy fiction?
One of the reasons readers are so loyal to authors is because of how that author’s stories made them feel. James Rollins makes me feel like I’ve had an exciting adventure. Sandra Brown makes me feel love is worth fighting for. Amy Tan makes me feel hope and power. J.K. Rowling’s stories make me feel heroic.
Fiction authors are brokers of passionate emotion.
This was one of the reasons that—before social media—it was impossible to build a platform for fiction unless one already had a book in print. WHY? Because the author had no way of making an audience feel anything because the book wasn’t yet in print. There was no effective way to attach an emotional context to the product before it hit shelves.
Why do readers buy non-fiction?
On the other hand, non-fiction authors are selling to solve a problem or to educate or inform. They are selling a method, a service, a diet, a trend. Non-fiction authors are brokers of knowledge. Who cares if the diet book makes me feel a certain way? I care that it can give me thighs like Heidi Klum. Results are all that matter. Consumers buy to LEARN. This is why a logical, strategic, cerebral approach will sell books.
Why does this difference matter?
Non-fiction authors deal information and solutions. Fiction authors? You guys are selling an emotional experience. People read fiction to feel passion, love, triumph, happy, moved, inspired. They buy to FEEL.
To sell an emotional product, one must have an emotional approach, and if others (potential readers) enjoy the emotional experience we bring to social media, they are more likely to trust the emotional experience we bring to the page.
These days consumers are being BLITZED with a zillion choices, so to cull through them, often we will default to the Old School methods…we go off our gut and choose who makes us “feel” a certain way. Why do you think even insurance companies like Geico and Allstate try so hard to make us laugh with funny commercials? Even they appreciate how important emotion has become in this digital age.
How does this work for fiction authors?
Protagonists (that a reader has to spend a minimum of 12-15 hours with in a novel) are very often a reflection of the author. Subconsciously we (humans) know this. Thus, it stands to reason that, if the author is pushy, cold, self-centered and unlikable, there is a part of us that expects their “hero” will be more of the same…so we steer clear.
Yet, conversely, if a writer can be someone we like and root for in person, we are more likely to feel good about spending time with this writer’s protagonist. We are going to assume that if we like the author, then we will like her books. And, if the book isn’t all that great, we will still feel good about the purchase because we like the author. It may not make logical sense, but since when have emotions been logical?
This is one of the reasons good author blogs can be such powerful drivers for sales. Readers are more likely to buy from an author who has already provided a positive emotional experience (if not a book, then a thoughtful comment, a compliment, a fun & witty blog). In fact, I would be so bold as to say that they will choose this author ahead of authors who are rude or absentee. This is why using automation is dangerous. It makes potential readers associate our names with being spammed.
How can we speak a “heart language” in a digital world?
Every tweet, every blog post, every comment is an opportunity to create a positive emotional experience. This might not translate into instant sales (which is why some writers get twitchy) but it will pay off in the long-run.
Likeability is good social media sense for any kind of author.
The key to being successful in social media rests in the exponential…NOT the linear. Social media is NOT direct sales. We are wanting more than to connect to one person. We are wanting to connect and then have THAT person SHARE our information with THEIR networks. If that doesn’t happen, it is virtually impossible to be successful with social media.
How do we do this? We do this the same way humans have for tens of thousands of years. We are likable. People feel good when they are around us. We are now in the digital age and now it IS possible to attach an emotional context capable of driving sales. Consumers judge the book by the way they feel about the author.
This isn’t that hard, but often writers panic that they aren’t being good responsible little marketers if “every tweet doesn’t serve a business agenda.” Every tweet that serves a business agenda is, by definition, spam. People create fake e-mail accounts to avoid that stuff, so why serve it?
Understand the why behind the buy. People are on Twitter and Facebook to make friends, connect and to have fun. If they wanted a non-stop commercial to buy more stuff they’d be on the Home Shopping Network, not the social network.
So what are your thoughts? Do you disagree? Agree? I don’t know about you guys, but I buy more books than I can ever read…usually to support writers I like. What about you guys? Do you do the same?
Does an author’s likability not matter? Would you buy a book you knew was not that great to support a writer you loved as a person? Have you ever liked an author’s books, but then met him/her on social media and they were a horse’s butt? Did this keep you from buying books, even if the author was an excellent writer (no need to name names, btw)? Will you buy from a writer who is a phoney? Does it not matter and you only care about story?
Come on! Let’s play armchair psychiatrist.
I LOVE hearing from you!
And to prove it and show my love, for the month of January, 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 January I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!
Last Week’s Winner of 5-Page Critique is Ed Griffin. Please send your 1250 word Word document to author kristen dot lamb at g mail dot com. Congratulations.
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!
This Week’s Mash-Up of Awesomeness
You guys simply MUST follow Porter Anderson’s Writing on the Ether. This is a fantastic way of keeping on top of all the changes and trends in our industry. Follow him @Porter_Anderson. One of the best tweeps in the Twitterverse and a tremendous resource.
Since you will already be at Jane Friedman’s place, seriously stay and check out her blogs. LOVE this one How to Know if Your Literary Agent is Any Good
One of my favorite new bloggers on the scene is Ingrid Schaffenburg. She is running a really amazing series on Dreams. Following dreams, defining dreams, reaching dreams. It is all just simply…awesome. But I want all of you guys to realize your dreams so this gets me excited.
What to know how to get more traffic to your blog? Great post here.
5 Screenwriting Tips that Will Make Any Story Better by Jeff Goins
Have you ever had a writer epiphany? Over at Wordbitches. Love their blog.
And you guys KNOW I am a total fangirl of Chuck Wendig. Seriously, he cannot start a writer cult or I might just pack some Nikes and gray PJs. The man is AWESOME and his blogs are laugh-out-loud amazing. DO NOT drink liquids or suck on hard candy while reading…unless you have a thing for choking. He is THAT funny. Fave post of late? 25 Things Writers Should Start Doing
Fantastic post by Elizabeth Craig about how to eliminate word echoes in our manuscripts. Great tips I’d never heard or thought about.
Truthiness–Raising the Bar in the Blogosphere by August MacLaughlin