Want to Sell More Books? Give Consumers What They WANT

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Consumers and business models have all changed drastically in the past ten years. This demands that we as authors change as well. There were many elements we never had to think about twenty years ago. It was an agent/editor’s job to think about the consumer climate and whether or not our book would be something readers would want to buy.

There have always been writers too clever for their own good, but in the old model, likely they met with enough rejection to 1) give up 2) rewrite or 3) try again. These days? The onus is on us to give readers what they want.

We have to remember whether it is the book or the blog or even social media, that WE are not important. It is all about the reader and what he/she wants to consume.

A Tale of Two Parsnips

I remember being in NYC for Thrillerfest. It was our final day in the city and we were celebrating a member of our group’s birthday. Since I have a bazillion food allergies, we made plans to eat at a ritzy Asian-Australian “fusion” restaurant and the woman on the phone assured me they could accommodate.

This was a super fancy restaurant and the chef had even once won Iron Chef, so I didn’t eat that day, preparing for my first experience with fine NYC dining.

We get to the ordering and…*screeching brakes*

The chef refused to modify any of the dishes.

He claimed that removing the mashed potatoes (which contained dairy) “ruined the aesthetics of the dish.”

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I wish I were joking.

The waitress kept continually offering me the parsnip soup. I was ravenous and, finally, after fifteen times being offered soup I didn’t want? I lost my temper, scared the waitress and someone somehow convinced the kitchen to create an aesthetically unbalanced plate before I came back there and made an aesthetically unbalanced chef.

Texans. Can dress them up. Can’t take them anywhere.

But this story illustrates my point. We shouldn’t keep trying to serve others something they don’t want to consume.

***Side note: The next year when I returned to NYC? That restaurant was out of business.

Give Customers What They Want to Consume

But I carefully craft all my automated, preprogrammed tweets.

Great, you dressed it up, but it is STILL SPAM.

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Neil Motteram

Image via Flickr Creative Commons courtesy of Neil Motteram

If I don’t want to talk to a robot? Why would other people? If I hate spam? Why serve it? If I loathe being force-added to groups and newsletters and it ticks me off? Might not be a good plan to do to others.

When I wrote my social media book, it was because all the books out there were highly technical, boring and made me want to throw myself in traffic. I knew I couldn’t be alone. Why not write a book that was useful and fun? Repackage a boring topic into something people enjoyed?

***That’s thinking like an entrepreneur, btw ;).

Same with fiction. I didn’t like being forced to read The Great Gatsby (three times too many), so why write books similar to so many of the classics most of us only read because we had to? Guess what? Entertainers are “real” writers, too.

And inevitably I get an intellectual who wants to argue and it’s fine. If we want to write a modern version of Moby Dick, no one will stop us. If we want to write perspicacious prose only a handful of intelligentcia “get”? Write away!

Just don’t complain about sales numbers.

Readers, by and large, don’t want us to show off how clever we are. They want a good story.

Give Readers What They Want In a WAY They Want

We writers can be a hopelessly romantic lot. I get it. We love bookstores and the feel of paper. We don’t mind toting around a hardback so thick we could brain mugger with it. But WE are not everyone. Humans are busy and distracted and they dig e-books and audio and that is a GOOD thing.

I still have no idea why writers are even taking sides on this issue. If my readers want my stories acted out in interpretive dance? They prefer jazz hands over paper? And that could be profitable enough to finance me continuing to write?

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Presentation Matters

Every Christmas, Spawn opens his new toys then we spend the next hour with scissors and kitchen knives trying to break past all the anti-theft crap.

This is how info-dump, fish heads, needless prologues and extraneous flashbacks feel to readers. We have to get past so much stuff to get to what we want, that we move on to novels that don’t make us work so hard to get to the STORY.

One of the reasons I emphasize understanding the craft of writing is that novel/story structure is mythic. There is actually evidence that narrative structure is hardwired into the human brain. Yes, we can break rules and deviate, but we do this too much? We confuse the reader. It’s like serving them a blue steak. Blue steak is certainly clever. And, it could taste great.

But our minds won’t let us eat and enjoy something so very wrong.

But look how CLEVER it is! Really, it's YUMMY.

But look how CLEVER it is! Really, it’s YUMMY.

Keep Writing

Good books are good books, but I’ll be blunt. There are outside factors we can never anticipate.

I actually have a theory that this is part of why 50 Shades of Grey took off when it did. It was racy, mindless junk food that put readers in a world where someone else told them what to do (allowing them to escape from a real world where they have NO idea what to do). Whether the book was good, bad, or terrible made little difference. It clearly filled a need and a market emerged.

E.L. James gave consumers what they wanted.

This is why writing more books is critical. Maybe Book One isn’t selling well today, but in a digital world where shelf space is infinite? Might do better next year. We get better the more we cook write, and odds are, if we do it enough, we’ll discover our readers and they’ll discover us.

Have you ever had someone try to keep giving you something you DIDN’T WANT? A book? Food at a restaurant, bad mojo at a clothing store? Two words. Skinny jeans. Any sociological theories about the success of 50 Shades? Come on! Let’s play armchair psychiatrist! I am not a doctor, but play one on the Internet :D.

I LOVE hearing from you!

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. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Check out the other NEW classes below! Including How to Write the Dreaded Synopsis/Query Letter! 

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes


Pitch Perfect—How to Write a Query Letter & Synopsis that SELLS

You’ve written a novel and now are faced with the two most terrifying challenges all writers face. The query and the synopsis.

Query letters can be daunting. How do you sell yourself? Your work? How can you stand apart without including glitter in your letter?


Good question. We will cover that and more!

But sometimes the query is not enough.

Most writers would rather cut their wrists with a spork than be forced to write the dreaded…synopsis. Yet, this is a valuable skills all writers should learn.

Sign up early for $10 OFF!!!

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist September 2nd–September 2nd

All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.

This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

This is a personal workshop to make sure you have a clear story problem. And, if you don’t? I’ll help you create one and tell the story you want to tell. This is done by phone/virtual classroom and by appointment. Expect to block off at least a couple hours.

Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line

September 7th

Log-lines are crucial for understanding the most important detail, “WHAT is the story ABOUT?” If we can’t answer this question in a single sentence? Brain surgery with a spork will be easier than writing a synopsis. Pitching? Querying? A nightmare. Revisions will also take far longer and can be grossly ineffective.

As authors, we tend to think that EVERY detail is important or others won’t “get” our story. Not the case.

If we aren’t pitching an agent, the log-line is incredibly beneficial for staying on track with a novel or even diagnosing serious flaws within the story before we’ve written an 80,000 word disaster. Perhaps the protagonist has no goal or a weak goal. Maybe the antagonist needs to be stronger or the story problem clearer.

In this one-hour workshop, I will walk you through how to encapsulate even the most epic of tales into that dreadful “elevator pitch.” We will cover the components of a strong log-line and learn red flags telling us when we need to dig deeper. The last hour of class we will workshop log-lines.

The first ten signups will be used as examples that we will workshop in the second hour of class. So get your log-line fixed for FREE by signing up ASAP.

Blogging for Authors

September 16th

Blogging is one of the most powerful forms of social media. Twitter could flitter and Facebook could fold but the blog will remain so long as we have an Internet. The blog has been going strong since the 90s and it’s one of the best ways to establish a brand and then harness the power of that brand to drive book sales.

The best part is, done properly, a blog plays to a writer’s strengths. Writers write.

The problem is too many writers don’t approach a blog properly and make all kinds of mistakes that eventually lead to blog abandonment. Many authors fail to understand that bloggers and author bloggers are two completely different creatures.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook



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  1. …but I LOVE spam.

    Not the email, of course, though is it entertaining to read stuff about how I could easily get larger breasts…as a guy?…but no, I like spam, cut into thin strips, fried really crispy. It’s like meat potato chips. The bacon flavor Spam is even better, because — well, bacon! (I mean, duh…)

    Who wouldn’t want bacon-flavor meat potato chips?

    Good post, though; you’re exactly right, and this is exactly what I see a lot of indies doing these days.

    – TOSK

  2. Thank you Ms. Lamb. I needed a “pick me up”today. I have written three books, spent thousands, taken courses. I’ve read the must do and gotta follow of many books on writing. Yes, I have yours, and yes I have a platform, where I’m cautious not to upset anyone with asking them to purchase my book. And still no sales.
    Am I about to give up? Hell, no. But now and again I do need a swift kick in the it takes more than Hillery Clinton and her village to sell books. Your blogs do that, so thank you.

    • lanettekauten2016 on August 29, 2016 at 11:46 am
    • Reply

    I’m glad you mentioned newsletters, even if it was in passing. My publisher encourages us to create newsletters as an effective marketing tool, and most of my fellow writers with this publishing company uses them with good results. Maybe I would get more sales if I used them, but I don’t for a simple reason. I hate receiving newsletters. Why would I want to spam people with things I wouldn’t want to receive myself? My sales are slow, but my conscience is clean.

    1. Not all newsletters are bad. I think if we see one we like and we DO open then emulate that. Most of the time though they just gum up my inbox.

        • lanettekauten2016 on August 29, 2016 at 12:22 pm
        • Reply

        I haven’t seen any I liked, but maybe I’m just a grump when it comes to newsletters.

  3. Reblogged this on Entertaining Stories and commented:
    Kristen makes a ton of sense here today. Thought maybe you guys would like it too.

  4. Very good post, but I couldn’t stop laughing at “an aesthetically unbalanced chef.” Made it hard to focus. X-D

  5. “Give Customers what they want to consume.” Are you talking about books or marketing here?

    When it comes to books, I actually had this dilemma. One of my books has a beginning that is atypical of the genre. I debated changing it, because I feared that it would turn off a lot of readers in that genre. On the other hand, it was an important part of the story and particularly of character development, so changing it would water-down the main character significantly.

    It’s funny you should mention 50 Shades because that was my justification for keeping the beginning the way it is. That series challenged some genre standards and wound up being a huge success. I often wonder if it was so successful simply because it was something different and people were getting tired of the same old thing.

    So maybe if you get the right people to try that blue steak, it will become the next big thing. Instead of McDonald’s, we’ll have a BlueSteak on every corner because people are sick of burgers.

    Not trying to argue with your conclusions though. I do think that it’s certainly better business to stick with what is guaranteed to sell. Trying something different means you have to be prepared for it to fail. You can write Great Gatsby-esque fiction all you want, as long as you recognize that it isn’t typically going to be a big-seller. But who knows, the stars just might align the day you publish.

    As for marketing, I don’t know anyone who likes spam. I don’t even check my spam filter, unless I’m expecting an email I didn’t receive. If I follow an author and all they do is market their book, I unfollow them. Mentioning it’s available or on sale is one thing. That’s actually why I follow the authors I like. Daily emails or posts reminding me to pick up a copy of your book or leave a review or rating or something else of that nature grows really tiresome.

    1. I suppose what I am getting at is just TELL A GOOD STORY. I meet a lot of new writers who all believe they need to be clever and they forget they are there to simply entertain. Relax. And yes, sometimes we will be different. We need to give them what they want…they just don’t know it yet 😉 . It is tricky which is why I laugh when anyone acts like what we do is easy.

      As far as marketing? If I don’t like it? I don’t dish it.

    • carmens007 on August 29, 2016 at 12:31 pm
    • Reply

    The opinion of what makes a good book is almost entirely subjective. But you are right. Writers should, if they want to sell what they write, follow readers’ demands. Keep your reader reading.

  6. Great post, Kristen. Thanks! It’s hard to know what consumers want or what the next trend will be. I’m going to keep writing the best books I can, have a bigger back catalogue and develop my craft, voice and hopefully find new readers. Oh, and spruce up my blog 🙂

  7. OK, OK, I get it. I’ll remove the three prologues, ditch the time warp chronology, and forget about a flashback for every new chapter. Sheesh, I thought I was doing everyone a favor by explaining the story as it goes along.
    You gonna do jazz hands for me now? 😀
    (Seriously, more power to E.L. James — I am never going to compete with her.)

    1. LOL

  8. Reblogged this on Mystery and Romance.

  9. Common sense, Kristen. Something many humans are born without. I like the idea of tbe infinite bookshelf with books not selling so well today being the best sellers of tomorrow. You have just inspired me to keep on going! ?

    • sharonsj on August 29, 2016 at 2:28 pm
    • Reply

    I spent many years in book publishing and I disagree with some comments. You can be clever and still give readers what they want. In fact you can do almost anything as long as you can pull it off. But that requires an understanding of structure and characterization, which you can only get by reading and analyzing a ton of books.

    An editor friend told me I’d need a social media platform to publicize myself and my work. I think this is rather horrifying. I can barely keep up with Facebook, so I have laid in a stock of my favorite alcoholic eggnog….

    1. I guess I should say be clever but not at the expense of the story. And social media isn’t that terrible depending on your approach. I am adamantly opposed to the mega-marketing tactics that seem to be pushed at the expense of authentic connection.

  10. I’d like to bring up the cases of the movies Memento and Inception and The Usual Suspects and the video game series that is BioShock, and Doctor Who and Sherlock and Rick and Morty as television shows all as examples of people really quite liking “clever” and out-there stuff. I think the take away isn’t that trying to do something brainy or clever is a problem as much as is doing those things in an un-fun way. All of those series contain comedy and wit and violence and action and likable characters along with clever stuff and are thus super popular. This is not necessarily an argument against what you said Kristen, simply that I think there is a place in art for exploring that side of stuff as long as it maintains some connection to our own perceptions of what modern media is like. In other words, people are willing to go through pretension if it’s got cool one-liners as well.

    1. But all of your examples, they still had a story. Be clever, just not at the expanse of the STORY 😉 .

      1. True. And that’s what I meant by I wasn’t directly going against what you said. I just wanted to defend the merits of cleverness as a spice to the meal that is a book.

        1. LOL, yeah I am working on my tendency to super over clarify in my posts. Keeps them short and gives you guys a chance to pop in with great insights like you did 😀 .

  11. So basically, don’t piss off a hungry Texan? I worked as a social media community manager for a few years at an ad agency. I hated it when my manager wanted me to just push out the same content across all platforms. What was the point then? I always fought back for genuine engagement and content.
    I always tell myself “Story, story, story” when I write. Good advice!

  12. My husband wants me to write historical fiction. My friends would prefer something literary but not too heavy. I can’t wrap my brain around the idea of writing what’s popular, and hoping to be successful in spite of not telling the stories that jump around inside me. When I read a book I love, I then read everything else that author has written, because its the voice, rather than the story, that speaks to me. I don’t care if its Wally Lamb, or Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Having said that, I’ve learned more from your blog in a month than anything I’ve read over the last five years. If I lived next door, I’d make you some dairy free soup.

  13. The blue steak was fine, but the blue mushroom took it too far. I suppose that’s like writing too. (I noticed it was absent of mashed potatoes.)

    • Eloise McInerney on August 30, 2016 at 1:16 am
    • Reply

    While there is definitely a case for focussing on giving consumers what they want rather than churning out mindless spam without thinking about whether it is actually appealing – but we also need to give them what they don’t know they want. It’s up to us to imagine what doesn’t already exist. I always remember that Henry Ford quote ‘If had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.’ 🙂

    1. Yes and no. They still want a great story. They might not realize they would have ever liked that TYPE of story or that particular DELIVERY of story, but they still want a great story.

  14. I remember reading one of those “20 rules of writing fiction” One of the rules said:

    “I am writing for myself, before I write for anyone else”

    …and I thought, “Great. So long as “myself” was the only one reading it.”

    I get what they were trying to say: “write your passion. If you don’t love it, no one else will.”

    The secret is to find that sweet spot, that venn diagram, between what you love and what your reader will love. 50 Shades of Grey between two astronauts stranded on Mars? While genetically created dinosaurs hunt them for prey?

    Sure, why not?

  15. Lots of sympathy for the allergy situation – I’ve definitely been there! Parsnip soup doesn’t sound much better than spam… Agree it makes absolutely no sense to serve up what we don’t like to get. I ignore the vast majority of promo emails that keep hitting my inbox and don’t even open unless the author has already offered me something tasty that I’ve enjoyed – whether that be a previous book, blog or SM post… I’ve never followed a Twitter spam ‘buy my book’ link, but I’ve often looked up an author who’s tweeted something funny in passing…

  16. This makes me think of a line I used to hear at writers’ conferences ALL THE TIME. Editors didn’t know what they wanted until it landed on their desks. Sometimes I think readers are the same way.

  17. Reblogged this on MorgEn Bailey – Creative Writing Guru and commented:
    Some brilliant writing advice from the Viking Queen* Kristen Lamb.

    *I’m sure she’ll tell me if I’m wrong.

  18. Reblogged this on Don Massenzio's Blog.

  19. I’m writing a story that I (underline “I”) love with what I (underline “I”) think has a great plot and theme. I tried to play-dough it it to fit what readers seem to want -based on sales, and what not – maybe give my MC a superpower, make my MC strong willed and sassy, add a secret baby, change my MC who wears cuff links to a cowboy with great abs. Couldn’t do a first draft. So decided to just go with what i wanted so i could get the words out – then i’ll go back and try to see what i can change so someone besides myself, my mother, my kids will read. Probably a very bad approach, but might be an interesting exercise. I’ll let you know how i make out in 5 or 6 years….

  20. The first series I wrote – YA fantasy – had all the elements such a series needed to be a commerical success, but it still didn’t do as well as it could. I had one of the big Aussie publishers want to publish it until their marketting department said. ‘No. It would be too hard to sell.’ They knew something I didn’t. As well as all the required elements, it also had a strong metaphysical element and not every one wants something ‘spiritual’ even though I thought the world would be a better place if teens were reading fantasy with a bit of deeper’meaning behind it.

    I finshed the series anyway and a small US publisher picked it up. It’s still selling, but limping along, and I planned never to write another book. Then I found myself writing again and have put out two books that I knew would never sell. Literary, fantasy, magical realism, transrealism, thriller, womens fiction, romance, metaphysical; my Prunella Smith books are all that. Great books, but really hard to sell because they’re not and never will be mainstream. That’s okay, because I never thought they would be. I published them myself – for me and the few who rave about them.

    Again I figured that would be the end of it, but now I’m writing steampunk – just one genre. It should be a lot easier to sell simply because of that. Those who love my ‘deeper’ stuff may be disappointed, but I’ll have a bigger potential market. It may still not sell well, despite a rip roaring story and my best marketing efforts – who can say? – but after having written 9 books, I’m now know that I can write something that people will want to read and my own special angle on things will come through without any intention on my part. The books I wrote for me, found me my voice, now I trust that no matter what I write, that voice will be there in a much more subtle way than it was for my first series, and I think that will make my writing appealling to a wider audience.

    The point of this long comment is that I totally agree with the advice to keep writing, and I’d add don’t think you need to publish everything you write. Sometimes it’s better to slip something into your archive folder, knowing that the effort you’d have to put into marketing it probably won’t pay off, and you might be better off putting your efforts into a new, and hopefully better, book.

    Creativity doesn’t always come in neat packages to suit reader’s taste, but if you keep writing perhaps one day you will write something that fits more easily into the ‘what readers want to read’ category rather than the ‘what you want to write’ category. I’m not writing ‘The Rise of the Aether Mages’ because I want to write something that is easier to sell, I’m writing it because it was the natural next step in my creative process – I make steampunk masks, hats and accessories. So you don’t have to choose between what you want to write and what they want to read; the two can come together and perhaps it’s the mark of a seasoned writer when they do.

    • robintvale on April 14, 2019 at 2:12 am
    • Reply

    A spam burger with cheese, lettuce, and tomato and so salty, I love salty stuff. Salty emails? Not as much. When searching for writing tips a few articles do mention, blah, blah start a newsletter, blah blah, annoy your Facebook friends, blah, blah. All I see is piss off your readers and don’t write. I’m having fun reading all these articles there’s so many! 😀 Sadly I have no spam but have gobbled down half a bad of corn rounds and salsa. Hea.

  1. […] via Want to Sell More Books? Give Consumers What They WANT — Kristen Lamb’s Blog […]

  2. […] « Want to Sell More Books? Give Consumers What They WANT […]

  3. […] The following post was inspired by this post on Kirsten Lamb’s blog: https://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2016/08/29/want-to-sell-more-books-give-consumers-what-they-wan… […]

  4. […] Lamb states the obvious-yet-difficult-to-achieve marketing advice that we sell more books when we give consumers what they want. This goes hand-in-hand with Tim Grahl’s advice about what to send to your email list […]

  5. […] this post from a couple years ago, I relayed my experience at a hot NYC restaurant, owned and operated by a […]

  6. […] busy, busy. Aside from ‘parsnip‘ I’m beginning to think my new trigger word is ‘busy.’ A couple posts ago, […]

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