Marketing the author, not the book

When I began writing fiction, I was reluctant to focus my marketing efforts on me (the author). I didn’t think I had the marketing cache’ to sell my book, The Pirate of Panther Bay. Pirates were cool, but I didn’t see myself as a personality that could make my book successful. Believe me, this wasn’t because I couldn’t talk about the subject; I teach for a leaving, so I am quite comfortable filling space with my voice, even on subjects I don’t know much about! 

Instead, I focused my marketing efforts on the content. I had, and still have, really cool, interesting content: a girl pirate captain who was an ex-slave, fast paced high-seas action, high-stakes plot points; romance, and realism. The problem was at the time that I didn’t have a marketing platform. I didn’t have access to the pirate blogs or communities. I didn’t have a marketing footprint in the genre or in schools where I saw a natural market. The Pirate of Panther Bay was my first novel. So, I focused on the cool characters.
I’m beginning to change my tune, in part because of the insights provided by Sam Henrie, CEO of my publisher. In Wheatmark’s Marketing Letter (March 2013), Sam talks about the “Secrets of Sharks,” a riff on the TV show Shark Tank where venture capitalists seek out and fund new projects. As Sam explains:
“The sharks bet on people over ideas. They consistently pass on product and service ideas they love and believe in because they don’t believe in the business owner’s passion or ability to market and sell–or sometimes simply because they don’t like them. Readers are the same: you’ll have to sell them on the author before you can sell them on the book.”
I think Sam is right on the money. Readers need to connect to the author before they buy the book. The same is true for book buyers at bricks and mortar book stores, and librarians, and teachers. 
I’ve seen this in operation over the past year where I have been coordinated a book sales booth each Saturday for the Tallahassee Writer’s Association at Downtown Marketplace. The authors that sell the most titles, in every case, are the ones that are volunteering in the booth. They are there to connect with potential readers. Many of the titles that are sold without the author in the booth are purchased by readers who know or are familiar with the authors. This is true even though the volunteers are actively selling all the books in the booth, and many of those books have great content. In fact, for the fall 2012 period, one author accounted for 20% of the sales, and that author was the one who consistently manned the booth throughout the fall. The correlation is remarkable. 
Notably, the class adoptions for my books have all come from personal relationships I have built with teachers, not anonymous marketing materials such as flyers or advertisements. 
Thus, my marketing platform ultimately has to be about me, the author. The very personal relationships I build with readers will ultimately determine my success. I’ll have more to say on this soon in the context of my books on bullying and self-defense, A Warrior’s Soul and the award-winning Renegade.
Author: SR Staley
SR Staley has one more than 11 literary awards for his fiction and nonfiction writing. He is on the full-time faculty of the College and Social Sciences and Public Policy at Florida State University as well as a film critic and research fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California. His award-winning Pirate of Panther Bay series ( has won awards in historical fiction, mainstream & literary fiction, young adult fiction, and reached the finals in women's fiction. His most recent book is "The Beatles and Economics: Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and the Making of a Cultural Revolution" due out in April 2020 (Routledge).

2 thoughts on “Marketing the author, not the book

  1. Exactly right, Sam.
    As a publisher, I’ve attended many book fairs to market the titles I’ve published. Invariably, the titles that sell best at these events are the ones whose authors are there in person, meeting and interacting with the public.
    It’s humbling that so few of the public who interact with me at these events care about me as publisher, given that I’m the one who brought the book into the light of day, but ultimately, it’s about the author, not the publisher.
    The reading public doesn’t care a whit about what company publishes an author, they care only about the author and the story.

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