A Nature of “Selling” and Why Authors Should Care

Authors generally have a difficult time selling their books and other writings. While some have reconciled themselves to the reality they have to market their work in order to become successful, a surprising number are uncomfortable with this activity and really would prefer some else do this “dirty” work. I’ve lost count of the number of times an author has said “Shouldn’t my publisher market my book?”

Of course, the answer is yes, but it’s a rare book ends up selling well without the active, committed and ongoing investment by an author to market their work. Moreover, any publisher would be consigning itself to unprofitably and economic doom if they signed on an author who does not not want, or is not willing, to market their work.

I think this reluctance to market our work is rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of what marketing and selling is. A “sale” is one of many outcomes that results from marketing. Marketing is the strategies, tools, and tactics used to raise awareness about your work and present it to people who might have an interest in reading it (or perhaps selling it to others). Not everyone will want to read our, but we don’t know who those readers are. So we use marketing tools and techniques to discover the interests of readers and identify specific (often niche) markets (or categories of readers) that will be interesting in our work.

Marketing isn’t about the hard sell. In fact, while I’ve heard people talk about successful sales men and women (and I’ve known many) as if “they can sell anything to anyone,” this isn’t true. A good sales person has to be an effective marketer, and a successful marketer identifies customers that are interested and willing to invest in their product because it serves the interests of the customer. A good sales person will invest in a potential customer (with the hope of getting a sale), but he or she will accomplish this only if they know the customer’s wants, needs, preferences, and values. So, these sales people that can “sell anything” are really people that invest in getting to know potential customers so they can match the right product with the right preferences. More often than not, good sales people are perfectly happy to send a customer to someone else if they don’t have a product in their portfolio that meets the customer’s needs. If you discover a reader likes fantasy, but you write action/adventure, a good marketer will send the potential buyer to a good fantasy book, not try a hard sell to convince the reader he or she really likes action/adventure. This also helps build a long-term relationship, which can pay off more literally in a future sale.

So, authors should think about marketing as getting to know readers, current and potential. We use our marketing hooks and pitches as a way of discovering what interests that motivate potential buyers to read our books. The more we know our customers (readers), the easier it is to match the goods (books) and services (perspective, insight, advice) to our readership base (who are also often aspiring authors). A long-term investment in marketing and readers–current and potential–also builds our readership base, and this is what will turn us into commercially successful authors as well as craftspeople and artists.

Marketing can be fun…if you approach it as discovery.

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 (syppublishing.com) 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).

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