Sell books (without being an asshat.)

Sell books (without being an asshat.)I read two interesting blogs recently.  First, “Are Writers Badgering Readers?” over at Huff Post Books.  That post was a response to Book Riot’s “Readers Don’t Owe Authors Sh*t.”

The two seemed to encapsulate the writer’s dilemma.  Nobody wants to badger readers — but “if we want to sell books, what else can we do?”  Right?

Not necessarily.

Let’s talk about coffee for a minute.

Let’s say you’re at a coffee shop. You enjoy it there: you like the atmosphere, the coffee’s pleasant, the pastries are really good.  You go in to buy a cup and knock out a chapter.

But the owner clears his throat. “We’ve got a new flavor of latte coming out next week.  I need you to post about it on Facebook and Twitter, and tell all your friends.  It’s important.”

You nod absently.

“Did I mention I’m trying to put my kid through school?” he adds, holding your pastry hostage.  “And that business has been really bad?”

You squirm, look away.

“And I hear you buy Starbucks at the grocery store,” he continues.  “When independent coffee roasters are struggling?  When I sell  pounds of coffee beans right here at the counter?  Do you want to put me out of business?”

You mutter something unintelligible, get your latte and scone, and shuffle towards “your” table.  Only to have him add:  “By the way… you spend hours here, buying only one cup of coffee and a single pastry.  I lose money when you do that.  You know that, right?”

When you hastily drink your coffee, eager to get the hell out of there, you wonder if it was always this bitter…  or if it’s just you.

Meanwhile, in another part of town…

Let’s go to a different coffee shop.

The woman who owns this place has a decent number of table tops in a good location, and she’s been open for a while.

She doesn’t necessarily know your name, but she knows your drink, because you’re a regular.  In fact, you show up enough that she suggests you sign up for the frequent buyer program: just provide your email, and you get a punch card, plus a free latte after every seven.

After you sign up, she sends monthly emails announcing new coffees and tea blends (“Almond Hazelnut Toffee Mocha!”) and discounts on pastries.

When you show up to write for hours at a time, she notices.  Only instead of railing at you about it, she talks to you about what you’re working on, and even suggests you hold a writer’s group there.

Badgering, begging, and marketing.

Removing the validity of any of the guy’s statements, how likely is it that you’re going to go back to that first coffee shop?

Personally, I don’t care if it’s the smoothest coffee in the world, served in 24 carat gold cups, and Johnny frickin’ Depp is pouring. I’m not drinking there.

Guilt trips aren’t a marketing technique.  They’re emotional blackmail.  And they have no place in a business.

Marketing is more than a coupon.

Now, look at the second cafe.

That owner has enough tabletops that even if several are occupied for hours, she’ll have enough room for turnover.  She needs to sell x number of cups of coffee to make overhead… and she didn’t open a cafe until she knew she’d have enough money to get a location that would actually make that possible.

She pays attention to her customers, so she knows that you loiter for an hour or two while you’re working out scenes.  She also knows you’re good for a tall latte with a shot of espresso, and that you can be coaxed into getting a cookie if it’s raining.  She gets a healthy balance of people like you, plus stressed out executives from the office park across the street, mommies taking a breather after the Gymboree class next door, and teens too young to hit bars every evening.

She knows her business.

Further, she’s not thinking “I need to get my daughter through private school, so you’d better add a morning bun to that order, pal.”

She’s thinking of the customer.  That is, what’s important to the customer — what the customer wants and needs.

She also knows that if you only wander in to grab a (free) sample of muffin before making excuses and reading the (free) paper, you’re not a customer, you’re a distraction.

If a distraction complains about the fact that she’s “always trying to sell something”  she’s going to ignore him.  Why?  Because he’s not really “business” that she’s going to lose.

She knows that people like special deals, and they’re willing to trade access to their inbox for the occasional free vanilla latte and a price break on a cinnamon roll.  If they aren’t, they don’t need to sign up, or they’re free to unsubscribe.  But she’s betting on the fraction that are, and that bet tends to pay off.

Instead of carping about you loitering like a wannabe Hemingway, she’s looking at ways to broaden her market.  Consequently, her reward is twelve new potential regulars, on top of selling about twenty-four cups of coffee and eight pastries plus a pound of French Roast when your writer’s group meets there.

That, my friends, is marketing.

How can we apply this as writers?

Most authors put off promotion until a new release, then they get into this frenzy of activity… until the launch month has passed, at which point they can gratefully return to their writing caves until forced back to repeat the cycle with the next title.

Others are the “badgers” that the article mentioned.

They’re All! Sales! All! The! Time!!!! 

You can’t throw a dart without hitting some blurb about their books, recent reviews, or special sales.

Technically, that’s just saying “buy my book!”  and it’s only one element of a marketing strategy.

Working an actual marketing plan takes people from:

  • cold (“I don’t know who the hell you are”)
  • to warm( “okay, I know you, but I don’t know if I’ll like your work”)
  • to hot (“I will pick up your next novel and sign up for your newsletter list”)
  • to molten (“I will buy you in hardcover and name my first child after your main character”  )

That involves lead generation.  List warming.  Up-selling.   And especially writing more books.

If you’re a writer, you’re in business, right?

It might sound hard, and some of these terms might sound alien at best and skin-crawling corporate at worst.

But for the most part, they’re simple, if not easy.

The bad news is, there’s a learning curve.  The good news: if you can plot a novel, you can make a marketing plan.

And if you’ve worried about how to promote without turning into a douchebag narcissist, then trust me: this is the way to go.

Click below for related posts on promotion:

Promote Your Book:  Lessons from Cinderella

Right Reader, Revisited

The Slow Writing Movement