marketing alone does not sell books.

| Friday, April 15, 2011
Today's Tune: Cue the Elephants

"That book is terrible. The only reason it's selling so well is because of great marketing."

I imagine we've all heard (or said) some variation of the phrase above. It's easy to explain a "bad" book's success away with marketing or celebrity, isn't it? After having worked in marketing, however, I know there's a lot more to it that that.

Here's the deal: dumping a lot of money into marketing and promotion can absolutely increase a book's exposure. More eyes will see it, more ears will hear about it, and more impressions will be made. But exposure alone will not sell books. Or any product, really.

What I'm saying is the very best marketing in the world (traditional or digital) cannot sell a product no one likes or connects with. A product sells because it has something people want. (Or because they monopolize the market. YOU SUCK, COMCAST. BTW.). Books sell because people get something from them. Entertainment. Butterflies in their tummy. Excitement. Education. Laughter. Whatever. Then they tell their friends. That's where most sales come from -- word of mouth.

People are more likely to purchase things that have been recommended to them by a friend, family member, or acquaintance, and people don't recommend things they hate. Publishing houses often take gambles marketing books that don't end up selling so well for whatever reason -- didn't connect with people, wrong subject at the wrong time, didn't hit the right combo of timing and luck, whatever.

This very argument has been made several times over about the Twilight series, the favorite punching bag of recent years. I'm sure you've heard it before. According to this stance, Meyer supposedly became a millionaire because of fancy-pants Big Publishing marketing dollars shilling her book everywhere. But here's the thing... not really. Her fan base alone contests this very claim. Regardless of anyone's personal feelings about Twilight and its sequels, those books sold because they connected with their audience.

Writers can get hoity-toity all they want and cry foul about the books they think "don't deserve" the attention and sales they get, but it doesn't change anything. Marketing can only do so much. Advertisements can only do so much. Books sell because they're offering readers something they want. Period. They want a magical world and an unlikely hero. They want a "perfect" romance with a happy ending. They want to laugh. They want to cry. They want action and explosions and teenagers slaughtering each other on live TV. (Okay, they probably don't actually WANT that last one, but it's a concept that makes for entertaining and heartbreaking fiction. Which they do want.).

All that said, exposure doesn't hurt. The first step is, of course, to write a book people will want to read and connect with. After that's done, you can't very well send it out into the wilderness and hope it doesn't get lost. Good books are overlooked every day, many times because no one even knew they were out there. You don't need big marketing dollars to spread the word about your book. Check out Amanda Hocking. That girl worked the social media angle like no one's business to her very obvious benefit. BUT. She also had a book (several books, in fact) that people wanted to read.

So, to summarize:

1.) Write an awesome book people will want to read
2.) Somehow, some way, publish that book and make it available to the public
3.) Promote it any way you can
4.) Have some luck on your side
5.) ?????


{ E.J. Wesley } at: April 15, 2011 at 6:43 AM said...

Couldn't agree with you more! Marketing is without a doubt important, but the books that go on to mega-bestseller status definitely have more for going for them than store placement.

I think it's just a way for naysayers to justify the lack of success for the books that don't make it big. "Well if I had had XYZ, I'd have been as big as XYZ." Hogwash!

There are so many factors that go into a book going bananas, and many of them are completely out of the control of author OR publisher. (Like the whim and fancy of pop culture and the book-buying public.)

Great post, Steph, as always. LOVE the new blog look too! Very classy and cool.


{ Margo Lerwill } at: April 15, 2011 at 9:22 AM said...

I think #5 is 'Steal underpants'. (I hope I'm not the only one who gets that reference. I'm not a perv, really.)

And Comcast TOTALLY sucks.

{ Old Kitty } at: April 15, 2011 at 9:43 AM said...

Who or what is comcast? :-)

Here's to writing stories people would love to buy and read! Take care

{ Steph Sinkhorn } at: April 15, 2011 at 10:10 AM said...

Thanks, EJ! Glad you like it. And totally agreed about the multiple factors that go into the success of a book.

Margo - Haha. Gnomes are creepy.

Kitty - Comcast is a huge television/internet cable company here in the States. They're detested by a huge part of their clientele, but unfortunately they're often the only decent cable service in a given area because they've muscled out a lot of their competition.

{ jjdebenedictis } at: April 15, 2011 at 2:08 PM said...

It's been known in the advertising industry for a long time that heavy marketing makes a weak product fail faster because it generates negative word-of-mouth.

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