Earlier, we spoke about a gravitational shift in which, instead of the writer falling into orbit around the reader, going round and round trying to attract enough attention to generate commercial success, the reader begins to orbit the writer, seeking what only the writer can provide.
If you’re like most writers, you hate ‘sales’ and that whole aspect of having to get out there and ‘hawk’ your work to faceless readers. The current scene pictures the writer as the outsider, constantly chasing the reader. It’s a desperate, tiring and disheartening picture, with which you may be all too familiar.
However, sales is the lifeblood of your writing career. Without sales, how can you generate enough funds to keep going? And what about making millions? Isn’t the whole problem really persuading people to buy from you?
The way a great many writers try to solve this is to write something and then spend hours and considerable amounts of money pumping ads out into the marketplace to try to attract readers’ attention to that thing in the hope that they will spend their money on it. All kinds of hype exist about these techniques; you’ll familiar with many of them. They range from ‘magical’ keywords and search engine tricks to ‘secrets’ of marketing campaigns and so on. They belong to a corporate, commercial mentality in which you have a product and your job is to sell that product no matter what. The same methods are applied to pizza or insurance or home improvements or cars — hype up the product as much as possible, using every marketing ‘trick’ in the book, and splash it everywhere.
There is another way, which is especially applicable with regard to fiction.
Build a Book that Sells Itself
While this sounds too good to be true, research says otherwise. Master authors create self-selling books for readers on a regular basis, without any huge effort to ‘market’ them. Yes, of course, there are success stories arising from vast amounts of money and time being poured into advertising campaigns on the internet and elsewhere — of course there are, because otherwise no one would bother with those things at all. But the more efficient, economic and by far the most satisfying approach is to build a book which creates a ‘word of mouth wave’ that bypasses these modern methods by returning to a far more traditional model.
People buy based on need.
Sales, as commonly pictured, is all about trying to convince someone to buy something. You probably don’t like being ‘sold to’ any more than you like doing the selling. That’s because there is something inauthentic about it.
If a product is worth buying, it should sell itself. It should obviously and clearly fulfil a need. The attraction and impulse to buy should be built in to the thing itself: a pizza should be fabulous-tasting; an insurance policy should be clearly beneficial; home improvements should be obviously transformative; a car should possess distinctly plain attributes which outweigh its cost. None of these things should require an additional, ‘bolted-on’ aspect of salesmanship to sell them.
The same applies to fiction.
The only task of a writer when it comes to marketing his or her book should be putting that finished product in a place where it can be seen and accessed by the right people, the people who already have a need for it.
When you're shopping for something specific that you really want or need you don’t feel like you’re being sold to, do you? You find whatever it is that you’re looking for, glance over it to ensure that it ticks the boxes relating to your needs, and get it.
Framing a service as a solution to a specific problem means that your audience won’t hesitate to acquire that service from you. Presenting your book as something which fulfils certain needs in the reader means that reader will reach for your book.
The difference between using ‘sales techniques', and having a book with built-in sellabaility, is that when you have such a book you begin genuinely looking only for the people who are looking for you. Instead of working and working and working to try and ‘sell’ the book to those few who will pay attention in a vast swarm of potential buyers, you only have to present what you do, why you do, and how well you do it to a body of people pre-selected by their own needs.
Sales approaches based on the conventional commercial approach — in which you take a product, any product, and attempt to get it into the public’s hands using techniques which range from manipulation to a kind of attempted hypnosis — reduce trust and create doubt on both the seller’s and potential buyer’s sides. In other words, when you simply try to sell a book to potential readers the communication isn’t always 100% honest.
But when your book has built-in factors which sell it for you, you don’t have to spend time convincing people to buy from you. Instead, ‘selling’ becomes a matter of discovery: readers discovering you and you discovering them.
Persuasion falls away: you get to concentrate on putting your finished book in a place where it can be seen and accessed by the right readers.