Authors: You’re not Selling Books

Selling Books Pic

If you aren’t selling enough books, maybe part of the problem is your mindset: You shouldn’t be trying to sell books.


There are tens of millions of books to choose from. If someone just wants to buy a book, how are they ever going to find yours, and why would that be the one they choose?

You’re not a bookstore. You’re not selling a book.

What you have is more than a book. That’s what you need to realize. What you provide that’s more than a mere book is what can help your book get discovered and why customers might choose your book.

If you’re not selling a book, then what are you selling?

You can find some examples below. Your book is unique. Figure out what you should be selling and how to orient your marketing efforts toward this.

Use it to help you brand an image. Sell this image, not the book.

You don’t have to be a salesman to sell an image. You market an image. You make people aware of the image. You make them want the image. Crave the image.

The image is free. Once the image is sold, the books well sell along with it.

(And maybe some add-ons. If they really want the image, they might want to get it in the form of t-shirts, bookmarks, collector’s editions, etc.)

(1) Are you selling a better place?

Did you create a fantasy world that is better than our universe?

Then don’t sell the book. Don’t sell the story.

Sell the experience of living in a better world.

Brand your book as a better reality. Brand yourself as a creator of other worlds. Brand the fantasy world itself by name so that others want to go there.

Like Hogwarts. Imagine how many schoolchildren wish they could go to Hogwarts. They recognize this better place by name.

(2) Are you selling something exotic?

Is the book set in Paris, Tokyo, or someplace people dream of traveling to?

Does your book have exotic creatures?

Then you can offer the same wonders that a travel agent can offer, except that your ticket will cost much, much less.

Focus on the features that make your book exotic, not the book itself. Sell the experience of traveling.

Remember the movie Gremlins? It wasn’t just a movie. It was an experience with a really exotic pet.

(3) Are you selling passion?

Does your book offer a romantic escape from a mundane reality?

Sell the opportunity to experience romance.

Make your audience crave the romance, without giving any of the story away. It’s not just a romance novel. It’s so much passion it’s dripping off the pages.

The Blue Lagoon was a movie with a boy and girl trapped on a deserted island. But it didn’t sell because the description simply stated this. (Okay, maybe the movie stars – e.g. Brooke Shields – helped attract their own attention.) Imagine the previews for this movie. They weren’t selling romance or adventure. They were selling something much deeper than that. That’s what people crave.

Note: Make sure that your book is an excellent fit for what you are selling. Don’t oversell it such that it makes your book sound far better than it is. Disappointment leads to bad reviews.

Do make your book as good as you can, and then find a creative way to sell something that fits your book perfectly, in a way that it won’t disappoint anyone who buys into what you’re selling.

(4) Are you selling excitement?

Did you write a non-stop, action-packed adventure?

Sell the adventure.

Focus on taking a safari through the jungle, not a book about a safari.

Jumanji wasn’t just a safari, either. It was a movie that brought the jungle to you.

(5) Are you selling entertainment?

Is your book very humorous? Sell the laughs.

Is your book super scary? Sell the fright.

Focus on being scared out of your shoes. Create a video on YouTube that will frighten and intrigue, without giving any of your story away.

Check out this book trailer (I discovered this when the author shared it on CreateSpace; I don’t know the author) for a book called Nothing Men:

(6) Are you selling self-help?

Does your book help others lead better, healthier lives.

Sell the prospects for a positive future.

Suppose your book provides a ten-step plan to overcoming depression. Sell the idea of seeking happiness in ten easy steps. Use this phrase when you interact with others. Brand the image of seeking happiness. Provide help for others through a blog, on community forums, through community service, etc. Focus on selling happiness, not on your book; but make it easy for others to discover your book. Brand yourself as someone who cares about others and can help others find happiness.

Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus is selling a much better relationship.

(7) Are you selling information?

Did you write textbook, how-to book, or workbook?

Sell the knowledge. Sell the skills.

Focus on learning something new or improving what people know already.

You’re not selling a grammar book. You’re selling the benefits of improved grammar. You’re selling not having a resume thrown in the garbage and writing letters that get results.

Think about what people can gain from your book. That’s far more important than the book itself.

Use this in your marketing. Your blog, seminars, and all of your personal and online interactions should brand you as a helpful, knowledgeable person who is selling the knowledge or skills that people need.

Suze Orman isn’t just selling financial advice. She’s offering the keys to wealth.


There are a host of other things that you can be selling: creativity, fun, morals, wisdom, beauty, etc.

Differentiate what you’re selling from what others are selling. There are thousands of mystery novels, for example. They can’t all succeed in selling the experience of feeling like a detective. Find a way to make what you’re selling unique.

Remember not to oversell; you don’t want bad reviews from disappointment. The better your book lives up the hype, the more you may receive good reviews and valuable word-of-mouth sales. Make your book as good as you can, then build the hype to match it perfectly.

Live what you’re selling. Your personality and lifestyle – your image – need to send a unified message with what you sell. You must look luxurious if you want to sell luxury. You must seem happy if you’re selling happiness. You must sound adventurous if you’re selling adventure.

Who is your target audience? Where will you find your target audience? You want to market this image specifically to your target audience. Let them discover what it is you’re offering (not a book!). Brand your image. Make them crave the brand – i.e. the concept that you’re offering. Then they can ask you (or check out your online profile) to learn about your book.

Package your book to match the image that you’re selling. The cover has to fit this image well. The title has to fit, too. The blurb needs to sell this image (not the book!). The blurb is the only salesman at the point-of-sale. Don’t oversell, but do show the reader that there is more than just a book in your book. The Look Inside has to seal the deal; it has to provide the content that endorses the hype. The rest of the book must also achieve this, as this makes the difference between a satisfied customer who is ready to share this image with others or a disappointed reader who may show frustration in a bad review.

It’s easy to hype a book. For the hype to work, the book has to also walk the walk. Perfect the product, perfect the packaging, and market the image (not the book!).

There is something more that you can offer.

You can offer the personal touch. You can interact with your target audience in person and show that you care, show that you’re passionate about the image that you’re marketing, show that you’re human, show your personality.

You’re not just selling a book.

You should be selling much more.

One last example (in the line below):

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers tour guide for your self-publishing journey

18 comments on “Authors: You’re not Selling Books

  1. this is such a great take on marketing. much appreciated! the “better place” model can apply to my Herezoth, if I spin it the right way. it’s stuck in a dystopian moment in book one, but things get better🙂

    • I was a salesman at Sears when I was paying my way through college. One of my managers gave me that exact lecture: Customers want benefits, not features. Thank you for stopping by and commenting.🙂

  2. This is such a helpful concept, Chris, thank you. I will make a list of all the non-fiction elements of my novels, and figure out precisely the image that I want to market. 🙂


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