Authors, What Are You Selling?


The Question

Aren’t you selling more than just a book? much more?

If all you’re selling is a book, that’s a big problem for you: It’s easy to find books. The library has thousands. You can find thousands in bookstores, millions on Amazon, and hundreds at yard sales.

It takes more—much more—than just a book to make it worth reading.

  • What more are you offering than just a book?
  • Who is likely to benefit from what your book offers?

You want to identify the benefits your book offers, the people most likely to appreciate those benefits, and figure out how to match those people (your target audience) with your book.

Well, duh!

But many authors either aren’t doing this, or aren’t taking full advantage of this seemingly simple logic.

Features vs. Benefits

People don’t buy anything.

People don’t buy features.

People may buy benefits (if those benefits are a good fit for them and they perceive the benefits as a good value).

Example: Someone asks you, “Was self-publishing your book easy to do?”

  • Nothing special: “The writing was fun, but the editing and formatting were nightmares.” You missed a golden opportunity here to introduce a benefit.
  • Features: “It was because I really enjoyed the writing, which took two years, and I hired an editor for the tedious part.” This highlights two features: Ample time spent on the writing and having your book edited.
  • Benefits: “I really enjoyed the months that I spent studying swordsmanship and how to describe it in fiction, and I hired an editor to make sure it reads very well.” First, if you’re really into swords and sorcery, this sounds authentic. Second, people don’t care for the editor (that’s a feature), but they may appreciate that it will read well (that’s the benefit).

You might be thinking, “Well, if you mentioned the editor, it should be obvious that the book should read well.” But not necessarily. For one, there are different types of editors. Some customers might interpret mention of the editor to mean that there are no spelling mistakes, but that doesn’t mean that it will read well.

And not everyone will make the connection. Sales people have better success when they describe benefits than when they list features, especially when they describe specific ways that a product will benefit each individual.


  • Nothing special: “This television measures 27 inches diagonally.” Everyone is thinking, “So do many other televisions.”
  • Feature: “This television comes with picture-in-picture.” Many customers are thinking, “Well, I don’t need that. I’d rather save money.”
  • Benefit: “With picture-in-picture built-in, your husband won’t have to change the channel during your soap opera to check the score of the game every few minutes.” Now if this applies to you, you may be starting to consider the benefit that this feature offers. You might not have considered this benefit just from the feature itself. You might have interpreted the feature to mean you could watch two shows at once, which you didn’t intend to do.

Just-a-Book Marketing

If all you have to offer is a book, then it should be satisfactory to just:

  • Tell people that you have a book. That should do it, right? Maybe tell the genre, too. But a romance novel is still one of thousands. What makes it special?
  • Keep mentioning the title so that people can remember it. But if they do remember, why should they read it?
  • Show people the cover so they can see it. But if they do see it, why should they care to find out what’s inside it?
  • Advertise that it’s on sale. But people don’t buy prices. They need a reason to want the book before price helps to create value.

Branding is important, and branding does involve getting your target audience to see your cover, your title, and your name multiple times over a long period so that they recognize it.

But branding is more effective when they associate some benefit with your book.

When you hear Sony, do you think high quality? When you hear Costco, do you think large quantities and good savings? When you hear Disneyland, do you think your kids would be happy to go there? When you hear McDonald’s, do you expect fast service and low prices? When you hear Bounty, do you think absorbent?

You want to associate some benefit with your brand. Then, when your target audience is shopping for a book in your genre and remembers your book, they will have some positive quality to associate with it.

They might not buy your book just because they recognize it. But if they recognize it and a benefit comes to mind, this greatly improves your chances for a sale.

But it’s not just about the book. It’s about you, too.

More-than-a-Book Marketing

There are two ways to offer more than just a book:

  • Mention a specific benefit that your book offers.
  • Remember that the author is an important part of the book and marketing.

This second point can make a big impact on marketing effectiveness. We’ll get to this in the next section.

Your product description is a valuable marketing tool. Think about the important benefits that your book offers your target audience. These benefits should be clear from reading your blurb, but fiction is a little tricky because the benefits generally must be implicit.

The author’s biography provides a chance to show how the author is qualified to write the book. For nonfiction, this is often a relevant degree or experience. For fiction, if you have a writing degree, you should play your card, but if not, you may still have relevant experience. Have you traveled to the place where part of your book is set? Have you spent a significant amount of time learning or studying a relevant skill, like forensics for a crime novel?

Instead of trying to brand just your book’s title, you might develop a concise phrase to serve as a hook. Use this to create interest in your book and to associate your book with a positive quality. Anywhere you mention your book’s title, you could include the hook next to it, such as at the end of blog posts, emails, or on business cards. You can even mention it in person, at readings, signings, or anytime you get the opportunity to interact with your target audience and the subject of your book comes up.

Example: Instead of just mentioning the title, A See-Through Relationship, you could also include the hook, “What if you fell in love with a ghost?”

It’s not easy to come up with a clever, appropriate, effective, very short hook, but it can really be worth it if you pull it off. It’s definitely worth spending time thinking about this.

I bet you recognize some company slogans. The hook works for authors much the same way.

When you have the chance to describe your book, online or in person, you want to make the benefits of your book clear. The better you know your target audience’s interests, the better you can show them how your book may benefit each individual.

The Author

It’s challenging to get people interested in your book.

Imagine you’re at a cocktail party, but it’s not an ordinary cocktail party. 90% of the people in attendance are sci-fi enthusiasts, and you have a science fiction book.

Suppose you set your book on a table in the center of the room and leave. I bet a few people will pick up the book, if the cover has good appeal, and check it out. But it’s just a book, and people didn’t attend a cocktail party looking for a book. They went to the party to meet people.

If instead you leave your book at home, but this time you stay at the party, there is a good chance that you will meet many people and get people interested in you.

You have a pulse. You move around. You talk. You interact. Unlike your book.

It’s easier to get people interested in you, the author, than it is to get people interested in your book.

Once people become interested in you, let them naturally discover that you’re an author, and their interest in you may translate into interest in your book.

By discover, I mean waiting for, “So what have you done lately?” instead of volunteering, “I just published a new book.” Wait for the prompt.

Use this to your advantage: Interact with your target audience, both in person and online.

You have a personality; your book doesn’t. You can interact with people; your book just sits there.

People in the target audience who personally interact with an author are more likely to check out a book, buy it, and leave a review than some random stranger who happens across it.

Online, a large number of people can come across your book. But to most of them, it’s just a book they see while passing through.

On your product page, your description may help to show the benefits, but first you need them to find your product page.

In person, your interactions can help to get people interested in your book through their interest in you, and then you can show them the benefits personally. Now you’re selling more than just a book.

You can also provide the personal touch online. You can also let people see that you’re more than just a name; you can help them discover the person behind the book.

More Than Just an Author

Chris McMullen, more than just the author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.

2 comments on “Authors, What Are You Selling?

  1. Tricky with fiction – but possibly you can sell quality of writing?

    As in, ‘The book was so well written, that even though I don’t like [genre] [specific detail] stories, I really enjoyed the book and will recommend it.’

    Many of us say we labor long in the word mines to achieve that quality – but I see a lot of books that lie.

    • I think you can sell the quality of writing. I myself have actually become interested in a few books where I saw how much was going into the writer’s process. I like seeing the author’s notes, like character sketches (I don’t mean the drawings, so much as mapping out the characters in words) and ideas written on a napkin. I like hearing about writing challenges and what it takes to overcome them. Once I’m interested, the quality of writing in the author’s blog posts combined with the Look Inside often help me gauge what to expect from the book.

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