Selling an Image

50 Shades image

I've been asked to compile this Twitter thread, which turned quite a few heads. The topic is newpub marketing, which tends to be popular with my blog readers, so I've reproduced it here.

Most folks in newpub unconsciously stumble out of the gate by calling themselves indie *authors*. I know I did.

But newpub means more than writing. If you go indie, you accept all the responsibilities of an author AND a publisher.

As a result of indies' author-centric focus, a lot of time is spent discussing matters of craft. That's fine. Craft is indispensable. No books, no industry.

The problem is that the business end often goes overlooked.

In newpub, you wear two hats: author and publisher. These are different roles with intrinsically different functions & skill sets.

Sometimes the dichotomy incites conflict: "Learning marketing is beneath me. I'm an artist!"

That's setting yourself up to fail.

Unpopular opinion: Most authors' exclusive focus on story quality is a detriment to their marketing efforts.

Note I said 'exclusive'. I'm not saying story quality doesn't matter. It's essential to reach readers.

Here's what 99% of newpub never asks: how to reach non-readers?

"Why would I want to reach non-readers?"

If you asked that, you're thinking like an author. Stop, doff your artist hat, & put on your publisher hat.

An author's 1st job is pleasing readers. A publisher's 1st job is selling books. As a publisher, you want to sell as many as possible.

25% of Americans didn't read a single book in 2017. Everyone with a TBR stack knows that books bought > books read.

I couldn't verify this figure since oldpub keeps such data close to the vest, but a friend with his finger on the pulse of the deep marketing lore asserted that only 20% of the Big 5's major release books actually get read.

We're talking front list stuff like titles featured on Oprah's book club. People buy those books to conspicuously leave on the coffee table so they can signal how hip they are.

You may disdain their behavior, but if those buyers account for 80% of blockbuster book sales, you shouldn't spurn them outright if you want to make the A list.

How do you sell your book to folks who don't read?

As we saw, most authors over-focus on their books' content. Sure, they'll put decent effort into the cover art. Some learn SEO & keyword-fu. Many dump a few $$ a month into AMS ads.

But all of that is for attracting *readers*.

Remember: most sales are motivated by status. This doesn't just apply to books. Just look at any beer ad.

Think about who buys 50 Shades of Grey. It's mostly customers who want to be seen as the kind of woman who reads 50 Shades--edgy but within the bounds of social convention. Nobody wants to be seen as a "good girl".

You get non-readers to buy your book by convincing them that owning your book will make people see them as the kind of person they want to be. That's aspirational marketing.

Publishers understand the power of aspirational marketing--or they used to.

Why did that news article have a pic of that celebrity holding that hot new book? It wasn't a coincidence.

TL; DR: you entice non-readers to buy your book by showing them that someone they aspire to emulate already owns your book.

Sit down and write up a list of influential people your target market wants to emulate. It couldn't hurt to email these people with a free book offer.

If you're the kind of person who wants to be seen as a discerning anime connoisseur--not like those pesky weebs--be seen reading my sophisticated mecha thriller Combat Frame XSeed.

Combat Frame XSeed


  1. Perhaps some of the reason that many indie writers concentrate on craft is that's where they are in their careers. No product, no reason to learn about advertising.

    I wonder if you could pay Vic Mignogna to be in a Combat Frame XSEED ad?

    1. If they don't have a product, they're not authors.

  2. How does the status thing work for ebooks. My own wife doesn't know (or care) what books I have on my Kindle or phone, so impressing other people with my vast collection of pulp SF sounds like a non-starter.

    1. A book isn't made of wood pulp or a string of ones and zeroes. A book is made of ideas. The lumber and the code are just media.

      When people in a certain scene claim to have read a book they haven't actually read in order to impress people they think *have* read it, that's the status-driven consumption effect at work.

  3. This is one of the reasons I'm working with a publisher. My marketing game is just not there, but I will try when my next one is out.

    1. Marketing is a learned skill like driving. If you'd rather not put in the practice, you can hire someone else to drive you around, but like all luxuries, you're gonna pay for it.

    2. For me it's more for the extra aid than anything else. I still plan on marketing for myself. I can only get better from there.