Aspirational Marketing

Caity Lotz Ready Player One

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.

In 2017, 25% of Americans didn't read a single book. 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 4'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.

The same goes for big You Tube bibliophile channels that review books in your genre.


  1. That picture causes physical pain.

    One of the things that was constantly beat into my head when I was learning writing was that "your audiences can't be EVERYONE, you have to know exactly who you want to reach" which I think is half-true.

    Should you be writing romance stories, you have to sell it to the most amount of people who want to a romance story. That is true. But that shouldn't be the end of it. The fact of the matter is that everyone also likes "romance" so who knows who might might be out there looking for a romance story like yours? "Everyone", to an extent, should be seen as a potential customer.

    Few people read these days. This means part of every writer's job is to try and create more readers. We have to grow the audience and the industry. We can't follow the music or comic book industries' example of wringing more money from smaller audiences. That only creates fanatics, which is poisonous to both you and your remaining audience. It's stagnation leading to a slow death.

    I want a healthy art industry, which means aiming big. I'm certain this ship can be turned around, otherwise I wouldn't be here. We need more people, and more art.

  2. How many a right-wing youth has BAP book on their shelves but has never cracked it open?
    It's a better 'investment' than a Franklin Mint Plate or a Funko Pop.