Want to Sell More Books? Stop Pushing and Start Connecting

Today’s guest post is by John Bard:

Want to scare a bunch of writers silly? You won’t need to put on a Freddy Krueger mask and chase after them.  There’s a much easier way:

Just saunter up to them and say, “Who wants to do some book marketing?”

Those who haven’t fled in terror will testify to their agonizing and fruitless hours spent on social media; their deep-set horror that someone will view them as shameless profiteers, hawking their wares for filthy lucre; and their absolute conviction that “book marketing doesn’t work, so why bother?”

Hey, I get it. You’re a writer. If you were some wildly extroverted glad-hander, you’d be out there selling stuff instead of sitting alone agonizing over every syllable. The last thing you want to do is sell.

Know what? You’re absolutely right. You shouldn’t be out there selling. That’s not your game, and, frankly, it’s not the way to promote books.

There’s a much better way of looking at things, and I’d like to introduce you to it.

First, Let’s Begin by Taking a Moment to Reflect on These Questions:

  1. How did you discover your favorite movie? Was it a trailer you saw before another film? Was it a review in a newspaper or online? Did a friend tell you about it?
  1. Do you have a particular gadget that you can’t live without? How did you find out about? Was it by way of an ad, a blog post, a friend, or something else?
  1. Do you have any favorite brands of personal care or household products that you’re loyal to? How did you learn of those products?
  1. Is there a book that’s changed your life? How did you discover it?

Connectors Are All around Us

We’re all born a blank slate. We learn about the things that become important to us. In order for that to happen, we need connectors. People or things that reach out to us and say “Hey, have a look at this!” Life would be quite sterile without them.

Fortunately, the world is filled with connectors. Reviewers, bloggers, advertisers, friends who love to click “share”—they’re all responsible for leading us to things that end up mattering in our lives. And we, in turn, become connectors.

Have you ever told a friend about a great new restaurant you’ve tried? Ever forwarded news of a cool new product to someone? Ever started a conversation with “You’ve just got to try . . .”?

Then, guess what? You are a connector. And you have everything you need to market yourself and your book.

Start by Fully Appreciating that What You Do Matters—a Lot

There are people out there who need to read your work. The education, inspiration, or entertainment you’re ready to provide them can greatly enhance their lives. If you can make someone’s life better, you owe it to them to share that important news. Doing anything less would be a major disservice.

But don’t “sell” to them.

Connect them to you, the things you care about, and, best of all, to each other.   And then connect them to your writing.

Go Back to Those Questions I Asked at the Top of this Post

Do you resent the movie company for “subjecting” you to the trailer that introduced you to your favorite film? Do you hold a grudge against the friend who hipped you to your new favorite product? Are you angry with the book reviewer who directed you to the novel that changed your life?

Of course not. In fact, I’m willing to bet that you’re grateful for those connectors, and you celebrate the day you found them.

Did they market to you? Well, technically, yes. But what they really did was tell you about something that made your life better. It’s a noble thing they did for you. And now you can return the favor by connecting others with your important contribution to their lives.  And that contribution is much more than your book.

People want connection with something bigger, they want connection with each other and, once you let your true character come forward, they’ll want connection with you.

And they’ll reward you for helping make these connections come to be. By supporting your career, by buying your books and, yes, by connecting others to your work.

What This Means in Terms of Book Marketing

Most writers think that book marketing is about “pushing” something at people. That’s understandable because, in the pre-Internet age, that’s essentially what marketing was.

A company bought an ad and told would-be customers: “Look at this! You need this!” There was no attempt made to build a community because there was no place for that community to exist. So it was “push, push, push” all the time.

If that’s the environment in which you grew up, it’s natural that you would still view marketing in those terms. And it’s natural that you would likely want no part of that. But we live in a very different world now.

Today, rather than “push”, it’s about doing two things: “pull” and then “connect.”

And here’s the awesomest of awesome things about pulling and connecting: It’s fun! No kidding. It sells books, and you can have a really good time.

An Example of Connecting

Here’s a perfect example, courtesy of YA author John Green and his brother Hank. Check out their Youtube channel called Vlogbrothers, which is dedicated to “raising nerdy to the power of awesome.”

The videos are short, funny, and simple. And they’ve helped John and Hank develop a massive audience for John’s books.  And note: the videos aren’t about John Green. They’re about connecting his readers to things he thinks they’ll find interesting.

So here’s how it works:

  • John Green and his brother make an uproarious video, targeted to reach the kind of folks who would enjoy John’s books
  • The video gets viewed by their ever-growing fan base (that’s the “pull”)
  • Folks come in, meet each other in the comment session, and have their questions answered by the brothers (that’s the “connect”)
  • These fans then share the videos with their friends (now they’re connecting on the Greens’ behalf!)
  • John Green sells lots and lots and lots of books.

At no point is John Green being a huckster or a salesman. But, let’s be clear: he’s marketing. And you don’t mind a bit—because he’s offering value and connection.

How to Start on the Path of the Connector

Take some time today and look at your marketing efforts, and honestly answer these questions:

  • Is my marketing about me and my book rather than about the interests, hopes, and desires of my would-be readers?
  • Do I give real value to people, or am I simply posting my book cover everywhere with a link to buy it on Amazon?
  • Am I connecting people to something bigger, or am I just trying to get one sale at a time?
  • Am I doing anything to build community (an e-mail list, a cause, some personal connection), or am I simply sending my marketing out there to an anonymous group of people I don’t know and who will never know me?
  • Am I doing anything to help my fans become connectors on my behalf? Do I have great things they can share (like videos, cool stories, funny memes, bold statements of purpose on things that matter, etc.)?  Am I doing whatever is needed for these folks to tell a friend “there’s an author you really need to check out!”?

Book marketing is not especially difficult, and it’s not nearly as complex as you may have been led to believe. Just remember—it’s not about you; it’s about your reader.

Pull them toward you, connect them (to you, to each other, to something bigger), and they’ll be your fans forever.

Jon Bard head shotJon Bard has been helping authors for twenty-five years as the co-owner of Children’s Book Insider, the Newsletter for Children’s Writers. He recently introduced his course Easy Author Marketing – The Simple Solution That Sells Books.

Free gift for Live Write Thrive readers:  To learn how to become a connector and start marketing your books and yourself, download Jon’s free ebook: The 10-Minute Turnaround: Overcome Your Fear of Marketing & Start Connecting with Readers Now!

Feature Photo Credit: djking via Compfight cc

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  1. Jon, Great article. Do you consider creating an email list different from creating LinkedIn, FaceBook, blog, and twitter connections? I’ve read creating an email list is very important to marketing a book, but I seem to lean toward the other platforms more naturally.

    1. Kristina – I like email lists because you own them. If all your contacts exist as followers on third party platforms, you’re at the mercy of that company (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) to revoke or limit your ability to connect with those folks. I suggest using social media as a means to direct people to your email list, rather than being the main home for your community of followers.

  2. I loved this advice–I feel like it’s something you read pretty often, but using John and Hank Green’s Vlogbrothers as an example really drives home the point. After all, I started a blog and twitter account and instagram account, etc to connect with other readers and writers–not to promote myself. I hope that by the time I do publish my book, I will have connected with enough like-minded people that they will want to read what I wrote! But if not, I don’t consider my time on the internet wasted–not if I’m learning something/passing those learnings along to someone else. Great post!

  3. Having had the good fortune of taking part in Jon’s recent course, I am thrilled and excited to see his article on your excellent site, Susanne.
    It serves as a suitable and concise reminder to follow the steps that Jon marks out on the path to success. My own journey is in the infancy stage as yet; however, every day brings the anticipated objective a little nearer.
    My thanks to you, Susanne, and to Jon.

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