two sides of marketing: what makes people buy your books




I was reading through Chris Brogan’s blog the other day and noticed a post he did about “the two sides of marketing”:

Some marketing is designed to convince you that your life would be better if you had this (we’ll call that the A side). Other marketing is designed to find the people who are actually seeking that and give them more education to help them make a decision (this, we’ll call B). When I look at how we use social media more often than not, it’s for B and not A. We usually use social media to listen for the people who are expressing an interest in a product or service that we offer, and then we give them content like blog posts and videos to help them better understand how much better the world would be once you really get the product or service that you want.

He later points out that

The A-side of marketing, the “ADVERTISING” side of marketing, still has to sneak in between what we know and what we NEED (being bombastic and smirky here) to know, so that we can then help educate people (the “BRIDGING” side of marketing) that it’s what they want.

When it comes to marketing your fiction, you have to figure out whether you’re going to play the A or the B side (or, more likely, how to combine them). But it’s not like you can “educate” people about why reading your book will make their world a better place.

Because it’s not like fiction solves a particular problem or fills an easily identifiable need. The needs of readers will vary and whether your work satisfies those needs can be wildly subjective (especially since the most powerful kinds of fiction also tend to be the most polarizing). If I start educating you about why you should go to Amazon right now (!) and buy my first novel, it will come off as a hard sell. Because it is. And since I’m the one who wrote the damn thing in the first place, you’re not likely to think that I have anything other than my own best interests in mind.

I lack credibility.

Someone once told me that people buy books from authors they like. While I think there’s some truth to this, I also don’t expect a person who likes me to automatically buy my books. And if the only reason I’m trying to make you like me is so that you will go off and buy those books — well, ugh. That’s not particularly authentic of me. That has the tone of a used car salesman. Or saleswoman. You know what I mean.

So I would put it like this: people buy books from authors that they resonate with. And by resonate, I mean that there’s something about the author’s voice and point of view that they can relate to. That point-of-view compels them. It sparks off a sense of recognition. (This also works in reverse. When I read a book that I resonate with, I go online to find the author.)

It’s a chemistry between author and reader.

It can’t be faked.

It just is (or isn’t).

So you educate people — you do what Brogan calls “bridging” — by putting yourself out there in the different social media spaces and expressing yourself (your self) and your point of view. To catch interest, that point of view has to be passionate, and to earn trust, that point of view has to be consistent over time. Which doesn’t mean that you hit the same points over and over again (although you certainly can, if you’re artful about it); it means that you unfold your beliefs so that they build on and deepen each other. They create, in the reader’s mind, a sense of who you are as a person and writer. The stronger that sense of identity, the more likely it is that your Ideal Readers will find it and align themselves with it and go on to buy your books.

They have been officially “educated”.

Before other people can know who you are, you have to figure out how you want them to know you. This happens partly through instinct, experimentation and strategy, and some of it is beyond your control (since you can’t control the conversations other people have about you). You want to play to the natural strengths of your own personality and find that sweet spot where your deepest interests overlap with the needs and interests of others*. You’ll not only find your audience this way (be it very large or very small), you might even find a self in you that you didn’t quite know was there.

* If you blog, for example, you’ll start to notice the blog posts that generate the strongest reactions. If you follow those reactions, they’ll lead you to the sweet spot. Which is why you might start out blogging about one thing, but end up blogging about something else. Your life online is like your life offline; it grows and evolves and sometimes surprises.

image by Reynald Belanger

Nov 30, 2010

19 comments · Add Yours

I suspect that a part of that is also for people to see what your writing looks like. Even if you don’t put fiction on your blog, how you convey ideas and what tones you use will still come out in some parts. So the audience is actually getting a sample of what they might expect in the book as well.


Wow you’ve been on a blogging roll lately!

Hmm… “people buy books from authors that they resonate with” I think this is very true. If you can connect with people through a blog or website, you can make them fans (or whatever we want to call them). If they really believe in *you* (not necessarily your “work”) then something as rudimentary as buying a book is a no-brainer. Of course they’ll buy your book. Scott Kurtz, and acclaimed web cartoonist, has a special knack for this. He is incredibly outspoken and can be very bold in his opinions, but he is also very transparent about himself and his life to his readers. It’s that transparency and genuineness that make people love his work and get behind him as a creator. (Just take a look at his most recent blog post:


I’m curious, Justine: this idea of putting yourself out there for the world to see and know… do you think it would work as well for fiction authors as it might for non-fiction authors?

While most fiction authors put something of themselves in their work, quite often they are writing about characters that are, at least on the surface, very different from themselves. I haven’t read your novels, Justine (sorry to be so blunt, I just don’t think I’ve come across them, plus I’ve been reading mostly non-fiction for the past few years) but would knowing about you necessarily be the right way to pull me into your fictional worlds? I really don’t know if you are any of your characters, or vice versa, so how would you sell this from the perspective of a fiction writer?

Some non-fiction stuff is much more blatantly auto-biographical, so I could see it working much better there, especially in the self-help and personal development genres. You mention Chris Brogan… his books (with or without Julien Smith) are natural extensions of what he does day in and day out, so I get how it might work for him. If you write about vampires, robot overlords, or serial killers… not so much?


Two things:

1. Do you have a search function someone on your website that I’m completely overlooking? You’ve written some posts that I want to go back and check out… if I have to click through the archives I will, but figured I’d ask first.

2. On resonance, Chuck Palahniuk wrote an essay on his site (I believe you have to be a member to access it) about the Heart vs. Head method of writing, which is used to demonstrate authority. When you’re writing from the heart, you’re emotionally connecting with the reader (for example by telling an embarrassing story about yourself). When you write from the head, you’re intellectually connecting with the reader (teaching them how to do something).

When I visit a writer’s blog, I need to connect to either one of those things before I’ll buy anything. I either need to understand or learn from them on an intellectual level, or I have to be drawn in emotionally. It’s not enough that you have my attention, I have to either like you or trust and respect you. Attention gets me in the store, an emotional or intellectual connection makes me pull out my wallet.


Mark & David —

Yes, I’m talking about an intellectual & emotional connection. That’s what I mean by reader-writer chemistry. As David points out, attention isn’t enough; you also have to engage, and you do that through providing steady consistent value through your content.

But Mark — I’m not talking about autobiographical details so much as a certain kind of worldview tailored toward the people most likely to be interested in your books. If you write vampire novels, for example, then you’d want to blog about something that would attract those kinds of readers — not blog about yourself per se, although it does help to get personal at times. But it’s never about you, it’s what you can give the reader (it’s about *them*).

As for myself, I’m a writer in transition; I’m building a platform (or trying to) for future works, which will take a different, more realistic, more psychological direction than my previous novels (which kind of belong to a different lifetime) (and I do intend to write some nonfiction).

What tends to hook people is author *voice*. When you get hooked on someone’s voice, you’ll follow it anywhere.


Oh and David — I’ll put a ‘search’ function on my site. I guess it would be handy. :)


I *resonated* with this completely. Thank you.


It sounds good in theory (doesn’t everything?) but I work hard at building relationships online and I have a few that have become real friendships but selling things is another arena completely. In the case of most authors our relationships with them are one-sided – they don’t know us from Adam but we’ve read everything they’ve ever written. I have some online friends who’ve never bought a single one of my books and I’d love to ask them what I’m doing wrong but you can’t, can you? I don’t harp on about my books like some do – no one likes a hard sell – but it’s hard to know where to draw the line. Discreet ads on the side of our posts are all well and good but how much attention to they get especially from our regular readers? Next to none. I’ve been encouraged to try putting a bit more effort into Facebook so expect a friend request any second now.


Very well said. I’m the author of a nostalgic cookbook, which, take my word for it, is NOT an attention grabbing subject! Most of my stories are heartfelt fringed with light humor about growing up on a farm, with more tales of raising my own children on a farm. Each story of days-gone-by is followed with a recipe. I sell very few books on Amazon, but when I do an up-close and personal signing I sell a lot. For me making a connection with people, or resonating with them on some level, is a must for selling books.

As soon as I can connect on an emotional level with the potential buyer, basically bringing back a fond memory that strikes a cord with them, I make a sale. When they’ve purchased a book they seem to have a need to pass along stories about their own childhood experiences (this bridges a gap), such as spending memorable and carefree summers with an aunt and uncle who lived in the country. Many recount warm, and profound “rights of passage” tales.

Once an elderly lady purchased 16 copies, simply because one story opened with, “Do you recall how your husband proposed marriage?” A retired teacher’s spirit was moved to buy numerous copies when “he’d smile, revealing his babyish tooth-free gums,” triggered memories of her “tooth-free” uncle who had raised her.

At any rate, my nostalgic tales are turned into dollars when the mis-adventures of everyday living resonates with the buyer; for me this is key to selling books. I also have a lot of repeat customers, and I think it’s because once they truly get into the book’s stories (sometimes a recipe) they want to buy copies for relatives and friends so others can re-live, or recapture that balance, serenity or safe place that’s not so common in our present-day lives….

Cynthia Briggs/Cookbook Author
Pork Chops & Applesauce
Sweet Apple Temptations


Actually yeah, you can ask them what you’re doing wrong, if you feel you’re doing something wrong. You can ask them pretty much anything.

I have a lot of friends who don’t read or buy my stuff either and I don’t expect them to. Developing a relationship with someone does not equal a book sale. It’s precisely because so many of those relationships are one-sided that you have to put yourself “out there” — express your particular point of view and your personality so that you will attract people who are likely to resonate with you (to make that intellectual and more importantly emotional connection) and thus with your work. But you have to give them something online to make a connection *with* — your persona, your brand, whatever you want to call it. That’s what will (indirectly) sell books, and although it’s an authentic expression of you, it isn’t you so much as an idea of you. If you know what I mean.

A quick look at your blog and I see that you are very self-effacing and very modest. You emphasize that you’re a struggling writer. Your blog has an academic, book-review tone (remember that online life values passion, authenticity). You also write this:

“Since nothing much happens in my life worth writing about you’ll be glad to hear there’s precious little extraneous crap. I try to stick to my basic themes. So no articles about how cute my pets are or recipes for haggis or long meanderings through my childhood although I have no problem referencing these kind of things if they are relevant. They’re usually not.”

But it’s that “extraneous crap” that makes you human, creates a sense of who you are, opens up a bit of a sense of vulnerability that draws other people in, so that they can see their own experiences reflected in yours. It seems you’re working hard to keep people at a distance and also to downplay yourself (“nothing in my life worth writing about”) and your work (“I’m struggling with the novel and the novel is winning”). Remember that you need to inspire a sense of *trust* that your work is *worth paying money for*. There’s also a controlling tone in that paragraph — your determination to “stick to your basic themes” instead of letting those themes evolve or change through your conversation with your readers (which is what a blog essentially is). And it’s a little bit lecturing & judgmental (since a lot of people reading that *will* be people who blog about their pets and all that “extraneous crap”).

Blogging isn’t the same as writing for print; it’s more casual, immediate, interactive, personal, conversational. It’s also about what you can give or do for the reader, not your own artistic or personal satisfaction (although that can certainly come into play). Your blog should immediately create a sense of what you can do for your readers & why you’re qualified to do it. You build from there.

Also, Jim — remember that we all tend to think our lives aren’t that interesting, just because they’re our lives and everything in them is so familiar to us. I find it interesting that you live in Scotland. Something like ‘haggis’ is exotic to me (I’m not even sure what it is). You don’t need to be some kind of superstar — people want you to be different enough to be intriguing (and since we all live such different lives already, this isn’t difficult) but familiar enough so that they can relate to you.

I write about my own life in my personal blog (my livejournal) but I don’t think of it as necessarily writing about myself but the people and places that spark my imagination, the moments I find amusing or revealing in some way. (I was really influenced by travel writing, most notably Paul Theroux.) All of that does most definitely reveal a sense of who I am and how I think, but it’s done through a kind of storytelling. (Plus I figure that if I find something interesting or noteworthy, other people might as well, since we’re all part of the same cosmic fabric, or whatever you want to call it. We’re different, and we’re originals, but we’re also a lot alike.)


Just wanted to add a note about responding to blog comments. This is one way to get people to buy your books. It works, at least, on me. By that I don’t mean responding to *my* comments in particular, but just showing a willingness to get in there & exchange with people a bit rather than delivering wisdom *unto* readers. Lately I’ve found myself losing interest in some really thoughtful & well-written blogs whose authors don’t respond to comments, even heartfelt ones. (And not because they’re so hugely popular, either. We’re talking three to six comments, here.) Sad for all parties, I think.


Lanham — Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. I haven’t been as responsive as I should have been on my own blogs — when they started getting a bit more attention I felt myself shying away a bit. Which is really stupid, because the comments are one of the best things about doing a blog in the first place. :)


I agree with Lanham True. I’ve always held the position that if someone is willing to take the time to read my thoughts (even if it is a simple FB status update) and respond, I want to respect them for that time and respond back. I know there have been times when I didn’t pursue or invest in another person/author because they didn’t take the few moments to respond to others. On the same hand, I’m loyal to those individuals who not only produce material I resonate with but live their lives in a way that inspires me – regardless of how busy they are, they are never too busy for those small acts of respect and kindness.


This is surely why author blogs are so successful – because it increases the connection between the author and the reader.


I love how you describe the connection we as authors make with readers–that it’s important to be vulnerable and put ourselves out there in order to relate to others. No one admires perfection. Not really. Not for very long. What we all want is to connect–to feel a common bond–with others, and your description is perfect.


I’m sorry I didn’t get hooked into this conversation two weeks ago. Thanks for this post Justine.

Jim, your situation *resonated* with me, so I’ll jump on the bandwagon and give you a few other pieces of advice. I’m a writer, also working on a blog platform, and was recently advised by an agent to be sure I’m attracting READERS to my blog, not other WRITERS. Readers tend to buy. Writers tend to commiserate. The other advice is to let your hair down and be you. The biggest traffic to my blog in recent months came for a post entitled “I Just Can’t Do This”, when I was tempted to scrap my 1yr+ project of writing a novel. A lot of people came to read this one. I was, like it sounds, pretty vulnerable. The last piece of advice is not to be “Debbie Downer,” (which I obviously violated with my aforementioned post) and this advice is directly from Dan Zarrella’s research about blogs. He said people are attracted to online content because of sex and positivity, so if you can’t use the first, definitely use the second! Good luck!


Melissa —

Great points, thanks — and your agent’s observation is why I spun this blog off from my Livejournal — I wanted to write for readers and for writers — although, since writers (the real ones) need to be not just readers, but obsessive readers, I would say there’s bound to be some overlap.

How are you finding platform-building?


This clarified how to improve my voice in my novels. Excellent knowledge regarding the writing industry.


I agree that readers want a connection with the authors. First, some of the authors I’ve met personally jumped to the head of my list of favorites. Second, I’ve begun doing speaking engagements and I’m always asked more about myself, along with the question of how much of my book is about me. People want to know authors, and want to feel that reading the book makes them closer to thyat person.


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