Novels · Publishing · Saint Flaherty Series · Technology

What Makes People Buy Books?

Ah, marketing. Can you believe that before my book came out last month, I was actually excited to give it a try?

george of the jungle

Marketing is, it turns out, a jerk.

You wouldn’t think it’d be hard to sell eight hours of entertainment for literally less than the price of a cup of coffee, but alas, publishing is one of those funny industries in that it defies prettymuch everything every other one flourishes on. You can transfer from marketing beer to marketing makeup without too many hiccups, but beer to books? Nope. Don’t even try. Blogs warn about it, individual forums are dedicated to the assurance that no, it’s not just you: marketing books is a total craps shoot.

I mean, there’s some forms of marketing that do beautifully. Book covers are marketing at its finest: you see a gorgeous cover, you want to buy the book. You see a cover that’s really trendy, you want to buy the book. You see a cover that looks almost exactly the same as the cover of the last book you read and loved? You buy that book and ten others. (Oh, I’m sorry, did you think having a bunch of novels that look alike appear very quickly was a coincidence? It’s not.) Book covers are great marketing!

When people see them. Which is difficult to do when there are so many books.

hogwarts letters gif
Actual photo of me on Amazon.

Books are an oversaturated market. There are a million out there, and now that self-publishing is a thing, a million more are appearing every day (approximate figure). It means that, more than ever before, the world is being flooded with amazing novels.

Lots of awful ones, but really, there’s more good stuff out there than ever before.

A lot of people think this is a bad thing. I’m not linking them because any attention is attention, but if you’ve read anything about publishing you’ve heard the ringing lament that a flood of books means everyone will be mired in crap and no one will ever find anything good ever again and we will be stuff re-reading Twilight until our brains fall out.

This is silly. I spent years reading Harry Potter fan fiction, where millions of stories not only exist, but are completely free, and the good stuff rose to the top in very short order. And how?

Real marketers in the wild.

Well, for one thing, there is no powerhouse marketing in fan fiction. None. The only advertising is the kind you do where you go on a forum and say “Hey, I wrote this story! Please read it!” which most people ignore. Fan fiction almost solely relies on word of mouth and having lots of reviews.

Sound familiar? Because that’s exactly what regular books use. Not ads in the New York Times, not billboards above the highway: those are all fluff. What sells books is people talking about them.

Oh, and people seeing the cover. A lot. Because you know how sometimes it feels like everywhere you look, you see chocolate, until finally you go “it’s a sign!” and devour a box of it? Well, people do that with books, too, which is where Facebook comes in.

I’ve tried a couple times now to make Facebook ads work for me, fiddling with this image and that slogan, narrowing interests and broadening them. It’s been rather difficult, because as someone who’s dedicatedly ignored ads for the past, oh, sixteen years, I’m suddenly having to figure out what makes them tick. What do I click on, and why? When do I buy? When don’t I?

Turns out I’m fairly susceptible to clickbait. Oops.

I was lost. How could I get people to read my book? What do people respond to?

Shortly after coming to America, Husband pointed out that every advertisement here has a smiling face on it. Dentistry? Smiling people with white teeth! Supermarket? Smiling people with groceries! Steve the evil politician? Smiling people holding shotguns!


face gif
Perfect American advertisement

So today, my campaign is very simple: I’m sitting next to a floating imagine of my book cover while the link proclaims “Local Author, Local Book!” And okay, I’m not smiling, because frankly it’s not a happy-smiling book, but I think it gets the point across: a real person made this! A person you can see around town! Support them!

The text is along the lines of “What happens to Southeast Ohio when civilization collapses?” In a town as local-happy as this one, I figure it’s got to be worth a try. If nothing else, maybe the people I went to high school with will buy a copy of curiosity.

And then maybe they’ll talk about it with other people who went to my high school, who will spread it to people who didn’t go there, who…

Well, that’s the way we hope it works, anyway. Such is advertising on the internet.

Onward…to book sales!


11 thoughts on “What Makes People Buy Books?

  1. Sounds like you and I are in the same boat. I’m only a couple of weeks into my marketing plan. So much noise, so many options. (Alas and alack, indeed!)

    A while back, I wrote a blog post about why we writers tend to loath marketing ( Maybe you and your readers can relate…or at least commiserate!

    Good luck and godspeed!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Goodluck! I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be to constantly rework your adverts. Especially when there’s nothing ‘wrong’ with them, they’re just not ‘right’ either.


  3. Oh no, it sounds like quite the battle. Is Facebook your main advertising platform right now? I can’t claim to have any working experience in this area but I am keeping my fingers crossed for you that it will pick up momentum soon!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve found one effective method to be giveaways and book bloggers. Goodreads allows you to host giveaways of your book, and that gives it so much exposure believe me. Winners will review your book 95% of the time, and many of those who haven’t won will at least add your book to their to-read list.

    I also went around and contacted book bloggers about my book, and the reviews more or less when up at the same time, so that gave me a bit of a boost.

    I only spent money on the copies I shipped to the winners! And the price of the copies themselves, of course.


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