Matilija Press
Book Titles

Published Article
by Patricia Fry

Book Promotion Babble

Do You Engage in Book Promo Babble?

Writers are not necessarily hotshot promoters—and this goes for authors of nonfiction as well as fiction and children’s books. But we know that promotion is required if we want to sell books, so most of us make the effort. We reach out to our audiences in all of the most creative ways and attempt to entice buyers. Unfortunately, our promotional methods aren’t always as effective as they could be. Here are some common mistakes:

Authors use vague promo babble terms. Recently, I’ve been running a prepublication discount offer for books that are currently with a printer and aren’t scheduled for publication until later this month. Several customers who ordered these books became upset with me when they learned that the books wouldn’t arrive within the usual week’s (or so) time. My attempt to explain the prepublication discount offer on my Web site ordering page, seemed to fail about 40 percent of the time.

When I would pitch these books and the prepublication discount offer in person, I’d get blank stares and few orders. So I stopped using the term that I’d so carefully designed and I began stating simply, “Place your order for the revised edition of The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book and the new Author’s Workbook by September 20, 2007 and get 25% off. All orders will be shipped after September 21.” [Author's Note: Right Way has been retired. See my most recent books in the left column of this page.]

Authors promote features instead of benefits. Customers don’t care how many awards your book has won, the number of tips you’ve included, the fact that your book was reviewed by five magazines. They want benefits. In other words, they want to know, “How will this book assist me; give me more quality of life, make me richer, thinner, prettier, stronger, healthier or happier?”

Let’s say that you’re promoting a book on how to create greater curb appeal when selling your home. Instead of telling a potential customer, “I’m the expert who wrote this book. I mention Martha Stewart’s ideas for instant porch plants.” Say instead, “Follow the guidelines in this book and you could earn an additional $5,000-$30,000 on your next home sale.”

For your romance novel, rather than saying, “This is the story of two misfits who find themselves homeless and then fall in love,” you might say, “If you enjoy reading a touching story that requires a box of tissues nearby, this book is for you.” or “Do you like really feel-good stories?”

For a book of offbeat humor, don’t say, “There are 102 really funny jokes.” Use this approach, “Be the hit at the office Christmas party, when you hand out copies of this book to all of your co-workers.”

Authors tend to oversell their books. Give your spiel, answer some questions and then pause. Watch for an indication of how to proceed. If the potential customer lingers over your book, engage him or her in conversation. Ask what type of books they like reading or inquire as to their interest in the topic of the book. Let the customer’s responses lead you from there. Keep droning on for too long about the features and you may chase him away.

Authors neglect to ask for the sale. This may sound elementary, but most of us tend to refrain from taking that one last step to actually making the sale. We assume that the customer knows the book is for sale and we figure that if he wants it, he will plunk down the cash. Not necessarily. I find that I miss out on sales unless I say, “Would you like me to autograph it for you?” or “Will that be check, cash or credit card?” Or “How many copies would you like today?” It’s true that sometimes the customer just needs that little nudge. Without it, it is sometimes easier to just walk away intending to “think it over.” or “come back later in the day.”

Promotion is not usually a writer’s strong suit, but creativity is. Authors, I urge you to use that creative edge toward the huge task of promotion and you’re bound to sell hundreds if not thousands more copies of your book.

Most authors will tune out my spiel about how important it is to be really well-prepared for the fiercely competitive publishing industry by diligently studying this book. I often say, “It’s imperative that you study the publishing industry so that you understand your options, the ramifications of your choices and your responsibility as an author. But starry-eyed authors don’t care about this. They don’t get the importance of it. They just want to know how to land a big name publisher the easiest way possible. This author believes that his book is different; that all he has to do is write it and they will come.

Yes, many hopeful authors are focused on one thing and one thing only—getting an agent or a publisher. This will be the answer to all of their prayers. Everything else will fall into place automatically, if only they had an agent or a publisher. They don’t get that the way to make everything fall into place is through the processes outlined in my book.

This author doesn’t want to hear about the pitfalls of publishing and the common mistakes that inexperienced authors make. These things won’t happen to him. Just show him the door to a publisher who will love his manuscript and he will go on his merry way.

He doesn’t need to know about the process of publishing—how important it is to write a book proposal, study each publisher’s submission guidelines and follow protocol. He works a full-time job, or he’s old and can’t get out. He just wants an introduction to a publisher or an agent so he can get on with being published.

He certainly doesn’t want to hear that it is the author’s job to promote his book. He won’t have to promote, he doesn’t have time for that nonsense, anyway. Everyone will rush to the bookstores to buy the book as soon as it’s produced.

I know this, yet I still indulge in promo babble much of the time. While at the SLO Book Festival this weekend, I tried a different tactic. I tried to tune into exactly what the individual author wanted—hoped for—and then I attempted to speak his/her language.

Those who said they were writing a memoir and wanted to know how to find an agent to show it around to big publishers, I gave them a few pointers about how to find an agent and told them that I have quite a bit in the book about locating and working with agents as well as everything else they need to know in order to proceed successfully through the business of publishing.

When a hopeful author asked about self-publishing, I explained the difference between true self-publishing and the new-fangled way of “self-publishing” through a fee-based POD publishing service. Then I told her about the chapters in my book that explained this in more detail and the handy timeline for self-publishing which I include.

A couple of people came to the booth with questions about disciplining themselves to sit down and write—finding the time to actually write their book. I referred them to the new Author’s Workbook that accompanies The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book and explained how it is designed to help jump-start a book project and carry it all the way through the promotion process. [Author's Note: Right Way has been retired. See my most recent books in the left column of this page.]

Some people want no help at all—“Don’t need it. I know what I’m doing. But would you take a look at my book project? What do you think?” Hmmmm, what to say? How to help someone who doesn’t think he needs help… Promo babble certainly won’t be effective in this case. I say, “Wow, you’ve put a lot of heart (work, energy, time) into this poetry (novella, memoir, young adult novel). What do you plan as your next step?” The author will generally say, “I’m going to have my friend edit it and then I’m sending it off to Simon and Schuster (Random House, Grand Central Publishing). Watch for it in the bookstores and on Oprah.” Okay.

If only it were that easy, there wouldn’t be 948,000 authors out there feeling like failures because their books sold 100 copies of less last year.

There’s one more author type I’d like to mention. That is the published author who has a promotional plan set and wears blinders to any ideas outside of his self-imposed comfort zone. He energetically and ambitiously travels around speaking at venues here and there, but he is not pleased with the return he’s getting on his investment. He’s not generating as much interest as he’d like. He visits the SPAWN booth at book festivals, but not for anything we offer. He just wants to complain and stay stuck right where he is. Oh he would like better results, but he can’t hear any new ideas. What to do with this character?

The only thing I can do is to listen, share a few things I know about, suggest that he join SPAWN and/or read my books on book promotion and wish him well. He either helps himself or he doesn’t.


Patricia Fry is the Executive Director of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network) and the author of 35 books. See her most recent books in the left column of this page.

Matilija Press Home | About Matilija Press | Recent Articles | Media Coverage
How to Order Books | Our Guarantee | Consulting Services for Publishers & Authors