Never tell people what your book is about


Since the dawn of the printing press, authors have always carried a certain mystique within society. The advent of e-books and digital reading devices has only magnified this appeal. People tend to look at writers with fascination because of their ability to compose words that generate deep emotion or provide answers to frustrating problems. This mystique is similar to the interest that doctors garner when they walk into a room and everyone starts describing their aches and pains. People marvel at the talent and intellect in their midst. Fair or not, this fascination creates a unique credibility factor that authors experience just from the accomplishment of writing a book.

When people find out that you’re an author, their interest usually leads to a common question, “So, what’s your book about?” This inquiry may sound simple. However, I’ve found it to be one of the most difficult questions for authors to answer, which in turn, creates a fundamental book marketing problem. The difficulty arises because authors tend to misunderstand the actual question that the other person is asking. This misinterpretation leads to a generic response that generates a disinterested look on the other person’s face or a quick change of subject. And, once you miss an opportunity to capture someone’s interest in your book, it’s tough to get them back.

Even though our culture is fascinated with authors, you don’t get carte blanche to babble about what you’ve written. There’s a deeper principle at work that trumps people’s curiosity about a book. It’s the principle of self-interest. Every human being lives from a mindset of protecting his or her own interests and making decisions for personal benefit.

Thus, even though people might think it’s cool that you’re an author, they will not buy your book unless there’s a reason that appeals to their self-interest. If you miss this vital principle, then you will fail to create the sparks needed to sell books like wildfire.

In contrast, if you keep the concept of self-interest in mind, you will view readers and book shoppers in a whole new light. When they ask, “So, what’s your book about?,” you’ll know that’s not really the question they’re asking you. Instead, people are politely wondering, “What’s in it for me if I buy your book? Is it in my best interest to read what you’ve written?”

To put it another way, when someone asks, “What’s your book about?,” do NOT answer that question. For the rest of your author career, never tell people what your book is about. Frankly, nobody cares what your book is about, the reasons why you wrote it, or why you think it’s great. Instead, people want to know, “What’s in it for me? How will your book make my life better?” Or, if I may put it bluntly, “I’m a person who makes choices based on my own self-interest. So, what can you do for me?”

Since most people purchase books based on the principle of self-interest, the key to powerful marketing is to show how you meet other people's needs. If you write fiction, you can meet a person’s need for entertainment, escape, or learning the power of story. If you write non-fiction, you can meet a person’s need for information, inspiration, or answers to a problem.

Utilize a promotional strategy that is audience-focused, rather than self-focused. All of your book marketing materials, such as your website, back cover copy, personal bio, newsletters, and even social media posts, should explain how you attempt to improve a reader’s life.

More importantly, if you want people to pay money for your book, then you owe readers a return on their investment. A financial transaction is literally taking place. However, authors have the advantage that consumers have to pay for the book first. Imagine if the public got to read books first and then decide if they wanted to pay. Some books might never earn a penny!

Don’t take your responsibility as an author lightly. Think of your audience’s needs as much as your own. To identify the value of your books, start by asking yourself these questions:

  1. How do I specifically improve the life of my readers?
  2. What tangible results do I create for my readers?
  3. How do I help leaders meet the needs of their organization?

Never answer the question, “What’s your book about?” Instead, tell people what they really want to know, which is “What’s in it for me?” If you want to sell books like wildfire, redefine yourself from a person who writes books to an author who enjoys helping, entertaining, and inspiring readers.

This article was written by contributor Rob Eagar. Rob is the founder of WildFire Marketing, a consulting practice that helps authors and publishers sell books like wildfire. He has consulted with numerous publishers and trained over 400 authors, including several New York Times bestsellers. Rob is the author of Sell Your Book Like Wildfire, which is considered the bible of book marketing. For more information, visit: