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7 posts from June 2013

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:

Why BEA was like a live performance of "The Innovator's Dilemma"

It's one of my favorite business books and I just had the pleasure of walking through it as a Broadway performance. OK, the Javits Center isn't on Broadway but it sure felt like I was surrounded by professional actors and actresses, all reading from the script of The Innovator's Dilemma.

Clayton Christensen must be smiling

Everywhere I turned I came across industry members who are way too focused on current channels and products. They're happy that 20-30% of their revenues are coming from "digital"; of course, by "digital" they mean quick-and-dirty print-to-e conversions, print-under-glass, or any one of a number of other descriptions of today's ebook marketplace. Many of them will tell you privately that "the ebook revolution" was overblown, they've wasted way too many resources on speculative e-projects and now see no reason to throw more good money after bad on this front.

The Digital Discovery Zone was a quaint little area set off by green carpeting and featuring about a dozen of the usual suspects, many of which are sponsors of the various industry conferences. It felt like walking through a petting zoo at your local state fair. I half expected someone to say, "wash your hands if you touch one of those animals, honey, you don't want to spread any germs."

Isn't it amazing that we still separate the "digital" players from the rest of the exhibitors at a major trade show?

Where's the disruption?

An attendee from outside the industry could walk away from BEA believing all is well and that the digital sector is a nice side-business, almost a hobby. They'd probably look at ebooks as something akin to audio books: an easy way to squeeze a bit more revenue from the print-first product line.

Let me share a secret with you: I've spent the past couple of years immersing myself in the publishing startup space and they don't care about the big industry trade shows. That's why none of them were there to exhibit.

I met individually with a handful of CEO's of startups that are all less than 24 months old and they each offered the same feedback: They were only there to meet a few attendees, figuring they could kill many birds with one stone (vs. flying to multiple locations for the same meetings). IOW, for these disruptors, BEA was nothing more than a Meetup. In fact, since I met each of them away from Javits, usually at a coffee shop or their hotel, I'm not even sure all of them actually attended the show.

Exploiting the blind spots

The startups I've been focusing on know that publishing is facing the same challenges that completely overhauled the steel and disk drive industries. IOW, publishing is ripe for disruption, the kind that starts with "three people in a garage" and ends with a completely new set of industry leaders.

None of this is intended as a slam against BEA. It's a fine event produced by some terrific people. My point in writing this article though is to offer the perspective of someone who's been a publisher for 20+ years and has had the opportunity to see the industry through the lens of outsiders as well, thanks to the numerous founders and other startup members I've met.

One of my goals as a startup advisor is to help them understand the industry's ground rules. I'm also quick to tell them they need to promise me one thing: Regardless of who it's from, including me, if they get advice from someone who's been in the industry more than a year, they need to take it with a grain of salt. After all, we don't want to discourage innovation just because an "industry expert" says "that's not how things are done in publishing."

Have you hugged a startup today?

Javier Celaya was right. Startups and publishers aren't engaging like they need to. Yes, there's innovation happening within publishing houses. I was even thrilled to get a firsthand look at this taking place within one of the big six houses. But it's what I'm seeing outside the traditional publishing ecosystem that excites me the most. If you're part of the old establishment, what are you doing to engage with these disruptive innovators?

P.S. -- Maybe this whole situation is an elaborate and clever ploy by Christensen to force us all to buy one of his other books, The Innovator's Solution. :-)