Sales Theory for Authors

sales theory for authors

As guest blogger Kim Lambert will talk about, authors are a lot better at writing than they are at marketing. They are thrust into the position of marketer with no training. Luckily, Kim shares some great tips on sales theory to help authors like you get a leg up when it comes to marketing.

Authors like writing (that’s a given).  Most authors don’t like marketing (almost a given!).  But, sigh…. , we have to do marketing if we want our books to be a success.

So how do we know what marketing to do, what words to use, when to use them, where to market in what way?  Most people just guess, or ask someone else who has had reasonable success.  That’s OK, but it’s not exactly a solid, well planned approach.

To get the best results, authors need to understand sales theory (Wait!!! Don’t stop reading and run away in horror, it’s worth knowing, I promise!).  People who sell for a living are taught this sort of thing, but others, for whom selling is a side effect of what they really want to do (like authors) are not – it does not occur to them that they need to know, and it usually does not occur to anyone to teach them.

Understanding this will help you, not just once you have finished a book, but also in designing / planning / plotting your book in the first place, to give it a much better chance of selling well.  So, here is an overview of sales theory, as it applies to authors.

Why do people buy things?

Let’s start with the core question: “Why do people buy things?”

Just sit with that for a minute, and think about it.

I bet that you came up with a list of things, about twenty reasons, or more – right ?

What if I told you that there was only one reason ?  That’s right, just one!  Do you want to know more?  (see I told you that this sales theory stuff would be worth it!)

Here it is – People buy things as pain relief.

What??? What does that mean??? I can hear you saying.

Let me explain.  When you buy a product, you do so because you believe that it will solve a problem for you. Clothes will keep you warm, and decent, food will stop you being hungry, books will teach or entertain you, and fill up empty hours of boredom, you think that having a better car will make you happy, or that if you have a bigger house, people will respect you more.

Some of those problems are real, and reasonable, others are all about perception.  We often think that having more ‘things’ will make us happier.  It rarely works, but we still do it – that’s why there are all those jokes about indulging in some ‘retail therapy’.

How does that relate to books?

Simple – let’s look at what books sell most (if you are not sure, go have a look at the Amazon best seller lists on any day – the content varies, but the themes don’t change much!).  In any non-fiction bestseller list, there will be books about health, fitness and weight loss.  Why ?  because they promise to remove pain – the pain of being overweight and unhealthy, to be precise.

Have a look at the other topics in the nonfiction side – and consider what the ‘pain’ is, that they address.  You will be starting to get a feel for this idea now.

If you look at fiction bestsellers, they are generally either romance (including historical) which provides relief for the ‘pain’ of people in unloving relationships, or no relationship, or who have never had a relationship that works the way that they want – the fictional romances let them pretend to be the hero or heroine and escape from their reality, or they are thrillers – which provide relief from the ‘pain’ of having an ordinary or boring life.

Why does this matter, to you, as an author?

Well…. You want your books to sell, don’t you ?  (a lot of money would be nice after all…).  To make your books sell, they need to be visible to people (that’s clever titles, great covers, and well-chosen keywords) and they need to appeal to people in a way that makes people WANT them, badly enough to BUY them.

So your title and subtitle needs to make the potential reader aware of what genre they fit into (fiction) or what they are about (non-fiction) well enough to let them immediately ‘know’ if your book relates to their personal ‘pain’.  Your keywords need to align with what a person with that ‘pain’ might search for.  And, critically, your book description (or blurb on the back of a paperback) needs to not only promise a solution to that ‘pain’ but do so in a way that intrigues the potential reader, a way that makes them WANT to know what’s inside – badly enough to BUY.

How do you do that ?

The first step seems a bit counter intuitive.  You start by reminding them of their ‘pain’ – subtly if its fiction, more bluntly if its non-fiction.   Why do that ?  Because we tend to repress, and ignore things that we are unhappy about, of we possibly can!  So, you remind them, they feel their ‘pain’.

Then, step two, you promise them a solution – and the content of your book is the solution (either a practical, factual one, for non-fiction, or an emotional, virtual one, for fiction).

Step Three – you describe that solution’s benefits, in a way that is, effectively or literally, a ‘cliffhanger’ (for non-fiction, it’s about implying that what is inside is secrets revealed, unique or special in a way that they can only get here, for fiction, it’s a more literal ‘cliffhanger’ – a short excerpt from the book, at a critical point, without the ending !  or a quick overview description of the key conflict or tension in the book, that ends with a question – eg Can they resolve this and find love ???)

That, at the core of it, is what goes on in any sale, of any product.  You can add pre-emptively overcoming their potential objections to buying, providing testimonials (ie, reviews, either pre-release or after) and other encouragements – but they are all aligned to that one simple concept of why people buy things.

If you have a topic (especially for non-fiction)  that people really, really NEED to know about, you still won’t sell any books, unless you can package it in a way that makes people WANT to know about it.

We humans are stubborn creatures – we generally do what we want, not what we need, even if we know that what we want is bad for us!

Now that I have, probably, changed how you see all advertising, forever (just look at those TV ads and catalogues – now you know what ‘pains’ they are leveraging, to make you want their products…..), you will just have to turn that to advantage!  Look at every trick that advertisers use, and ask yourself  -“How can I use that trick, to sell my books?”

Note:  This does not address getting your book found / seen in the first place, except for the passing mention of keywords.  That is a whole other article.  This article is all about what happens once you get those eyeballs on your book.

Kim Lambert is a 7 times Amazon bestselling author, and owns a publishing business, which provides editing, proofreading, graphics and publishing services for authors.  She also works with other large publishing companies to enhance and update their current catalogue for digital book delivery. She is a writing and publishing coach, with a number of online courses, such as Product Creation Launchpad, which teaches the essentials of creating your first digital product, whether that is a book or a short report. You can find her business at and you can find her books on Amazon.

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