Should Authors be Salespeople?

by | Nov 16, 2011

Ed: This article originally ran on Lillie Ammann’s wonderful site for writers, A Writer’s Words, An Editor’s Eye on October 14, 2011.

I talk to writers every day who are thinking about publishing their own books. Some have friends who have self-published, so they know it can be done. Or they’ve read the blogs of writers who are doing well in the Kindle store. Or they are just tired of waiting for the agent, the editor, the publisher to get back to them.

Whatever the reason, there’s one objection I hear more than any other from these writers:

“I just want to write, I’m not a salesman.”

And that’s too bad. I think this attitude represents a real misunderstanding on the part of authors. Here’s why.

It’s About Marketing, Not Sales

Think about the difference between marketing and sales.

Book marketing means promoting your book to people who are likely to be interested in it. The main activity of marketing is communicating to these likely purchasers.

Sales, on the other hand, is completely different. It’s the process of making transactions, the exchange of money for books, in this example.

You can’t sell a book to someone who’s not interested in it or who doesn’t want to buy it.

Marketing your book, on the other hand, is something similar to what you are probably doing already when you talk about your book to friends, family, or other writers.

You are communicating the passion you have for your subject, your fascination with your characters, your total involvement in the subjects of your writing.

In its simplest form, that’s what marketing is. Going where people who might be interested in your book hang out and communicating with them about the subject of your book.

It’s not asking people to buy your book, and it’s certainly not trying to “sell” them your book.

It’s like when you start blogging. You don’t want to blog about your book, you want to blog about the subject of your book, its themes, lessons, or news, events, or developments that touch on your subject.

Same with marketing your book. If you communicate your feelings for your subject, if you let people know just why you wrote the book and how it can help people, if you show your enthusiasm and expertise in the area, you are doing some pretty powerful book marketing.

And what author doesn’t want to talk about their book or the subject that moved them to write it?

What I suggest to these authors is that they learn to market their books, with everything that implies. If you can do that well enough, and widely enough, and often enough, the sales part of the equation will take care of itself.

So go out and connect with people. Find the places where people are talking about your subject, whatever it is.

Participating in those conversations will lead you to interesting places and opportunities to tell even more people about you and what makes you tick. That, in itself, will likely interest people in your books.

Congratulations, you are now a marketer.

Photo by Kevin Dooley

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Richard Sutton

    Marketing and selling are two different streams heading towards the sea. I’ve done both, and enjoyed the process in both cases. In a nutshell, selling is holding up a book and saying, “buy this book, now!” People who want to buy enjoy being sold well. If they don;t want to buy, they’re not customers, anyway.

    Marketing is talking about all the wonderful surprises inside the book, and why only you could have told the tale this way. It’s about finding people who would enjoy reading it and then bringing it to their attention.

    You can always rely on other people to sell your book, but only an author can really market their book properly. Even if that means letting the publisher’s publicist set up the dates and the appearances — you’re still doing the work!

  2. Grace

    For the past few years, I’ve seriously resented the idea of marketing. For one thing I didn’t want to toot my own horn. Despite the fact that I’d read that this won’t happen, I wanted a publisher to get on board and market for me and send me royalty checks and leave me to my writing. Ha, ha! I’ve come around now. Reading blogs like yours has helped me see that marketing isn’t an impossible task. On the contrary it’s not only doable but can be enjoyable. I like the differences between marketing vs. sales that you point out. It seems like marketing is more of a psychological thing. Getting people interested. Wooing readers. I think I can do that. Great post.

  3. Richard Sutton

    Great post, Joel! Marketing is the act of preparing a product for the marketplace. I’ve worked in advertising design and marketing my entire adult life, but the hardest job I’ve faced so far is targeting readers for my books and then raising their awareness. As an Indie Author, I really have no other choice. My pockets aren’t deep enough to hire a publicist, and even if I were to obtain a publishing contract from one of the big boys, I’d still have to do the footwork, preparation and face-time. Although much has been written about how the technological sea-change and economy are thinning down publishers’ wallets; authors self-marketing is nothing new. The best known celebrity of the late 19th century was Mark Twain, and he marketed his work every single day he had books to market. Authors shouldn’t shy away from this concept. It’s part of the process of getting your words into the hearts of your readers.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks, Richard. I think it’s also an advantage for a lot of authors to actually meet and get to know something about the people who buy and read their books, and marketing “communication” is pretty handy at that.

  4. Mary Tod

    Hi Joel … I’ve just written a blog post as a result of your comment and your post. Time for me to get focused! It will be on tomorrow. With thanks,

  5. Mary Tod

    These points about marketing have given me a wake up call. On my blog I talk about two topics (1) the business of writing and (2) historical fiction which has presented me with a dilemma for a while. One that I have not wanted to tackle. Given my business consulting background, I love thinking and musing on the business side of writing. These topics have appealed to a number of folks but they aren’t helping with the marketing side associated with the fiction I’m writing (and of course hope to sell). Looks like it’s time for me to shift my focus and dedicate my blog to historical fiction!

    • Joel Friedlander

      Mary, we’ve talked about this in the past, but my take on blogging is that it works best when it’s highly focused. That’s not to say there aren’t bloggers who are wildly successful writing about lots of things, but it does mean that you’ll make it a lot easier to attract an audience by focusing on the “inch wide mile deep” niche you’ve picked to concentrate on.

      The overlap between people interested in writing as business and lovers of historical fiction may be very small, but it’s almost certainly largely accidental. I don’t see how you could grow an audience for that particular combination, and that’s why I’ve suggested you either pick one or the other, or simply run 2 blogs.

      Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful comment.

  6. Cege Smith

    It just isn’t possible anymore IMO to be just “one” thing when you embark on your own writing adventure. Selling is simply resolving someone’s need for something- it doesn’t have to be difficult or scary. If I know someone likes reading paranormal romance and is looking for a new book to read, why wouldn’t I suggest mine? It’s a good fit. I think where we get hung up is because we’ve all been on the receiving end of an unwanted sales pitch. You don’t have to act like that to sell and be good at it.

    • Joel Friedlander

      I agree, Cege, and in your example the key to me is that the other person is “looking for a new book to read” so they are expressing a need you are in a position to fill.

      Really, the idea of the article is to encourage authors to spread the word about their books without having to feel they are “selling” anything, which just gives some people a lot of trouble.

  7. James

    “Sales, on the other hand, is completely different. It’s the process of making transactions, the exchange of money for books, in this example.”

    Joel, when running your blog, are you a salesman, or a marketer?

    And, marketing is part of sales–I’ve yet to see an industry where that’s not true. Marketers sell, and salespersons market, and the activities are complementary. Changing the name on the hat to feel better doesn’t change things.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Hey James,

      I do lots of stuff on the blog. There are sales pages, like for my Self-Publisher’s Quick & Easy Guides, and those are designed for sales transactions. And a lot of posts are marketing in that they communicate about the parts of book publishing I’m passionate about, and which are connected to my company’s activities.

      But the vast majority of the over 700 articles are purely educational, evergreen content available to anyone who takes the time to search in the archives. It’s a terrific resource for indie publishers, book designers, writers and bloggers, and I’m happy to be able to provide it.

      The fact is that lots of people, who might be happy to tell people about their books don’t want to be put in the position of “asking for a sale” and haven’t yet realized they are two different things. At least that’s my attempt to remove an imaginary pressure.

      • James

        “lots of people, who might be happy to tell people about their books don’t want to be put in the position of “asking for a sale””

        Okay, but”Asking for the sale” isn’t primarily what sales is about, Joel, even if you ran a used car lot. Are authors at books signings salesmen, or marketers? My main point was that it’s not worth fussing about whether you call your activities “sales” or “marketing”, because they’re really the same thing, with the same goal. It’s almost a cliche in business that every activity is ultimately a sales-related activity. If it isn’t, then you’re likely not in business for long.

  8. Mogo~Spok-Spok~Slogo

    I’ am a successful writer/publisher/artist/illustrator/musician….BUT A Great marketer and salesman…..SORRY I have to say this, but ALL of the Arts require super salesman….and only YOU can sell your own stuff….salesman with hot technique are already making big money…they ain’t interested in you unless they can get all yo’ $$$…if you are too scared to stand on a rooftop and scream look at my books, kick in doors, grab a hold of strangers, sleep in yo’ car, harass people, speak in front of large crowds like I did yesterday,then:you better stay at Wal-Mart and stock shelves…I see dreamers all the time..scaredy cats…GO GET A JOB SELLING JUNKIE USED CARS FOR A YEAR, .then start writing…Love; Joe

  9. Robby G

    You make a good point when you say that we “blog about the subject of your book, its themes, lessons, or news, events, or developments that touch on your subject.” We don’t blog about the actual book, unless we have some important information. Either way though, when writing the book, I don’t think we should even worry about sales, but only making the best possible piece of literature. It’s when authors fold to other people’s wishes for the book to be like that originality is lost and it loses the author’s voice.



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