Marketing Basics for Writers: Marketing vs Sales

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Before beginning any book marketing, it’s important to understand the difference between marketing and sales. A lot of people get confused when they’re told to use social media for book marketing and resort to tweeting endlessly about their books. However, tweeting to encourage people to buy your book is NOT marketing. That is selling, and not just any type of selling, but one that is most difficult to pull off: the hard sell. (We’ll get to that later.)

In the meantime, it’s a good idea to understand where marketing and sales overlap and where they don’t and what you can do about it.

The main difference between marketing and sales 

I’m guessing that a big reason that writers feel so uncomfortable with book marketing is that they’re actually thinking about sales and feel terrified at the thought of asking people to buy their book.

The simplest and easiest way to distinguish between marketing and sales is to look at all their goals. Sales is about closing a deal and ensuring that a purchase is made. Marketing is about creating awareness and building relationships. While marketing is about you and your book, sales is about the customer and what they want or need.

If you look at the goals of each area like this, you should get an understanding of why you can’t sell (ie. tell people to buy your book) before you market.

What are marketing activities? 

Think of marketing activities as things you do to make sure that the right people know you and your book exist and to make them feel like their support is valued. Marketing takes a long-term view of things: you’re building relationships and connections that will help you for the rest of your career. You should consider your book as a way to invite them to connect with you. After all, has there ever been a fandom of a piece of writing or music that hasn’t also connected with the person who created them?

Marketing activities are any activities that tell people not just about your book but about you as a writer. It doesn’t mean sharing personal things about yourself (unless you want to) but it does mean letting people know what they can expect from you in terms of writing.

Basic marketing activities

1. Direct marketing through e-mails, blogs, and social media: this is why everyone wants to collect e-mails, and it’s not to hard sell you into buying something. Instead, direct marketing is about building familiarity and trust–two of the most powerful marketing tools ever. This means providing content that people love, whether for its usefulness or entertainment value or emotional connection.

If you have a connection like this with your potential readers, they’re more likely to support you when you have a book to sell. Neil Gaiman is a pretty good example of someone who, whether consciously or not, relies on direct marketing to get people to buy his books.

2. Using influencers or people who are authorities: if you were ever on the debate team in high school, I’m sure you remember the fallacy “appeal to authority”. That may be a bad debate tactic but it’s an effective marketing one. This is why editors try to get blurbs or publicists try to get celebrities and respected bloggers to promote a book. Influencers (what a term) don’t sell your book for you, but association with people who are famous helps your book become more familiar and spreads awareness.

This is why books that got on Oprah’s Book Club always ended up selling well, it’s the power of Oprah’s authority.

3. Word-of-mouth: closely related to using influencers, this is one of the most effective ways to market your book: you get others to do it for you. There are studies showing that most people make their purchases based on recommendations from friends or trusted review sites. This is why musicians have street teams or fan clubs who do a huge part of their marketing simply by telling people they know. Beyonce could surprise launch her album and expect the Beyhive to help her spread the word and excitement.

To harness word-of-mouth, you have to create an experience or event that is shareable or share-worthy.

4. Advertising: one of the most basic marketing strategies, this is pretty self-explanatory. Advertisements can educate, inspire, or anger, but their main purpose is to spread awareness and familiarity, hence their need for ubiquity.

Basic sales activities

Sales activities are the things you do to make sure that it’s easy for people to buy your book, and that includes persuading or pressuring them to do it. These are short-term goals: they’re less about awareness and creating relationships than closing a deal. If you’re comfortable doing it, and know how to do it well, sales activities can make a pretty big difference.

1. Soft sell: this is pretty close to marketing because soft sell is sales with very light persuasive tactics. You lay out the facts about your book in a positive way, you suggest that it’s something that people who enjoy certain books or genres or other authors will like.

2. Hard sell: the most short-term and scorched-earth method of sales techniques. They lean hard on pressure with things like time-sensitive offers (“Our discount is only good for 24 hours”) to create a fear of missing out. A lot of writers make the mistake of using hard-sell tactics on social media (“Buy my book now!”) without doing any preliminary marketing and end up alienating potential buyers.

3. Customer care: this is making sure that buyers have a seamless and pleasant buying experience. This is where you answer questions or help them if they need assistance. This includes sending thank-you cards or e-mails, placating dissatisfied customers, and all the other things that make people feel valued.

Final thoughts on marketing and sales

Although nowadays there’s some overlap between marketing and sales, it’s still quite important to ensure that you are regularly doing marketing activities even if you don’t have a book to sell yet. The sales activities, especially the soft sell and customer care, should happen when you actually have a book out.

I’ll discuss how to proceed and why in a future post, and please do send me your marketing-related questions so I can see what people want to learn about.

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