If book-marketing mistakes were destructive bombs, this mistake would be the nuclear bomb. Yet, this mistake is so obvious in retrospect that it makes me want to scream.
When my book first came out, I was as excited as a new parent. I told absolutely everyone – friends, family, colleagues and so on – about the book. Of course, I did want people to buy my book but more importantly, I wanted them to read it. Further, from a marketing standpoint, it’s only when you read and enjoy a book that you tell others about it – in short, word-of-mouth marketing.
Even before I wrote my book, I would frequently recommend books to others. On occasion, when someone had borrowed a book, I would ask, “So, what do you think of the book?” . The answer would be quite sheepish: “I haven’t started reading it yet, but I’ll definitely read it when I get the chance.” After some time, I would follow up – “So, did you read the book?” Again, the same sheepish answer: “I haven’t yet had the time.” It wasn’t that I was worried about getting my book back – I just couldn’t figure out why someone would not read it. And the answers were always sheepish.
But it’s only when I began marketing my own book that I got a rude shock. People would buy my book, and a couple of weeks later, I would ask, “So, did you like it?” I’d be surprised to hear, “Oh sorry, I just haven’t had the time to read it.” I’d be surprised because I couldn’t fathom how someone could buy a book and not read it. It would be like buying a Ferrari and keeping it in the garage – actually, I could forgive an unused Ferrari, but not an unread book.
Of course, there was the possibility that my book was boring. Hence I would ask, “Did my book put you to sleep, did you give up a few pages after starting?” The answer would be, “No, honestly, I just haven’t started.” This was getting me nowhere. Were they lying to protect my feelings, or were they telling me an underlying truth, a truth I couldn’t comprehend?
I started pushing deeper: “Come on, tell me. I can handle it. What’s the real problem?” I would probe. After a few of these awkward conversations, I finally had the truth: “Actually, it’s not just your book in particular, but um, ah, honestly speaking, I just don’t like reading books.”
To say I was stunned would be an understatement. Reading books to me is like breathing. I take it for granted, something you do all the time, without effort. In fact, it’s much better than breathing because it’s so enjoyable.
And here I was, listening to people saying they didn’t like to read. My head was spinning. It was incredible. That’s when I realized that the biggest mistake we as authors make is this: just because we absolutely love reading, we assume that everyone else does too.
Of course, if it’s a non-fiction book, you can always tell people about the ideas in your book, and get them excited about the ideas. But saying, “I have some ideas” (everyone has ideas!) is very different from saying, “I’ve written a book.” Even if people don’t like reading, they tend to respect your ideas a lot more if they know you’ve written a book.
So here’s what I’ve concluded. There are actually two different strands of a “marketing” conversation related to your book: first, the book itself and I stress again, the act of reading. Second, the ideas in the book. You can talk about the book and the ideas in it, but at some point you must ask your potential ‘customer’ this fundamental question: “Do you like reading?” If the answer is no, you’ll be spared a lot of ego-killing deflation, frustration and annoyance when you realize that either your book isn’t going to be bought, or if bought, it isn’t going to be read.
As authors, we’ve all had to write proposals that include descriptions of our target market. But I’m completely sure that even in your winning book proposal (you won the book deal after all), you never wrote, “I assume my target audience likes to read books.” You didn’t put that line into your proposal because it seems absurdly redundant. Of course your target market likes to read, who doesn’t?! But it is precisely that assumption that can come back and bite you, and bite you hard.