The Eighth (and Biggest) Book Marketing Mistake: Assuming Everyone Likes to Read

The following post is by Chetan Dhruve – Author of Why Your Boss is Programmed to be a Dictator

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.

Chetan is a published author and strategy consultant currently helping BookBuzzr achieve it's mission of saving authors from the pain of obscurity. This is achieved through a set of technologies that help authors market and promote their books online on various social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and Blogger. BookBuzzr has quickly become the World's #1 Online Book-Marketing Technology with over 5,500 authors.
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7 thoughts on “The Eighth (and Biggest) Book Marketing Mistake: Assuming Everyone Likes to Read

  1. And then you realize how tiny your potential market is, and that your real audience–the tiny fraction of that tiny fraction–probably won’t ever have enough money to make you rich and famous! But they are easier to find now and the relationships are more enjoyable.

    Scott Nicholson
    Speed Dating with the Dead

  2. Thank you for the reality check!
    I sent preview ‘copies’ of my very amusing book to several people prior to e-publication, thinking that they would enjoy it and be flattered by the opportunity to be in the vanguard. Then I wondered why they didn’t appear to be amused. At least, not enough to mention it to me afterward.
    Plenty of strangers raved about it…what was amiss with these personal acquaintances? Business associates…neighbors…what was it they didn’t like?
    Now I see! On reflection, I had no valid reason to believe that any of them ever read ANY books. I liked the people; they seemed intelligent, successful, personable. So they must read, right?
    Well, now I feel better. A bit foolish — but better.

    Wendy Bertsch
    Once More…From the Beginning

  3. Wendy, you’re welcome!

    I’ve given away several copies of my (physical) book, and that wasn’t cheap. So it was a lesson learnt the hard way. In any case, it’s not so much the cost, but the intense frustration that somebody is not reading your book.

    These days, before I give or lend my book, I always ask questions of the variety, “Do you like reading”, or “If you take the book, will you be done in three weeks”? or, “Are you very busy these days?”

    If the answer is “I’m very busy but will read it at some point”, I never lend the book. I tell them there’s already somebody in the queue. Book lovers, however busy, will either make the time to read a book or if they don’t have time at that point, will come back and ask for the book when they do have the time.

    Having adopted this approach, I’m amazed at the number of books I’ve “saved”, not to mention the emotional hassle.

    If you have more question suggestions, please let us all know!

  4. Interesting stuff, definitely. I wonder, though, if we don’t need to rethink what we’re–as writers–“selling.” You note that we have to sell both the book and the act of reading, but is that what anything ever really sells? Think about it: Pepsi commercials don’t sell soda or the act of drinking: they sell a solution to thirst. Also, they sell “new generation” and hipness (“The choice of a new generation!”).

    So maybe what you could do is consider your book, and its solution. Not the story you’re trying to sell, or the concepts you’re trying to explain. Consider: what problem do I need to have to make reading your book a must?

    Sometimes those problems are easy: boredom. Better business acumen. What mistakes are we making? Other times, less so, of course. But really, selling something comes down to that key issue: what are you–or any of us–a solution for?

    If you demonstrate people have a problem they can solve by reading your book, they’re not going to think they don’t have time, and the fact that they have to read it isn’t going to be an issue. They’re going to want to read it yesterday.

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