Why is it that so many writers forget all about who they are talking to when they start promoting their books? All of us (I hope) have an audience in mind when we are doing the actual writing of the books – even if we think of that audience only as “readers like us.” And yet when it comes time to tell other people about what we’ve written, and to get them interested in buying our books, many of us completely forget about our prospective readers. We focus only on ourselves.
We say, “Special promotion this week only!” or “Help me reach 100 sales this month!” We announce that our book is new and hot, that it is well edited, that it is the third book in a series, that it is available at Barnes and Noble. Maybe we say, almost timidly, “I hope that you will take a look.”
Statements like these offer nothing to our readers. We have to remember that (like us) other people are basically selfish. Aside from our closest friends and a few relatives, our prospective readers are not going to read a whole book for our sake: they are going to read it because it does something for them, or at least does something to them.
Whether you are writing jacket copy, a blog post, an email to a book reviewer, or your author profile, take your focus off yourself and direct it at your audience. What do your readers want? What do they need? What is going to grab their attention because it appeals to them?
How to Do It
In order to write effective promotional copy, you need to figure out what is going to get your potential readers to sit up and take notice. What would it take if you were in their shoes?
Think about what you are offering them in your book. If – as is the case with much fiction– you are offering a diversion from real life, divert them in your promotional text as well. Grab their attention away from reality by asking questions, giving clues, whetting interest, building suspense. On the website for The Adventures of Don Valiente and the Apache Canyon Kid, for example, we make bold statements that are intended to pique audience interest. We say, “The West will never be the same.” We use terms like “seduced,” “in flagrente delicto,” and “escaped-convict killers.” Contrast this to the first page of my author website, which is intended to convey information only, is all about me, and (unless you want to know all about me) is dry as dust.
If your book is non-fiction, give your prospective readers a taste of what you are going to give them in your book: share a tip or a bit of unusual information that will make them immediately want to read more, or tell them how your book will help them improve their lives. Using this principle, last week I changed the front page of my podcast website for non-profit organizations so that the first words visitors see are these: “I can help you write a more effective funding application” (which is true, by the way). Until I made the change, the first thing they saw were my credentials. But then it hit me that what visitors to my podcast website want to know first is what I can do for them: they can read my credentials later.
So, ask yourself this: what can you say to your prospective readers that will make it almost impossible for them to resist the temptation to learn a little more about your book?
It’s not easy to do this. The text you write needs to be tailored so that it actually reflects the contents of your book (and not in a misleading or inflammatory way, of course ☺), but it also needs to appeal to your specific audience. It may be worth your while to test the impact of your wording on a few friends and relatives before you post it (and if they are the ones who would read your book even if it were the phone directory and tell you it was brilliant, either ask them to be honest for a change, or find another test audience). No matter what you are writing, putting yourself in the shoes of your readers is the key to being effective.
So. Take a hard look at the latest piece of promotional copy you wrote. Be honest. Is it focused on the needs and interests of the people who are going to read your book? If not, why not?
I’m talking to you. *
Some hot tips from readers:
And thank you to John Aragon for directing me to this article, which discusses the practice of paying to get on bestseller lists: something I didn’t know you could do.
* Well, and to myself, of course. As usual.