How to Sell Hundreds of Books a Day

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This is a marketing post, but it’s actually about false advertising. As such, I felt that this title may indeed be appropriate. 🙂

Just in case you really had your hopes up, you might not have understood correctly. This post probably isn’t going to show you how to sell hundreds of books a day. This post is about false advertising.

And just in case you’re trying to read what you want to hear: This post is NOT going to show you how to sell hundreds of books a day through false advertising. At best, it may convince you that if you try this, your book’s days will be numbered.

Now it’s probably clear to everybody. 🙂 Unfortunately, I suppose that 90% of the traffic won’t make it past this line. Well, there isn’t anyone to blame but myself.

That’s a shame, too, because the 90% who just left probably need to read the following sentence. If it sounds too good to true, like a get-rich-quick scheme, it probably is.

Well, maybe it doesn’t really matter. If they were searching a for get-rich-quick scheme, they probably weren’t going to take my advice.

The real point of this post is that false advertising isn’t always so obvious. Sometimes it’s subtle. Some people even do it to some extent without realizing it.

A common form of false advertising is over-hyping a product, event, or service so that it seems better than it really is.

Creating buzz is a useful marketing tactic. But it has the danger of promising too much. When it doesn’t live up to the hype, word spreads through reviews and conversations. Although hype can generate many initial sales, the total sales may be greatly reduced if excited customers don’t feel satisfied.

I’m not saying not to try to create buzz; just to be careful what you promise. You want people to look forward to it, but not to expect more than will be delivered.

Another form of false advertising is writing a blurb that makes a great sales pitch, where you get a little carried away with the sales part. For many online sales, the blurb is the only salesperson at the point of sale. So it’s important for the blurb to be effective at drawing interest from the target audience and inspiring sales. At the same time, an over-hyped blurb can lead to negative product reviews.

One more example of false advertising is packaging that targets a wider audience, but the wrong audience. This tactic is generally quite ineffective. Most people will just be frustrated when they realize the product isn’t for them, and the few who unknowingly make the purchase are likely to show their frustration through product reviews. Packaging is most effective when it targets the appropriate audience.

Okay, I lied. This post is all about how to sell hundreds of books per day. I just didn’t want the greedy people to take advantage of the secret, so I motivated them to not read all the way to the end of this post. Whereas if you’ve followed my blog for a while, you knew I wouldn’t mislead you. 🙂

It’s very simple, really:

  • Research the kinds of book ideas that become bestsellers, along with the type of storyline, characterization, and writing that they use to achieve this.
  • Have the talent, creativity, background, and do the necessary research to write such book.
  • Write a killer book where the storyline and writing appeal to a wide audience.
  • Perfect the book from cover to cover; get your book professionally edited and formatted.
  • Design a killer cover and write a killer blurb that attract your target audience.
  • Choose a short, catchy title that your target audience will love.
  • Write more books like this to create a hot series.
  • Research successful marketing and publicity strategies and study the marketing and publicity habits of top-selling authors who went from nobody to famous.
  • Apply what you learned about marketing and publicity brilliantly to become as famous as a celebrity.
  • Build a large following prior to publishing and spend months on effective pre-marketing.
  • Permanently discount the first book. At the right time, put the entire series on sale for one day only and promote the daylights out of this sale, with and without paid advertisements; but only do this very rarely so nobody waits for it.
  • Find an experienced publicist whom you can verify turned nobodies into bestselling authors, get this person’s attention and interest in your book, hire this person at any cost (and an experienced attorney to iron out the contract), and get this person to advise you before you even start writing your first book (you’ll be directed to get help every step along the way, from the writing to contacting a recommended agent).
  • Exhibit extraordinary self-motivated diligence, develop key connections and relationships, and be very patient.
  • Streak naked through a major, widely televised sporting event with your book cover quite visibly tattooed on your chest (shave first, if needed), but first be very sure that the networks will actually show you while you do this (which may require hefty bribes and threats), but do so slowly and calmly, facing the cameras, so everyone gets a good, long look. When you’re sitting in jail, please remember that I advised you NOT to do this. (I said I’d show you how to sell a hundred books a day, but I didn’t say I’d advise you to actually try it.)
  • And, of course, just get lucky.

See, there’s nothing to it! 🙂

(And the 90% who left early weren’t going to do all this work anyway, so it doesn’t matter that the only false advertising was convincing them to leave.)

Now for some legal verbiage: Results are not guaranteed. Results described may not be typical. Sales of a hundred books a day may only last for one day, give or take (most likely take) a day. Offer void in the Milky Way galaxy and anywhere else prohibited by law.

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)

Book Marketing through Paid Advertisements

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The first question is whether or not it may be worth paying to advertise a book. See my previous post for more information on that.

Once you decide to advertise, there are many advertising services to choose from.

What you really want to know when making this decision is this:

  • What percentage of the people who see your advertisement are in your book’s target audience? Don’t buy advertisements that aren’t effective at reaching your target audience.
  • How many people are likely to see your advertisement? (It will certainly not be 100% of the readership or viewership. It will only be a fraction of the published circulation number.)
  • Do the possible additional short-term sales and/or long-term prospects outweigh the costs of the advertisement?
  • How good will your advertisement be (image, strapline, and any additional description)? Will it interest your target audience? Your advertisement needs to be marketable and geared toward your specific target audience in order to be effective.
  • Is your book highly marketable? Advertisements won’t help a book that lacks marketability.

There are many different ways to advertise.

Social media sites like Twitter and Facebook offer advertising which is geared toward businesses hoping to get views (branding), clicks (visits to their websites), Likes (popularity), Follows (interest), and reposts or comments (interaction). The question is whether or not you can effectively target your audience and, if so, how responsive those people will be to an advertisement for a book in this context. Note that Twitter lets you target followers of specific people (could be authors of similar books). If you’re going to target a category, make sure it’s a very good match for your specific target audience (targeting books or readers, for example, is way too broad to be effective).

Goodreads has a similar advertising structure compared to Twitter and Facebook, while being focused on books and reading. On the other hand, there are several authors and publishers advertising on Goodreads, and many of these ads look highly professional and flash different images to get attention. The basic self-service advertisement (which is much cheaper) shows a very tiny image (it says 50 x 66 pixels) and is static. It may be tough for indie authors to compete with advertising on Goodreads. However, the giveaway program is much less expensive (just the cost of the book plus shipping). You might not get any reviews or sell any books through a giveaway (it happens), but you might get a few hundred to a thousand (or so) views. This is an affordable way to gain some exposure, create a little buzz, and help a little with branding. The possible long-term benefits may be worth the small investment even if the giveaway doesn’t help with short-term sales or reviews.

There are a variety of websites and email newsletter subscription services that may be helpful for short-term promotional discounts (not necessarily free). Examples include BookBub, Ereader News Today, Kindle Books & Tips, Book Gorilla, Book Blast, and Pixel of Ink. Note that some of these specifically service e-books. Some of these services have minimum average-star or other requirements, but some don’t. These services can be very helpful in getting more exposure from a free promotion, and can also help to promote a sale that isn’t free. (In the case of a freebie, you have to ask yourself if you really want to invest money in the advertisement on top of giving away books. If you’re going to advertise, it might seem desirable to recover some of the investment quickly with some early royalties. If you have a series, though, a promoted freebie may lead to sales for the other books in your series.) Yet another consideration is whether the market is primarily in the US, UK, or elsewhere.

You can find many other websites online where you can advertise. Search for online websites, magazines, newsletters, and activities that are likely to attract your specific target audience. If you can find a place to advertise that’s a good fit for your target audience, that may turn out to be more effective than going with websites with bigger names.

Another route is the blog tour. Depending on the tour, it may be better for you to plan ahead and try to contact bloggers individually. Also, people you follow and interact with regularly may be more receptive, since you have a rapport together and often support one another, than a stranger; this also gives you more insight into the blogger and lets you see firsthand how many active participants there are on the blog and how many of those are a good fit for your target audience. If you’re looking for exposure from bloggers, you definitely want to ensure that the blog is a good match for your specific target audience.

There is also the potential for offline advertising, like small newspapers, magazines, and circulars. Once again, the magic words are “specific target audience.”

Research the advertising service.

Advertising services generally publicize relevant statistics, such as:

  • Size of the viewership, readership, or circulation.
  • Classification of the circulation by genre (e.g. what percentage is mystery, romance, fantasy, etc.).
  • Average percentage of views, clicks, Likes, follows, or sales. The average isn’t a guarantee, but is a compromise between ineffective and highly effective advertising. The marketability of your book and of your advertisement are very important, as are additional promotional activities (especially, free and low-cost marketing to supplement your advertisement). Some authors who have large fan bases to begin can drive these averages up.

Even if you don’t have any intention of advertising on Twitter, Facebook, or Goodreads, it’s worthwhile to check out their advertising options because they have a lot of helpful information and tips. Also, when you check out the stats of other advertising services, you can compare it to the information that you see at these websites. Any data you find here will give you some type of benchmark, like the average percentage of clicks at Goodreads.

In addition to numbers, try to find authors who have used the service and learn what they have to say about it. (Another issue is how much you can trust the published numbers.)

Only a fraction of the circulation number will see your advertisement.

The first question to ask yourself is how much of the circulation consists of other authors. Authors who want to advertise with an email newsletter probably subscribe to it first as readers to check it out.

However, authors are readers, too, and many indie authors are likely to read other indie books when they aren’t writing. So to some extent it’s okay if there is a healthy percentage of authors in the circulation. But it’s probably desirable to have many readers who aren’t authors in the circulation, too.

Many people won’t open an email newsletter that they have subscribed to; or they may only open it once in a while—e.g. when they happen to be in the mood for a book.

No matter how you advertise, some people in the circulation won’t see your ad. Even on television, some people watching the show will be in the bathroom, cooking, or on the telephone during a commercial. In a magazine, most people who read it won’t see every page. And so on.

Of those who see an advertisement, only a tiny fraction will actually click on it, visit the website, Like a page, Follow you, or buy a book. Just the percentage who click on it compared to those who see it is typically very low—although this number can vary considerably depending on the marketability of the book and the effectiveness of the advertisement. It can also vary considerably from one advertising service to another.

Gear your advertisement toward your specific target audience.

Any image in your advertisement needs to attract your target audience. It’s just as important as cover design is for marketability. The image might even be your book cover (but not necessarily). Check the size of the image, aspect ratio (you definitely don’t want this to be distorted), and quality (e.g. pixilation). Ensure that the text is legible and crisp on the photo for the ad.

You need a good strapline that’s likely to draw interest from your target audience. If you’re advertising a short-term discount, contest, or free content of some kind, for example, this may draw more interest than simply advertising your book.

Check all of your writing very carefully. Any mistakes in the little writing you do in the advertisement won’t bode well for the quality of thousands of words written in a book. Remember that the goal of any writing in an advertisement is to catch the interest of your target audience and make them curious for more. Get feedback from others (especially, in your target audience) before placing your ad.

The cost of an advertisement can be calculated in different ways.

Some services charge a flat fee—e.g. $80 to place the ad.

Some services charge a fixed fee that depends on choices you make, such as the price of your book. For example, it might be $60 to place an ad for a freebie, $120 if the price is 99 cents, or $180 if the price is $1.99.

Some services charge a fee based on activity (like a fee per click, or a fee per Like or Follow).

Some services require you to bid on the ad. For example, you might bid 5 cents to a few dollars. In this context, different ads compete with one another for the chance to be viewed. You can usually place an upper limit on your daily spending and/or on the total amount for your campaign. For example, you might bid 25 cents for the ad with a maximum daily limit of $5.

When you bid on your ad, very often views of the ad are free, but you pay based on activity (e.g. a click, Like, or Follow). In this case, your ad may actually benefit from hundreds of views without any charge to you. What percentage of people view your ad actually click, Like, or Follow can vary significantly depending on the effectiveness of the ad and the content you’re advertising. Also, at some sites, clicks, Likes, or Follows are much more likely than at other sites.

The bid is usually the maximum that you’re willing to pay, and will often be less. For example, if you bid 50 cents for the ad, sometimes you may be charged less than 50 cents (any number from the minimum bid to 50 cents). Your ad competes against other ads in an auction format, so when you bid 50 cents, you’re basically saying, “50 cents is the most I’ll pay, but if possible I’d like to pay less.”

I recommend starting out at the minimum bid with a cap on your daily spending. Monitor your stats for a few days before raising your bid. This way, you can see what effect your bid has while keeping the risk low in the beginning. If you’re happy with the results, then you can safely avoid higher bids.

Don’t rely on the advertisement to do all the work for you.

I discussed the need to supplement advertisements with free and low-cost marketing in my previous post. Advertising isn’t a substitution for the need to market your book; it’s a supplement that can help improve the sales of a marketable book.

How would you like to participate in a Black Friday type of sales event designed specifically for books? Check out Read Tuesday. It’s going to be HUGE!

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)

Paid Advertising Options for Book Sales

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The success of any book depends on a combination of effective marketing and the degree of marketability.

  • Effective marketing strategies help customers in the target audience discover a book.
  • Creating a highly marketable book improves the chances that a customer who discovers the book will purchase the book.

There are numerous free and low-cost marketing ideas out there. Some of these can be quite effective. The great thing about free and low-cost marketing strategies is that there is very little financial risk.

There are also ways to invest money in the marketing. One way to invest money in marketing is through paid advertisements. This is the focus of this article.

What advertising won’t do.

Let me begin by saying what paid advertising won’t do. It doesn’t do the marketing for you.

If you’re tentative about marketing or inexperienced with marketing, paying for advertisements is not a substitution for marketing. You can’t just throw money somewhere to relieve yourself from having to market your book.

So if you were hoping that paid advertising would be the solution to your marketing dilemma, think again. If you’re in this boat, I recommend putting several months of effort into free and low-cost marketing to develop some firsthand marketing experience.

First gain some marketing experience.

If you want paid advertisements to be effective, you will need that marketing experience. There are decisions you must make and things that you need to design where poor marketability decisions will render the advertisement ineffective. You need this marketing experience to help make better advertising choices.

Furthermore, you need to promote the advertisements in some cases, and in any case you need other marketing strategies in place to supplement the advertisements. It will take marketing experience to do this effectively. It will also take connections to help with your promotions. The more time you spend marketing with free and low-cost methods, the more connections you will build through networking in the process. Remind yourself that you’re not just trying to promote your book: You’re also networking and hoping to develop helpful connections (especially, win-win situations, where help runs both ways).

Identify your goals.

What are you hoping for the advertising to accomplish?

If your main goal is to turn a profit, then you need to do a cost-benefit analysis and weigh the risks versus the possible rewards carefully. Figure out how many books you must sell to recover you investment. Try to research data that can help you project how plausible this is.

However, if you are more concerned about initial exposure, but aren’t concerned about recovering your investment quickly, then you should be focusing more on what kind of exposure you might gain from the venture. The risk still matters. The distinction is whether you’re more focused on long-term potential or short-term profit.

What’s your net?

Advertising may lead to an increase in sales. If you have a steady baseline (how many books you sell per day on average), this will help you gauge the effect of your advertising. Specifically, this tells you how many additional sales you are getting per day on average.

What you really want to know is your net profit or loss. Compute your net additional royalty and subtract your advertising expenses.

Keep in mind that sales can fluctuate, increase, or decrease all on their own. There are many complicating factors that you’re likely not to be aware of. The more data you have prior to your advertising campaign, the better you can gauge this statistically.

Advertising doesn’t always lead to an increase in sales. Like any investment, advertising carries risk. The more experience you have with marketing and the better you understand marketability and marketing, the better your advertising prospects; but even then, there are no guarantees.

Some of the benefits are long-term.

Advertising isn’t just about generating short-term sales.

There are many other possible benefits of advertising:

  • Build buzz to hopefully stimulate initial sales, reviews, and word-of-mouth news.
  • Help the target audience discover a new product.
  • Tell people about a short-term sale.
  • Try to boost sales to get onto bestseller lists, which may help to stimulate sales further.
  • Try to stay on bestseller lists once getting there.
  • Brand the title or author name through repetition.
  • Brand the cover by sight through repetition.
  • Get people to associate your book with a distinguished quality.

Commercials very often don’t generate immediate sales. What they tend to do is create a brand name through repetition. Months later, when the customer is buying a product, the customer is most likely to choose a product that sounds familiar. This is called branding. It’s a very important aspect of marketing.

Branding requires patience. It can take many months before a customer has seen your book enough times to recognize it, and then it may take many more months before the customer is in the market for a book like yours.

Advertising can be one part of your branding efforts.

The more people in your target audience hear your book’s name, your name, and see your cover, the more branding occurs.

Advertising can help with this, especially if the ads are targeted to your specific audience. However, advertising shouldn’t be your only attempt at branding. You need to get your cover, title, and name out in front of your target audience through a variety of different resources (a blog, website, social media, blog interviews, blogger reviews, etc.) to improve the chances for the same potential customer to see your book multiple times. This is one more reason that you need to combine free and low-cost marketing with paid advertisements. (You don’t necessarily need to do the paid advertising; that’s optional. You definitely need to do the free and low-cost stuff.)

Advertising books is different from advertising household products.

You’re probably familiar with commercials and other advertisements for household products that you buy in stores or online. What you need to realize is that advertising books is much different.

How many different brands of toilet paper do you need to choose from at the grocery story? You can probably count them on your fingers. You probably recognize a few of these brands from t.v.

Now think about going to buy a book. If you want to buy a mystery, for example, you have to choose from thousands of books. There are many, many more alternatives.

Advertising toilet paper is cost-effective because millions of people will use it and there are only a few brands to choose from. Although millions of people read books, there are also millions of books to choose from.

There are thousands of other authors trying to promote their books. There are also many publishers doing this. Some of the bestselling authors and top publishers invest a considerable sum of money into their advertising campaigns.

All these factors make it a challenge for you to reap a short-term reward from advertisements.

Since advertising is a risk that may result in a loss, the safe thing to do is stick with the many free and low-cost marketing alternatives.

What else can you advertise besides your book?

When you advertise your book, people immediately realize that it’s an advertisement. People generally don’t like advertisements because they are interruptions. For this reason, most people don’t click on advertisements and most people don’t buy the product in the near future. However, the people who see your advertisement and don’t click on it or buy the product may still recognize your book in the future. Advertisements are often more effective through branding than they are in short-term sales.

However, there are other things that you can advertise besides your book. Some of these things may be more effective at generating clicks or sales.

  • Advertise a website rather than the book. If the website has content that will attract the target audience and this is clear in the advertisement, then customers may be more likely to click on it.
  • Advertise a short-term sale. This may help to create a sense of urgency.
  • Advertise a contest. The chance to win something may generate interest. (On the other hand, there are many people who feel that they never win anything, so don’t bother to enter, and there are so many contests that it would be a lot of work to enter them all. Not everyone thinks this way, though, and some people still love contests.)
  • Advertise something that’s free and that your target audience will want to have. There are many possibilities. A free PDF booklet, for example, won’t cost you any money to make, and if it looks nice and has information that your target audience will want, it may draw interest. This can help to get people from your target audience to visit your website and discover your book.
  • Advertise a series. You don’t have to actually advertise a series in the advertisement. You could advertise the first book or the most recent book, and this may help to draw interest in the whole series. If you have a set of books, this makes advertising more economical when you think about the cost per book.
  • Advertise an event, like a workshop or start a special week that relates to your book.

How marketable is your book?

Paid advertisements won’t make up for poor marketability.

A highly marketable book will sell through free and low-cost marketing.

It doesn’t take paid advertisements to sell a highly marketable book; it just takes discovery.

If a book doesn’t have marketability, advertising isn’t likely to help.

Advertising can help a marketable book get discovered and thereby sell more frequently.

See the following link for help assessing your book’s marketability:

In one of my next posts, I’ll discuss some specific advertising options at a few websites that many authors are familiar with.

Chris McMullen, author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers, Vol. 1 (formatting/publishing) and Vol. 2 (packaging/marketing)

Comparing Commercial Marketing to Book Marketing: What Can We Learn?

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We’re exposed to marketing every day.

So when authors realize that they must market their books to sell them, it’s not like they have no experience with marketing at all.

We all have experience with marketing.

It’s not that marketing is new. It’s just that marketing books is different.

Some of the strategies that we see every day can be applied to books. However, some strategies that work for other products don’t tend to work well for books, or work differently for books.

(1) Advertising.

If you saw a commercial right now advertising a new brand of laundry detergent, would you run to the store immediately and buy it?

  • I’m guessing not. But if your answer is yes, I’d like to pay you some money to watch commercials for half an hour. 🙂

If you saw a commercial right now asking you to run to the store to try a new brand of potato chips, would you do it? What if the commercial asked nicely? Pretty please? What if the commercial tells you instead of asks? Go there now! Or threatens you? Or else you’ll be the only person on earth to never experience this wonderful new taste.

  • People usually don’t like being told what to do, or being asked to do something that seems quite inconvenient for no other reason than to give others profit.

If you saw a commercial right now telling you about a new brand of shoes that’s the best ever, would you believe it? Suppose instead that the commercial describes what makes the shoes better. Would this strategy have a different effect?

  • Just hearing that a product is good doesn’t tell a customer how the product will help him or her. But knowing something specific that the product does might accomplish this.

When you go shopping, what you probably remember is which brand names sound familiar. People are more likely to buy products they’ve heard of before. This is the idea behind branding.

Advertisements help to establish brand recognition.

When you’re shopping, you might also remember something about the brand. For example, you might associate a particular brand name with luxury (like Cadillac) or trust (like Sears when they branded their image of Satisfaction Guaranteed), or you might recall a slogan or logo.

One strong goal of marketing books is developing a brand. The author can be the brand. Or it can be the name of a series (like Dummies) or a distinguished character (like Sherlock Holmes).

Branding occurs through repetition. You can brand a name, an image, a sound (think Jeopardy), and even a smell (with free samples of perfume).

Paid advertisements may not be cost-effective for most books. Although millions of people read books, there are 20 million books to choose from. There aren’t 20 million brands of paper towels, so advertising is cost-effective for large-scale paper towel manufacturers.

But there are many ways to brand an image through free marketing.

The key is to get the target audience to see the same name and image in a positive context a few times. Not so many times that it become annoying (then people think, “Oh, not that book! It drives me crazy!”). Not in a way that it seems intrusive, yet gets noticed by the target audience.

One way is to offer content that attracts your target audience, and allow your book to be discovered by an interested party (rather than shoved in front of their face).

When having conversations with people in your target audience (and natural conversations with anyone, but it’s your target audience who are most likely to buy your book), it’s natural to be asked, “So what have you done lately?” They’re more likely to be interested in your book when they asked you than when you come out and say, “I just published a book last month.”

You can get discovered through your blog, social media, a website for your book, personal interactions, book readings, book signings, attending workshops or conferences, giving presentations, doing community service, and many other ways.

But there are three things that you need for this to be effective:

  1. Traffic. (But note that you can interact with a much smaller group in person and have a higher yield than when marketing to a large group online. Personal interactions can have a powerful effect, if you can charm your readers conversationally. To some extent, you can also provide some charm online when interacting with people individually. I’m not saying to flirt with your readers; but maybe make them feel special for a moment – obviously, it’s far better if you really mean it.)
  2. Relevance. If you wrote a mystery and 70% of the traffic reads mysteries on a regular basis, then your marketing is highly relevant to the audience. But if only 2% of the traffic reads mystery, your marketing effort is being wasted.
  3. Value. People don’t like advertisements. If you can brand your image while providing something of value to your target audience, you’re marketing efforts are more likely to be noticed. You can provide nonfiction information that relates to your target audience, or you can provide a nice bookmark that doesn’t just look like an advertisement, or you can provide a service to your community, etc. Ideally, you want to give the reader something he or she is likely to want, where your brand gets recognized unobtrusively.

People aren’t going to remember a paragraph. They might recall a picture that has one central image (this gives covers that have multiple images a disadvantage). They might remember a few key words (so shorter titles without strange names have an advantage). They might remember a logo. The might remember a catchy phrase about the book. But definitely not a long sentence.

(2) Packaging.

Your intuition might tell you that the product is far more important than the packaging. If so, let me try to convince you how wrong this is.

If you thoroughly analyze product A and product B, and determine that product A suits you better than product B, then you would definitely prefer to have product A regardless of the packaging. Unfortunately, shopping isn’t so easy.

It’s often not easy to tell which product is best. Packaging has a very significant impact on buying decisions. We almost always look at the packaging to help determine which product suits us best.

Here is another important point: Nobody will ever know how good your product is if the packaging doesn’t attract their attention.

You can’t buy a product if you don’t discover it first.

Suppose you’re hungry for a candy bar, and one of the candy bars is packaged to look like sticks of gum. Would you even notice the candy that looked like gum? If you were shopping for gum and picked it up, would you buy it when you realized that it was candy?

Packaging helps people find the specific product that they’re looking for. If the packaging doesn’t fit the product, it will be highly ineffective. Good packaging attracts the target audience.

Poor packaging – and even average packaging – sends a message that the product wasn’t good enough to warrant better packaging (alternatively, perhaps they invested as little effort in the product as they did in the packaging).

Effective packaging does three things:

  1. Grabs attention. (In a positive way.)
  2. Attracts the specific target audience. (It should also look appealing and professional.)
  3. From a distance, it sends a short message (not necessarily in words) about what to expect from the product. (There may be more details in print upon closer inspection, but it’s the distant message that determines whether or not the consumer will ever inspect the packaging closely.)

Book packaging includes the cover, title, and blurb.

A good book with a fantastic cover and a killer blurb can make the difference between consistent sales and dwindling to the depths of millions of books.

It’s very important that authors realize this: The cover isn’t just part of the packaging, it’s also a permanent part of the book.

The cover is fashion. Just like clothing.

The reader has to feel comfortable holding the book. It must suit the target audience well. Better yet, it should attract them. If the shopper visualizes himself or herself holding the book in his or her hands and enjoys this feeling, then the buyer will be begging for the blurb and Look Inside to give him or her a reason to click Buy Now.

The cover is that important.

At least, if you’re hoping for many sales to come from people who discover your book. If you plan to sell most of your books in person after presentations or because you’re providing expertise that people will crave, then the cover may not be as important. Although it’s still important for similar reasons then, too (especially, if there are other expert books similar to yours).

The blurb and Look Inside are your only salesmen at the point-of-sale. The blurb has to draw the reader’s interest (without making empty promises, as that will affect reviews and word-of-mouth sales).

The cover, blurb, and Look Inside need to send a unified message. They must make it instantly (shoppers might look at your thumbnail for two seconds to decide whether or not to check the book out) clear what type of book it is. Precisely what type (e.g. contemporary romance, not teen romance; or does the cover look a little naughty, when the romance is light and clean?).

If the book cover doesn’t clearly suit the genre, it’s like packaging candy to look like gum.

Look at the covers and blurbs of top-selling books similar to yours to help get a sense of what readers expect.

(3) Promotions.

Everybody loves a discount.

Not quite true.

Everybody loves a discount on something they want to have.

Getting a discount on something you don’t need isn’t helpful at all.

Just discounting your book probably won’t help sales much. Amazon discounts books, and sales don’t always improve with the discount. People give books away free, and sometimes few are given away and almost none are read.

So if you offer a temporary discount, make the first book of your series free to help hook an audience, give away free bookmarks, or offer any other type of promotion, you have to realize that the promotion itself probably isn’t enough.

People don’t buy prices. People buy products. A discount is only effective if the target audience discovers the product and realizes the value of the discount.

So you have to market your promotion. A sale isn’t a substitute for marketing. A promotion can help your marketing efforts, but won’t work in place of them.

If sales are too frequent, word will get around and people will wait for the sales. This means that your sales rank might climb considerably in between sales.

Stores can put the same products on sale at the same time every year (like Black Friday). And some people will wait for the sale, but many won’t. But stores sell many products. And often you can’t wait for Black Friday. And not everyone likes to shop on the busiest days.

But books are different. You only buy the same book once, unlike many products that you need to buy every week, month, or few years. Many books, you can wait for if you know they will go on sale in the coming weeks.

(4) Mailing list.

Businesses strive to get customers to sign up for catalogs, email notifications, focus groups, etc.

Authors can have fan mail, book websites with supplemental material, preview readers, etc.

If you primarily use such things to send out advertisements, they probably won’t be effective. But if you provide significant content (like supplemental material), they can be effective. Content helps to attract your target audience. Then you can occasionally (10% or less of the time) announce a promotion, give a cover reveal, solicit input on a title, etc. (The cover reveal and asking for input on a title are ways that you can help to build buzz for an upcoming book.)


Think about the different forms of marketing that you’re exposed to every day. Consider what is and isn’t effective with you. For those things that are effective, see if you can find a way to achieve a similar effect with your book marketing.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Visual Branding for Small Businesses and Authors

Visual Branding Pic

  • When you see a large brown delivery truck, does UPS come to mind?
  • Do you recognize the Mercedes symbol when you see it?
  • Which brands of shoes can you identify when you see people wearing them, even when the brand name and logo aren’t visible?
  • Have you ever been on a road trip hoping to see a pair of golden arches in the shape of an M?

These are businesses that have succeeded in visual branding.

And even though these are huge companies, they didn’t achieve their visual branding through advertisements. Sure, you’ve seen their commercials. But the commercials aren’t the reason that your mind has been stamped with these visual brands:

  • There are thousands of UPS delivery trucks. They are all the same color, and it’s a unique color so it stands out from all of the other trucks making deliveries every day.
  • Every time you drive, you see other cars. Even if you just go for a walk outside, you see them. This is why you recognize many car brands by their logos.
  • If you’re really into shoes, you can distinguish between different brands that have similar styles, even if the brand names and logos are removed. You have partly been branded by your own interest in them, and by each manufacturer adopting a sense of style that defines their brand.
  • If you drive through the US, you see those yellow M’s all over the place. It’s simple and you see them frequently.

The point is that smaller businesses and artists, including writers, can also achieve similar visual branding. And they can do it without advertising.

For small businesses who may be able to afford advertising, following are a few examples of visual branding that you may be familiar with:

  • Do you recognize any insurance or real estate agents whom you’ve never met? It may be because you’ve repeatedly seen their faces on billboards or in brochures.
  • Have you ever seen a car fully decorated to match the theme of the business? A dog grooming service might have a car that looks very much like a dog, or a flower delivery truck might have flowers painted all over its surface. Such vehicles grab your attention and clearly reveal the nature of their business.
  • Can you think of any local businesses where the employees wear very distinctive uniforms?
  • Would you recognize the logos from any local businesses?

Here are a few examples of visual branding among books:

  • Can you tell that a book is part of the Dummies series when you catch a glimpse from a distance?
  • Do you recognize Waldo from the Where’s Waldo? books?
  • Would you know if a book is part of the Dr. Seuss collection if the title and author were covered up? The cat is distinctive.

Visual branding occurs even in the world of self-publishing:

  • If you’re not already familiar with them, check out Aaron Shepard’s books. He features a similar drawing of himself on every cover. Not everyone is fond of holding a book with that image, but it works: You see that picture and immediately recognize it as one of his books. He may not have been famous when he did that with his first book, but this consistent branding and unique style have helped create fame.
  • Search for Fifty Shades of Gray at Amazon and look at the covers. The style is distinctive and it’s carried over into other books in the series.

Whether you have a small business or you’re an artist or writer, here are the keys to visual branding:

  • Frequency. You need people to see your visual brand repeatedly. Not several times per day, but here and there over weeks and months; you want the message to be pleasing and the frequency not to be annoying (or your image will be branded the wrong way). Marketing isn’t just about what you say; it’s also very much about what you show. If people forget what you said or wrote, they might remember what they saw.
  • Consistency. Show the same image consistently; don’t show different images in each marketing effort. Choose your visual brand wisely from the beginning and stick with it. Select one image that you want people to remember.
  • Distinctive. If brown delivery trucks were common, would you associate this color with UPS? If every author had their picture on their cover, would you recognize Aaron Shepard?
  • Unity. Sending a unified message may be more important than being distinctive when it comes to visual branding memory. When the image relates to the nature of the business, this makes it easier to remember. A car decorated to look like a dog helps people remember if the business relates to dogs. Those golden arches that make the M are French fries, fitting for a restaurant.
  • Appealing. The image should attract the target audience. It needs to look good, else the audience thinks, “Ugh,” every time it is seen.
  • Deliver. The product or service needs some feature that stands out to associate with the visual branding. It might be luxury, or it could be cheap. It could be fast, or it could be quality. Visual branding is enhanced when the brand has some aspect that makes it worth remembering.

Authors have a choice of what image to brand. How do you want to be remembered? What will be distinctive for you? Pick one image and have it visible in all of your marketing efforts. Potential customers may see your image on your book covers, social media banners, online profiles, author pages, author blogs and websites, business cards, bookmarks, etc. The more your target audience sees the same image, the better. Here is what can be branded visually:

  • A logo for a publishing imprint.
  • A style consistent throughout a series.
  • A protagonist (like James Bond) or a children’s character (like Winnie the Pooh).
  • An author’s photo.
  • A distinctive visual feature common to all of the author’s books. It could be a distinctive font that the author developed that really stands out and grabs attention. It could be a unique way of arranging objects on the cover. It could be a design layout used on every color. It could be a particular image.
  • Even a blog can be branded visually by having a consistent style for the main image used with each post. Do you ever see posts in your reader and immediately recognize the blogger from the image? Those bloggers have succeeded in creating visual brands for their blogs.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Authors: You’re not Selling Books

Selling Books Pic

If you aren’t selling enough books, maybe part of the problem is your mindset: You shouldn’t be trying to sell books.


There are tens of millions of books to choose from. If someone just wants to buy a book, how are they ever going to find yours, and why would that be the one they choose?

You’re not a bookstore. You’re not selling a book.

What you have is more than a book. That’s what you need to realize. What you provide that’s more than a mere book is what can help your book get discovered and why customers might choose your book.

If you’re not selling a book, then what are you selling?

You can find some examples below. Your book is unique. Figure out what you should be selling and how to orient your marketing efforts toward this.

Use it to help you brand an image. Sell this image, not the book.

You don’t have to be a salesman to sell an image. You market an image. You make people aware of the image. You make them want the image. Crave the image.

The image is free. Once the image is sold, the books well sell along with it.

(And maybe some add-ons. If they really want the image, they might want to get it in the form of t-shirts, bookmarks, collector’s editions, etc.)

(1) Are you selling a better place?

Did you create a fantasy world that is better than our universe?

Then don’t sell the book. Don’t sell the story.

Sell the experience of living in a better world.

Brand your book as a better reality. Brand yourself as a creator of other worlds. Brand the fantasy world itself by name so that others want to go there.

Like Hogwarts. Imagine how many schoolchildren wish they could go to Hogwarts. They recognize this better place by name.

(2) Are you selling something exotic?

Is the book set in Paris, Tokyo, or someplace people dream of traveling to?

Does your book have exotic creatures?

Then you can offer the same wonders that a travel agent can offer, except that your ticket will cost much, much less.

Focus on the features that make your book exotic, not the book itself. Sell the experience of traveling.

Remember the movie Gremlins? It wasn’t just a movie. It was an experience with a really exotic pet.

(3) Are you selling passion?

Does your book offer a romantic escape from a mundane reality?

Sell the opportunity to experience romance.

Make your audience crave the romance, without giving any of the story away. It’s not just a romance novel. It’s so much passion it’s dripping off the pages.

The Blue Lagoon was a movie with a boy and girl trapped on a deserted island. But it didn’t sell because the description simply stated this. (Okay, maybe the movie stars – e.g. Brooke Shields – helped attract their own attention.) Imagine the previews for this movie. They weren’t selling romance or adventure. They were selling something much deeper than that. That’s what people crave.

Note: Make sure that your book is an excellent fit for what you are selling. Don’t oversell it such that it makes your book sound far better than it is. Disappointment leads to bad reviews.

Do make your book as good as you can, and then find a creative way to sell something that fits your book perfectly, in a way that it won’t disappoint anyone who buys into what you’re selling.

(4) Are you selling excitement?

Did you write a non-stop, action-packed adventure?

Sell the adventure.

Focus on taking a safari through the jungle, not a book about a safari.

Jumanji wasn’t just a safari, either. It was a movie that brought the jungle to you.

(5) Are you selling entertainment?

Is your book very humorous? Sell the laughs.

Is your book super scary? Sell the fright.

Focus on being scared out of your shoes. Create a video on YouTube that will frighten and intrigue, without giving any of your story away.

Check out this book trailer (I discovered this when the author shared it on CreateSpace; I don’t know the author) for a book called Nothing Men:

(6) Are you selling self-help?

Does your book help others lead better, healthier lives.

Sell the prospects for a positive future.

Suppose your book provides a ten-step plan to overcoming depression. Sell the idea of seeking happiness in ten easy steps. Use this phrase when you interact with others. Brand the image of seeking happiness. Provide help for others through a blog, on community forums, through community service, etc. Focus on selling happiness, not on your book; but make it easy for others to discover your book. Brand yourself as someone who cares about others and can help others find happiness.

Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus is selling a much better relationship.

(7) Are you selling information?

Did you write textbook, how-to book, or workbook?

Sell the knowledge. Sell the skills.

Focus on learning something new or improving what people know already.

You’re not selling a grammar book. You’re selling the benefits of improved grammar. You’re selling not having a resume thrown in the garbage and writing letters that get results.

Think about what people can gain from your book. That’s far more important than the book itself.

Use this in your marketing. Your blog, seminars, and all of your personal and online interactions should brand you as a helpful, knowledgeable person who is selling the knowledge or skills that people need.

Suze Orman isn’t just selling financial advice. She’s offering the keys to wealth.


There are a host of other things that you can be selling: creativity, fun, morals, wisdom, beauty, etc.

Differentiate what you’re selling from what others are selling. There are thousands of mystery novels, for example. They can’t all succeed in selling the experience of feeling like a detective. Find a way to make what you’re selling unique.

Remember not to oversell; you don’t want bad reviews from disappointment. The better your book lives up the hype, the more you may receive good reviews and valuable word-of-mouth sales. Make your book as good as you can, then build the hype to match it perfectly.

Live what you’re selling. Your personality and lifestyle – your image – need to send a unified message with what you sell. You must look luxurious if you want to sell luxury. You must seem happy if you’re selling happiness. You must sound adventurous if you’re selling adventure.

Who is your target audience? Where will you find your target audience? You want to market this image specifically to your target audience. Let them discover what it is you’re offering (not a book!). Brand your image. Make them crave the brand – i.e. the concept that you’re offering. Then they can ask you (or check out your online profile) to learn about your book.

Package your book to match the image that you’re selling. The cover has to fit this image well. The title has to fit, too. The blurb needs to sell this image (not the book!). The blurb is the only salesman at the point-of-sale. Don’t oversell, but do show the reader that there is more than just a book in your book. The Look Inside has to seal the deal; it has to provide the content that endorses the hype. The rest of the book must also achieve this, as this makes the difference between a satisfied customer who is ready to share this image with others or a disappointed reader who may show frustration in a bad review.

It’s easy to hype a book. For the hype to work, the book has to also walk the walk. Perfect the product, perfect the packaging, and market the image (not the book!).

There is something more that you can offer.

You can offer the personal touch. You can interact with your target audience in person and show that you care, show that you’re passionate about the image that you’re marketing, show that you’re human, show your personality.

You’re not just selling a book.

You should be selling much more.

One last example (in the line below):

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers tour guide for your self-publishing journey

Nonstandard Tipping: Tips for Other Professions (Without Paying $$$)

We all know to leave a tip at a restaurant indicative of how much we appreciated the table service.

But if you really enjoy a product or service of other kinds, you can reward the provider with another kind of tip.

No, it’s not another way to spend your hard-earned cash. These other kinds of tips just cost you a moment of your time.

And might have a small impact on your prospects of being able to enjoy similar products or services in the future.

Suppose a new small business opens in your community. You try it out, and you’re highly impressed.

What should you do?

No, you don’t find the owner and leave him a little cash. That’s not appropriate.

Instead, you could spread the word to friends and family, you could return to that business the next time you need a similar product or service, and you could even write a nice review for it (there are places for this online, or you may have a blog with a relevant audience).

Many of us already do this to some extent. Definitely, if we have a good experience with a business, we’ll consider coming back. That’s automatic.

Some of us tell friends and family.

Most of us probably don’t think to rate the business online or leave a review.

Except for certain kinds of products. It’s becoming more and more common to review books and movies, for example.

Spreading the word and leaving reviews helps reward a business for providing useful products and services at reasonable prices.

Such marketing may actually play a role in whether or not the business thrives.

If you discover a new product that you love, but never tell anyone about it, and suddenly the product is no longer available. Well, if you had helped spread the word, maybe the product would still be available.

What if you try out a product or service, and it turns out to be bad?

It’s interesting to draw an analogy with restaurant tipping.

If you receive lousy service at a restaurant, what do you do? Leave a smaller tip. Maybe even no tip at all.

I bet you wouldn’t ask the waiter or waitress to pay you a tip instead!

Normally, poor service results in a lesser tip, great service in a better tip.

So if you receive lousy service, perhaps the right thing to do is simply not to use the same product or service again. Spread the word about other products or services that you like better.

Saying bad things about the product or service is kind of like asking the waiter or waitress to leave you a tip.

But sometimes it’s necessary. When table service is really awful, you might talk to the manager. Similarly, if a product or service is really awful, you don’t want your friends and family to use it either, so you want to warn them.

Although, saying good things about a product or service that you like better has much the same effect as saying bad things about the product or service that you don’t like. You can choose to focus on positive thoughts about a good product or service instead of negative thoughts about a bad one. You’ll probably feel better this way, too.

For example, if I love a book or movie, I will leave a good review for it. If I don’t like it, I just won’t leave any review at all. It would have to seem particularly deceitful for me to consider leaving a bad review – like advertising a novel when it’s really a short story. Even then, someone else will be all too happy to leave the bad review, so I may as well stay positive and not bother with those unhappy thoughts.

Recently, a new restaurant came into town. We love it: Great food, great service, great prices (usually, you only get two out of the three, at best). We go there frequently, spread the word, and I even went on Google to leave a review. That was my tip. 🙂

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

Book Pricing Strategies

Many authors who self-publish aren’t happy with their sales. So what do they do? Lower the price! When that doesn’t boost sales, then what? Figure out how to make the book free. If that doesn’t work, what will they try next? Surely, they won’t pay people money to read the book…

99 cents is just a price. Even free is just a price. Readers aren’t shopping for prices; they are searching for books in their favorite genres that show strong potential for engaging their interests.

A book with a lower price suggests lesser quality. Many readers who are hoping to find something professionally done and worthwhile stay away from the lower price point.

Authors instinctively expect to sell more books when they lower the price, but often discover that they sell fewer books when they try this. Fewer sales with a lower royalty for each sale – that’s not what they were expecting.

These authors are thinking about the concept of supply and demand. The problem is that there must first be a demand before the price can affect the demand. Authors who don’t market their books effectively so as to create a demand probably won’t benefit from lowering the price.

Readers know what price range is typical for the type of books they read. Anything below this price range is screaming low quality; anything above this price range will seem risky. It makes sense to research this price range among established competition (i.e. not among other self-published authors who haven’t yet achieved success) for similar books.

However, it is possible to use lower prices effectively.

For example, if the low price appears to be temporary, then customers may view it as a “sale” instead of an inferior product.

Simply lowering the price won’t give the impression that the book is on sale. If the book is normally $5.99 and the price is dropped to $1.99, Amazon will just show it as a lower list price; Amazon will not show it as regularly $5.99, now on sale for $1.99. (Amazon does sometimes put books on sale at their own discretion. For example, CreateSpace paperbacks are sometimes discounted this way, and Amazon pays the full royalty based on the list price. The author has no role in these discounts.)

Yet the author can still make a temporary discount appear as a sale. The way to achieve this is through marketing. Authors can spread the word in person, on their blogs, on their websites, and via social media (but 90% of the posts must provide useful content geared toward the target audience, otherwise the promotion is likely to be tuned out), for example.

Authors may also find other blogs and websites that match their target audience and gain a little exposure for their promotions through them.

If people see that a book is highly discounted for a limited time, then the low price appears as a good deal. An author can use a low price to increase demand in this way.

There are many ways to spin this. Authors can add “special earlybird pricing” to the top of the description when the book is first published, promoting an initial sale price with their premarketing materials. They can periodically discount the book and promote the sale. They can offer special holiday pricing.

But beware: If the sale is too frequent, word will spread. Customers will wait for the sales, and few books will sell at the regular price.

Remember that price changes may not show up immediately. It’s not easy to change the price and time it perfectly for a one-day sale, for example.

Another opportunity comes with series of books. This strategy works best for series where the reader is very likely to be drawn into the next volume, but not nearly as well when there are unrelated stand-alone books.

One way to benefit from a series is to have a discounted omnibus. If you can buy each of 4 volumes for $2.99, or the entire series for $6.99, the omnibus is a good deal. When pricing the omnibus, keep in mind that some readers will buy volume 1 by itself to try it out. With this in mind, it might be desirable if volume 1 plus the omnibus together are discounted compared to buying each volume separately.

New readers are more likely to start with volume 1; referred customers might be confident enough to head straight to the omnibus.

Putting volume 1 or the omnibus on sale and promoting the discount can help spur sales. Some authors price volume 1 very cheaply (even going to great lengths to permanently price it for free), showing confidence that it will hook the reader.

But remember that free is just a price. Free doesn’t sell books; marketing sells books.

If the book is just free, it might be perceived as worthless. If the free price is promoted effectively, then many readers may view free as a great value.

Note that the series is currently in fashion. Numerous authors are publishing series and trying this tactic. A series is a big commitment for the reader. If it’s known (through reviews, for example) that the first volume isn’t fulfilling in itself, readers may not want to take a chance on the series. Ideally, each volume will provide satisfaction for a reader who wants to walk away, but be good enough so that most readers will want to continue the series.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

The Secret to Success: Marketing


Whether we like it or not, almost everything comes down to marketing:

  • Resumes and cover letters, interviews, and references distinguish qualified candidates through marketing. Very rarely does a business actually give an interviewee a challenging test to assess mastery of desired skills. Who you know, how you look on paper, what others say about you, and how you handle yourself in person are highly important (provided that you meet the qualifications).
  • What you know doesn’t matter unless you succeed in marketing yourself as knowledgeable. You must have the knowledge to establish this as a long-term perception, but just having the knowledge by itself isn’t enough. The same is true for your skills set and your ability.
  • If you have a degree, experience, or training, you’re just one of many other candidates with a similar background. People like to work with someone they know personally or who has good recommendations, and they like to hire applicants who market themselves the right way.
  • Even diligence, motivation, and passion are marketable. Some people, for example, manage to seem busier than they really are.
  • People brand you by the style of clothing you choose to wear, the cut of your hair, the way you speak, how you smell, and how you accessorize. Everything you say, do, and wear can and will be used to establish your brand.
  • Those who excel at marketing a positive image about their talents, character, diligence, motivation, passion, and performance have a distinct advantage in life, whether they are selling products, offering services, applying for a job, going out on a date, looking for friends, bonding with family, and anything else in life.

You can argue that it shouldn’t be this way. But if you’re not going to change the way things are, then you’re just a philosopher.

You can pretend it isn’t this way. Surely, there are some exceptions to the rule, but you can’t completely avoid it.

Or you can accept what is and make the best of it. You don’t have to sell out to thrive, but you should understand the rules of the game and decide where you want to fit.

And you can understand why marketing is so important. For example, if you’re truly passionate about a job, wouldn’t you market yourself with the best possible resume and cover letter? Wouldn’t you take the time to research what employers expect? Wouldn’t you learn some tips for good interview techniques? Wouldn’t you have put the time and effort into mastering your trade and impressing people on the way?

Whether you’re applying to school, applying for a job, selling a product, selling a service, and most other things in life – personal or business – having the passion and motivation to learn how to market yourself and diligently work to do this effectively helps you stand out.

What you’re trying to market needs to be good in order to achieve long-term success, but how you go about marketing it can make a huge difference in perception and results.

Self-promotion doesn’t tend to be effective (but self-demotion may be). If you just walk around saying, “I’m the best there is,” it’s not going to work. Discovery is a better method. Let people find out, in natural ways (including conversations), things that distinguish you. Showing them (naturally) is better than telling them, and interacting in person is more effective than not.

Help to market others whom you know personally to be worthy of it (but don’t market people in ways that they don’t deserve – as this can harm your own reputation).

What people think about you, who you know, how you handle yourself, appearance, possessions, who you choose to interact with, what you do, how you react to adversity, and even the way you prepare things play important roles in branding your image (personal and business). Ideally, you want to emphasize your strengths and show improvement in your weaknesses (which also takes work on your part, not just marketing).

How would you like to be known (or not known)? Think about the things you do (not just your actions, and not just at work) and how they may affect this perception.

  • Jean is such a passionate artist. You should see the expression on his face when he’s painting.
  • Anne is incredibly well organized. She knows where everything is.
  • If it’s broken, send it to Bob.
  • Jennifer has been working on this presentation day and night for the past month.
  • Ted has an amazing way with words. He can articulate anything very precisely.

Beware of possible marketing mistakes than can have long-lasting effects. You don’t want to be branded in negative ways. You don’t want to be known for complaining, cheating, arrogance, being a jerk, whining, being too dependent, arguing, self-promotion, etc. One lousy action or statement can undo months of positive marketing.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers (Volume 2 on book marketing is now available)

Stages of Branding

A brand is a name that people in the target audience recognize. It’s not necessarily the name of the product, like Levi’s. Names of people can be branded, too, like Michael Jackson. Even an image can be branded, such as a logo or cover art.

Sometimes, branding the person’s name is more effective than branding the name of the product. This is especially true for singers, writers, and artists of all kinds. For example, it’s much easier to remember Stephen King than it is to remember the titles of all of his books.

Branding occurs when members of the target audience see or hear the name of the product or person or see the image repeatedly over a period of time.

Companies that have money to invest and products or services for which there is a wide target audience may achieve this, in part, through advertisements on television, radio, magazines, billboards, websites, etc.

Advertisements aren’t always effective for all products. For example, a book at first seems to have a wide possible audience because millions of people read. However, there are twenty million books to choose from; even in a specific genre, there are thousands of competitors. Compare this to toilet paper: There are a dozen or so brands of toilet paper in a store, not millions to choose from. Compared to artistic works like books, products like toilet paper have a much large target audience and much less competition.

Fortunately, advertising isn’t the only way to brand a name or image. There are many ways to market a name, product, or image through branding. The goal is to have the name, product, or image seen or heard among the target audience.

For artistic goods and services, such as books, cd’s, editing, and cover art design, getting discovered or providing valuable content is often far more effective than self-promotion. The idea of self-promotion is like shouting, “Here I am! Look at me!” Discovery is about getting noticed through personal interaction. For example, a potential customer may discover that a person is a singer or real estate agent when asking, “What do you do for a living?” The self-promotion equivalent is walking into a room and saying, “I just released a new album.” For online interactions, discovery can occur by posting information in an online profile, whereas self-promotion posts this information clearly out in the open.

How the information is conveyed is also important. It should relate to the target audience and make it clear what the product or service is. It should convey this in a way that the target audience will respond positively. Generally, it should generate interest, convey passion, and sound confident, but should not seem boastful.

Providing valuable content geared toward the target audience, especially for free, is another way to get discovered. Sending a press release package to local media can help with this, too. Creating buzz for a newly released product is another common tactic.

Another way for branding to occur is through reviews, such as in magazines or on websites, and word-of-mouth recommendations. Companies sometimes give away free samples or accessories, hold contests, or mail out advance review copies with the hope that some customers who appreciate the product or service will tell their friends and family members.

These are some ways that a product, name, or image can become branded. Branding occurs in various stages. It can take several months for branding efforts to achieve a full effect. First, people in the target audience must be exposed to the branding efforts. This must occur not just once, but on multiple occasions (but not so frequently that it gets tuned out) over an extended period of time. Once they buy the product or service, it may be a while before it is used, and used enough for them to judge the quality. If they are pleased with it, it takes even more time to recommend it to others.

Branding isn’t about achieving instant sales. It’s about the potential for long-term success. Branding requires patience.

Stage 1: Recognition

When people in the target audience see the name or image, they recognize it. People tend to favor products that they have heard of before.

Stage 2: Awareness

People think of the name of the brand when they consider shopping for that product or service. At this stage, people search for the product or service, rather than simply recognizing it in a store or directory.

Stage 3: Backing

People have heard good things about a product or service. This may have come from a recommendation or a review, for example. At this stage, the prospective customer feels some measure of confidence about the purchase decision.

Stage 4: Association

Potential customers associate the brand with a favorable attribute. For example, Wal-Mart is regarded for low prices and Sony is regarded for high quality. At this stage, customers have a particular expectation for a product or service. In some cases, such as high quality, customers may be willing to pay extra for this distinction.

Stage 5: Experience

Customers have used the product or service and they enjoyed it. At this stage, they are likely to invest in the same brand in the future.

Stage 6: Charm

A personal interaction with an artist, agent, or representative, for example, made the customer feel special. The personal touch can go a long way beyond just the product or service.

Publishing Resources

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Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

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