Marketing 101:

Why People Buy, and Why Independent Authors Should Care


Independent Authors invest a great deal of time, emotions, and (let’s be honest) money into their independently published books.  Too often, however, authors fail to reach their target audience and therefore don’t achieve the sales goals they had hoped they would.  Much of this is because authors have difficultly differentiating between their own personal investment in the book and the desires of the buying public.  Many authors delude themselves into thinking that if people would “just give me a chance” or “not be prejudiced” against independent authors then they would sell more books.  Some blame “elitists” for “not being supportive” of independent authors. 

But this attitude is counter-productive and does not take the realities of the publishing world into account.  With literally millions of reading options available to customers, how can every author expect customers to give all of them “a chance?” 

Yet customers will give you a chance, if you can get their attention.  However getting their attention doesn’t mean holding up a giant neon sign saying “ME ME ME!”  Rather, it means tapping them on the shoulder and saying, “Hey, I have something YOU will want to see.”

Remember, there is a difference between asking someone’s opinion of your writing and asking them to part with their money for the privilege to read it.  Readers do not have a moral obligation to buy your book, regardless of how much you personally love your own writing.  Your job as an author is of course to tell a great story.  But your job as a publisher is to convince readers that it is a story they want to pay for.  And to do that, you need to understand the triggers that get people to buy in the first place.

Being a writer does not automatically make you proficient at marketing.  The good news is, you can become proficient once you understand the motivations of your potential customers.  Understanding what motivates a person to buy will help you focus your marketing and connect with potential readers.  Even if your goal is not to make sales but “just to be read,” understanding what it takes to get someone to open your book in the first place can increase your readership substantially.



Primary Factors

Need:  It sounds obvious, but people buy things that they need.  As a writer, your immediate response might be, “well, people don’t need to read, so this doesn’t apply.”  You would be wrong.  Need is a funny thing, because need is relative. 


Immediate Need:  You are driving along and notice that the car is almost on empty.  You need gas, and you need it now.  At times like this, folks are inclined to pull into the first gas station they can find, regardless of brand and price. 


Long-Term Need:  Your car has gone from getting 30 mpg to 25 mpg, and it seems like every other week you need to make a repair.  While not an immediate need, replacing the car becomes a long-term need.  With a long-term need, potential customers begin to research their options. 


Perceived Need:  Perceived needs are really wants.  The car needs to be replaced, but the customer wants the new car to have a CD player and side impact air bags.  Even though the car being replaced didn’t have these features, the customer has a perceived need in terms of what the new car should have.


Unrecognized Need:  You’ve narrowed down the type of car you want.  When you get to the dealership, the salesman shows you a special sensor option that will alert you to obstacles behind you when backing up.  Though you’ve never thought about it, you realize there are a lot of kids in your neighborhood and maybe you do need to make sure you don’t back into one. 


What does this have to do with books?  Your job as a publisher is to identify potential needs and use them to reach your customers. 




Jane and John Doe have launched their own independent publishing company Doe Publishing, to market their own books.  Jane has released a book of inspirational poetry, while John has released a book on home improvements.  Both books are released in April.  How can they create a “need” among potential readers?

Jane decided to use the Mother’s Day holiday as her “need.” 


“This Mother’s Day, why settle for flowers when you can give mom something as inspirational as she is?”


To the potential customer, the “need” is that he or she needs to get a gift for mom.  The promo line works at different levels of need.  Jane isn’t just reminding readers that Mother’s Day is around the corner, but she also creates a perceived need that it would be a good idea to do something non-traditional this year for mom.

John looks a little further ahead to the coming summer to build his “need.”


“Summer is around the corner.  Is your air conditioner ready?  Find out on page 67.”


John targets the long-term need of the customer to make sure that their air conditioning unit is ready for summer’s high temperatures.  The promotional line implies that the book can help the reader meet their long-term need.


Want:  People buy things they don’t need all the time.  But the question is, why?  Wants fall into two categories, proactive and reactive.


Proactive:  Proactive wants are those things directly associated with the customer’s happiness.  We seek out things that we enjoy or bring us personal satisfaction.  Most fiction fills the proactive desires of the reader.  The reader enjoys a certain genre or style of writing, and they seek it out.  Proactive wants are internally motivated based on individual tastes and desires. 


Reactive:  Reactive wants are those things indirectly associated with the customer’s happiness.  Often, reactive wants are externally motivated.  Everyone else is reading X, therefore I should be reading X.  Reactive desires are often associated with a feeling of belonging or prestige.  When a customer seeks to meet a reactive want, he or she is often trying to fulfill what they see as a shortcoming.  Self-help books are often reactive purchases.  People that are happy with their weight don’t buy diet books, after all. 

      So how do these two types of wants come into play?  Let’s think about how larger companies use these two types of wants in their marketing.  WalMart’s slogan, “Save Money.  Live Better” is a perfect example.  It plays to both types of wants.

      Save Money is a proactive want.  Everyone wants to save money.  Even people who have a lot of money like to save money.  But look at the second part.  Live Better.  This is a reactive want pitch.  The implication is that you aren’t living as well as you could be, but that WalMart can help you to achieve that goal.

      But how does this relate to books?  You can use both types of wants to craft marketing material for your book. 




After the success of their first books, Jane and John decide it might be fun (and profitable) to put together a cookbook.  Both enjoy cooking, so they put together their favorite gourmet recipes, but slightly altered to be prepared on a budget. 


Don’t let the recession stop you from enjoying delicious meals!  Turn your kitchen into a gourmet restaurant with this collection of thirty recipes that taste expensive, but aren’t.


The ad targets proactive customers.  People that enjoy cooking and experimenting with new recipes, but also have concerns about the economy.


Just because your food budget is tight doesn’t mean your holiday guests need to think you are.


The promotional line sends a clear message to reactive buyers that might be concerned about how their holiday guests perceive them.  For people concerned about “Keeping up with the Jones’s,” this type of advertising can be a powerful message.


Secondary Factors


Affordability:  If you are targeting a customer base with no income, creating all the need and desire in the world won’t make any sales.  While it sounds simple, authors often overlook the affordability factor.  Because affordability doesn’t just mean whether or not a customer has cash on hand to buy something.  Affordability includes perceived affordability as well as actual affordability.

      Perceived affordability is how easily the consumer can see themselves buying an item.  It’s not just what they CAN spend, but what they can envision themselves being willing to spend. 

      Consider, for example, where you direct your customers in your marketing.  If you are using a service such as or, your immediate desire may be to direct the customers to your personal storefront so they can buy direct from the printer.  After all, your profit per book would be higher if people bought directly from your storefront than if they bought from Amazon, right?

      But while this might increase your profit per book, it can lower overall revenue.  Why?  Because of the perceived affordability of your book.  Suppose your book sells for $13.99 from your storefront.  Many print-on-demand services have high shipping costs.  Your potential customer may end up with a shipping cost of $4-$6 on a $13.99 book.  The customer balks, because of the perceived unaffordability of the book when the shipping fees are included.

      A Customer directed to or a similar vendor will often find much lower shipping prices, and often free shipping.  The perceived affordability of the book goes up, encouraging the customer to purchase.

      Anything that can affect the final price of your book should be taken into consideration when looking at your distribution options.  While shipping costs may not be a deal breaker in and of themselves, combined with problems with Convenience (to be discussed momentarily) it can cost you sales.

      Sales, coupons, and discounts are all ways of creating the perception of affordability.  Anything that leads a customer to think she is getting a deal increases the affordability factor of your work. 




Doe Publishing has set up its own website, and is selling copies of their books online using Paypal.  They want to entice buyers to buy directly from them in order to increase their profits.  They are handling all of the shipping themselves for now, and can’t afford to offer free shipping.

Jane decides that they will provide each customer with a free bonus PDF.  The free bonus PDF, while costing little more than Jane’s time to prepare, adds to the perceived affordability of buying the book directly from the site, because the customer is getting additional recipes for free.


Order your copy of Gourmet Cooking on a Budget today, and start cooking tonight! When you order your copy of Gourmet Cooking on a Budget, we’ll send you a free bonus PDF with three free recipes that don’t appear in the book!  You can download the PDF and use these wonderful recipes immediately.


Convenience:  It’s the dirty little secret of marketing.  Customers are lazy.  Customers are easily distracted by the thousands of messages they are inundated with, and if they have to jump through hoops to buy your product they may give up and turn their attention elsewhere.   By the same token, if you make it easy for them to buy, customers will often buy items they would not normally even consider.  Companies spend millions of dollars on in store marketing displays and point-of-purchase advertising to make it as easy as possible for a customer to see, touch, and buy their products.

      On the internet, many sites have moved to make the shopping experience as quick and easy as possible.  “One-click” shopping, in which customers can store their address, shipping, and payment preferences, is found on almost all of the major retail sites.  Offering more options to make things easy for the customer increases the chance of a sale.

      As an independent author, you need to keep convenience under consideration.  Sure, you would prefer customers mail you a check or money order to buy your book so you can avoid Paypal or credit card fees, but how many sales will you lose if you refuse to take Paypal and expect customers to write you a check, mail it to you manually, and then sit around waiting for their order? 

      The more options you offer your customers, the better the chance they will make a purchase.  


Emotional Investment:  Engaging potential customers on a personal level encourages them to buy from you.  People like to do business with people they like.  The reason companies like Avon, Mary Kay, and Tupperware thrive regardless of the economy is that they have mastered the art of encouraging the emotional investment by the customer.  Tupperware parties encourage a personal connection between the customer and the seller.  And once that connection is created, it becomes very easy to get a customer to open his or her wallet.

      Building that emotional investment is crucial to independent authors.  Once a customer becomes emotionally invested in a product, they are not only more likely to buy it, but to encourage others to do the same.

      The key to building an emotional investment, however, is to focus on the customer.  Social networking sites, forums, and even community events are great ways to build an emotional investment.  However, the critical mistake many self-publishing authors make in their social networking is to focus on themselves and dismiss the emotional needs of their readers. 




Jane and John join a social networking site to promote their company.  Most of their initial posts talk about their new books.  While they generate some interest, the site doesn’t seem to be drawing a lot of traffic to their company.

After getting more comfortable with the site, Jane posts an article on what its like to run a business with her husband, and asks other readers to chime in with their stories.  The article gets a lot of attention as other members jump in to the conversation about their family-run businesses.  The attention converts to hits to Doe Publishing’s website as readers want to look for more information.

Often referred to as “soft selling,” the indirect approach makes people more emotionally invested in what you are doing.  The more a potential customer interacts with you, the more likely they are to buy. 

Some ways to build an emotional investment:


Cause-Based Marketing: Have a favorite charity?  Why not support it?  Many charities have forums or social arms that allow for both direct and virtual networking.  Not only will you feel better by helping a cause you believe in, you’ll make others feel good about doing business with you.  People tend to want to support those that support things that are important to them. 


Newsletter:  Build a mailing list, and create a regular newsletter.  The newsletter shouldn’t be merely ad copy (though obviously you should include some).  Make sure to give the readers a reason to want to get the newsletter.  If you publish do-it-yourself manuals, each issue could include free advice on various household repairs.  If you publish fiction, each issue could include book reviews of other books you have read or even reprints of classic public domain stories. 


Reader-provided web content:  Allowing your readers to be involved in your site is a great way to build their investment in your work.  Dedicate a portion of your website for your readers.  If you write children’s books, maybe you invite readers to submit illustrations drawn by their children to post on the site.  If you write cookbooks, ask for reader recipes.  Provide a forum for readers to interact with each other if possible. 


Social Networking:  While it is impractical to try to have a meaningful presence of every social networking site, select one or two and become an active member.  That means not only talking about yourself, but showing interest in others as well.


Value:  Lastly, people buy items in which they see an inherent value.  That value may be a practical value, such as buying an item that will help save money.  Or it might be an intrinsic value, such as buying a collector’s edition of a beloved classic.  Building value in your work increases the chances of someone spending money on it.

      For independent authors, much of the work in building value comes during the production of the book.  Is the cover attractive?  Is the format consistent with the reader’s expectations?  A shoddy cover or sloppy formatting decreases the value of your book.  If your book looks like it was thrown together in a hurry, the reader will feel you placed no value in it.  And if you as the author don’t value your work, why should the reader?

      Pricing also is an issue.  If you price your book too high, then you risk losing the affordability factor.  However, you can also price your work too low and in the process devalue it.  Keep in mind the norms of the genre when pricing your book.  You are not selling a commodity like rice or oil.  You are selling a unique vision.  You don’t benefit by undercutting the competition. 

      Do the research and look at the pricing norms of your industry.  While fiction paperbacks generally fall under $20, technical manuals can commonly sell for over $60.  If the norm for your industry is $60, you don’t benefit by selling your book for $30.  In fact, you can hurt sales by positioning your book as “cut-rate” and therefore devalue it.

      Testimonials and book reviews can also build value in your book.  But the perceived quality of the testimonial or review is much more important than the quantity.  For example, which testimonial would hold more value to you if you were in the market for a cookbook?


I love this cookbook!  I use it all the time and the recipes are tasty!  Everyone should buy this book!

      Kathy C., Dallas, TX.




The recipes in this cookbook will bring out the gourmet chef in even the casual cook.  Prepare delicious meals for a fraction of the cost of dining out.  I hope this doesn’t cut into my business!

      Kathleen Cardelli, owner of Cardelli’s Restaurant, Dallas, TX.


The first testimonial is an anonymous quote.  As a reader, you don’t know if this is a professional reviewer, a casual food buff, or a friend of the author!  The second testimonial is crystal clear in its source, and does more to build the inherent value of the book. 

Sometimes in a misguided effort to just generate as many reviews as possible, authors solicit reviews from sources that either have no real value or that might bring down the value of your work depending on your target audience.


Consider the following review:


This is a really good book if you like good stories with great characters you will love this book just like I did.  The plot will keep you guessing non-stop and you will be surprised by the ending because it is a complete surprise.  I couldn’t put this book down and you won’t either!

Leah Paynes, Payne’s Reviews.


      If I told you this was a review for a young adult mass market title, would this review add value to the book?  Among the target audience, most likely.  If I told you this was a review for a literary historical novel, would this review add value to the book?  Among a literary target market, definitely not.  The expectations of value between the two audiences are different, and therefore while the review can increase the value of one type of book, it can actually decrease the value of other.

      Another means of building value is success, or rather, the perception of success.  When you see a book promotion that says ONE MILLION COPIES IN PRINT!, why do you think that declaration would be important?  The inference is that the book is successful, and therefore has greater inherent value.

      Creating value in this manner takes a long-term effort and requires the author to really focus on his or her credentials.  In some ways, the author must present herself as an “expert” in her field.  Writing articles for local newspapers and magazines, making appearances at book fairs and conventions (and announcing them on your site), celebrating even small victories (regional awards, nominations, etc) builds up the overall value of your work. 

      Creating the perception of success also involves taking into account your own language.  Are you a self-publishing author that was rejected by traditional publishers for years and decided to do it yourself?  Or are you an independent author with years of writing experience that launched his or her own company?  Both statements may be technically true, but the first statement creates the impression of a no-talent hack.  The second statement, however, creates the perception of success.


Pulling It All Together


Now it’s time to take this information and put it to use for your book.  The purpose of this exercise is to force you to look at your own book in the same way a potential customer would.  Grab a notebook and start to answer these questions.


Step One:  Go to a local bookstore.  Find ten books that match your genre or field.  Answer the following questions about each book.


*What is the book’s price? 

*What message does the cover art convey?

*Read the cover blurbs and cover text.  How do the blurbs help build value in the book?

*Flip through the book.  How does the formatting compare to your book?  Consider the spacing, margins, and use of white space.  Is the font easy to read?  Make notes of the norms of the format compared to other books.


Step Two:  Go online and look up information on the ten books you selected.  Answer the following questions about each book.


*Does the author or publisher have an online presence for the book?

*How does the author or publisher build the reader’s emotional investment in the book?

*How does the author or publisher use reviews, testimonials, awards, and achievements to build value in the book?

*After researching the book, does the book have more or less inherent value to you?  Why do you think this is so?

*Does the marketing of the book direct itself toward proactive or reactive wants?  Does it make you more or less likely to buy?


Step Three:  Visit the websites of three independent authors.


*What is your initial impression of the author’s talent?  How successful do you think the author is?

*How does the author build the reader’s emotional investment in the book?

*How does the author use reviews, testimonials, awards, and achievements to build value in the book?

*After researching the author, does the author’s book have more or less inherent value to you?  Why do you think this is so?

*Does the marketing of the book direct itself toward proactive or reactive wants?  Does it make you more or less likely to buy?


Step Four:  Look at your own book.


*Is your pricing comparable to other books in your genre or field?

*Does your book present an appearance that is comparable to other books in your genre or field?

*How can you create a need for your book?  Think about holiday or seasonal tie-ins, news events, or an actual need your book can help a reader with.

* Why would someone want your book? 

*What can you do to cultivate a potential customer’s emotional investment in you book?

*What can you do to build more value into your book?


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Marketing 101: Why People Buy, and Why Independent Authors Should Care by Julie Ann Dawson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.



About the Author:

Julie Ann Dawson earned a degree in English, Liberal Arts from Rowan University in 1993.  While there, she also studied marketing, public relations, and sociology.  Upon graduation, she worked as a Public Relations Assistant for the City of Bridgeton’s Department of Recreation and Public Affairs, writing press releases, creating marketing literature, and assisting with organizing special events.  She honed her sales and marketing skills while working for a South Jersey Kirby vacuum distributor, first as a sales representative and then as a team leader and finally as a recruiter.  While with Kirby, her sales efforts won five paid vacations, including trips to Hawaii and Montreal. 

Her work has appeared in a variety of print and digital media, including such diverse publications as the New Jersey Review of Literature, Lucidity, Black Bough, Poetry Magazine, Gareth Blackmore’s Unusual Tales, Demonground, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and others.  In 2002 she started her own publishing company, Bards and Sages.  The company has gone from having two titles to over one hundred titles between their print and digital products.