Forget Promotion! Think like a Reader by Kathy Meis

Author Kathy Meis
Author Kathy Meis

Be honest, book promotion is a thorn in your side. You know you have to do it, but you’d much rather be writing your next book. It’s time consuming, often expensive, and can give you that uncomfortable “I’m selling” feeling. Promoting online reduces the time and expense somewhat, but still requires creation of an ongoing stream of content (blogs, interviews, reviews). You’re compelled to build snazzy websites and attract fans and followers through regular social media engagement. It’s exhausting.

Efficient, effective promotion is key. Creating this type of promotion, however, means taking off your author’s hat and thinking like a reader. The minute you do this, the burden of book promotion melts away and you start contemplating book discovery. Browsing, sampling, exploring – the kind of experience bookstores create so well. I’m a big believer in the power of blogs, but consider this: the primary content readers encounter at a bookstore is books. They can randomly sample any page and easily peruse a book’s cover art, summary, author bio, introduction, acknowledgements and endorsements. They’re all built into the book.

Also noteworthy is the fact that aside from occasional events, the main social interaction at a bookstore is between the reader and the book. It’s a quiet, rich, powerful happening, a pleasant escape from a world crowded with all kinds of unsolicited information. And speaking of solicitation, have you ever encountered a pushy salesperson in a bookstore? Didn’t think so. Recommendations and assistance are freely offered, but you never hear a sales pitch. It may seem counterintuitive, but bookstores sell millions and millions of books each year because of what they don’t do.

So compelling is the unstructured, unhurried ambience of a bookstore that even in the digital age, many consumers still get in their cars, drive to a bookstore and browse before purchasing online. According to a study cited in a January 3 Huffington Post article, 39 percent of customers buying from said they had looked at the same book in a brick and mortar store before making their purchase online. That’s a huge percentage! Why would so many readers subject themselves to such inconvenience? Because, so far, nothing as pleasurable or fruitful as bookstore browsing and discovery has evolved in the overcrowded, noisy world of online book promotion.

Here’s how authors can start to change this:

• Stop promoting. Instead, assist in the discovery of your work. Create plenty of opportunities for connection, and then let readers explore freely.

• Lighten your promotional content load by repurposing your best writing…the content of your book. Share excerpts and samples as often as possible across multiple channels. In bookstores, remember, book content is what sells books.

• Pair each excerpt with the same subtle but powerful branding elements included in physical books (as mentioned earlier, this includes cover art, your photo, etc.). Think about introducing each excerpt with the kind of unique insights only an author can provide.

• Provide multiple ways for readers to take action should your work resonate. Make it simple for readers to share an excerpt, subscribe to your blog, comment upon a review or recommend, like or buy your book. Even though bookstores don’t hard sell, they offer plenty of ways for readers to make a purchase.

All of the above are tried and true practices for selling books. They subconsciously encourage readers to explore. They provide the type of instant social proof that readers crave. Ultimately, they help readers formulate opinions about whether to buy a book, especially by an author they haven’t read — all without a sales pitch.

So that’s my philosophy on book promotion. It’s also the reason I created Pappus, a revolutionary new eTool designed to lighten authors’ promotional loads by enabling them to create beautiful microblogs around eBook excerpts in seconds. I invite you to take a quick tour at  If you think Pappus could help you facilitate discovery of your work, you can learn more at our website. We’re in beta and would love your feedback. You can also visit our new blog there. It’s devoted to helping authors facilitate discovery of their work.

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Kathy Meis (@katmeis) is an award-winning writer, editor, reader and founder of Serendipite Studios, a publishing technology company located in Charleston, South Carolina. We create artisan-quality eTools to help authors, publicists and publishers. All our eTools provide a revolutionary user experience and aim to boost compensation for those who create and enhance quality journalism and literary content.  [subscribe2]


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26 thoughts on “Forget Promotion! Think like a Reader by Kathy Meis”

  1. Thank you for reinforcing focus on the reader, Kathy. I always try to concentrate on the interactivity between the writer and the reader, and am always gratified to discover what readers bring to this two-way process.

  2. Excellent suggestions, Kathy.

    Boyd Lemon-Author of “Eat, Walk, Write: An American Senior’s Year of Adventure in Paris and Tuscany,” and "Digging Deep: A Writer Uncovers His Marriages," the author’s journey to understand his role in the destruction of his three marriages. Information and excerpts:

  3. Kathy, this is great stuff. It makes me feel so much better about my subtle approach to promotion. I've been wondering how I could make my websites more "reader friendly" and now I know. Thanks for sharing this insight!

    1. Thank you. I am so glad to hear that the information in the post was useful to you. Truth is, authors can promote for the quick sale or they can follow the more subtle approach that you practice. Though it takes patience and persistence, the latter will lead to a much more loyal readership. They will support you throughout your career and advocate for your work. Putting the emphasis on book discovery also makes promotion a much more enjoyable and fulfilling experience for both writers and readers. In other words, keep up the good work!

  4. Good perspective. I'm in the process now of revising and positioning short stories set in the reality of my fantasy novel. I'll use them to draw readers to the larger work.

  5. Thanks, Kathy. Promoting is the tough part for so many of us. And the "soft sell" as Kat says above is one of the keys. I've become a student of what others do to promote their work, and some really know how to do this without shoving it down the readers' throat. My primary method of choosing a book is through recommendation, but I do love to browse in a book store! Great suggestions!

    1. Thank you Lois. You are so right. In the entire history of book promotion, there has never been anything to rival the effectiveness of word of mouth recommendations. The nice thing about social media is that today hundreds of people can now watch these recommendation occur in real time. And, hopefully, see a grateful writer respond. All the more reason to build solid relationships between writers and readers rather than push for a quick sale.

  6. Hmmm…I've got some thinking to do. (Damn it). Thank you for this insightful and compelling piece. You make a lot of excellent points. Much appreciated.

    1. Thank your for your kind assessment JD. There's an overload of promotion advice out there for writers. It can definitely make your head spin. I think every writer has to learn promotion by doing it and then find their own style – a bit like writing, hey? The key is to do it from an authentic place that respects the reader's experience with you not only as an author but as an author promoting his or her work. When people connect with you as someone who is simply facilitating discovery rather than "selling" books, richer connections will evolve. Readers can be incredible advocates for books and authors they like.

  7. Good insight. I feel uncomfortable with the hard sell, but sharing ideas on good science fiction books at with my book cover in the banners is fun to do. Hopefully readers will be curious and try one out.

    To paraphrase a good sales idea:, I like to buy good books, but I resist "being sold".

    1. Exactly Sheron! Who doesn't resist "being sold." Yet, we all love the opportunity to explore. I always suggest that writers remember the three Cs — connection, comfort and contingency. Give readers plenty of opportunities to connect with you via multiple channels, make them comfortable once they connect by putting them in charge of the discovery process (bookstore model here), and finally have a contingency plan should something resonate with a reader. That means you make it simple for readers to act upon what they encounter while they are exploring. They might want to buy, share, review, subscribe to your blog, sample. Give them as many opportunities to act on their own accord as possible.

  8. As I become more and more exhausted doing "everything", just in case I give up something that might be working (we're never sure what does!), this is a sharp elbow in the ribs demanding rationalization.

    Thank you – the psychology of the reader, and of book purchasing, is something I must take on board. This was very very timely, Kathy.

    1. Thank you Rosanne. Being an Indie writer is exhausting. It is an entrepreneurial undertaking of epic proportions. That's why you want tools and practices that will make your promotional efforts effective and a community of supporters to help lighten the load and encourage you. The benefit of all your hard work and persistence is that you get to shape your own career and success. In essence, you get to define your life as a writer. It is a risky, uncharted journey. It is a roller coaster ride. But in the end, would you have it any other way? As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." That's the life of an Indie writer, and I for one applaud you all.

  9. I found Pappus to be an innovative way of reaching out to readers. I believe you have great insights. Thank you for sharing and introducing it. Best of success to you.

  10. Thanks Kathy for great insights on highlighting our books through art, content and message. I encourage readers when they visit my website to read free excerpts, weekly installments on my facebook page, and who knows, perhaps offer the whole book through those installments. Right now my book is part of Amazon Prime downloaded for free for the next three months. Understandably, it's a Trilogy. There are more books in the wings. Once the readers sample the first chapters or the entire book, I know they'll come back for more. I don't recommend that this may work for everyone, but for me it's a marketing approach. I'm in this ride first for the pleasure of writing and producing books, and if they pay well then it's the icing on the cake.

    1. Amazon definitely understands the power of sampling when it comes to books. It sounds like you have a solid grasp of the lure of the excerpt as well. In an increasingly crowded book market, the trick is to draw readers toward these samples. That requires sending out a constant stream of links across various channels. It is a truly a numbers game. As long as the introduction to those links is creative and not pushy, readers will explore. Best us luck with Amazon Prime. I hope you'll keep this community abreast of your experience there as it is an intriguing new economic model for writers.

  11. Great post. Very informative comments as well. A lot of valuable info to be taken from here. Thank you Kathy.

  12. Kathy, you provided a head-slap moment for me … it hasn't lessened my angst about marketing my books (I hate it … no hate isn't is strong enough word … loath … no … revile … no … despise … no … abhor … well, getting closer), but you helped me rethink my approach.

    1. Thanks Christopher. And sorry about the head slap 🙂 I promise you, if your focus your promotion techniques on helping readers discover your work, it will take some of the sting out of promotion. Best of luck!

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