Marketing: Why Did You Buy THAT Book?, by Randy Ingermanson

A big part of marketing is learning to think like your customer.

More than a hundred million books have been published since Gutenberg did that neat trick with movable type.

Out of all those choices, why would any reader choose yours? What would be her motivation? What would be the actual process she follows from the initial state where she knows nothing about you to the final state where she pays for something you wrote?

That is a scary question, and if you let it, this question will paralyze you into never writing another

So let's turn the question around and make it unscary. Take five minutes and think about the last book you bought. Why did you buy it? Why THAT book out of a hundred million others?

This is a fun game that can teach you a lot. I'll play first.

The last time I bought a book was yesterday. A bunch of friends and I were talking online about standing desks. Some of these friends already have one. I've recently ordered one. A standing desk is supposed to be good for your long-term health. People who do a lot of sitting tend to end up dead sooner than those who don't.

One of the friends in the group asked, "Did you guys read DROP DEAD HEALTHY?"

I'd never heard of this book. She explained that it's a hilarious book by a guy who decided to spend one year trying to do all those things they say we're supposed to do to get healthy. He wanted to become the healthiest person on the planet. This is the same guy who wrote a humorous book called THE YEAR OF LIVING BIBLICALLY, which I'd heard rave reviews about.

It sounded like an interesting book, so I popped onto Amazon, read the product description, and clicked the Buy button. It all took about two minutes. The main driver was a product recommendation from a friend. I'm reading the book today. It's good so far.

What do we learn from the above? If anything, it's the power of word of mouth. The author of this book did nothing -- nothing active anyway -- to earn my sale. One of his fans did most of the work. Amazon did the rest. The author gets the money, no matter how the sale happened.

OK, that was actually informative, so I'll play again. I have another book on my stack that I'll probably read next. It's titled CITY OF BONES, by Michael Connelly, one of the best writers of police procedurals out there.

I got an email recently, either from Amazon or from BookBub, saying that CITY OF BONES was on sale at a special price. I don't remember the price, but it was lower than normal. I had read several of Connelly's books and found him to be a terrific writer. Police procedural is not my absolute favorite category, but I read it some.

I figured I might as well get it now at a good price, so I clicked through and bought it.

That's the end of the story, but it's worth asking about the beginning. I knew Connelly would be worth reading because I had already read several of his books. But how did that happen originally?

Well, I had first noticed his novel THE LINCOLN LAWYER on the top of the best-seller lists a couple of years ago. Then a friend of mine who writes thrillers mentioned that Connelly is one of the very best writers in his category. So I bought a few of his books and found them to be outstanding.

What do we learn from this? My purchase was a result of a combination of several things:
* Name recognition -- I had seen the author on a best-seller list.
* Word of mouth -- my friend mentioned Connelly was outstanding.
* Experience -- I read a book by him and found that he really is excellent.
* Branding -- Connelly writes in a clearly defined niche, so I know that today's book is going to be
similar to what he's done in the past.
* A sales trigger -- I received an e-mail with notification of a special price for a limited time.

We learned something new with that one, so I'll play one more time. Just last week I finished reading THE INDIGO SPELL by Richelle Mead. It's a young-adult vampire suspense novel. What led me to buy it? Here's what happened.

Last summer I was Skyping with a friend who mentioned that she'd been reading Richelle Mead's VAMPIRE ACADEMY series. She said it was her daughter's favorite series, and her daughter reads a ton of YA fiction. My friend said it was fabulous, so I opened a web browser, went to Amazon, and did a search for the title.

I found it pretty quickly, read the product description, and then clicked on the Look Inside
feature. I read the first chapter and found it extremely engaging. I'm not a huge fan of vampire
fiction, but I had read the TWILIGHT series, and vampires can be fun. VAMPIRE ACADEMY looked like a terrific read, so I clicked the Buy button.

I read the book quickly, loved it, and raced through the other books in the series. Then I started the next series, featuring one of the minor characters who now becomes a major character. That series is incomplete, and after the first two books, I ran out. But I got an e-mail in December from Amazon mentioning that the next book, THE INDIGO SPELL, was due to release in February and if I preordered it, I'd get it the day it released.

So I clicked the link and preordered the book. A couple of months later, exactly at midnight, the book
magically appeared on my iPad. And I started reading it the next day.

Again, there is something to learn from this chain of events. Here's how I bought that book:
* Word of mouth alerted me to the existence of the author and gave me a title.
* A search on Amazon brought the title up.
* The sample chapter and product description made the initial sale.
* Great writing got me to read the sequel.
* Strong branding throughout the series assured me that each book would be "the same but different."
* Good characters pulled me from one series to the next.
* An e-mail from Amazon got me to pull the trigger on the sale two months before the book was actually available.
* Automatic delivery put it at the top of my To Be Read list on the day the book was released.

OK, I've played the game three times and I'm starting to see the common threads. Word of mouth. Sample chapters. Great writing. Clear branding. E-mail notification. Easy electronic distribution.

Those are the things that get a sale from me.

Now what about you? Play the game several times, writing out how and why you bought the last few books you've bought. Then analyze the results.

What are the common elements that trigger a sale to you?

Not all readers are like you, but some of them are. You might want to get some of your friends to play the game. Choose friends similar to your target audience. Look for common elements.

Now here's the point of this game.

What can you learn from this game about how you should be marketing to your target audience? Where should you be putting your marketing effort -- your time, your energy, and your money?


This article is reprinted by permission of the author.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 32,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit

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