In today’s book marketing world, there are entire industries built around how best to promote your book. But amid all the good advice, one challenge rarely gets addressed, and it’s the most simple and basic of them all.
It’s when another human – perhaps a relative, perhaps a book reviewer, perhaps a conference attendee – looks you in the eye and says: Tell me about your book.
Why should readers listen to you?
Authors often have trouble with this seemingly softball request because there are so many possible answers… and most of them are wrong. When faced with the question, writers ramble, digress, and focus on the wrong aspects mostly because they don't know the difference between describing their book and selling their book.
- Describing conveys “what.” Selling conveys “why.”
- Describing promotes inventory. Selling promotes a point.
- Describing is the table of contents. Selling is the blurb on the cover.
The key and critical difference is that selling your book also positions you as the best resource for solving readers’ problems – and it gives you a level of authority that a simple description can’t. Knowing the difference between describing and selling is one thing, but putting that knowledge into practice is another, so below are five critical recommendations to help you identify, sharpen, and sell the POINT behind your nonfiction book.
1. Know Your Point
To truly champion your book, you need to understand your book’s point, which is different from its topic, category, title, or theme.
Get started by finishing this sentence: “My book argues that…”
Finishing this sentence can help you identify the case you’re trying to make through your book, assuming you have one. And every nonfiction book makes a case:
- “My cookbook argues that homemade vegan food can be delicious.”
- “My biography argues that Gerald Ford is historically relevant.”
- “My business book argues that great managers listen more than they talk.”
- “My social science book argues that, contrary to the stereotype, having millennials in the workforce can have a dramatic positive impact on a company’s bottom line.
These points may seem obvious, but contrast it with this dead end: “My book talks about...”
Then you get statements like:
- “My cookbook talks about chili recipes.” Why?
- “My biography talks about Gerald Ford.” What about him?
- “My business book talks about the value of listening.” Why is it valuable?
- “My social science book talks about the impact of millennials.” What impact?
In other words: So what?
The difference between “argues” and “talks about” is the difference between having a point and being pointless.
2. Stick To Your Point - Don't Take Off-Ramps
Once authors know their point, it’s important that they stick to it and keep supporting it. However, many focus instead on what the book is not, on the book’s less relevant aspects, or on the problem instead of the solution.
Imagine, for example, a book arguing that better-funded public schools will produce stronger citizens and leaders. This is a solid point. As a listener or reader, you want to hear more.
But instead of making this powerful point, the author talks about the current political climate, the dilapidated state of public school buildings, and the nature of public school students.
Sometimes, as part of a pitch, you need to establish the scope of a problem first. That’s important, but your true point is not the awful situation, it’s the amazing solution that only you have. Don’t dwell on the problem; establish it quickly and move swiftly to your real point—how you propose overcoming it—and continually reinforce that point with data, stories, case studies, and analysis.
Remember: You don’t sell a vacuum cleaner by describing the brushes, nozzles, or the dust; you sell its ability to suck dirt. That’s the point of a vacuum cleaner.
3. Convey the WIIFM (What's In It For Me?)
Readers want positive value from nonfiction. They want to be enlightened, inspired, or empowered. The job of delivering that experience is not on them, it’s on you. So make that benefit very clear as part of your point or immediately following your point:
“My book argues that millennials are being mischaracterized to the detriment of American business. I believe that understanding what millennials truly contribute can help a company engage new consumers and increase their impact.”
Set up the problem and reinforce the WIIFM with immediately offering the solution – this way, you’ve cut the excess and communicate clearly and with authority, rather than rambling without a point.
4. Convey the WIWI (Why I Wrote It)
The strength of your point increases dramatically if it seems powered by your own personal passion. Understand what internal forces inspired you to write it: an interest you’ve had for decades, a pivotal experience in your personal history, a deep connection to your expertise or research. Then, explain why the point is of great personal interest to you, making you the best person to sell it.
“My book argues that millennials contribute to organizations in unique and effective ways, helping them tap into new audiences and have a greater impact. The topic really fascinates me because my own children—millennials themselves—forced me to see the truth behind the stereotype.”
Building on the WIIFM, with the authority of problem-solving, WIWI adds a layer of experience that positions you as the best candidate to provide the solutions for which readers are looking.
5. Know Your First Line and Last Word
Even with all of this understood, you can still sabotage your goal with a weak start or finish.
- Weak start: “So, um, my book is about how we think. It’s about the brain, but also about how we communicate. There’s research and case studies. It’s called ‘Heads Up’ because that’s where we think, right? In our heads.”
- Weak finish: "So… that’s what it’s about.”
These are weak starts and finishes because they give little valuable information at the beginning and reinforce nothing at the end. Considering that the beginning and end are where audiences are most likely to pay attention, this is a severe handicap.
The first line should put forth your point concisely, and the last line should reinforce it. If you practice these bookends ahead of time and express them clearly and concisely, you’re much more likely to close the sale.
In using these exercises and strategies to sell your book, you’re setting yourself apart from what might be a crowded shelf and getting straight to the point: why and how your book is the best resource for your readers. And after all, that is the point, isn’t it?
Joel Schwartzberg is the Senior Director of Strategic and Executive Communications for the ASPCA . A former national champion public speaker, Joel has been training corporate and individual clients to communicate more effectively since 2006. He is the author of Get to the Point! Sharpen Your Ideas and Make Your Words Matter