Do You Know How to Sell Your Sword?

As an author, it’s important for you to know how to sell and market your book. Because there is no shortage of books and articles on the subject, I’d like to tackle the subject of marketing your book from a more metaphorical approach. (If you’ve ever heard me speak, you should know I’m pretty big on metaphors to help you better understand topics in a different way.) In your case, I feel that it’s not only important to understand how to sell, but also understand a little bit more about a typical sales cycle.

When I was thinking about a metaphor, I was envisioning how authors are a lot like blacksmiths who tire endlessly, crafting and perfecting beautiful swords. So, in this post, I’d like to ask the question: Do you know how to sell your sword?

SwordLet’s say that outside the town of Fantasie, you are a blacksmith who has just created a magic sword. This sword is the only one of its kind and it is (in a word) gorgeous. You know that once the word gets out, everyone will want to buy your sword. After months of negotiating and contracts with the local magistrate, you now find your magic sword is being sold at Ye Olde Sword Shoppe. Unfortunately, the magistrate tells you that in order for you to continue being a blacksmith, you need to sell a certain amount of swords. Unfortunately, this means you’re going to have to help sell your sword to the local townsfolk.

So, the first thing you do is go to Ye Olde Sword Shoppe to talk about your sword. The store is only open from dawn to dusk, so you schedule your talk right around the dinner hour. You post a few notices and pick a certain item on the sword to talk about. Then, when you get into the store, you realize that there’s a lot of darn swords. How are you ever going to be able to sell yours? “It’s magic!” you nervously tell the few people who’ve shown up to hear you talk. “It’s a one-of-a-kind, unbreakable sword!” One of the readers pipes up from the audience and says, “Right, because we haven’t heard that one before!”

Okay, let’s pause for a second. Obviously, I’m talking about author readings and signings. Walking into a bookstore is very, very intimidating because let’s face it: there are an awful lot of other books for readers to buy. (It’s also pretty intimidating to sit next to a best-selling author, believe me.) In order to sell your book, though, you need to give people a reason to buy it. Usually that means that you have to learn how to describe your book in a way that will appeal to a broad audience, but it can also mean connecting with your audience in a personal way. Some authors use humor; others provide readers with the so-called “elevator pitch” like “This sword is Excalibur meets Kusanagi.” In this one-on-one relationship, the seller has more control over cultivating the sale, because they have total control over the environment the customer is in. Additionally, you can physically hand the book to your readers, which is something you can’t do online.

Of course, retail is also a bit more complicated because some companies make the products they sell and some don’t. In this case, the sellers at Ye Olde Sword Shoppe know a thing or two about how to present the swords to their customers and how to discount them in the store. Unless you’re the store owner, you don’t have that level of control, which is why many people are advocating online marketing to boost awareness and increase sales. Let’s get back to Fantasie and see how this might work.

Remember when I told you that in the town of Fantasie the stores were only open from dawn until dusk? Let’s say a plague hit the town and the town magistrate decided to quarantine the townspeople. Now, instead of walking to town, the townspeople can sit at home and browse whatever stores they want to at any time through a magic window (e.g. the internet). Ye Olde Sword Shoppe notices a change in their business, because now they can “see” (via website analytics) when customers “come” to their store, what they’re looking for and how quickly they leave, etc.

The online sales cycle is a very passive one for retailers, because no matter how much any store owner may try — the seller is not in control. The buyer is. At a convention, for example, organizers will help facilitate traffic and flow based on the physical layout of the hall. For any website, a reader can access that store from any page because of something called natural or organic search; not “just” the home page. Now, sales just got a lot more complex. Online, the buyer can also easily leave any website to compare factors like pricing, shipping, availability and reviews with the touch of a button. That level of research takes a lot more time if a buyer has to drive around town.

Because online and offline sales cycles are so different, the same types of marketing efforts that you might do offline don’t necessarily translate well in an online environment. The only way you are going to understand what works and what doesn’t is through patience and testing. This, to me, is the biggest mistake I see most authors making. The natural tendency is to either overcompensate by banging that “buy me” drum all the time, or undercompensate by hoping a reader will “discover” them just by being online. However, online marketing is not “just” about sales: it’s also about getting people to perform a desired action. Without the right web analytics data, it is also very challenging (nigh impossible) to see a one-to-one correlation between your marketing efforts and your book sales. However, there are things you can do to help facilitate those sales. In my next post here on the SFWA blog, I will provide you with a checklist of things you can do for your web presence to ensure that your readers are getting the information that they need.

Do you have some tips or recommended links to share for your fellow authors? Be sure to post them in the comments below. Until next time, ask yourself how you’re going to sell your beautiful sword!

About the Author

Monica ValentinelliMonica Valentinelli is the content and web analytics manager for the digital sheet music retailer and publisher and the project manager for the horror and dark fantasy webzine Monica is an aspiring novelist working on revisions for her first novel; she has several non-fiction, short fiction and game writing credits to her name including her recent guest blog post for about Bram Stoker’s Dracula and The Devil’s Night, which is a Free One-Scene SAS for White Wolf Publishing.

To read more about Monica, visit her blog located at