Marketing or Selling: What’s the difference and why do I like to do one and not the other?

To sell: “to influence or induce to make a purchase”

To market: “to expose for sale in a market.”

People commenting on the new trends in publishing frequently say that for self-published authors to be successful they need to be entrepreneurs. In fact they often say any author who wants to be successful needs to participate fully in the selling of their own books. I heard stories for years from my traditionally published friends about going to conventions to network with book sellers, arranging book tours, book signings, and speaking engagements at local libraries, and how much they dreaded this aspect of being a published author. Author Forums and groups like Murder Must Advertise are still dominated by similar discussions of the ins and outs of selling books, including these traditional methods. As I prepared my historical mystery, Maids of Misfortune, for publication, I found myself dreading having to actually sell it. When, miracles of miracles, I found that marketing my book on the internet was much less painful than I feared. What I also discovered was how difficult I find it to “sell” my book or “my self” through the traditional routes.

I have only approached two local books stores, asking them to sell my book on consignment, and while they both said yes, I haven’t followed up with other books stores in town, nor have I even used those two venues to schedule book signings, or ask if I should restock when the books I left were sold. I haven’t approached any libraries, and except for a talk I gave on self-publishing in general at the college where I taught, I haven’t scheduled any public appearances. I did go to the Bouchercon, and talked to two booksellers, but haven’t followed up on those two contacts. Yet every day I get on my computer, and read and comment on different blogs, forums, reader sites, and Kindle boards. I blog about once or twice a month, and I constantly work on different strategies to make my book visible to the reading public. So, the question I have asked myself is: why is it so difficult for me to sell my book through traditional means, but so easy to “market” on the internet?

I think that the answer to that question lies in the difference between the two definitions above. When I ask a bookstore owner to carry my book, or think about scheduling a book signing, or write to a library asking them to carry my book, I feel like I am trying to persuade them to sell my book. I feel that if I gave a talk, or book signing, I would be saying “Buy my Book,” thereby making them feel uncomfortable if they don’t want to do that. And I have felt uncomfortable with the idea of persuading or influencing someone to buy something that they don’t want to buy since I was a child selling girl scout cookies. Not because I think selling is bad, or sales people are bad, but because I personally feel uncomfortable doing it.

When I went to the Bouchercon, I felt like I had fallen through a time warp thirty years to when I was a graduate student going to history conventions, where I was supposed to sell myself to senior historians. You were supposed to court them, strike up conversations where you could flatter them about their work, thereby giving you the opportunity to mention your own work, in other words, “sell yourself.” All of this was in the hope that someday in the future, when you submitted an article or book to an institution where they were an editor or a reviewer, or, even better, if they were on a hiring committee for a job for which you were applying, that they would remember you and accept that article, or book, or hire you. I was terrible at this. Thank goodness I had a good friend who was better at it, so I would trail along in her wake, getting introduced to all the big names, but I doubt very much if any of them remembered me for more than a second. At Bouchercon, I had no friend to trail along behind, so I did very little selling of myself, beyond leaving some sell sheets on some tables, and handing out business cards to the few people-usually fans sitting next to me at a talk-who expressed any interest in my own work.

And this isn’t because I am a particularly shy person. I have taught for 30 years, standing up semester after semester in front of hundreds of students, speaking extemporaneously and with ease. I have run academic senate meetings, stood in front of Board of Trustees arguing vehemently to present the faculty’s point of view, and I have been the master of ceremonies at scholarship banquets with hundreds of people present. But in all of these cases, I didn’t feel like I was selling something of mine. I might have been selling an idea, or even trying to get people to fork over money to improve the educational opportunities for students, but it didn’t feel like I was selling myself, or something of mine, and I didn’t feel uncomfortable doing it.

My discomfort isn’t because I am not proud of my book, either, because I am, just as I was proud of my scholarship, or my abilities as a teacher when I did submit work for publication or applied for jobs. But I want readers and booksellers, (as I did editors or hiring committees) to make their own independent judgment on the quality of the work, not on my ability to sell it or myself.

However, when I engage in conversations on the internet, or blog about self-publishing, and mention my book, or have the title of my book as part of my signature, or have a link back to my product page, it feels different. I feel like I am marketing not selling. I am not trying to persuade them to buy my book, I am exposing my book out there to the reading public. I don’t go out and buy books from most of the people whose blogs I read or comment on, unless they happen to have written a book I would normally be interested in, and I assume the same goes for the people who are reading my comments or blogs. If they decide to take a look at my book, I then feel that the cover, and the description, and the reviews, and the excerpt will demonstrate the quality of the book (not me saying-buy this book, trust me it is good,) and I don’t have to worry that they are feeling bad because they decided not to buy it, so I don’t feel uncomfortable.

And, I don’t have to sell myself or the quality of my book to or Smashwords to get them to sell my book. They just do, and again, if I have done my job right, and gotten the book into the right category, and have a good cover, good blurb, good review, and good excerpt, (in other words, if I have marketed it well) the book will sell itself. And that doesn’t make me feel the least bit uncomfortable.

I am not making any judgments here, (in fact I am in awe of people who go out to those conventions, and books stores, and libraries, and book clubs, and book signings—particularly when I know for many of them they are as uncomfortable about doing it as I am.)  And, I am probably making a distinction that won’t hold up to very much scrutiny, but the distinction between selling and marketing, and why I feel like I am doing the latter when I use the internet, does at least explain my own odd behavior. In addition, the fact that whatever I have been doing to market on the internet has actually resulted in over eight thousand sales, doesn’t hurt. But, what I am wondering is, are any of the rest of you out there finding yourselves making a similar distinction or facing a similar reluctance use the traditional methods, while enthusiastically embracing the new methods offered by the internet and ebookstores? Or is this just one of my own idiosyncracies?

5 Replies to “Marketing or Selling: What’s the difference and why do I like to do one and not the other?”

  1. I completely agree with you. Personally I’d be unsuccesful selling a bucket of water to someone who had just walked out of the Gobi Desert (I’d probably give it to them).

    I think the difference is, that to make an effective salesperson you need to pressurise people to make their purchase now, in front of you, before they walk away, because you are only one person and can only see so many people.

    On a blog, tweet, forum etc, hundreds, thousands or more could see your pitch all at the same time, and probability suggests some will buy; you don’t need to force yourself on them.

    Also putting it into reverse, one might avoid a person who is obviously selling something. But online, one can browse at leisure with no pressure. A salesperson can easily scare people off before they get the chance to browse.

    Finally, the sort of person who would make a good salesperson, is probably not the sort of person who would make a great writer.

    Great blog.

  2. Interesting, as I am taking the somewhat opposite approach, launching my self-published novel of romantic intrigue, Only in the Movies, at our local coffee shop/bookstore/arts venue during our town’s spring art walk. I am currently scheduling talks on self-publishing at area libraries, and am looking forward to the “in-person” marketing and discussion of my book as well as the process of taking it from a raw manuscript to a trade paperback. However, I am not nearly so comfortable with online marketing. Perhaps it is the familiar versus the unfamiliar, though I am having a grand time developing my web site with a wonderfully talented web designer. I do take exception to your fine line distinction that one is selling and one is marketing, and the connotations that accompany each term.
    Perhaps online marketing is more subtle, but an author is still marketing his/her product with the desired end result of selling books.

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