October 26th, 2015

Love Sells Books

Kathryn Craft
Turning Whine Into Gold

KathrynCraft“Oh man, I love that book!”

Are there any more seductive words for an avid reader? You may be reading on right now just to discover which book I’m talking about.

Never underestimate the power of love.

This is a post about marketing. Set aside your technological age cynicism and its resistance to messages delivered 24/7 to buy, buy, buy. I want to invoke a much older sensibility. The impulse that inspired the first cavewoman to, after adding a few herbs to the game in her kettle, run straight to her neighbor and say, you’ve got to try this!

Why bother, you might ask. It takes a big promotional budget to create a bestseller. Yes, money can work, but so can the long tail of love. For a year after its hardcover release, enthusiasm for Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees spread through book clubs. When the book club-preferred trade paperback released, sales exploded and it hit the New York Times list—where it stayed for two and a half years.

The love you share for your favorite title can, without a doubt, affect book sales.

So. What if that title is your own?

Let’s set aside the upbringing that suggests we are not to toot our own horns. We all know that writing is a magical experience—the characters emerge through the mist, their words shudder through our typing hands, their journeys often surprised us. If we can credit ourselves for anything, it is learning our craft and preparing our minds for the labor ahead. As would, say, a midwife. If you were a midwife, wouldn’t you think it was just fine to share your love of the child you brought into the world?

Might as well face it: Refusal is not an option. With promotional budgets slim, publicists overworked, review pages shrinking and book blogs overwhelmed, the onus is upon the author to spread the word about new releases. Like it or not, we must sell.

Instead of damning ourselves to “selling,” though, why not elevate ourselves to “sharing the love”?

If you have a book in hand, your love for your characters has already brought you so far. It has informed every word you used to present their deep desires and dilemmas in your query, your synopsis, and your manuscript. That love made your premise feel important to the agent that offered representation and the editor who offered to purchase rights.

Why stop there, when it is clear that love can help you sell books?

Now that your book has been published, each in-person event, blog post, and social media micro-post presents a similar chance to shine the spotlight of love on your project. When you hear an impassioned author speak, don’t you want a bit of what they have? Their curiosity, their empathy, their vibrancy? Your readers will want the same from you, and they will intuitively know that they’ll get more of that from your story.

This approach can reinvigorate the dreaded task of online promotion. I’ve written here before about the benefits of online positivity. You will always have haters—miserable cusses who don’t understand that not all books are for all people, who don’t connect to your message, and who wish you would simply disappear. They skulk online, dropping one-star reviews like bombs and then scurrying back into the shadows.

Sometimes, however, such people are book reviewers.

I had an early three-star review for The Far End of Happy that left me scratching my head. By definition that meant she liked the book, but that was a bit of a miracle, since her review said she “hated” all three of my point-of-view characters and the way they reacted to the suicide standoff at the heart of my story.

Months later, when she posted the review on her blog and rather inexplicably tagged me in her tweet, I asked the other authors in my marketing collective not to retweet—fine that she has her opinion, but I saw no benefit in broadcasting it for her.

That’s when the most amazing thing happened.

Feigning innocence, a couple of my colleagues commented on her tweet, saying, “I loved that book too!” Quite a dialogue ensued, in which my advocates specifically stated how much they appreciated my book’s imperfect characters—women like them, who would have no clue how to conduct themselves in a similar emergency. The loving attention they brought to this blogger’s tweet publicly changed her opinion about my title. Soon she was tweeting about how much she, too, loved the book and its characters! Those tweets testified to the transformative power of love.

Reality is, once your book is out in the world, there are factors that affect sales over which we have little control. What if love doesn’t sell enough books? The way I see it you will have arrived at the same place, only your life will have been full of love. I can’t see a downside.

There’s never harm in practicing love. Let’s do it! And maybe your enthusiasm for your work will result in a sale right here, on this blog, today!

In the comments, please share what you especially love about a premise or a certain character, whether in your published novel or work in progress. Don’t forget the title—this is marketing, after all. Let’s spread some love and awareness of our favorite novels—even if they’re our own!

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Kathryn

10685420_966056250089360_8232949837407332697_nArt of FallingKathryn Craft is the author of two novels from Sourcebooks: The Art of Falling, and The Far End of Happy.

Her work as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft, follows a nineteen-year career as a dance critic. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she hosts lakeside writing retreats for women in northern New York State, leads workshops, and speaks often about writing.

Kathryn lives with her husband in Bucks County, PA.

Twitter: @kcraftwriter
FB: KathrynCraftAuthor

42 comments to Love Sells Books

  • My latest love, is Barbara Claypole White’s, Perfect Son. She didn’t take the easy way out, and it so perfectly portrays dysfunctional family dynamics with perfect tone and clarity. The characters hang with me, even now. OH, and it’s $1.99 on Amazon! What’re you waiting for? #Love

  • I loved Eleanor and Claire in Kathleen Irene Paterka’s newest novel, The Other Wife. God knows I wouldn’t want to be in either one of their shoes. Couldn’t put the book down and read it in two days.

  • How about I first start off with I LOVE this post! There is so much truth to what you’ve said here. If I’m talking to someone and they say, just what you said “Oh man, I love that book!” I’m much more inclined to be interested in it. And it’s a great point to ask why not about one’s own book when it comes to marketing?

    Anyway, I’m way ahead of myself since my own title, THE EDUCATION OF DIXIE DUPREE won’t be out until November 2016, but I recently had to get back into Dixie’s world about two months ago as I worked on the revisions. It was like revisiting a favorite family relative I hadn’t see in years, and I fell back in love with her and her voice again.

    Speaking of SECRET LIFE OF BEES, and Sue Monk Kidd, I recently read her THE INVENTION OF WINGS, and that book blew me away – first because the story was so rich and I loved each character’s POV – Sarah Grimke and Hetty (Handful). Second, I had no idea Sarah Grimke and her sister were real! Her research must have been extensive, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading her Author’s Note at the end – which is when I found all that out.

  • Liddie is the protagonist in my WWI-era novel GO AWAY HOME. One thing I really like about her is that she has the strength to change her mind and go in a new direction regardless of what others will think. It’s a characteristic I wish I had 😉

    Recently I read WILD by Cheryl Strayed. While some readers didn’t like the book because they thought Cheryl was incredibly stupid for taking off on a hike like that so unprepared, that was one of the many things I did like. And she stuck with it no matter what, discovering things about the trail, the people she met, and herself as she went.

    Though completely different people in completely different times, Liddie and Cheryl have some things in common. They do what’s right for them and live with the consequences.

    • Carol, I love this approach of comparing one of your beloved characters to one in a best-selling book. And although I haven’t read her book yet, I can relate to your defense of Cheryl—one of the qualities that can make a protagonist compelling is that she is unqualified for the task ahead.

    • Carol, I loved Wild, too. The people who said she was stupid, never tried to run away from their pasts!

  • bettybolte

    Kathryn, your post strikes home for me. Last year I started a local book club to discuss the books we enjoy and those we don’t and why. By far, we’ve found more books to love than not. As far as a premise I love in my own books, I tend to love the book I’m writing vs. ones published mainly because I feel like my storytelling muscles become stronger with each book. In Evelyn’s Promise, book 4 in my A More Perfect Union historical romance series (releasing spring 2016), the underlying question she must answer is what direction does she want to take her life? A widow with an infant in 1783 Charleston, SC, Evelyn must determine the best course for both her and her son. She’s faced with a difficult decision between two diverse paths, and of course a hunk of a man complicates the answer. In all four stories, the women have chosen to not marry, until they meet the man who touches her heart and soul and then they choose to follow their heart. Thanks for asking! I loved The Art of Falling, too!

    • Yes that should be our hope Betty—that we get better as writers, and love our characters and stories more deeply. Wishing you much readership love for EVELYN’S PROMISE! And thanks for the shout-out for THE ART OF FALLING. 🙂

  • I second Laura’s comment about Barbara’s The Perfect Son. I loved Harry and his prickly father. I’ve been recommending that book to a number of people. Also, Kathryn, I’ve been meaning to tell you (since the retreat) how much I LOVED Ronie’s habit of delineating where she ended and the rest of the world began. That image was so powerful for a character who had tried so hard to please for so long. Concept-wise, I’m loving the unique storyline of Scott Wilbanks’ The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster. I had to put it down after the retreat because I’ve been working on revisions, but as soon as my Kindle is charged back up, I’ll be picking it up again and I can’t wait to see how he resolves all these crazy situations he’s creating!

  • I love the elderly McPheron brothers in Kent Haruf’s Plainsong. In fact, I love all Haruf’s characters and admire his skill at making the Great Plains so hauntingly beautiful.
    In my own WIP, I love Queen Jadwiga, disguised as a Polish translator living in Doylestown, PA. She’s unintentionally funny, and I’m having a great time putting words in her mouth. 😉

  • What a beautiful essay, Kathryn. I submitted my final final final proofs to IN ANOTHER LIFE last night and it felt like I was letting go of a hand, of Lea’s hand, that I’ve been holding since I first met her in July 2012. I’m terrified and thrilled to let her go her own way–wanting to see her fly, yet also wanting to protect her from the shock of the “real” world, once the book has been published and belongs to readers.

    But you’ve given me the inspiration and motivation to move forward with her, in love. Not to be shy in expressing my wonder and enthusiasm at the creation of her life and story. I hadn’t thought of it in quite this way before-that this story is an outpouring of love. My love for writing, for these characters. Releasing the novel into the world doesn’t mean I have to let go of that passion- it’s on me to convey it!

    Nothing brings me greater joy than to fall in love with a book, to press it into readers’ hands by way of a review on Goodreads or literally, in a bookstore with a friend, exclaiming, “I LOVE this book!” This year I devoured Elena Ferrante’s “Neapolitan Novels”, with the complex and maddening protagonists Lila and Lena, two women who became a part of my soul, even as I tore out my hair over their choices.

    May we all continue to spread love in all ways, as authors, as readers, as people of compassion and joy.

  • I love a good story with awesome characters, and I love being part of their lives when they’re thrown into a situation that completely turns them upside down – and if it’s time travel, that makes it even better. That’s the premise for my middle-grade novel, “Through the Shimmer of Time,” where Jim is blown away when he gets time-traveled and he has no idea how to get back home before he gets blamed for bad stuff (and of course there is bad stuff).

    The fun thing is that I just started reading an adult time travel with the same situation – “Chameleon in a Mirror” by Ruth Nestvold. A PhD student gets thrown back to the late 1600s where she connects with the subject of her dissertation, figures out it was through a particular mirror, but nothing works to get her back before the mirror gets returned to the museum basement.

    As far as characters, Jim is a look-before-you-leap kind of kid like I was, which is what gets him flung back to the 1830s in the first place, and Hannah is the one afraid to stick her neck out and be different – also like me. It’s great fun to take a piece of ourselves and then twist things around like we couldn’t/wouldn’t do in real life.

    Thanks for the reminder to be love our own work, Kathryn!

    • “It’s great fun to take a piece of ourselves and then twist things around like we couldn’t/wouldn’t do in real life. You do make that sound like fun, Jennifer! And your good attitude about the adult title with a similar premise will only enhance your promotional efforts. Go, Jennifer!

  • I can certainly understand your feeling about that review. When my latest book, Sins of Her Father, was released in September, the first review was less than glowing. The reviewer stated she didn’t read romantic suspense but had been intrigued by the premise of a young woman who discovers she was conceived during a rape seeking to bring her biological father to justice. She criticized the elements of the story that are the essentials of the romantic suspense genre and didn’t love the book.
    At first, I was disappointed, then more reviews came in. Other readers have loved the book and written five-star reviews. So I’m focusing on the positive. i write for the readers who can connect with my story and characters. That group may be large or small, and will vary with every book, but they are the people I love. I don’t expect everyone to rave about the stories I write, and that’s okay. If I can touch the heart and soul of even one reader, then that’s enough love to make my day. The love flows both ways – from writer to reader as well as reader to book.

  • Linda Lee

    Shared, everywhere. Love changes everything!

  • All of my books have a hidden love story in them, if not an overt one. But the love story never just dominates my books. There are several mini storylines in each of my books. Some tragic, but most end up upbeat and positive in some way in the end. I learned from the master story teller, Clive Cussler that in order to make your heroes bigger than life, you must create villains who are extremely evil and hard to beat. Sometimes your villain can be the elements themselves. they do not have to be human. Most of the really great reads have three main characters. A hero, a villain, and a victim to rescue. When you build upon that, you can create a masterpiece. In my last two books, I have created several villains and several heroes to combat the villains.All of my previous books were told in third person narrative. My next book will be different in that it will be told in first person, instead of in the narration style, like my last five. This will be something new to challenge me. My first three are a trilogy about a musician in the 1970s. My fourth one is about an Irish family who end up indentured servants on a plantation in South Georgia during the Civil War. The heroes are mostly ex slaves. The villains are the vilest. And then there’s the ghost. My fifth one picks up where the fourth one left off, and goes from 1866 to 1906. It also has a ghost or two in it. Both of these books deal with the prejudice and peoples’ attitudes during this time. They break the stereo types depicted by many about this era. History has a tendency to only record the evil in people sometimes. My last two books deal with people who stand up to that evil. My first book is “It’s The Bass Player. My second is Toby’s Mixed Blessings. My third, which has a ghost story in it as well, is Dynamite Runs In The Family. My fourth is Shamrocks and Skallywags. My fifth one, which is waiting to be published is Shillelaghs and Scoundrels. I have just started work on my sixth one. Hope my ramblings will help somebody who is writing. Anyways, as the say in Irish, Seo a eachtroichta. (Here’s to adventure) Slainte.

  • And our love for our books need not end once they’ve been published! Sounds like you have a great attitude, Kathleen.

  • I just approved a few more comments for you, Kathryn. 🙂

  • ProfeJMarie (Janet Rundquist)

    This is a great way to approach marketing and support of any book. Sometimes, I rate books high and write a review because I simply loved the characters, even if the story was nothing special. On occasion, a story can strike me even if the characters don’t. I’m thinking about 2 books that I recently put in one of my blog posts that includes “recommended reads” – often I only include books that I specifically rated or reviewed, but this time I included a couple of others (for those who are curious about those 2: Winter Kill by Josh Lanyon and George by Alex Gino). Word of mouth and “I loved that one” is definitely what sells a book for me.

  • Kathryn great post. I try not to post a review if I don’t like a book. I will just politely delete it from my Kindle. Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m that way with everything. If I hear several people saying how great it was then it’s going to intrigue me..

  • Thanks of the great insights, Kathryn. I thought my WIP was going to be impossible. I was wrong. As was pointed out earlier, love changes everything and love conquers all. I’ve never felt comfortable writing first person. I’m a guy who writes romances, so I can jump into a female character’s head and inhabit it pretty easily for a scene or a chapter. But an entire novella?

    However, when I truly and deeply and completely fell in love the heroine in BLOSSOM, my 2015 release (the first installment in a trilogy with two planned novellas), I found writing a novella completely in her POV was not just possible. It was infinitely possible. I can see the world of 1906 through her eyes. Smell the cinders of her past. Feel the tingle of ocean mist as her future unfolds. And, I can explore and experience first love with her. She leaves everything behind and discovers her capacity to find hope and love everywhere, especially with a misfit like herself named Brock.

    I love love. I love your blog. I love my characters. I’m not naturally a blow-your-own-horn kind of person. But I agree with you that in order to share our books, characters and our love with the world, who better than us to suck it in and blow that horn loud and clear for all to hear?

  • Everyone lights up when talking about a true love or passion. It makes you want what they have, right? Thanks for sharing your experience writing a female POV. Christopher!

  • This is a great post. I have always said that in order to sell something, you have to believe in it (love it). My current favorite character is Kate, the heroine from my Heart of Courage series (yet unpublished and unfinished). She rises to the challenge even when she could turn the other way and look out for her own interests. I also love Lorraine, the main character in my speculative fiction story (yet unnamed and unfinished); the fairies in my children’s books are pretty awesome as well. I know there will be people here who tell me to find my niche, but I cannot imagine not sharing each of these stories. I feel a deep connection and love for each of these characters and stories.

    • This is great, Charity. Sometimes writers are so keen to create conflict and flawed characters that they forget they need to be admirable enough to hang in there with for a whole novel (or series)!