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Using Social Proof to Sell Books

social proof sam hendricks sjhendricks.com

The problem with book marketing isn’t a dearth of ideas. Spend a few minutes searching the web for book marketing tips and you’ll see plenty of authors, industry folks, and “marketing experts” offering up advice in blogs, books, webinars, and workshops. It’s no wonder I get messages from authors saying they feel “paralyzed” or “confused” about which options will work for them and their title.

That’s why instead of regurgitating all of these same tips, I am going to stick to what I know. In my past life, I worked for community banks as a commercial lending assistant and analyst. I was surrounded with business plans, profit and loss statements, balance sheets, ledgers, and credit memorandums. I learned to evaluate which assets and expenditures were pulling their weight for a business and which weren’t and with that knowledge, I’ve developed a keen ability to assess ROI (return on investment) and narrow in on strategies with the highest returns.

This post is the beginning of a series I’ll be writing. Each installment, I’ll share something I’ve learned in my own journey and explain how it can help you evaluate whether a marketing strategy is worth your effort. Rather than coming up with an impersonal algorithm that factors in all the options available and comes up with a generic plan for your title, my goal is to help you wade through the vast expanse of knowledge available and find strategies that get you results.

Using Social Proof to Sell Books

Publishers often utilize publicists and professional reviewers, bloggers, and social media influencers to spread the word about a book. Many have programs to incentivize readers to share on social media, like scheduled monthly giveaways and discounts. And they do this because they understand the power of social psychology and a concept called social proof.

In a few words, social proof refers to a person’s tendency to conform to what other people are doing.

As it pertains to books, readers aren’t as interested in whether the author thinks the book is good as much as whether industry professionals and other readers think it’s good. So if readers see a book has been positively reviewed by a professional organization like Kirkus Reviews or Publisher’s Weekly, or the author has been profiled in a noteworthy journal or newspaper, or a retailer posting about it on social media, they’re more likely to read it.

Most of us, at our core, want to fit in. I’m not suggesting you prey on people’s insecurities, but I am saying you can take this knowledge and use it to evaluate the effectiveness of your marketing.

When I tell people this, I usually hear objections. It’s tough to secure reviews and press and shelf space when you’re a new, or even an established indie author. Believe me, I know. It can take time and effort to build social proof for your story, but once you have it, it will keep working for you in perpetuity.

I acknowledge it can seem daunting asking for reviewers, reporters, bloggers, and booksellers to read your story, but it’s similar to selling it right to your readers. And selling it to 20 professionals versus 20 readers means that those 20 professionals might each sell it to 20, 200, or 2,000 readers! Book industry folks are readers, too, they’re just readers with a little more reach than most. Sometimes they’re actually easier to communicate with because they have guidelines for submissions and clear policies.

In summary: readers are more inclined to purchase and read a book if other people are, especially people with a high amount of visibility or credibility, like critics, reviewers, librarians, booksellers, and bloggers. I recommend focusing on strategies that use social proof to sell copies, like soliciting and adding recommendations to your marketing materials and building relationships with booksellers. Spend less time on strategies that lack social proof, like posting ads on your own social media accounts or plugging your own story on forums.

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