Monthly Archives: February 2016

Include a “Call to Action” in Your Marketing Materials. Ask For The Sale.

Kim Staflund: founder and publisher at Polished Publishing Group (PPG) and author of the PPG Publisher’s Blog

Kim Staflund: founder and publisher at Polished Publishing Group (PPG) and author of the PPG Publisher’s Blog

I’ve received several emails via LinkedIn and other social media sites, over the years, from newly self-published “indie” authors who were advertising their books, trying to convince me to buy them. If you’re one of these authors, I genuinely applaud you for taking that important step toward self-promotion. Good for you! But now I’m going to tell you why I (and probably most of the other people you sent that email to) never bought your book … and my answer may surprise you.

MYTH: It’s wrong or rude to outwardly ask people to buy your book.

FACT: It’s okay to ask for the sale. The most successful sales people always do.

One of the most obvious, yet least utilized, components of every successful sales campaign is known as the “call to action.” Simply stated, a call to action is your very clear request to consumers to buy your book TODAY! Right now!

Sometimes, salespeople do an amazing job of convincing buyers that whatever they’re selling is a wonderful thing, but then they let those buyers walk away without actually asking for the sale while the opportunity is still hot. Don’t let that opportunity get cold! Come right out and ask for the sale right in the moment. It doesn’t work all the time, but it works a lot better than never asking—that much I can promise. If you get used to doing this, you’ll sell way more books over time.

Now to clarify…

There are special nuances and techniques to effectively asking for a sale that every author needs to understand. There’s more to it than simply sending someone an email that says, “I’ve just published a new book! Buy it today!” You need to communicate with your potential customers in such a way that creates both an emotional and intellectual response in their brains, and you need to speak to them in their preferred marketing language.

WIIFM: What’s In It for Me?

One of the very first acronyms I learned when I entered the world of sales was WIIFM, which stands for “What’s In It for Me?”. My sales coach told me this is what all our customers are asking themselves, whether consciously or unconsciously, whenever they consider making a purchase. As salespeople, we need to be aware of this acronym and be sure we’re answering that question for customers, in all our marketing materials, in a clear and concise manner that speaks to them in their language.

When I say “clear” I mean tell them what’s in it for them in a manner that addresses their needs directly. Will your book increase their joy? If yes, how? Will your book decrease their pain? If yes, how? (When you clearly address someone’s joy and/or pain, you are appealing to their emotional limbic brains more effectively.)

When I say “concise” I mean tell them what’s in it for them in as few words as possible. We live in an “instant soup” society, filled with customers that want quick and easy solutions to their problems. The only instance when anyone will take the time to read through paragraph after detailed paragraph of promotional material will be if they’ve picked up that material to read it by their own choice—not if they’ve been “interrupted” by it in an unsolicited email message. Fair enough? (When you are concise in your messaging, you are appealing to their logical neocortex more effectively.)

When I say speak to them in their language, I mean tell them what’s in it for them in a manner that they will understand and appreciate most. There are two different marketing “languages” you might choose from to communicate with your prospective customers in all your marketing materials (e.g. your blog, the back cover copy of your book, et cetera): price-based marketing and value-based marketing. Both have their time and their place, no matter what it is that you’re selling.

Price-Based Marketing

Walmart is one of the most common North American examples of a retailer that uses price-based marketing, also sometimes referred to as the “Everyday Low Price” pricing strategy, to sell its products. As soon as I use that retail name, most people understand what I mean without much further explanation. Price based marketing revolves around selling things for the cheapest price. It appeals to the audience that wants “the best deal” at the lowest possible price, regardless of its brand name or quality.

You speak to a price-based audience with phrases such as “Have what you want for less” and “The affordable solution for thrifty consumers.”

Value-Based Marketing

Prada, by contrast, is an example of a worldwide luxury retailer that uses value-based marketing to sell its products. As soon as I use that brand name, the concept is once again clear to most people. Value-based marketing revolves around selling things at prices commensurate with the highest quality. It appeals to the audience most concerned with workmanship, expertise, long-term durability, and image—and who can, and will, willingly pay more for it.

You speak to a value-based audience with phrases such as “Sophistication and classical style for discerning women” and “Crafted with care for the distinguished gentleman.”

These are two extreme examples, taken from one end of the spectrum to the next, to illustrate the differences between these two marketing languages. Not all price-based marketers will price things as low as Walmart does; nor will all value-based marketers price things as high as Prada does. In fact, the same concepts are used to sell many other things all along that spectrum, including coffee (Dunkin’ Donuts versus Starbucks), food (McDonalds versus Fatburger), and cars (Honda Civic versus BMW 3 Series Sedan). The main point here is that the wording you use to speak to a price-conscious audience will be very different from the wording you use when you speak to a value-conscious audience. The other point is that you can apply either price-based marketing or value-based marketing to everything and anything you’re selling—including all types and formats of books. It all depends on your customers’ wants and needs.

All Authors Should Create an “Elevator Pitch” for Their Books

What is an elevator pitch, and why should every author have one memorized and ready to recite at a moment’s notice? In short, it is a brief sales pitch that will help you to sell more books both in person and online. According to the Free Dictionary, “the name ‘elevator pitch’ reflects the idea that it should be possible to deliver the summary in the time span of an elevator ride, or approximately thirty seconds to two minutes.”

When delivered correctly and confidently, it often results in a sale right on the spot. At the very least, it will pique the interest of your audience for future reference so they will think of your book first when they are in the market to buy one on your topic.

An Effective Elevator Pitch Includes a Call to Action

An effective elevator pitch should encapsulate everything we’ve discussed up to this point: it needs to be clear and concise; it needs to answer the question “what’s in it for me?” in a marketing language your customers will understand and appreciate most; and it should confidently call your customers to action to buy your book immediately. Your call to action should be customized to match the format and audience of your book.

Authors are entrepreneurs. If you want commercial success, then you have to be an active participant in the sales process. It’s always been that way. And an effective “call to action” is a necessary part of that sales process.

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As a user of this website, you are authorized only to view, copy, print, and distribute the documents on this website so long as: one (1) the document is used for informational purposes only; and two (2) any copy of the document (or portion thereof) includes the following copyright notice: Copyright © 2016 Polished Publishing Group (PPG). All rights reserved.

An Effective Alternative to Returnability Where Everybody Wins

Kim Staflund: founder and publisher at Polished Publishing Group (PPG) and author of the PPG Publisher’s Blog

Kim Staflund: founder and publisher at Polished Publishing Group (PPG) and author of the PPG Publisher’s Blog

My last blog entry, Let’s Start a Revolution to End Returnability!, ignited a passionate debate over this decades-old book distribution model. Within the various industry LinkedIn groups where I shared it, fifty percent of people appeared to agree with my stance while another fifty percent steadfastly defended the practice no matter how many articles or books I cited showing other reputable publishers, authors, and even booksellers who view it as outdated, costly, inefficient, and environmentally unfriendly.

I asked myself, “Why?” And the only answer I could come up with is that change is often uncomfortable and sometimes causes fear—especially if the people promoting that change have neglected to provide a reasonable answer as to what we could possibly change TO that could be viewed as a better alternative for us all … and fair enough. So, the purpose of this blog entry is twofold: first, to further explain some of the intricacies of English language trade publishing that are at the core of my beliefs and business philosophies; and second, to provide an alternative to the current system that all of us could benefit from.


Bookstores don’t sell your books for you, authors. You do. In my 2014 book on publishing, I went so far as to share the not-so-popular viewpoint that even your publisher doesn’t sell your book for you over the long-term. You do.

One of the biggest myths about trade publishers is that all of them are out there actively selling all of their authors’ books for them on a regular basis. Nothing could be further from the truth. Trade publishers focus primarily on their front list titles; and, once those books fall to the back list, the responsibility of continued promotion falls to the author. Based on the common twice-yearly publishing schedule followed by most traditional publishers (spring and autumn), I figured that the average book would be considered a front list title for only six months which means it has a shelf life of only six months. After that, it’s up to the author to continue actively selling it. It’s always been that way, contrary to popular belief.

I’ve since learned that my six-month guesstimate was actually quite idealistic. This past year, I picked up a well-researched book by John B. Thompson titled Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century where a trade publisher’s publicity, sales, and marketing budgets are discussed in more detail than in my own book:

“Today more than ever, a writer’s career is always hanging in the balance, rising and falling with the sales of their most recent books and always at risk of being curtailed by a disappointing track. Careers cut short and writers cut loose are among the prices to be paid for the logic of the field. They are the human costs of an industry where numbers rule in the end and where short-term growth and bottom-line profitability have come to assume more and more importance in the practical calculations of the major houses.”

You would think that the major publishing houses with the larger budgets would be able to spend more money on promoting and selling all their books; but, the fact is, they are under even greater pressure from their parent corporations to watch their spend and focus primarily on what they consider the “big books” that can generate the most profit for them. The result, according to Thompson’s research, is an even shorter shelf life for the majority of books by the majority of authors:

“As soon as a book shows signs that it’s going to take off, the sales, marketing and publicity operations mobilize behind it and look for ways to support it with extra advertising, trying to get more radio and TV appearances, extending the author’s tour or putting together a new tour to cities where the book is doing particularly well, and so on. … the sales, marketing and publicity operations are geared and resourced in such a way that, when they see that a fire is starting to ignite, they are able to pour generous quantities of fuel on the flames. … But if further appeals fall on deaf ears and sales fail to pick up, then the marketing and publicity effort will be wound up pretty quickly – ‘In two to three weeks we might pull the plug,’ … So how long does a book have out there in the marketplace to show signs of life? How many weeks before it becomes a dead fish that will be left to float downstream? … I would say the life of a book today is about six weeks. And quite frankly it’s even shorter than that, but you probably have six weeks and that’s it.

So we’ve gone from a six-month shelf life to a six-week shelf life with the larger, corporate publishers. Yikes! Scary stuff. There has to be a better way, right? I believe there is.


As I mentioned earlier, bookstores don’t sell your books for you, authors. You do. They simply display them. And if you want prime real estate in a traditional chain bookstore, thus allowing you to benefit from impulse purchasing, it’s going to cost a lot more than you may realize. Thompson provided details on this in his book, too:

“The front-of-store area that is in your field of vision is a thoroughly commodified space: most of the books you see will be there by virtue of the fact that the publisher has paid for placement, either directly by means of a placement fee (that is, co-op advertising) or indirectly by means of extra discount. Roughly speaking, it costs around a dollar a book to put a new hardback on the front-of-store table in a major chain, and around $10,000 to put a new title on front-of-store tables in all the chain’s stores for two weeks (typically the minimum period). … Visibility does not come cheap. … As one publisher succinctly put it, ‘It’s become easier to publish and harder to sell – that’s the paradox. Any old sod can publish a book now, but actually getting it out to the public has become much trickier.’”

The fact is, if you want to sell more books, you need to create top-of-mind awareness for your book. You need to keep that book in front of people’s eyeballs so that, when they’re in the market to purchase a book such as yours, they will think of your book first. Very few authors (also very few of the small- and medium-size publishers, for that matter) can afford prime real estate within these traditional chain bookstores … which leads to an increase in returnability (if no one can find your book then no one will buy it, so the bookstore will return it to you for a full credit) … which leads to lost profits for those authors and publishers. It’s a vicious cycle. There must be a better way!


A gentleman commented on my last blog entry with a legitimate commentary and question for me regarding my motives in writing it. He said, …Your intro line depicts you as an author (‘best-selling’ even. Well done!), a publisher and as a sales coach for authors. Traditionally, these are all roles with a stack of ‘conflicts of interest’ in the broader publishing industry. Can you trust each other when the business agenda of each role works in competition for its rightful share in a finite commercial pie? Which character is promoting its own agenda when you offer comment, criticism or recommendation?

I told him I began my career as a writer with a personal goal of becoming a bestselling author. Along that road, I worked (as both a service provider and client) with various trade publishers and vanity publishers, and I saw many road blocks to my goal within both publishing models. So, that led to me becoming a book publisher over six years ago. I created a hybrid publishing company that combines (in my opinion) the best of both worlds: professional quality; non-returnability; retained copyright ownership for our authors of both their words and artwork we create for them; et cetera. As time went on, I learned more and more. My company’s service offering evolved further into me teaching authors how to sell audiobooks, ebooks, paperbacks, and even hardcover books for themselves so they can better control their net profits and have the best chance of commercial success. In other words, my three roles combined (author, publisher, and sales coach) all passionately believe that we need to end returnability once and for all. It hurts authors, it hurts publishers, and it is equally inefficient and time-consuming for booksellers.


Authors, can you imagine how much more profit you would earn if you knew how to effectively sell your own books? They would always be front list titles! Publishers, can you imagine how much more profit you would earn if your authors were out there actively selling their own books along side your own in-house publicity, sales, and marketing efforts? Booksellers, can you imagine how much more profit you would earn if you were using your co-op advertising dollars to support in-store book signings and book launches for the authors who are actively selling their own books and bringing that traffic straight to your store?

If we all work together, we can all make more money. But this is going to require a change because the current system works against authors and publishers. And the direct result is that more of us are moving online, trying to sell our books elsewhere, which could very well render our traditional booksellers obsolete sooner than later unless things change.

Let’s help each other. It’s in all our best interests to do so. Let’s start a revolution to end returnability … and teach our authors how to sell!

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As a user of this website, you are authorized only to view, copy, print, and distribute the documents on this website so long as: one (1) the document is used for informational purposes only; and two (2) any copy of the document (or portion thereof) includes the following copyright notice: Copyright © 2016 Polished Publishing Group (PPG). All rights reserved.