Sunday, August 31, 2008

Using a Website to Sell Novels

One of the things I have been thinking about recently is how can a novelist use a website to sell books? It is very important that we draw a distinction between novels and non-fiction books. It may not be easy, but with non-fiction the formula is straight forward.

The Non-fiction Method

People choose which websites they visit based on a felt need. Often, the felt need is translated into a search engine query. Unless you are a regular reader of this blog, you may have found this post by typing how can a novelist use a website to sell books or something similar, into Google or some other search engine. You may have clicked on the link because it may answer your question. Following that thought. If a non-fiction author has written a book about Habakkuk, it is reasonable to assume that the people who will buy the book are looking for information about Habakkuk or other books about prophets. The author can provide this information on his website and then simply say, “if you would like to know more, read my book.”

The Problem With Novels

This approach above will not work with novels. Fiction readers are still looking for information to fill a felt need. As a point of interest, you might visit the romance discussion area on There you will find comments like, “I am looking for a book where the man just got out of jail and the woman is a librarian.” The problem is that not everyone is looking for the same thing. Some people would be happy if the book is a page turner. Most people are looking for a novel that they can put some confidence in before they waste several hours.

A novelist can’t say, “I have a great book.” No matter how good the author is, as soon as she makes that claim she is daring people to disagree. So while a potential reader might type this is a great book into a search engine, the moment the reader finds a website with the author saying, “this is a great book, buy it today,” the reader is turned off.

Making it Work With Novels

Here are a few suggestions:


You’ve heard the expression, Show, Don’t Tell. Instead of telling people, a lot of people have read this book and they liked it, show it by including statements like the following from some of my readers:

  • I really enjoyed Searching for Mom – Kylene S.

  • Searching for Mom is a great read. – H.

  • Searching for Mom was very touching. My father died when I was young… – W.

  • My daughter-in-law gave me a copy of Searching for Mom and I didn’t put it down until I finished it – E.

  • I love Searching for Mom - Lisa

Why does this work? We generally give people the benefit of the doubt and expect that they believe what they say. We expect the author to believe his book is good, no matter how horrible it might be, so we can easily dismiss a book if the author is the only one who says it is good. It is much harder to dismiss the opinion of the people who have read the book. The book might have problems. It might not follow the rules. It might could be tighter. It might have some unbelievable elements. Whatever might be wrong, the statements by the readers will make it clear that they enjoyed it anyway. If all we have is the author’s statement and we see some problem with the book then we might conclude the author thinks too highly of himself.

Write About the Theme

One of the people who read Searching for Mom wrote to me saying that she lost her father when she was young and was touched by the story. In Searching for Mom it is Sara’s mother who died, but it still made that connection. If you want to attract people to your blog or website who might be interested in your novel, focus your attention on the non-fiction theme of the book.

Suppose you have written a love story involving a coal miner’s wife. Love stories are a dime a dozen, but if you can make a connection with some coal miner’s wives, you may be able to make some sales. I don’t know if there is such a thing, but suppose a woman is looking for a support group for coal miner’s wives. She searches the web and finds a link to your website were you talk about coal miner’s wives. She gets interested in what you have to say and reads more. She may come back later. She may come back several times and each time she sees that you have a novel about coal miner’s wives. At some point her curiosity gets the better of her and she buys the book.

More Later

Time and space prevents me from mentioning some of the other suggestions I have. I hope that you have found these helpful. If time permits I will attempt to provide additional suggestions at a later date.