How Book Sales Happen

Jim Miller‘s definition of marketing is “creating a market that didn’t previously exist or expanding one that does.” Almost every author I have talked to has wrestled with this because it can feel like the actual work of marketing is like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall.

That’s not really what is going on. However, I came up with a little model to illustrate why it feels that way and what is actually happening. I call it the “book sales funnel”.

There are four basic steps in any buying decision. Think about anything you’ve ever bought. First you had to hear about it or see it. You had to be exposed to it. Then you had to be interested in the product or service. Then you had to research it to see if it is right for you. And finally, you purchase it. With me so far? Good.

Now think about this: Do you buy everything you’re exposed to? Of course not. Why not? Well, perhaps you have no interest in a Thighmaster. Maybe you’d love to have that Lamborghini, but when you researched it, you realized you don’t have that kind of scratch. You “fell out of the funnel” before you got to a purchase. The exact same thing is happening to your potential readers. It’s called a funnel because it is wider at the top than it is at the bottom, and more people fall away at each point. It looks a little like this:

\                EXPOSURE               /

\           INTEREST           /

\      RESEARCH     /


If you have no exposure, how many sales will you have? None. If you have a little bit of exposure, how many sales will you have? Could still be none. If that exposure doesn’t turn into interest, you need more or better exposure. Some people will be casually interested but not enough to look into it. Of those who do look into it, only some — maybe only a few — will buy it. So the more and better exposure you get, the more sales you will have.

People who are already famous have the first 3 steps covered before they ever put a finger on their keyboard to write a book. They can predict the number of purchases they’ll get based on the number of movies or TV shows they’ve been in, the number of hit songs they’ve had, or the number of followers or subscribers they have for their blog, social media pages, or their YouTube channel. Authors who have achieved fame have already done these 3 steps with their first or second or fifteenth book, and everything they continue to put out skips the first three.

The point is that there is no substitute for working to gain exposure. There are many ways to do it. Some are the things your publisher does for you. Some are things that don’t cost you anything. Some are only possible if you pay somebody. If you are a Tate Publishing author, we work to create opportunities for all of the above, but there is no one who can do it all for you. If you want more information about the kinds of things you can do, check out this blog post. I wrote it last year. It’s still true today.

(If you’re not a Tate Publishing author, you should be. You’re missing out on a lot of help for the things you’ve been left to do yourself! Visit for more information.)


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Filed under Audience building, Growing your platform, Reputation building, Uncategorized

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