A marketing funnel (also called a sales funnel) is one of the most important aspects of book marketing. If you do not see the sales numbers you’d like, evaluate your sales funnel. When sales are suffering, it’s usually due to a problem in your funnel or a poor product-market fit.

In publishing, poor product-market fit means you have a bad book. But for our purposes in this article, we’ll assume you have a good book that fits the market you’re targeting. In other words, you’ve written a stellar book of staggering genius, and there’s an audience out there who would love to read it.

You might be asking, “What the heck is a sales funnel?” Glad you asked.

What is a marketing funnel?

Picture a funnel with a wide top that narrows all the way to the bottom. Marketing funnels are a way to get a lot of people attracted to your product at the top, and as they learn about it, they move through your funnel until, at the bottom, they purchase your book.

Readers want to read books by authors they know, like, and trust.

Readers must trust you enough to give you their money in exchange for your book. Many readers have an unarticulated sense of guilt when they don’t finish books. Every unfinished book on their shelf induces guilt. Build trust with the readers in your funnel so that they’ll be confident your book will be one they’ll enjoy and finish. They need to know it will give joy and not guilt.

There’s a three-step process for moving readers through your funnel. Picture an upside-down pyramid. At the top, we have strangers. And at the bottom, we have readers.

An author must

  • Attract: Attract attention, so people know who you are. 
  • Engage: Facilitate ongoing, helpful conversation so readers like you.
  • Convert: Garner trust so strangers become your customer.

You can also think of it as building three things:

  • Awareness: You must let people know you and your product exist.
  • Interest: Readers encounter you and your book through podcasts, advertising, articles, and now they like hearing from you.
  • Action: The reader trusts you enough to act on the information they have and buy your book.

The marketing funnel is all about building relationships with readers.

When book sales aren’t good, the problem is usually in one of these areas. If people don’t know who you are, you need to attract attention and build awareness. 

Perhaps people know who you are, but if they’re not buying your book, you need to engage them with interesting content. For nonfiction, engagement is critical. People want a sample before they buy.

If people know who you are and are interested in your book, but they’re not buying, maybe you haven’t issued a clear call to action. Perhaps there’s a problem with your front cover or your back cover copy. Maybe you haven’t asked them to purchase in the right way, or worse, maybe you haven’t asked at all. You must ask and close the sale. 

I love to read Brandon Sanderson, and I’ve read all of his books except the Mistborn books because the covers were so terrible. He’d attracted my interest and earned my trust with his other books, but the covers were so bad that I didn’t purchase them. When I finally read the Mistborn series, I loved them, but the books weren’t converting because the covers were bad.

Readers rarely buy every book from an author they know and like, so you have to rekindle their interest with every new release. 

KNOW

How can authors attract new readers and build awareness?

Attracting new readers is the most expensive piece of the funnel as it pertains to your time and money. But it’s also a critical step.

There are many avenues for attracting new readers:

  • Buy Advertising: Listen to our episodes about advertising on Podcasts or Amazon.
  • Conduct Interviews: Learn how to get booked as a podcast guest and sound great doing it.
  • ReferralsConnect with other authors who will tell their tribe about your book.
  • Write Guest Blog Posts: Collaborate with other bloggers and write content they would like to post on their blog.
  • Offer a Free Download: You can offer a free book to download on Amazon or BookBub, or create a free reader magnet.

Remember that frequency sells. The more times a person hears about your book, the more likely they are to check it out and eventually buy. It’s commonly said in sales and marketing circles that a consumer must hear about a product seven times before they will buy.

LIKE

How can authors engage readers and pique interest? 

People who know you become interested in your book as you offer them interesting content. If they’re interested and like your content they’ll engage with you on your own blog, podcast, or social media channels. You begin to interact with your own audience rather than someone else’s. 

Email plays a critical role in the engagement process. No one gives their email address to a stranger. Through these engagement channels, you build a relationship with your readers so they learn to trust you.

Engagement happens in various ways:

Novelists engage with readers when someone reads the free book they downloaded. 

If you’re doing lots of blogging and podcasting and you have a great email campaign, but you’re not attracting strangers, your great content won’t do you any good. If strangers aren’t finding you, they’re not engaging with your content.

Each step is only valuable if you’ve done the previous step.

TRUST

How can authors convert strangers into readers and get them to buy the book?

You’ve attracted strangers, and now they know who you are. You’ve engaged them with interesting content, and they like you. The next step is to call them to action—to purchase. Sometimes we call it the “call to action” or CTA.

How do you make the call to action attractive? 

  • Run a sale or offer a discount
  • Use your book’s backmatter to notify readers of your next book. 
  • Offer ancillary products. Nonfiction authors can offer a downloadable discussion guide or printable tip sheet. Novelists may want to offer a downloadable song from your story or a printable map of your world.

As you continually attract new readers and write articles or record episodes that interest them, you’ll build enough trust that they’ll be eager to purchase your next book when it comes out. Employ the principles of the sales funnel and watch your platform and sales numbers grow.

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