How I Use Rhetoric To Sell Books

Share this post

I’ve been thinking a lot about the use of rhetoric vs. dialectic lately in life, and how that works as a tool for persuasion. I won’t get into the details of it, but you can look up some pundit guy you may have heard of named Aristotle if you want to get into the nitty gritty. What I’m here to do is give you an example of how it works. You can take this example and put it into every life situation and it will work similarly. You’ll fast learn that dialectic arguments don’t move the needle at all in the vast majority of situations – and for good reason. Even if we have some knowledge on a topic, we’re generally not scholars looking at everything through an academic lens. How does this apply to book selling, you might ask? Well let me tell you a little story.

Here’s the truth: people aren’t going to magically look at your book, see its value just because of a base description and because your prose inside is so darn good. A lot of people have good prose in their books, I’ve seen many that should have in a vacuum won awards for their innovative and unique storytelling, but sold less than 100 copies. It’s tragic, but it’s how the world works. Once you get over that, you can focus on making sure people see your work. And that’s how you sell.

This weekend I set up selling books at LibertyCon in Chattanooga, TN. Not only did I sell out of both of my books well before the end of the convention, but I also propelled For Steam And Country back into the top 20k of amazon after it was dropping from the initial sales boost. People saw the book at the con and online and looked it up. Why?

There’s a few powerful uses of rhetoric at work here, though I’ve laid many others throughout the launch of this last book that you can look up.

When I first set up selling, one thing I did was draw attention to myself. At a convention, everyone is dressed a little scrubby – it’s for comfort. It gets hot in conventions, you’re walking around a lot. I get it. Not knocking that at all, especially on the fan side. But it does look scrubby. Naturally the first thing I did was differentiate myself from everyone else there so that people look at me. Day one, I wore a suit and reflective sunglasses. Day two, I wore steampunk garb.  It drew people to me because it captures the eye. My book covers do the same – covers are quite important and everyone judges books by them.

Here’s where I failed, and what you can avoid. People came over and looked at the books, and I immediately launched into descriptions of what the books were about. “You see, Star Realms is about a thief who gets hired by her empire because their chief strategist was captured by an evil megacorporation…”  it’s all well and good, but it’s a description. It’s, in essence, presenting a dialectic argument for someone to buy the book based on its plot line. It doesn’t emotionally move them at all.

Fortunately, when the person walked away without buying a book, my wife saw what I did and chastised me. She told me how awful my selling technique was and how there was no emotional connection there. I had a free marketing coach right next to me, and thank God for that! She was right. When I got over the initial butthurt of being told what to do and wanting to fight it, I learned from that and modified everything I was doing, and I focused very intentionally on the rhetoric.

It’s about building emotional connections with your audience, whether that’s online or in person, that’s all that matters. For any argument, any push to change culture in any regard, the rhetoric is how you’re going to do it. DON’T WASTE YOUR TIME with the dialectic. You’ll inevitably get pulled into pseudo-dialectic aruments when you talk anything about culture, what you’re doing, whatever. When you go into that explain cycle trying to counter the “well, actually…” as I call it, one, you’ll never convince the person trying to diminish what you’re doing because their objective is not to have a rational discussion, but to diminish what you’re doing, and two, the more important part, you actually start to lose the onlookers. Just stick with more rhetoric and move on.

Here’s what I did that boosted sales:

One, I just started talking to people about them. People like to be the center of attention and when you take an interest in them. Here’s the key to this: you have to genuinely take an interest in them or it comes off false. It’s very hard to do for a lot of people, even though it sounds easy. Authenticity is everything in rhetoric, as people connect more to what is real.

Once at a connection stage,  I very prominently focused on the beautiful cover and told people how great For Steam And Country was selling. This assures the person that other people like the book and gives them a sense of community. This is 100% why reviews and awards are SO IMPORTANT. They are marketing tools. They are not reflections upon you and your morals as a reader. I can’t impress that enough. Give your author firends these helpful things every time. The difference between indies and a big company is that big company has several paid reviewers who help launch things, and big staffs the vote for the awards. There is no merit difference in the product that is observable to most people. Selling is a pure popularity contest. Awards are pure popularity contests. Once you get over that, the better your friends will do and the better you will do.

Speaking of which, please take the time to review my two books on Amazon if you haven’t, links here:

Star Realms: Rescue Run

For Steam And Country

And vote for Star Realms: Rescue Run for best military science fiction or fantasy for the Dragon Award. It’s free, you can put in other categories later if you want to fill out the whole thing. Just do this now and make sure this phenomenal book gets its due:

Those two things will help me more than you ever will know. Thank you!

Back to your selling. You will get asked what your book’s about periodically, and that’s where your answer has to be tight. Don’t describe your story. When I was at the tail end of having just a few copies of Star Realms: Rescue Run left, this is what I said: “It’s like Rogue One, only better.”

It’s true that there are some elements similar to Rogue One (mine came out first and Star Wars copied me, just sayin’). If you broke it down all the way, it’s a very different plot, but it’s got a lot of the points: 1. Female lead hero 2. Breaking in/dirtydozen style to an evil empire set up 3. Epic climax with danger and fighting.  Okay, that’s all dialectic. You can in turn come up with arguments why it’s not and we can get nowhere (see the theme?).  But the quick rhetorical pitch works because people are emotionally connected to Star Wars. It works for people who both liked and disliked the film because Star Wars is so emotional and because I caveat with “only better”,  people who liked it see that as a cute joke, people who don’t see that as I fixed the problems they had with the movie. It’s rhetorical gold.

There’s a lot of other tricks to it as well, but this is just the one example, and this is how I sold out of books so incredibly fast at a convention, so I could spend time having fun and looking at other people’s books. It works online. When you want to do something with the culture, post your memes, be funny, be quick witted. That’s all that matters in this internet era. If you want to see change, it starts there. If you don’t believe me, look at how great writers like Nick Cole and Brian Niemeier consistently sell. They’ve got different tactics to some degree, but they are adept at emotionally connecting to their readership. Try stuff out, take what works, ditch what doesn’t. Worry about the details after you’ve won..

Share this post

5 thoughts on “How I Use Rhetoric To Sell Books

  1. Pingback: SENSOR SWEEP: Finger-wagging Schoolmarms, Mush-mouth Bleatings, Larger-than-life Heroism, and Reskinned Tolkien Fascimiles –

  2. Pingback: How I Use Rhetoric To Sell Books – Paul M. Jones

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *