1. Eric says:

    While I didn’t major in it, I did study marketing and advertising in college.

    This Starbucks Comparison ad technically addresses an audience need (the need for a clear conscience or to be free from guilt), the need it addresses doesn’t directly tie into the book’s content. Also, the implicit idea that you, the reader, owe it to the author to purchase and read their book is, frankly, obnoxious and would be a turn-off for most potential buyers.

    To me, it seems that the best marketing for a book would be to emphasize the experiences and sensations that the reader can vicariously feel through said book.

    • For my part, I’m not even all that interested in descriptions of those experiences. Those take words and seem to try too hard and promise too much. I think the start of the solution is to introduce me to a person first. Name recognition. And the person and his/her story must be truly interesting in that initial summary. So don’t say things like page-turner, gripping, exciting–that’s telling me what to think. Describe the persons/stories that will (optimally of their own volition) make me use those terms!

      • Eric says:

        Technically, I agree with you.

        When I say market a story on the “experiences,” I mean to do so indirectly, to mention the character, the setting, the goals and the conflicts in such a way that the reader (consciously or otherwise) infers what kind of emotional and sensory experiences they’ll get from the book.

  2. Pam Halter says:

    Wow, Stephen – GREAT article. I am not a Starbucks fan, as I enjoy WaWa coffee more (Yeah, I know. WaWa stores are only on the East Coast, but there you have it.) Still, I totally agree with you here, and I’m about to be become an Indie author. I’ve been published traditionally, as well, and really, what’s the difference these days? Most traditional houses don’t pour themselves into their authors like they did years ago.

    I don’t like memes or ads that shame anyone into anything. Why would I even *want* someone to buy my book because they feel guilty for not buying? I want people to buy my book because it interests them and they’re looking forward to reading it. Sheesh.

    Thanks for being courageous enough to post this.

  3. Thank you for this article! I was just talking to my hubby about this. As a newbie author trying to figure out all the facets of the writing industry and marketing strategies, it’s a challenge to shift through the information overload and decide what is appropriate or not, or practical or applicable. I feel I’ve come to live in such a writerly bubble that I forget how to connect with readers and how my actions online can be misconstrued. Although, it is something I am working to overcome.

    • I feel I’ve come to live in such a writerly bubble that I forget how to connect with readers and how my actions online can be misconstrued. Although, it is something I am working to overcome.

      I’ve felt this way for a while, and I think that’s a barrier to overcome.

      Authors certainly need their own subculture (just like Christians!). And yet they are also called to live and work and “minister” to a broader culture (also like Christians).

  4. Morgan Busse says:

    I’ll share my own thoughts as an author. For a while now there has been a trend going on where people will download a book, read it, then return it. This came to a head when a reader actually emailed the author and told her that she loved her books, they were a par above many others she had read, but she returned them to Amazon just the same and asked why couldn’t the author just put them all up for free? $0.99-$2.99 was too much to spend on those books.

    I can guarantee you can’t do that with Starbucks 😉

    As you pointed out, as a reader you are selfish and a defensive consumer. I am as well. I have limited time for reading, so I am careful to peruse what I choose to read. But there are ways to find out if a book is worth purchasing: the look inside feature, the reviews, editorial reviews, awards, word of mouth, etc… Then, after looking over these, I choose whether I want to buy the book. Sometimes the author even offers the first book in the series free, allowing me to get a good taste of the story and writing. The author and the entire story might be unknown to me, but I’ve had enough of a sample to know potentially if I would like it or not.

    I realized my book buying habits changed a couple years ago. This came to my attention when I saw this exact slogan one day. My husband and I were avid buyers of books (evident by the boxes of books still out in the garage that I need to unpack).

    But when ebooks came out and books became less expensive, I became the type that waited for the book to be free or on sale. Ten years ago: drop $15-20 on a book. Two years ago: cringed at the thought of spend $2.99 on a book. When I saw that slogan, I realized how much I had been conditioned to not want to spend money on books. I thought nothing of dropping $5 bucks on coffee (not Starbucks though, it’s went downhill), but I hem and hawed even over books by my most favorite authors.

    As a fellow author, I was sickened that I had come to that place when I knew that I myself couldn’t survive as an author if others didn’t buy my books. That slogan changed me.

    We have forgotten that authors need their books purchased or they won’t be able to write anymore. Yes, there are some bad indies out there. Yes, sometimes that Starbucks coffee would have been a better use of your money. But that desire for cheap or free has trickled over to all books, even those worth your coffee money.

    If writers don’t make something off of their writing, then soon they won’t be able to write anymore, either because their series was cancelled or their spouse put down their foot and said they needed a real job with real money, or the bills grew to high to continue. Or just flat out discouragement.

    No, we should never shame our readers into reading our books. But sometimes we need our eyes opened to how our thinking has changed to the point where some people will read an excellent novel, worthy of more than a latte at Starbucks, then return it because in the end, they wanted it for free.

    • No, we should never shame our readers into reading our books. But sometimes we need our eyes opened to how our thinking has changed to the point where some people will read an excellent novel, worthy of more than a latte at Starbucks, then return it because in the end, they wanted it for free.


      And I think that is why we need more slogans, memes, and other marketing efforts (overt and shared) that extol the joys of reading. I think some of the existing memes try to do that. But they come off as an encouragement to “eat your peas” and that simply does not work–even if we do need to eat our peas.

      • Morgan Busse says:

        I agree. That meme could have been worded a lot better, something along the lines of “Instead of buying a Latte today, support your favorite author!”. I’m always for positive messages 🙂

        • MereChristian says:

          Morgan, you do have a point at how selfish we have gotten at times, when we want things free or ridiculously low prices. I agree completely. The thing is, not ever argument on pricing is that extreme. Some times they are ridiculously expensive.

          I was talking to another author friend on Facebook and presented the idea that there is a balance between the differing concerns. To not want to pay for a book and whine it costs too much is silly and ridiculous, and kinda selfish, you are right. However, to have, say, a 200 page and an 1,100 page book (from the same author and publisher) charged for 14 dollars each, is off-putting to me.

          And digital content prices have risen recently, so the concern some have is valid. But there is a balance. Not wanting to pay really high prices is reasonable. Not wanting to really reasonable prices (and your books have always been on the reasonable end, as have all of Enclave’s) is selfishness.

          So again, I’m not disagreeing with you, so much as saying there is a balance here. Also, you’ve never done this shaming crap and been very polite. I think you’re very good at author-reader interaction.

    • Morgan, this is a well-thought out response, and your experience does point out the buying habits of our society. We really do look at the Internet as a place for free stuff. It’s wonderful for those of us who don’t have a lot of money to come across writing articles or devotionals or even free stories. But it colors our attitude toward paying for magazines (or e-zines) and novels. We are moving toward this expectation of all things written should be free. It’s a bad place for us to go.

      I think, in part, it’s a result of a long history of the devaluation of authors. Movies, for example, are more often identified by the actors or the director than by the screenplay writer. When I first started writing, I was horrified to learn what a small percent of the pie authors who published traditionally actually received.

      The fact is, books are a buyers market. Many, many more of us are trying to see than buyers could ever buy. So we work to learn how to market, in the hopes that enough people will like our books and keep buying them and will spread the word. Trying to change people’s perception of books (no, they shouldn’t be free, they are valuable, more so than a cup of coffee) is a great thing, I think.


      • MereChristian says:

        With the exception of the bloke in the tweet who defended a ridiculous price, I find it to be that authors charge reasonable prices for their books. To add to my reply to Morgan above, wherein I mentioned she has a point but prices can be ridicious on the other side, I think most authors charge very reasonably for books. It’s some of the publishers that charge ridiculously too much, riding a specific author’s or franchise’s popularity to profits.

  5. Interesting perspective and I agree that such memes might be seen as trying to induce shame. However, they can also be seen as simple reminders. Whichever way you want to look at them, they’re typically worthless.

    I do think, however, that your comparison is a weak one. After all, it took tens of millions of dollars and a team of investors to launch Starbucks nationally. It has required thousands, if not millions, of small investors and millions of customers to keep it going and expanding to every street corner in the world. How can that be compared to a lone writer?

    As an indie author of seven thrillers, I don’t have a team of investors behind me. I’ve spent over fifteen years learning this craft and I now spend months writing, editing, and, finally, publishing each book. I have a “workforce” (editor, graphic artist, etc) that I PAY to help me produce my stories. Have I worked hard hoping for success? Yes. Have I invested? Yes. Do I have a story? Yes. Many, in fact. Do I have proven good memories? I hope so, and more than a few “fans” tell me I have. Millions of customers? Hardly. But then, I don’t have a book kiosk on every corner.

    And yet, I hear people complain frequently about having to spend even $3.99 for an ebook. You criticize the “$4 coffee vs $4 ebook” comparison and then claim you “like known coffee better then unknown ebooks.” Was that Starbucks coffee known to you the first time you bought it? That said, I think using that “coffee vs ebook” comparison is a weak one, too, but for different reasons. A better comparison is spending $10-15 for a 2-hour movie (not mention more $$ at the concession stand) vs $4 for 6-8 hours of a good story via reading (while you sip that coffee). Oh, and that movie admission is per person. The book can be shared.

    And when was the last time you got a free anything from Starbucks? Many of us give away books as a way of introducing our writing to you. We give away books and then people complain when next book of the series, which they want to read because the author is no longer unknown to them, is $4. Really? Don’t even get me started on the people who buy the book and “return” it four days later.

    The typical writer doesn’t earn a living wage from his/her writing. We’re still waiting on our “investors” to find us. They’re called readers.

    One last comment … who should Christians be lifting up and helping? The fellow believer who is working hard to give you that good story you seek, or the billion dollar coffee chain whose liberal leadership endorses and promotes everything we as Christians see as sin? Oh wait. Sorry. Perhaps that comment is shame inducing, too.

    • notleia says:

      But Starbucks has a consistent product that is consistently worth $4. I’ve SEEN things, man, in the world of indie authors. “Crapshoot” about covers it.

      • Consistent? Yes. Mostly. Worth $4? Debatable, but that’s a different discussion. LOL

        I agree there’s a lot of garbage out there. As an Indie author, I’ve made a point of trying to support other Indies, and I’ve been “burned” more than once. So, I understand the hesitation. When it comes to trying a new author, I, too, look for freebies or deals to try them out. If I like them, I don’t complain about the price of the next book of theirs that I buy … and I try to support them. If they don’t offer a good product, well … I don’t tear them down but I also don’t buy anything else they offer.

        In the end, authors shouldn’t be “shaming” their readers, although I’ve yet to talk with a fellow author who has posted such a meme with that intent. In most cases, such posts are meant as reminders, because let’s face it, a lot of us need reminding even of our best intentions. At the same time, though, readers need to support the authors they like or that author won’t be around for long.

        • MereChristian says:

          I have online friendships with authors. They sometimes post annoying memes, but they a) do not mind folks debating them on the memes, and b) usually with their main reader interactions are very polite and simply request without guilt-shaming.

          The thing is about the idea of favoring Christian authors BECAUSE they are Christians is that is not business or asking for money for your story, but asking for charity from a brother or sister in Christ. I do NOT mean charity in an insulting or elitist way of the word. Simply definitional. Christian love dictates we care for our fellow believers, and then all the world really. But it doesn’t dictate we buy from them as charity.

          I have no animus towards you and probably sound like it though, given the emotional and contentious point (and rightly so, you have every right and reason to be passionate about this). I apologize for this. I honestly am responding with no ill will. If I appear to have any, forgive me.

          And as I said in replies above, prices that are too high should be protested, but those that are reasonable – and every author in the comments lists reasonable prices – show selfishness in those not willing to pay them for a book they otherwise want.

          • dmdutcher says:

            You favor Christian authors because they will write you Christian books. If you don’t, well, don’t expect any Christian themes ever in your preferred genre, because non-Christians won’t put them in there for you.

            Most Christians really don’t care whether or not their Christian authors write. They will find Jesus in whatever the hot secular thing is of the moment. They don’t care about reasonable prices because they don’t buy the books at all. They don’t have interest in specifically Christian things, and drive Christian creatives out into the world to work there, or perish.

            No one wants to admit this, so they disguise it with “Christian books are of poor quality!” (which they aren’t, all indie novels have the same levels of skill) or “they are too expensive!” (many are under $3.00, with the option to pay pennies if you sub to something like Kindle unlimited.) The creatives realize this though, and this is why Christians have such huge problems finding artists, writers, and filmmakers to do anything beyond the few genres that Christians do want and do pay for.

            • MereChristian says:

              You have a point with some folks, but I think not all. I think that, again, charging 14 bucks for digital content, which has less economic factors going into the creation and distribution of the “book” is not going to help folks, espcially when a pub (not the author likely) charges 14 dollars for both a 200 page and a 1,100 page book from the same author.

              • dmdutcher says:

                Those are major publishers, not indies. They can charge $14 because they simply don’t care about ebook sales or rely on them-they are added benefits and their main business is still paper sales.

                Indies tend to charge anywhere from 99 cents to six bucks, usually only make their money from ebooks (most bookstores will not carry POD books at all, even with an ISBN) and get hammered when no one buys their books. And Christian spec fic right now is 99% indie.

            • notleia says:

              Pfft, I’d almost WISH indie authors were all about the same skill level, because at least then I wouldn’t have hopes to be dashed on the rocks, but it really is a YMMV venture.

              • dmdutcher says:

                Christian indie authors have the same skill level as secular indie authors, I meant. Both have a lot of people who suck, and a decent amount of people who are good.

            • don’t expect any Christian themes ever in your preferred genre, because non-Christians won’t put them in there for you.

              Well, that’s not the case, though. Sometimes they do put them in there. But they’re often limited to broad themes such as death/rebirth, redemption, and heroism. Christians still have an insider’s perspective on these themes.

  6. princesselwen says:

    The ad is making a false comparison. The desire for a cup of coffee and the desire for a new book are completely different. If I’m really tired and need some caffeine, a book isn’t going to give me that. And if I really want something new to read–I won’t get that from coffee.
    I also don’t think advertising based on guilt-tripping is a good idea. It just smacks of manipulation. I don’t want to buy a book, whether in print or e-book, where the only reason the author can give to buy it is ‘if you’d spend that money on coffee, you ought to spend it on my book.’ And I don’t even drink coffee.

  7. Alassiel says:

    I think one of the problems here is that we’re talking about ebooks. Personally, despite reading a lot of ebooks, I still don’t see them as having the same value as print books.
    A print book is lasting. It will go on my shelf to be beautifully displayed, a sort of status symbol even. It will hopefully be shared with friends, siblings, and one day my children. I don’t have to have an expensive device to read it, and I know I will never lose it when I change devices. So I don’t mind paying $10-15 for a quality print book from a proven consistently awesome author.
    With an ebook, I’m mostly just paying for the content. My Kindle isn’t good enough for me to enjoy the cover image. Frequently, it’s difficult to share the book with anyone else. I read fast, so I will get a few hours of pleasure for myself and that’s it. For an author with proven quality content, I’ll happily pay $6, but most of the time I like to stay under $2.99.
    And just for the record, I’ve always been thrifty and rarely buy expensive coffee anyway. So that meme for me reads “If you wouldn’t pay this for coffee, why would you spend it on a book instead?” 🙂 Which is comparing apples to oranges, really…
    Comparing to movie tickets is a better analogy, but still isn’t quite the same. Going to a movie is usually a social activity. I’m paying for a shared experience and an atmosphere as much as for a story.

  8. dmdutcher says:

    Starbucks is a global company that sells millions of product and has billions of dollars of revenue. Your average Christian indie author is someone who will be lucky to sell 1000-5000 copies of his book during its effective lifespan, and who has to pay every single expense up front and with no access to credit or alternative ways to spread risk. He has no real effective marketing tools that aren’t cost-prohibitive, because there’s very little Christian reader infrastructure that can drive people to his book.

    If he charges $4.99, after amazon takes its cut he gets $3.50. From that $3.50 he has to deduct cover design, editing fees (Rebecca can comment on those, they are extremely expensive for an indie author), the cost of making digital ebooks and typesetting physical POD ones, and needs to withhold taxes. To be blunt, all of this effort will net him an effective income of maybe less than $5 an hour unless he cranks out pornographic short stories, formula romance, and maybe formula YA.

    The average indie writer would be better served by burning his computer, going out to mcDonalds, and working there 20 hours a week. Even if you know how to make ebooks (which increasingly requires some CSS/html knowledge to troubleshoot) are a master at no-money marketing, and get a crazy DeviantArtist to make a world-class cover for under $100, you still probably won’t make minimum wage.

    This is why you get those campaigns, Stephen.

    And it’s worse now, because Kindle Unlimited and 99 cent ebook sales have conditioned consumers to pay virtually nothing for the books now. if you’re a Christian indie writer in an unpopular field, chances are you will not recoup back the money spent on the book.

    That’s how little creative work is valued now.

    • notleia says:

      (Is this the part where I recommend myself for copyediting services?)

      • Paul Lee says:

        Then actually market your copyediting services already. Websites are free now (just like art ;)), so get one and get working.

      • dmdutcher says:

        You’re trying to do so on a site with a tiny readership, in a genre that barely has the ability to survive. You should offer your services to genres like romance of young adult, build a portfolio of e-books that have been published you’ve edited even if it means volunteering, and try your best to get into bricks and mortar publishing. You probably should also make a separate site solely for your editorial services with more of a professional tone.

        I’m learning things are a lot harder and a lot less about your own desires if you want to follow that kind of path.

        • Paul Lee says:

          I’m learning things are a lot harder and a lot less about your own desires if you want to follow that kind of path.

          Same. The fear of being 100% dependent on my parents—as opposed to just living with them and paying my own way otherwise—finally drove me to get an actual job job. But I still believe in the indie ideal.

          Those who live indie even in the tired hours after work at least deserve to be acknowledged as legit artists/makers, rather than treated like hucksters or beggars.

    • I’m at once sympathetic to all those things, and also inclined to share some uncomfortable truths: The average reader does not care about all that when it comes to his story choices. If a reader goes looking for stories, and is instead “ambushed” by something like a World Wildlife Fund advertisement to sponsor an author for just 10 cents a day, isn’t that like a bait-and-switch?

      The closest equivalent seems to be the stereotypical “preachy” fiction problem, in which the reader is drawn by the promise of a great story and instead gets a shallow megachurch-sermon anecdote about Hope expanded to 200-some-odd pages.

      I believe there’s a time and place for sympathy and charity for indie authors’ struggles. There is certainly a time/place for Raising Awareness about the absurd and irritation notion that novels or written creativity ought to be free. But an author’s individual promotion is not the time, nor place. If they want to mitigate those effects, honestly, it’s time to stop complaining (or complain in only limited or positive ways) and promote only positive things: their books, characters, stories, themes.

      Otherwise their “brand” becomes all about The Struggle and Indie Author Activism and Eating Your Peas like a Good Reader. Not about good feelings or storytelling.

      • dmdutcher says:

        Except they already tried this Stephen, and no one is buying their books because apparently $4 bucks is better served buying coffee. It’s not a case where they lead with this: this comes from frustration that the indie revolution is more or less dying because the price people want to pay for most ebooks is approaching zero.

        If they reach this point, they probably don’t care about the brand hit, and will exit the market soon.

  9. Paul Lee says:

    Wow, this is a gutsy, confrontational post. I appreciate your willingness to step back and examine the more complicated feelings involved from the consumer end. I’ve felt hammered in the middle of this myself, feeling crushed by the desire to support indie authors whose works I genuinely like while not wanting to annoy my other friends with this now-stereotypical guilt trip.

    But I don’t share your judgment, and I think the root of my difference is this:

    But aren’t “the needy” more like elderly/sick people at church, or children who need water in Africa? The marketing seems to clash. It says, “Support me. I am really needy. But I’m still able to tell you a good story.” I think, “Either you are really needy, or you are a great storyteller, but you cannot be both.”

    I know this is a bit pedantic and can be taken too far, but I think need transcends material condition because I think that ultimately all human life is the same beyond material condition.

    No, you don’t have to have a nice comfortable modern American lifestyle to be a great artist. (This is the true meaning of the saying that “great art can come from anywhere,” I think.) Furthermore, we all need support from others in many ways. There are many different ways in which we are all poor and needy. If you argue that a would-be artist who can’t pay the bills and has no coffee money shouldn’t be competing on the ebook market, how about a different struggling artist who suffers from recurring depression? To me, your worldview suggests that only people with deeply secure and comfortable lifestyles should even care about art, or for that matter about supporting the people who are actually needy. This basically divides humanity into two casts: comfortable people who can afford to give from their abundance, and needy people who have nothing to give. This is a false dichotomy.

    I don’t believe in the “hierarchy of needs.” I believe one can be insecure and materially lacking and still look to the romantic ideal in the form of art. One can be physically comfortable and materially secure and still be desperately needy in some of the most fundamental ways.

    I’m sorry to be so assertive about this, but I think this is a serious difference between our worldviews. But I appreciate your insight into the mutually abusive nature of consuming and needing in regard to purchasers and authors. (At its worst, of course. We can do better, and we are often better. We shouldn’t be judged by our memes.)

    • notleia says:

      This is totally the wrong place for this, but that’s kinda why I’m in favor of a Guaranteed Basic Income. Also because I’m a poor, overeducated Millennial who is in the doldrums of not being hired because I don’t have experience for the jobs I want and I can’t get experience because they won’t hire me.
      Think about all the stuff people could do if they could at least be assured that they won’t be homeless and starving and off their medications. But I imagine this is a space where most people don’t even like Obamacare. And GBI is still experimental. I think somewhere in Ontario they’re testing it out, and who knows how feasible it could be. But I really WANT it to work because I don’t want my life to be defined by the times I’m unemployed, but I want more security than most creative self-employment offers.

  10. Kessie says:

    This is a fascinating article, and a fascinating discussion!
    Really, it boils down to marketing. Here’s what works, and here’s what doesn’t. Shaming people, even mildly, is annoying, end of story. 😀 As an indie who is an avid student of marketing right now, this article is right on the money. As in, I’ve been reading articles from Romance Writers of America that say this exact same thing–you have to tell a story, not push a product.

  11. Kaci Hill says:

    I saw a recent post regarding the whole ebooks being returned thing. I’m gonna just dump some general comments in.

    1. All workers have earned their wages.
    2. I really don’t see much difference in ebook returning and selling read books to used bookstores (thank you all who sell to use bookstores; I am grateful).
    3. That said, the reader who sent that email to the author is an idiot.
    4. I admit I will draw the line at buying an ebook that is as much or more than its paperback twin. If it comes down to that, I’ll probably buy the paperback. (Unless it’s either a very large book or it isn’t available as a hard copy. Then I’ll go ahead and do it.)
    5. Personally, I only buy Starbucks these days if I have a gift card. And no, I don’t like coffee better than books. 😛 You really should pay more for books than coffee. 0=)
    6. It does seem odd to me for the ebook to be as much or more than the hard copy, strictly because you don’t have the printing costs. I feel the same about movies and music. I am not holding a physical copy in my hand, in other words.

  12. Julie D says:

    Fascinating conversation here. I admit, I am reluctant to buy indie novels at any price, but then, I tend to stick with known authors anyway. On the other hand, I will gleefully buy Big Finish audio dramas (which are primarily Doctor Who) at any sale price because I trust the quality will be high. And I only got into that because I had the chance to listen to some free (illegal streams, legal streams, and library)

What do you think?