Book or Benefits – Appeal to the Senses in Promotion

By Gina Burgess

I have nearly 35 years’ experience in sales and marketing all kinds of products and services, mostly services. I found out that I’m much better at promoting intangibles rather than tangibles. Services seem to have more obvious benefits than physical objects. Promotion of books came a bit harder for me to do until I realized readers do not buy books.

I can see your eyebrows raised and hear that explosive, “What?”

It’s true. Readers don’t buy books. They buy experiences. Think about it. Why do you purchase a book? It certainly isn’t because of the binding, nor the typestyle of the prose, nor the book’s cover even though the cover has a lot to do with creating interest in the book.

Did you purchase your computer because it had a 17 inch screen, backlit keys, and a terabyte of storage? Believe it or not, you did not. You purchased your computer for what it would do for you. The wider screen made your work easier because everything is easier to see when it’s bigger. Backlighted keys are easier to find while typing in low light, and the larger storage space allows you to download movies and games and still have plenty of space for all your writings so you aren’t juggling a portable drive. It’s all right there at your fingertips. Plus the price was within your budget, or they had easy payment plans.

Back to book promotions.

Generally, readers have a reason to buy that sounds good—Hey! This book is on sale! But that isn’t enough for them to buy it. If it was, people would have tons of books in their Kindle or Nook. A person will never buy just because a book is on sale or download it because it’s free. They must have a real reason to buy. What might that be?

Way back when, Brian Tracey named this double reason to buy the Duality Law: The reason that justifies the purchase, and the real reason.

Look at it this way: You don’t purchase a pair of slacks because they are on sale. Your closet would be stuffed if that was the real reason. You purchased the slacks because they made you look good, or feel better about your figure, or they were very comfortable. Those reasons are sense-able appealing to your senses. They were on sale, or the perfect color that matches a pair of shoes, or had deep pockets. These are the reasons that justify the purchase. A reader must have both of these reasons to prompt a purchase and/or a download of your book.

Price is neither a feature nor a benefit. Pricing of the book helps to justify the purchase. As long the price is reasonable (Smashwords survey said between $2.99 and $5.99 for fiction) readers will buy your book as long as the genre is one they like to read. If a person doesn’t like action/adventure they’ll never download action/adventure even if it’s free. Never. Because they don’t like the genre. See?

As for non-fiction, a higher price plus author credentials help justify the sale. The reasoning for higher price? This must be a quality non-fiction because of the higher price. Credibility is crucial as well for obvious reasons. Here’s an example: Even though two different face creams have the same ingredients to help promote a smooth, soft complexion, if one is priced low, say $10 compared to a higher priced product say $50 generally the higher price indicates better quality ingredients so the cream must be better quality than the $10 priced cream. Understandably, the non-fiction book requires more research and more time for the editor to work magic on it so it should cost more than a book of fiction.

So how do you appeal to the senses in book promotions?

Your book description needs to leave the reader wanting more. It needs to raise some compelling questions, or describe a scenario that raises the questions, How? Or Why?

Here’s part of a description from one of my clients, Julia David:

Then a voice speaks from the morgue basement. A rough and tumble outlaw who’s supposed to be dead is still alive! For some unfathomable reason, Lauren agrees to help him stay dead.

Intriguing? You betcha.

Choosing sound words

Words are all an author has to appeal to the senses. Using the perfect word to convey a particular sound seems easy—for Edgar Allan Poe. What kind of bells is he referring to with these words: tinkling, sprinkling, merriment, jingling and the tinkling of the bells?*

What about these words: mellow, molton-golden, swells, dwells, rapture impels, swinging and ringing, chiming and rhyming?*

What about these: brazen, turbulency, shriek out of tune, clang, clash, and roar, clamor and clangor?*

And these: melancholy menace, rust in their throats is a groan, moaning and groaning?*

Creating a smell out of nothing

Our sense of smell is powerful. It can instill memories that will swell when an aroma tickles our noses. It can evoke emotions, and it can trigger us into survival mode. Words describing smells can either curl the lip in disgust or make a reader float in some pleasant memory. Whether it’s a heady aroma, piquant, comforting or fetid, frowsty, funky or fusty, smells bring a story description to life.

Taste is closely linked to smells. Of course just reading the word sour makes the jaw muscles tighten. Savoury or syrupy, tart or spicy can make mouths water.

Touchy vs. Feely

Let’s not confuse feeling with touching. You feel comfortable when laying down in bed, but the bedspread has the knotty texture of channel. Believe it or not, some authors do confuse the two. There are hundreds of words that describe how something feels to the touch. Hairy or smooth, damp or dry, hot or cold, abrasive, bristly, gelatinous, jagged, and the list goes on. You can also add texture words to sound words for even more clarity such as, “Her abrasive shriek grated my ear drums.” Or “His jagged sigh cut into my heart.” It creates an emotion with sound.

Just remember that you don’t need to address all five senses in your book’s description. One or two senses will bring your description alive leading readers to purchase your book. If it’s horror, make them feel the terror. If it’s romance, give readers a “taste” of longing and desire. If it’s non-fiction, create a desire to know more about your subject that you are passionate about. The only limit is your imagination.

Take a few minutes in the comment section below and sense-able a book description by writing a one-two sentence description of your latest book using two or three of our senses.


Gina Burgess is an editor, illustrator, and author. She is COO of owned by Common Sense Marketing Strategies, LLC. She also writes a weekly column at


Answers to the Bells question from Edgar Allan Poe’s poem, The Bells.

*Silver Bells

*Golden Bells

*Alarm Bells

*Iron Bells

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29 thoughts on “Book or Benefits – Appeal to the Senses in Promotion”

  1. Her bare feet thudded down the dusty path to the dark pungent smell of the tobacco shed. She huddled in the corner and listened to the rats crawling on the racks while her brain yelled, He has to come tonight. He has to help me.

  2. Thanks for this! I both agreed and disagreed with some of your bullets but it’s a great piece on truth and fact. I know I’m going to need a load of assistance when I’m ready to share my novel so I always read your blogs like this.

  3. Here’s what best-selling author Cynthia Ruchti said about my book, A Conspiracy of Breath, on Goodreads:

    In A Conspiracy of Breath, author Latayne Scott drew me into a world so exquisitely crafted that I felt goat hair between my fingers and the tentmaker’s needle-rawed fingertips. I could smell dried blood and yeast bread, hear the night sounds and the day’s cacophony.

    1. Latayne, I have read books like that! It’s fantastic that you write that way. I’ve read books with a desert scene that made me have to get up and drink a glass of water! And descriptions of coffee brewing or apple pie in the oven that make me remember my mom.

      Writing like that is not instinctive. First it has to be discovered, then acknowledged, then practiced until it’s second nature because we creatures of habit seem to fall back in old ruts far too often.

  4. Gina, your comments are right on the mark! I have long tried to sell books by how you feel reading them and after setting them down, and it hasn’t worked very well. So far only Wisdom and Whimsy is in triple digits in sales, although Gremlins 2050 is selling on the website.
    I have always been concerned about three things when writing: (1) Providing an emotional feast for the reader, so he/she will put the book down feeling great about having read it; (2) providing a role model people can use when facing trials: What would Cinnamon/Rell/Nightwatch/Martin/Ragnar/etc. do in a situation like this? WWJD fails me because Jesus is too smart to get into the kinds of mischief I’m always landing into myself. (3) Tell an interesting story, with exciting events, well-realized locales and a consistent voice/tone. Now you have given me a way to express these to potential readers!

    Can we get a blog/lesson on how to get into speakers’ bureaus, author readings and storytelling events, please? Mark Twain and Paul Dunbar both did these to augment their income and increase their exposure, as has more recently Obert Skye.

    1. Thank you, Alan. There is a video coming soon to our store on this very subject. I’ll have to put my thinking cap on and do a bit of study for the event things. I secured speaking engagements based on my non-fiction books–not sure how to do that with fiction books. Let me ponder it for awhile 🙂

  5. Fantastically useful post. Thank you for sharing your considered (and considerable) insight.
    Book description sentence: Free at last! The fresh, open air of the peasant land was as sweet to the princess as the damp and dingy castle stones were bitter, stale and sophocating.

  6. The sharp sound of the ringing phone interrupted the Mets game on TV. When she heard the voice saying words like her dad but sounding unlike himself at all, she never knew this call would change her life.

      1. Thanks Gina. That is the opening scene of my book After. But those are not the words. Here is the actual beginning:
        The phone rang as the ball left the pitcher’s glove and I glanced toward the sound.

        I have 6 five star reviews on this book.

          1. In a word, yes. Sparking interest, creating an emotional response helps to draw people into a purchase. This only helps, it doesn’t close the deal, but it keeps people reading and focused on your book rather than moving on to the next 🙂

  7. Take a few minutes in the comment section below and sense-able a book description by writing a one-two sentence description of your latest book using two or three of our senses.

    In 1966, how do you breakthrough from being just another garage band and walk into the promised land of the Top 40 record charts? By sounding as smooth as honey sliding down a raw throat that has suffered pain far too long.

  8. All great points. Thank you for this article. You are right. As a writer your biggest “buyer” motivation is experience. I tell people…”I provide a written experience for a reader to live vicariously through muliple character lives.”

    1. I like to say that authors lead dual lives with multiple personalities… I think Ann Rice said something like that. But, I suppose, we could say the same thing about readers except they pay for the privilege!

  9. A soft, pink scar marked the wound while neatly hiding the secret of its profane origin and the putrid decaying of Cat’s soul.

    Thank you for this insightful blog and (thanks, in advance) for your critique.

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