The Psychology Behind Book Buying Decisions

8 minute read (1890 words)

Note: This is a reprint of an email I sent to paid KDSPY users. It was in the context of a set of 3 emails.  This is the FIRST (below). The second one can be found here (read that next).

On a weekly basis, I’ll probably get 5-10 emails from my publishing members and subscribers.

In many cases, they’re about Keywords:

“I can’t rank”…

“What keywords shall I choose for my book?”…

“How do I find low competition keywords?”…

You get the picture.

When I ask to see the book — their “lack of sales” is always — without exception — never down to an issue with “Keywords.”

I don’t blame you if your questions resemble the above.

And think it’s the holy grail to your lack of sales.

It’s not your fault.

It’s really not.

Too many here today, gone tomorrow, publishers have taught this method and it’s spread like a virus from course to copy-cat course.

The truth is, ranking for those elusive 7 keywords (of course) can drive sales for your books.

But, if your foundation is not sound — it’s a losing battle.

SIDENOTE: Let me ask you:

Have you ever considered what your readers are actually buying? And no, that’s not a trick question. If you make it through this email (most won’t), and understand its entirety..

I’ll reveal the answer to that question

The answer to which, may surprise you. If you make it there, however, you’ll be ahead of many authors and publishers that think “Keywords” are the holy grail to your $10/k month income goal.

Ok, resume keyword rant:

Sure, you may rank on Amazon for a week, but when your competitors sell a higher “volume” of books under the same keyword search, you’ll slowly start losing your rankings.

Your sales tail off.

Then, you’re left scratching your head.

Well, the truth is –– Amazon replaced your book with your competitors that SELL MORE.

Take a lesson from Google:

Google ranks “websites” that their users respond favorably towards. Over 200 metrics are used to determine where a website ranks. A large part of their algorithm will allow sites to rank (and stay there) if users stay a long time on the page and/or engage with the content.


They want to serve the most engaging and USEFUL content to the end user. They figure, if you get a good experience with the results Google provides, you’ll likely come back again, right?

Amazon is no different — but their metric is SALES.

Here’s the reality:

95% of authors never sell more than 200 copies of their book a year. Do you think the 5% of successful authors are masters at keyword research?…

That that’s the foundation of their success?

If so — please allow me to reach through the computer and give you a harsh reality check.

I’ll be gentle. I promise.


If you want to join the 5% that sells large volumes of books — and, continue to do so over and over again — you’ll want to continue reading and get to answer to the question I posed above.

And yes — I’m in a unique position to teach this.

I was fortunate enough to have over a decade of digital marketing experience before ever finding my love for writing.

One of my jobs (SEO aside) was doing conversion optimisation (CRO) back in 2009.

If you don’t know what CRO entails … essentially, it’s making websites more effective in driving profits by converting a higher % of people to break out their credit card and buy your product or service.

In larger quantities. More often. And purchase more at point of sale.

I know what you’re thinking;

You’ll “immediately” think this was through slick persuasion, hard selling and sleazy sales.

The truth is – it’s far from it.

Again, if you finish this article and read between the lines, the truth will “naturally emerge” for you on how this is done with an empathy-led mindset and data-science.

I learned the art of CRO from the people that invented the term.

The very people that Google itself hired to bring on-board as consultants. The same people that increased the conversion of Vodafone by 300%. The same people that took sunshine holidays from £17m to £31m per year.

And the list goes on.

This is not something I’ve spoken about before.

Yet, I feel I need to put an end to the Keyword craziness in our publishing space, so there’s me explaining why I’m in a unique position to do so.

So, what does all this have to do with selling more books?

Well, the same principles that can double or triple the size of million-dollar companies?

Is the same process to sell more of ANYTHING.

The psychology of sales is the same — no matter what you sell.

Human decision is at play.

Driven by “emotion”.

The same publishers and authors obsessing over “Keywords”…

Are the same CRO specialists that preach “Colours” on a website will seriously move the needle on conversion and endlessly split test random variables of colours and layouts on their site.


Those internet marketers that think “traffic” is the answer to all their problems … without FIRST identifying a market in need of a solution, and providing a quality product or service to — either fill the void — or happily sit side by side to their most dominant competitor.

What both groups failed to “identify” was:

What the market really WANTS.

What other offers they’re being exposed to…

What offers they’re already receptive to…

And what beliefs, mindset, objections, and emotions “influence” their particular buying decision when exposed to what they have on offer.

A series of answers that can NEVER be understood “right away.

Or from an hour’s research of reading reviews, forums, or the belief that — “I already know my customer” well enough (very common).

Knowing your customer (or market) is not a one-time event.

Rome wasn’t created in a day.

Neither is your understanding of your market.

SIDENOTE: The most impact I had on a business was at a company called, Quidco – here in the UK. I increased their search traffic from Google by over 370% in the first 24 months of working with them…

Simultaneously, I increased their lead registration by 72%, and their margin for every registration to their website by 170%. I shudder to think of the positive “exponential” impact that’s had with their, now 7 million members — a nice portion of which pay £5 every month to get their premium service.

For what? a measly salary of £55,000 a year? (About $75k). Hence, why I left to build my own lifestyle business instead; entering the unknown world of “entrepreneurialism.”

So back to how this can benefit you:

If you read my previous email about Seth Godin (last week), and you’ve been with me for any length of time…

… you’ll know that I preach — and have done from day one of KDSPY and Publishing Altitude (in my cheatsheets) — that in order to succeed long term:

You need to understand your customers (readers) better than they know themselves.

So, let me ask you:

Did you ever consider what your readers are actually buying?

And yes, this relates to books or anything you are selling.

First lesson:

Distinguishing between NEEDS and WANTS.

We NEED food, shelter, and basic essentials to live day to day.

That other stuff we buy?

They are all things that we WANT.

We can never truly understand what SPECIFIC groups of people want (and what they’ll buy), until we develop true empathy from their unique viewpoint.

We need car insurance because we are legally required…

We need food to sustain our bodies…

We need water to prevent dehydration…

What we WANT though?

That’s where “powerful emotions” have a say in the decision. (often unbeknown to even the buyer). More on that in a minute.

That’s what we want to sell to — people’s WANTS!

This is why – if you understand this — you want to focus on EMPATHIZING with their emotions.

Once you do — you can get noticed in a “distracted world.”

You’ve heard the saying:

People don’t want a drill bit, they want a hole in the wall?

Well, it goes deeper.

What people actually WANT is:

The “satisfaction” that – they themselves – put the shelf on the wall, and the recognition of such from their family members (daughter/son and/or wife) along with the positive, feel-good “feelings” (emotion) that comes with the praise from them.

So, when you enter the DIY store, you’re not buying a drill bit.

You’re buying a FEELING!

You know those EMOTIONS we all have?

Those things that make us human?

Those pesky things that can give us so much joy … or deeply experience so much PAIN!

Yep, those.

Every purchase you make is to tweak those pesky things to “increase” the positive ones – and/or “reduce” those painful ones.

If you get to the ROOT of all human decision, It’s based on our ever present desire for creating “higher experiences of JOY” (positive emotions) … and “lesser experiences of PAIN” (negative emotions).



That parenting book you purchased as a new father/mother?

You’re buying CONFIDENCE for yourself to deal with unknown situations — and SAFETY for your little one.

The first few weeks of being a NEW parent (first child), you’ll desperately WANT something that you CAN’T find anywhere.

An instruction manual.

The only thing in the world that doesn’t come with an instruction manual, and you feel left at the mercy — rightly or wrongly — to the advice of your own parents, friends and immediate family.

But, at 4am in the morning, faced with an unknown situation?

You want the CONFIDENCE that you can deal with any problem that arises.

And boy, do they arise.

It seems week-to-week, you’re faced with a new “challenge” — and you don’t want to be a burden at 3am to anyone

So you want to FEEL “confidence” — as a new parent — you’ve got control in whatever situation arises to keep your little one safe.

Hence, why the paperback versions of the What to expect series of books for new parents, by Heidi Murkoff — have dominated the space for years.

The KEY to the book’s success from the first release?

Undoubtedly it’s that EXACT phrase:

“What to expect”.

If you’ve been a parent, you can obviously relate as to how KEY that “phrase” is to selling a large volume of books in this market…

Without EMPATHY though…

She may never have realized what the KEY driver was for its success … and never turned it into a book series:

  • What to expect when you’re expecting
  • What to expect in the first year
  • What to expect in the second year
  • What to expect at pre-school
  • What to expect on the potty

So, the next time you think that “Keyword rankings” are the center of the Publishing universe — that has all the answers to making your book sell more copies…

Ask yourself this question…

The same question I posed in my email last week in the subject line:

Are you focusing on your market or your marketing?

That beautiful phrase that was so eloquently presented by Seth Godin, in his book: This is Marketing … and so eloquently sums up what I’ve been trying to teach in this space for over 5 years.

What I’m preaching is not:

“Build it (write it), and they will come”.

What I’m saying is — traffic (eyeballs) is the simple part of the equation — empathy is the missing piece for most — if not all — those that are struggling.

More to come.

If you want it.

Hit REPLY and let me know.

Maybe I’ll expand if I get enough people that what to experience the “other side.”

P.S. The above is an email reprint I sent to customers. It was in the context of a set of 3 emails. What you just read was the FIRST; the second one can be found here (read that one next).