| |

Are you confusing your readers?

Last week, a friend sent me an Amazon link for a relative’s self-published book. The author was running a classic “buy my book within this window on this specific day” Amazon best-seller campaign; the relative was helping him find potential book buyers and readers.

I clicked on the link, expecting to see a motivational nonfiction book because that’s his thing.

What I saw, though, was a business book title superimposed over an image of a man in a suit. Underneath the title were two words: “A Novel.”


I’ll admit that I’m easily confused, but I think this might have confused you, too.

I read the description, hoping it would offer some clarity.

It didn’t.

The book description assured me that the book’s story was infused with thousands of hours of executive coaching and years of leadership experience. This didn’t reassure me that the book really was a novel. In fact, it sure sounded like a nonfiction business book.

I looked for a table of contents. Yup. There it was.

When’s the last time you saw a table of contents in a novel? (Maybe never?)

I closed the window. I was tired of trying to understand what was going on. The book is  probably a parable, not a novel. Because the author doesn’t know about parables, he is confusing people by applying the wrong label.

More confused readers

I’d like to say this was the first time I’ve asked, “Is this fiction or nonfiction?” after reading a book description, but honestly, it happens way more often than you might think.

An author in my network sent me a link to the sales page for his new book. It, too, had a business book title — complete with subtitle — and a cover image of a suited male. Absolutely no question it was a business book.

Then I read the description. It described a novel.

If I didn’t know the author, I would have closed the window. Again, it takes too much effort to figure out the book!

Instead, I scrolled down the page to see what else I might learn — maybe in the author’s bio? — about the book and saw text from the back cover. It was a list of bullet points that detailed what I would learn about business leadership from the book.

News flash: People don’t read novels to learn leadership strategies. They read novels to be entertained. They want stories that are so compelling and well-written that they have to keep turning the pages to find out what happens next.

Signs you’re confusing readers

How do you know if you’re confusing readers and therefore forcing them to move on without buying your book? Here are a few clues:

  1. You categorize your book as a novel, but instead of describing a story readers won’t be able to put down, you tell them what the book will teach them.
  2. You tell readers the book is a novel, but your marketing copy uses bullet points that tell them what they’ll learn from the book.
  3. Your “novel’s” description uses “I,” “me,” and “my” — “My novel is about what I did and what happened to me. You won’t be able to put it down because it’s true.”
  4. You’ve written a parable — a story that uses fiction to teach a moral or lesson — and you’re calling it nonfiction or a novel rather than what it is. It’s a parable. Call it a parable.
  5. You’ve categorized your memoir as “fiction” because you’ve had to create imagined dialogue that you can’t support with documentation. It’s still a memoir.

The problems created by these and other mistakes go beyond confusing readers. When your book is incorrectly categorized, it won’t be discovered by the people you wrote it for. That doesn’t help you, it doesn’t help your book sales, and it doesn’t help potential readers.

Sure, your friends, family, and some in your network might buy your book because you asked them to. But will your book change the world in the way that you think it will?

No — because you haven’t packaged and positioned it in the accepted, understood way.

Follow the rules

Here’s the thing. Self-publishing might feel like the new frontier, but there are rules. If you don’t follow them, you end up confusing the very people you want to help. So learn and follow the rules.

That means that before writing your book and its description, you must read traditionally published books that are similar to yours. Then study how they are packaged, marketed, and categorized.

Don’t wing it. You can learn a lot from others, especially those who have succeeded.

And, to learn how to write a book description that convinces readers to buy your book, read this Build Book Buzz blog post, “Are you making these mistakes with your Amazon book description?

readers 2Want to learn more about how to sell on Amazon the right way? Purchase our “Sell More Books on Amazon” video training program and learn what works (and what doesn’t) on the most popular marketplace for books.

Let’s flip this and discuss what you’re seeing that is working on Amazon. What’s your best “how to do it right” tip for selling books on Amazon? Please share it in a comment. 

Like what you’re reading? Get it delivered to your inbox every week by subscribing to the free Build Book Buzz newsletter. You’ll also get my free “Top 5 Free Book Promotion Resources” cheat sheet immediately!


  1. Sandra,

    I’ve read business books that truly are fiction, including invented characters and a real plotline.

    Extremely boring and stupid. They take what should be 5,000 words and pump it up to 50,000 so they can print in hardcover.

    “After the confrontation, Jane sat alone by the coffeeshop window, absent-mindedly stirring her latte and wistfully considering Jim’s harsh advice. Perhaps he was right? Maybe her target market was too broad? She sighed…”

    Puh-lease. Horrible.


    Diana Schneidman, author, Real Skills, Real Income: A Proven Marketing System to Land Well-Paid Freelance and Consulting Work in 30 Days or Less

    1. That was good, Diana! Maybe you should be writing fiction, too!

      Was the book built around business lessons?


    1. Hey Richard, I admire you for admitting that. I’ve seen this sort of thing a lot, so you’re not alone.


  2. Sandy,

    Thanks for sharing these examples of how we can confuse our potential readers by not being clear on our categories and in our descriptions. I just talked about this in a memoir writing workshop today.

    I’ll save your examples to share in the next one I offer.

Leave a Reply

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