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Authors, Would You and Your Book Survive on "Shark Tank?"

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

Imagine your pitch to the sharks on "Shark Tank." It may help focus your sales strategy.

Imagine your pitch to the sharks on "Shark Tank." It may help focus your sales strategy.

Selling Leads to Sales

I could feel the heartbreak from his post. A new author posted on social media about his struggle to get a book deal or agent for his recently completed novel. The pursuit of either is now droning on, and he’s getting very discouraged, even doubting that his work is very good. I commented that this struggle might have nothing to do with his manuscript but that he now has to be a salesperson.

I’m sure many of you are thinking, “What? Sales? Ick!” Authors (and artists, too) want sales but don’t want to sell. This illogical mindset is mind-boggling to me.

But I have a tip that can help put you authors into the right mindset for selling your books: Pretend you’re going to be an entrepreneur contestant on Shark Tank.

Put You and Your Book in the Shark Tank

For those of you who might not watch it, Shark Tank is a reality TV show where entrepreneur contestants pitch their business or product idea to a team of “sharks,” investors who can provide capital funding for startup or growth. If a deal is struck between the entrepreneur and an investor, the investor then owns a piece of the venture and expects to make money on that investment. So the investor sharks grill the entrepreneurs with questions like the following:

  • How would you describe your business or product idea in a few words? (Usually, this description is announced by a narrator as the entrepreneur enters the “tank.”)
  • Who is the ideal customer for this product? How big is the market? Put another way, how many ideal customers are there?
  • Have you made any actual sales for this new product or a similar previous product?
  • If the product is actually being sold, where and how is it being sold? How’s that going?
  • How soon can I make my money back . . . and start making money?
  • What other products like this are in the market, and how are they selling?
  • What makes your product different from others like it in the market?
  • How big is your social media following and/or email list?
  • What uniquely qualifies you to make and sell this product?

Quite honestly, when you write a book and are seeking a book deal with a traditional publisher, or you're trying to get an agent, you’re in the publishing version of Shark Tank. They’ll essentially ask the same type of questions. Publishers and agents want to know when they’ll make back their investment in you and your work. And if you can’t or won’t demonstrate how that will be accomplished, you’re only begging for a handout that could mean a financial loss for them.

The entrepreneur contestants on Shark Tank that draw the most ire and fire from the investors are those that drone on about they love their idea or product so much but can’t show how the idea will even be profitable. Sometimes they can’t even show how it will make any money!

Let’s get something very clear. When you’re seeking a book deal or representation by an agent, you are asking them to invest in you and your work. They are in business to make money. You are not selling publishers and agents on your book. You’re selling them on you and your book’s ability to help them make a buck.

If you’re a self-published author, you might not think this applies to you. Au contraire! True, you’re not asking your readers to front the cost of publishing and producing your book, except in an indirect way. But you are asking them to invest the price of your book and the hours it will take to consume it. So even if you’re self-published, you’ll have to demonstrate your value to your reader “sharks.”

Remember, there are a lot of good authors out there. Being a good author doesn’t make sales. Being good at identifying and exploiting book sales opportunities does.


Take another look at the Shark Tank investor question examples. How would you answer them for your book? Doing so will help you get a better understanding of the sales environment and opportunities for your book.

True, when seeking a traditional publishing book deal or agent representation for an as-yet-unpublished book, the questions about current sales are irrelevant. But you would want to identify where and how the book could be sold.

For self-published books, you would answer these questions as if you were the shark investor! Would you invest in this project if you weren’t the author?

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You are not selling publishers and agents on your book. You’re selling them on you and your book’s ability to help them make a buck.

— Heidi Thorne

Good Book Writers Can Be Horrible Sales Copy Writers

Going back to the Shark Tank, I would say that many authors would be challenged to come up with a short description of their book idea to pitch to some publisher or agent sharks . . . or even to come up with a short description of their book to sell it to readers through Amazon.

This can be a problem for long-form fiction writers such as novelists. They could literally write tens, sometimes even hundreds, of thousands of words for a book. Even nonfiction authors who can be passionately committed to their mission or message can be challenged to condense their book's concept into a few words.

Essentially, these writers haven’t come up with what’s called the logline for their books. In Hollywood, a succinct statement of what a movie is all about is called a logline. Take a look at the loglines for some of the top box office movies (FilmDailyTV). Surprised at how an epic film or film series can be condensed into a couple of sentences?


Look at a book you’ve previously published or one that you’re working on now. Now write its logline. If you can’t do it for one of your own books or for more practice, try creating a logline for some of your favorite books or movies. Basically, this means summarizing the main storyline in a short sentence or two, targeting a total of 25 words or less.

Once you have your logline, start integrating it into your query letters to publishers and agents or your self-published book details for readers—right at the beginning—so they can quickly assess what you’re trying to sell and whether it’s something they want to buy.

There are a lot of good authors out there. Being a good author doesn’t make book sales. Being good at identifying and exploiting book sales opportunities does.

— Heidi Thorne

Too Close to Your Work, Both Literally and Emotionally

Authors are often too close, both literally and emotionally, to their work to see it from a reader’s or buyer’s (traditional publisher or agent) perspective. They feel that they’ve spent so many hours and so much emotional energy on this project that they’re surprised that someone else can’t see the value in it.


Here’s where a critique or beta reading can be helpful.

Ask your critique editor or beta readers to write the logline to your book as part of their review. See how it compares to the one you created. You might be shocked at what they come up with. If there’s a great disparity between yours and theirs, probe your reviewers for further feedback to get clarity before you do any manuscript rewriting.

In addition to the logline, have your critique editor or beta readers tell you what value they gained from reading your work. Some of them may be surprised by that request since most authors just want a good/bad evaluation. Again, their answers could be unexpected but helpful for developing a book that has sales potential.

Their Needs vs. Your Needs

Underneath it all, authors usually have their need to make an income from their books at the front of their minds. They forget that their books must fill a need that the publisher, agent, or reader has. I’d even venture to guess that many don’t even have a clue what any of their buyers’ needs are.


Right now, for the book that you’re hoping to sell, list the needs of your potential publishers, agents, or readers that your book fulfills. Don’t know? Then you need to do some research to figure out what those needs are.

For publishers and agents, consulting resources such as The Writer’s Market can help clarify what they need. Then craft your query letter to include a discussion of how those needs will be met by the manuscript you’re selling.

For self-published authors who are selling direct to readers, look at books that are similar to yours that are already popular and selling in your topic or genre. How do you and your book uniquely fill the needs of your readers? Prominently feature those benefits and capabilities in your book’s description.

The Long Publishing Game

I can certainly sympathize with the new author about the frustratingly long time it takes to make income and royalties from writing. The sales process can be long for selling just about anything. I was in advertising sales for a large chunk of my career, and sometimes, it took years before a particular client would actually buy. And when it comes to highly competitive markets—such as for books of all kinds, especially fiction—that time can be excruciatingly long.

When you pursue a book deal or self-publish, realize that you’re in business for the long game. Sales are the lifeblood of business. So suck it up and sell, authors! Your writing career and income depend on it.

Sales are the lifeblood of business. So suck it up and sell, authors! Your writing career and income depend on it.

— Heidi Thorne

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2018 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 01, 2018:

Hi Lawrence! You and me both! :) I've been to some local networking events that were run like "Shark Tank." I definitely want to see one for authors. Hmm... maybe I should do something like that.

True, a book may be a wise investment, regardless of its currently marketing plan. But with a good marketing strategy and plan, it will bring it ever closer to realizing its potential.

Thanks so much, as always, for adding your experience and insight to the conversation! Have a wonderful day!

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on April 30, 2018:


So much to say about this hub, i don't know where to begin!

The other day I had an experience like "The shark Tank" and I learned so much from it.

I think my books would stand up to it, but my marketing plan needs a lot of work, and I'm starting on putting a coherent one together.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 12, 2018:

Thanks for stopping by, Larry! Hope all is well in your world. Cheers!

Larry Rankin from Oklahoma on April 11, 2018:

Interesting read!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 02, 2018:

Hi Natalie! It's very difficult for creatives to think of the business side of the book equation. But it's so necessary. I just hope I've given some authors a starting point for thinking about their sales.

Thanks so much for stopping by and chiming in! Have a great week ahead!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on April 02, 2018:

Larry, indeed, authors want to write, not sell. But if you don't sell, you don't have money for your life... or to write more! Common problem.

I would really love to see an author as a guest on Shark Tank! :)

Thanks so much for starting your week here. Have a terrific day!

Natalie Frank from Chicago, IL on April 02, 2018:

Excellent way of looking at things. As authors few of us really want to have to take care of the business side of things including the initial steps towards publishing such as pitching your book and convincing publishers to take a risk on you and your work. Thanks for a great article with well put advice.

Larry W Fish from Raleigh on April 02, 2018:

A very interesting read, Heidi. I think many writers are poor sales people. I hate to admit, but I am one of those. I have watched many episodes of, Shark Tank, and I can not imagine pitching one of my novels to them, hahaha. Anyway, I enjoy the tips you always give to people.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 31, 2018:

Glad you found it useful, Linda! I find "thinking like I'm on Shark Tank" can be useful for a lot of different things.

Thanks so much for stopping by! Have a Happy Easter Weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 31, 2018:

RedElf, you're not alone! It is really challenging to condense a long work down to its essence. I'm so glad you see the value.

Thanks for sharing your author experience in the discussion! Have a terrific holiday weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 31, 2018:

Lori, it sure can be intimidating!

I think we all want that quick logline to figure out if it's worth our time. When we're going to see a movie, my husband will often ask what it's about. And if I have difficulty coming up with a sentence or two about it, it might be a difficult movie to watch. :)

Thanks for adding your experience to the conversation! Good luck with your book and have a lovely holiday weekend!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on March 31, 2018:

All of your articles are useful, Heidi, but I think this one is especially helpful. Your "Shark Tank" approach to selling a book is excellent. Thank you for sharing the advice.

RedElf from Canada on March 31, 2018:

Sound advice from all below. I find the writing is the easiest part. The really hard part is finding a way to I keep things ticking along while doing everything I need to do to find the right agent/publisher. It's hard to have perspective on what you've just poured onto a page, and boiling it down into a sentence or two can be daunting.

Same as in theater - as the director, you have to be able to answer the question "What is this play about?" to know which way to go - NOT the plot, but the essence of the thing - essentially, the log line.

Lori Colbo from United States on March 31, 2018:

Heidi, this is very helpful

Working on my first novel (now going through first revision) is a little intimidating as far as how I will market my book. I often buy books based.on the I can see how important they are. Thanks for you help.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 31, 2018:

Mary, true, if authors can't or won't sell their books, they need to find someone who can. But even at that, I'd strongly suggest that authors understand the "sell-ability" factors of their books.

Thanks so much for stopping by and have a very Happy Easter Weekend!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 31, 2018:

Bill, luckily I didn't have too high of expectations for my first very niche book. But I was hoping to make a good buck anyway. We live and learn! I'm a firm believer in the "Write, Publish, Repeat" strategy.

Thanks and Happy Easter to you, too!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 31, 2018:

I was a starry-eyed author with my first book, convinced it would sell thousands. Since then I've settled in for the long run, following the timeless advice "Write, Publish, Repeat!

Happy Easter my friend!

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on March 31, 2018:

You have stressed strongly here the need for authors to sell their books. It is often sad to read a well-written book not making the best seller list just because the author is not a salesperson. One has to learn or hire someone to do it.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on March 31, 2018:

Yes, Flourish, radio station WIIFM is always on for readers, publishers and agents! :) Thanks for stopping by and have a wonderful Easter Weekend!

FlourishAnyway from USA on March 30, 2018:

What excellent advice. Authors are often so interested in their own needs and views that they forget there’s a WIIFM for everyone else in the game, readers included.

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