Do you like it when people blatantly try to sell you something? Especially when that’s not what you want to hear about?
Of course not. Everyone hates that.
Yet, when it’s time to write their book, so many authors will forget this universal truth and instead use their book to pitch their product or service.
This is obnoxious, annoying, and worst of all—it’s ineffective.
No matter what your book is asking readers to do next—especially if you’d like them to buy your products or services—it’s critical that the content of your book not only doesn’t sell, it educates and informs instead.
In book writing terms, this is called “editorial” rather than “advertorial” information.
In this article, I’ll explain the difference between editorial content and advertorial content. I’ll also tell you which one is better for your book—and why.
What is Editorial Content?
Editorial content is any content that’s designed to inform, educate, or entertain. It provides readers with data about a topic or explains something to them.
At its core, editorial content is about providing value to the reader.
It’s not designed to sell.
It’s not designed to drive conversions.
It’s designed to demonstrate your knowledge, expertise, and authority in a given field.
Of course, that kind of content can make you money indirectly.
You’re giving readers information they can use, which earns their trust. In the long run, that will drive more sales to you than overt selling.
That’s what writing a nonfiction book is all about.
When readers see you as a credible expert, it raises your visibility, helps you reach new clients, and multiplies new opportunities (like speaking engagements).
Here’s a great example: Will Leach’s book Marketing to Mindstates opened up revenue streams that Will had never considered. Shortly after the book’s publication, he earned $40,000 from a single client and landed a speaking gig with Merck. Over the course of the next six months, Will made $400,000.
If you read Will’s book, you’ll never see a sales pitch for his company, Triggerpoint. In fact, he barely mentions it at all. Instead, he gives readers actionable advice about how to use psychology to improve their marketing messaging.
He positioned himself as an expert with valuable things to say. And readers recognized that value immediately.
What is Advertorial Content?
Advertorial content is exactly what it sounds like—a mixture of advertising and editorial content.
To be more specific, it’s advertising that’s designed to look like editorial content.
It’s sneakier than a traditional advertisement. Readers might read an entire article and think it’s objective, when in fact, it was created by a PR company or designed as part of a marketing campaign.
The difference between advertorial and editorial content is easier to see in the context of a magazine.
You’ve probably seen ads that look like a regular magazine article at first glance, but when you look closely, it says “paid promotion” or “branded content.” That’s a print ad masquerading as a feature article.
In a book, the line gets a lot blurrier, but it’s not necessarily because the Author is shady.
Let’s be honest. The reason you’re publishing a book is probably that you’re hoping people will buy your product or services. That can make it difficult to draw the line between Author and advertiser.
Advertorial content happens when the advertiser part takes over.
Here’s an example: Let’s say the Author of a nutritional supplement company writes a book called 8 Ways to Live a Healthier Life. A reader might assume they’re going to find tips about exercise, diet, time management, etc.
Then, when they start reading, they find 8 chapters dedicated to specific supplements. “If you want to sleep better, take our specially designed melatonin pill.” That’s advertorial.
Or, here’s another example: Let’s say the owner of a chain of gyms writes a book called Crushing It: How Going to the Gym Can Eliminate Stress from Your Life.
When you actually read the book, the narrative focuses on how he decided to create his gym, what makes his gyms special, how the chain grew, and how his gyms are changing people’s lives worldwide.
Even if there are some tips for eliminating stress in there, that’s not the main point of the book. The main point is telling readers how the Author’s brand came into being.
If you’re still having a hard time seeing the difference, ask yourself:
Is the purpose of the book to sell your brand? Or is it to create value for readers?
If it’s the former, your book’s advertorial. If it’s the latter, it’s editorial.
Editorial vs. Advertorial Content: Which Is Better for Your Book?
Editorial content is always better.
Think of it from a reader’s point of view.
They just spent $10 on your book, and they’re hoping for high-quality content. They want you to solve their problems and ease their pain.
Now, you’re overtly asking them to spend even more money—and you aren’t even giving them solid advice.
Advertorial content is the worst way to accomplish your goal because readers will feel taken advantage of. They will not trust you. They will be pissed off, and you will look bad.
Here’s the key thing to remember: readers buy your book under the implicit contract that you’ll respect their decision and give them value for their investment of money and time. When you push something on them, they feel as though you’ve betrayed their trust.
Most of us have pretty good BS meters. If it’s got a whiff of advertising, readers will be turned off.
Why in the world would anyone spend money on advertising content when they could look at a million banner ads for free?
But with editorial content, readers can sense when you authentically want to help them.
If you do a great job in your book and provide knowledge and information that benefits the reader, you’ve accomplished your most important goal: they’ll respect you, and they’ll trust what you say.
Those readers may come to you in the future, whether it’s to book you as a speaker, hire you as a consultant, or purchase your next book. They’re also likely to recommend your book to other people who will be interested in your ideas.
The best way to accomplish your professional goals is by making your value clear to readers and providing information they can immediately put to use.
How Much Should You “Give Away” in Your Book?
This is simple: put as much of your knowledge as you can in your book.
I say this again, without reservation: put as much of your knowledge as you can in your book.
The reasons are twofold:
- You’re writing your book for your readers. If you actually care about serving them, you have to give them your knowledge.
- Even better, when you give them what you have, it usually helps you reach your goals.
That’s why it’s so important to understand the “editorial vs. advertorial” conversation. Editorial books build trust with their readers. How can you build trust if you don’t show them what you know, and how it can help them?
Scribe’s book The Scribe Method is a great example of what I’m talking about:
Scribe is a company that sells several different services to help people write books (in addition to other value-add creative services).
However, at no point in the book do I push those services on readers or even imply they should buy them. In fact, I only mention them in passing to set up examples for my teaching (like I am now).
Plus, this book gives away every “secret” we have. You can follow the instructions and accomplish everything we do without us.
Why would we do that as a company? Why would we “give away” the process we sell?
For several reasons:
- Authority: If we’re not willing to fully explain what we do, and if we can’t show a reader what we know, why would anyone trust or hire us? The Scribe Method is the best possible proof that we’re good at our jobs.
- Credibility: If we tried to sell our services to you, it would greatly diminish the credibility of the book, the information in it, and ourselves. If readers believe an Author is only writing for personal gain, they won’t pay attention—nor should they.
- Reputation: If we do provide great information, readers will respect us and speak highly of us. That’s the type of word of mouth marketing that is incredibly effective and cannot be bought. It must be earned.
- Client Vetting: The Scribe Method shows potential clients how time-consuming writing a book is and how valuable our services can be. The type of people who hire us do so because we’re experts who provide high-level book guidance, and they want to save time. For that audience, the book sells us without ever trying to.
- Self-Respect: Our services are expensive. Most people can’t afford them. So, why sell to people who can’t afford us? We believe everyone with knowledge should write a book. The mission of our company is to “help everyone on earth write, publish, market (and own) their book.” If we actually believe that, then how could we write a book that was anything less than everything someone needed to write a good book? That would be intellectually dishonest.
Those 5 reasons are the epitome of why editorial content is superior. You’re letting the book—and your expertise—speak for itself.
That will bring in far more opportunities than a narrow-minded focus on sales.
Earlier I asked why Scribe would “give away” our method. Let me turn that question on its head. Why not? Why would we hold content back?
Most Authors only hold things back when they want readers to pay for it.
It’s an advertorial decision to omit information, too.
Readers will pick up on it when you’re vague or evasive.
I can’t tell you what to do with your book, but I invite you to take an editorial approach to your book. Put in your best knowledge, and don’t try to sell people. Let them come to you because your knowledge is useful.
Not only is that the ethical thing to do, but it’s also the most effective.