You can make fun of me, but I’m a part of about 40 groups on Facebook. They aren’t all about writing. Some are book promotion (bad covers), marketing (why is Facebook doing this to me?!), something about Romance (how much man-chest is too much on a cover?) general publishing (Amazon sucks!), and a little bit of everything else thrown in for good measure. (I especially like my book cover groups, and 20booksto50k never fails to amuse me).
But if you’re in them long enough, there is a common theme, and that is, I’m doing my best, why isn’t my book selling?
A lot of times that’s evident, and I’ve blogged plenty on good book covers, blurbs, optimizing your product page, and making sure your keywords and categories are correct.
But there are a couple reasons why your book doesn’t sell, and it has nothing and everything to do with all those things.
- You think your launch has to go as smoothly as a traditional book launch or your book will bomb. I’ve seen a lot of people talking about book launches, and while we want a good one, when you’re an indie, a book launch isn’t as important as when you’re a traditionally published author. Traditionally published books get a window of about 30 days give or take after release for it to take off–if it doesn’t, it gets moved off a prime table, possibly returned, and generally forgotten about (and that author may never get another book deal). Not so with an indie book. Yes, you can put money into your promos, beg your street team to leave reviews, but hey, guess what? You’re in control of your book and you can buy ads, purchase promos, and generally promote your book forever. My best-selling book will have its two-year book birthday on October 17th.
- You have no comp authors. In the words of Jane Friedman, “You don’t want to be alone.” Being alone will not make you stand out, it will make it difficult AF to fit in. If your book is so odd that you don’t have comp authors, you have no shelf to fit on, virtual or otherwise. That means you have no built-in audience, that means you have no authors to mine for keywords for ads. You wrote what you wanted to write, but now what?
- You don’t care about what’s going on in the industry. You’re an indie author and don’t keep up with what’s going on in the publishing industry? You want to go to a doctor who doesn’t care about the next big thing in medicine? You’re crazy. Publishing is what you chose to do, so if you’re not keeping an eye on trends, if you don’t care what COVID is doing to the printers and why Amazon can’t ship your book in fewer than 4 weeks’ time, that’s your own fault. Yes, it’s a bit time-consuming to listen to podcasts, read books on the subject of publishing/Amazon, and keep up with current blog posts from heavy-hitters in the field, but if you are not aware of the world around you, I definitely won’t feel sorry for you when you get left behind.
- You only have one book, and worse, it’s the first of a series. We indies did this to ourselves. Readers won’t invest in your book/characters/world unless they know you have more coming down the line. You’re better to hang on to that one book and release when you have a couple more written. If this is a standalone, you can buy ads and push it, but after you have reached readers and they read it, they have nothing else to buy, and you have to pay to bring them back into the fold after you have a new book. Marketing is a lot easier if you have a couple or three to show off on your Amazon Author page.
- You depend on free marketing instead of learning an ad platform. The only free thing I have seen that will make any headway in finding readers is having an active FB author page/group, and that’s only if FB stops mucking around with the algorithms. If you can entice readers to join in and give them consistent content, you can nurture a reading community, but it can take years. Spending time on Twitter might sell a handful of books during your launch because your friends are excited for you, but I don’t want to sell only a handful. There are billions of people out there. I want to sell thousands of books, and I’m sure you do, too.
- You don’t publish consistently. I’ve harped on here enough that you know I think writing is a business and not a hobby. If you want to look at your writing as something you do only in your free time, or something you do only when you feel like doing it (as opposed to going to your 9-5 whether you feel like it or not) then you have to realize that your success will come much slower than to those who do publish a few times a year. It’s not a bad thing truly, but you also have to adjust your expectations.
- You think your first book is going to knock it out of the park. Unless you’ve been writing already in some capacity for a long time, your first book will rarely make a dent (mainly because your craft won’t be optimal). Any “overnight success” can tell you they’ve been writing and publishing for years. Of course there are going to be outliers, but you probably won’t be one of them. As you write more you will get better with craft, character development, plot. Keep writing and listening to feedback and don’t give up.
So what are some things you can do to make your next book sell? Besides writing a series and focusing heavily on what’s selling in the market right now, here are a couple things that you might need to do:
- Think of your book as a whole product. There’s a wonderful podcast interview by Joanna Penn with Suzy K. Quinn. She has a class on Mark Dawson’s Self-Publishing Formula that I can’t afford, so I jumped at the chance to listen to this podcast. She talks about looking at your book as whole before you begin to write it.
A) Who will your audience be? (This will include genre and tropes.)
B) Who will your comp authors be?
C) What will your cover need to include to be genre-specific and appealing to readers?
Taking a look at these things can help put a marketing plan in place before you even write the story.
- Put your artistic hat away and put on your business hat after your book is done. I know it’s difficult to think of your book as a product after you’ve finished editing it. But every artist on the planet who wants to sell their work needs to do this. Painters have agents, so do sculptors, musicians, and actors and models. They pay someone to sell their art. So do writers if they query. If you’re self-publishing, you have to do this on your own, and you need to put aside emotions and do what you need to do to sell your book.
- Stop thinking paper. We get really invested in our paperbacks because we love to hold the finish product in our hands, but unless going to conventions is a huge part of your marketing plan, there’s no reason to spend a lot of time on paperbacks. If doing a book signing at your local bookstore is the only marketing plan you have, you’re thinking too small. Indies sell ebooks. Online. In the past 12 months I’ve sold 7 paperback books.
- Start networking. I’m bad at this too, but if you network with other authors in your genre, you open yourself up to being asked to join in with promotions, anthologies, and newsletter swaps. As Jane said above, you don’t want to be alone. No man is an island, and that’s especially true in the indie business.
- Create a publishing plan. You don’t have to put out 6 books a year to be successful, but if you only publish one book a year, expect to have a lot slower rate of success. If you create a publishing plan with the idea you are only going to publish one book a year, then you’ll need to also create a content calendar to keep readers engaged between books. Post regularly to a FB author page, and fill your newsletter with terrific content to keep readers from forgetting about you. That might actually sound like more work than just writing another book!
- Start a newsletter. Email marketing is still the best way to grow an audience. Write a reader magnet for signups and put the newsletter signup link in the back of your books. You don’t need many signups to build a solid readership. I have an account with MailerLite and I need to dig into using it and building a list before my first person stuff comes out. Dave Chesson just put out a free tutorial for MailerLite and you can watch it here.
I hope these tips are helpful! I tried offer some different ideas than just making sure your cover is genre-appropriate and that your blurb is well-written. You should already have done that when you published. Selling a book is hard. The market is saturated, and discoverability is like the Loch Ness Monster–you’ve heard tales of her but never have seen her for yourself. I think she’s real though, and discoverability certainly isn’t a myth. She’s out there somewhere! Good luck!
Thank you for this reminder about the importance of publishing consistently. As an author of two very different books over the past two years (historical fiction and children’s fiction), I struggle with the tendency to over-research and over-prepare before sitting down to write. Thankfully though, the children’s book’s success has gotten enough parents and little kids pestering for a new one, that I am realizing the truth of what you say here– you have to keep feeding your audience if you want to build momentum!
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Research is great though! Who hasn’t fallen down the rabbit hole and lost hours of writing hours? Sometimes it depends on your genre, too. Romance moves very fast. 🙂 It’s difficult to find a balance with everything you need to do plus publishing at a rate that suits your needs as an author. Thanks for reading!