I Wrote A Book – But It Won’t Sell

Selling a book isn't easy

Selling a book isn’t easy

Writing a book takes a long time, and for those authors new to self-publishing, the next step can be daunting – trying to attract readers willing to pay good money to buy your book. But first, they have to find your book.

One of the most frequent questions I’m asked by newly self-published authors is, ‘why isn’t my book selling?’ While there are a thousand reasons why a book doesn’t sell well, there is one fact that many newly self-published authors often fail to realise. The book market and the ebook market, in particular, is well and truly over-populated.  These numbers tell the story.

300,000 books were published in the U.S. 2003.

411,422 books were published in the U.S. in 2007.

1,052,803 books were published in the U.S. 2009.

Approximately 3,000,000 books were published in the U.S. in 2011.

Over 15,000,000 ISBN numbers in 2012.

With these statistics, it’s easy to see where one new book sits. Lost in a huge crowd.

The fact of the matter is that it is getting harder and harder to sell books and for a writer new to self-publishing, there is going to be a lot of hard work ahead; just to get noticed. So what can you do to get some attention?

Firstly, write a damn good book.

This may sound simplistic, but have you had independent feedback about the quality of your book? Just because your mother likes it, this doesn’t count for anything in attracting attention or climbing bestseller lists.  Yes, we all love our own books, but you really need to know if other people will love it enough to buy it.

Does your title attract attention?

This is the most important few words of your book, and yet I see so many poorly titled books. Give your title a lot of thought.

Does your cover attract attention?

Especially when viewed as a thumbnail image. This is important as this is usually the first image of your book that a potential reader sees, so you really want them to click on it. Does it look amateurish? Look at your book cover as a thumbnail size image. Is it attention grabbing or a fuzzy little box? If you’re not happy, a small investment in a professionally designed cover is certainly not a waste of money.

Does anyone know your name?

I’m a firm believer in promoting your name as an author rather than promoting the title of your book or books. Getting known is vital, so use social media to build your name recognition. Yes, it’s slow going and hard work. But nothing is going to come easy in a crowd of fifteen million new books.

Use social media intelligently.

Don’t fill your social media streams with posts about the kids, the dog or details about your headache or hangover. Build a professional image of yourself and use separate accounts for your friends and relations chatting. You want to sell books not inform people about cupcakes. Build quality Twitter and Facebook Page followings as an author and concentrate on improving your reputation.

Be patient and don’t give up after 3 months.

It takes a long time to build your profile and to write enough books to be noticed. If you are expecting instant success through self-publishing, I would really suggest trying something else. It’s just not going to happen.

Set realistic goals.

In your first year with one or two titles, don’t expect to sell many more than one or perhaps two hundred copies. The average royalties earned by self-published authors is less than $500 per year, so don’t even think about getting rich quick.

Market your book. Don’t sell it.

Let’s face it, you don’t like getting ‘Check out my book‘ or ‘Buy my book‘ messages, so why would anyone else react differently to you? Guide your followers to you, your books and your blog and or website. Don’t just repeatedly post your Kindle page. It drives people away from you, not towards you.

Don’t pay for what you can do yourself.

There are many ways to waste a lot of money when it comes to publishing and marketing books and ebooks. Yes, you will have to invest as in any business, but be very wary of sharks! Avoid vanity publishers in particular. They really offer nothing for an awful lot of money. But you will need to invest a little in

Write more, write better.

With each book you write, you improve. So if you truly want to be a writer who will be noticed, keep writing, improving and learning.

But don’t give up on your dream!

37 thoughts on “I Wrote A Book – But It Won’t Sell”

  1. Thanks for the advice, Derek. At this point, I think I’m doing all the right things. Of course, one can always do more marketing. The number of books being published is mind boggling. My first published book is right on par with your estimates. The second is coming soon. I can only hope my writing quality continues to improve (Every writer knows it will never be perfect!) and as a result, will help my titles rise to the top.

    Happy Holidays!

    1. The key is to keep writing Lenny. I’ve written a lot of books, but only a handful sell consistently well. It’s next to impossible to know what it is about a book that ‘clicks’ with readers. Publishers work on only a handful of their titles selling well too, so it’s a lottery. All you can do is keep writing and hope one or two books work with readers.

  2. Joseph Mark Brewer

    Great tips! I am inching ever closer to self publishing, and it just seems so daunting! I’ll keep this in mind. Thanks for the article.

  3. Lorinda J. Taylor

    Yes, that’s been my cry – can’t get any sales! It really is appalling how many books are being published! About as bad as trying to find an agent – when I was doing that, one of them said she had 4000 submissions a month to slog through. It’s no wonder it’s hard to get attention! I think I’m doing most of the things you mention. I think the covers that I draw for my books are attention-grabbing, and I’m gradually working up name recognition by joining certain online groups that would have a natural interest in the kind of thing I write. I have two interesting blogs that are growing in page views and that are full of substantive material. I can’t be a mommy blogger because I’m not a mommy (LOL) and I don’t cook or have a pet or write humor or whatever. I do include what I call a nostalgia post occasionally in order to attract those who want lighter fare. I’m tenacious and have no intention of giving up. The only thing I have trouble with is marketing rather than selling to one person at a time. I really don’t know how to do that. But I’m confident that if I just keep at it, I’ll find my readership. It may be a specialized group of people, but I think once word gets more widely distributed, more people will come on board. (And it would help if some of the people who have actually bought my books would read them, and give me a review! Nobody has time to read these days!)

    1. It might be appalling Lorinda, but it’s the reality we face now. Best to accept and get on with playing by the new rules. Maybe one tip that might help with regard to marketing vs selling. I find that adding reviews I receive to my website page for each of my books works well. Firstly it protects reviews that may be deleted later by Amazon, and secondly adds value to my books. I only post links now to my website and not a retailer such as Amazon. It’s a subtle difference, but I think it works reasonably well.

      1. AndrewToynbee

        I understand the wisdom and caution behind preserving your book reviews, but how do you present the reviews – as a post or on a dedicated page? It sounds like a wise move, but I wouldn’t want to be shoving my reviews down my followers’ throats.

        1. I just add reviews to each book page on my website Andrew. I’ve had no complaints, so I’m sure it just adds value to the information about each book.

          1. AndrewToynbee

            That’s my flaw – I don’t have a separate book page on my blog – only a ‘how I created the book’ journal that concludes with my book. I think I need a link to a review page. Thanks for the pointer…

          2. Lorinda J. Taylor

            That’s my problem, too. When I first got into this I was advised to have a webpage in addition to my blogs (in face it was Derek who so advised me!), but I never got one because, honestly, I know nothing about HTML and I have no desire to learn. I truly need to be spoonfed, the way Blogger does it. So if I put my reviews on my blog, I’ll do it using one of the pages, with the tab at the top. If I did it as a regular post, it would just disappear into the archive. I know taht’s not ideal, but it would preserve the reviews and make them accessible all in one place.
            Derek, your commenting is running off into the sidebar again. I can’t see what I’ve typed.

      2. “I only post links now to my website and not a retailer such as Amazon. It’s a subtle difference, but I think it works reasonably well.”

        Besides, not all readers choose to purchase from the Mighty ‘A’. Derek’s approach thus lets you provide links to all the alternate sites for your books, so you can let each reader decide for them self.

  4. I would add one other highly relevant point to the list.

    Chose a story which is guaranteed to grab the great majority of readers by the throat. It sounds obvious I know. But most of the newbies don’t seem to get it!

    So many of the people Derek is talking about may have written a perfectly crafted story. But you have to wonder who are they aiming it at? Until you are known, there is absolutely no point whatsoever in specializing.

    Experiment – try different styles and genres!

    A lot of newbies easily get demoralized and deflated because the product of all their hard work simply doesn’t appeal, especially the ones who delude themselves into thinking their book will make them millionaires. In the real world the percentage of ‘successful’ writers is tiny.

    Lastly – most days we hear the big no no – ‘buy my book’ on social media sites. DON’T DO IT! There is nothing worse than publicly pleading. Swallow your disappointment and write another book.

    1. I think the real test for those new to self publishing Jack is when the critical and less that complimentary reviews start arriving. You and I both know them well and have learned to handle criticism. But for those not used to harsh criticism, it can come as a real shock. It’s one thing writing a book, but another altogether in understanding that not everyone will love it. And then there will be those who hate it, and won’t be shy in saying so. This though, comes with being a writer.

  5. Another great post my friend. As Jack points out demographics are important. But one must balance that with what you want to write. Granted there are some successful writers who write only for demographics and to sell books. But they are left-over MLM people who care only for sales and don’t care what they have to write to get those sales. So we have basically two types of authors saturating the ebook market. Those who write for literary reasons and those who write for sales. Sadly those who write for sales also follow a policy of cranking out a book every 90 days to keep their names in the loop. This greatly increases the number of books that real literature has to compete with to get noticed.

    1. I think it’s a 50:50 split Rick between ebook marketers and those with genuine literary intent. Whichever way, I have a Twitter account where I only follow/followback authors and writers. It takes me only 5 minutes a day to add 200. And that is every day! Says a lot. It’s becoming a very big swamp! lol

      1. Lorinda J. Taylor

        I fall in the literary camp and I believe in what I write, and I will never write anything just because I think it’s what hoi poloi wants to read at the moment. For example, I have almost no interest in paranormal and I doubt I would ever write anything in that genre. However, I am resurrecting some pure fantasy material that I wrote back in the late 1970s – a novelette (8400 words) – that I’m going to publish as an ebook, probably just on Smashwords at first, and make it 99 cents and see how that goes. I’m working on a cover for it right now. That will be a change of pace.
        In response to Jack Eason, I did do a lot of tweeting, but I’ve let up on that lately. I tweet my new blog posts and that seems pretty effective, but I’ve never gotten much response from the straight promotional tweets. I also use Facebook (especially some groups that I’ve joined) and Google+, and I finally decided to get a Facebook author page, although I can’t see it’s doing me any good. And that’s good advice, Derek, about posting my reviews on my own websites.

        1. I think you and I write alike Lorinda. I never write for what is popular, but what I believe is a story that I want to tell. Some are liked, some aren’t, but at least I know I wrote with my heart and not via throbs from my wallet. Writing for the love of it is sometimes the best avenue to finding success, as faking it only fools a few for a short time.

  6. Serban V.C. Enache

    This is the shortest, blunt, and most useful post I’ve seen on this particular issue. There is absolutely nothing counter intuitive about the answers, yet people still don’t get it. I’ve seen these gits posting comments, complaining about retailers, bashing them with pseudoarguments, while idealizing Amazon’s KDP select. I have only two words for these people, “Who cares?” – to quote the giant Lawrence Garfield. When it comes to real life, to social welfare, I’m not a social darwinist, I’m the complete opposite. But when it comes to the virtual world of ebooks, this needs to be said – Let them fail, let them go under. Let bankruptcy reorganization do its organic thing, if the corporate states won’t allow it to happen in the banking sector. At the end of the day, few of them actually are truthful with themselves, and acknowledge their own flaws. When talking about fiction or nonfiction, it’s all about the characters. It doesn’t matter if it’s the ancient times, the year 3999, contemporaneity, the postimperial age, erotica, thriller, horror, romance, or whatever – IT’S ALL ABOUT THE CHARACTERS. I believe a writer should assume his faults, and say… “Yes, it’s me. I suck. NOT my characters. Not my world/universe. I suck, not them. For it’s not the object’s fault of being made poorly, it’s the creator’s fault. A poorly made carpet is not guilty of being made poorly, the carpenter is. If you truly love your characters and universe, you’ll never betray them. So either endure the market, endure your readers, endure your peers, those bellow you as well as those above you – cause de facto we’re not equal – and dish it out, or walk away. To those that give up, I say good riddance. I agree with George Carlin, hard work is genetic. Learning how to make your own book cover is not hard. The knowledge is plentiful about the internet and most of all it’s free. Learning about history, economics, politics, science, culture and art, and everything else is FREE. I’m the laziest person I know, and I’m always blown away to see how others are much more lazier than me. Though, while my body is prone to procrastination, my mind never is. I’m a hard working thinker. If by now you haven’t found out that oxymoronic metaphors are the best magnets with which to attract your listeners/readers, and at the same time make them think and reflect, you’ve got a long way ahead of you.

    1. Lorinda J. Taylor

      Long comment – brief reply! Hip, hip, hip hooray! Good characters, good plot, and something significant to say, and someday people will decided you’re worth reading!

      1. Serban V.C. Enache

        Just so, Ms. Taylor. When you write a book, it lives on into the future. You’ve invested in a durable good, that will yield you permanent income. Writers should think long term. This isn’t forex or the stock exchange. You can’t write on margin while being overleveraged, and hope to make a killing in time before the close. It’s a commitment you make for life.

  7. Frightening statistics on what we have to compete against! Also reassuring because with a top ten book and rather more than the average income we mist be doing something right.

  8. Darlene Jones

    I think you are spot on with this advice. I’m in this for the long haul – writing more books as I market the ones already published.

  9. AndrewToynbee

    This may upset some of your other commenters, but my debut novel was aimed exactly at the growing supernatural romance market, specifically angels in romance.
    This was not because I was chasing money, but because I wished to use this particular aspect of the market to introduce my name to the market. I love writing, I fell in love with the book I produced, but once the supernatural romance wave has dashed iteself against the rocks of time, I plan to return to complete my high fantasy novels and use the credibility I built to try to sell them.
    You will know in five years time whether of not this plan was a success or a failure. :D

    1. Lorinda J. Taylor

      I don’t know if I’m one of the commenters you were talking about, but what you say doesn’t upset me at all! I don’t care what genre anybody writes – it’s the quality of the book that matters! If you can write a book directed at a specific market and make it a really, really good example of that genre, I say, great!

  10. Thomas "Tom" Oberbichler

    I like the short and concise approach you chose for your article.
    I find it very helpful to compare and share my own experiences with those of fellow authors and writers.

    An essential point I learned, which is well reflected in your opinion is that marketing is an integral part of writing a book and to be successful, you have to start it well before you get to the point of publishing the book.

    So you build momentum and your success comes that faster – when you have a good book.

    be wonderful! and happy new year :)

    1. Quite right Tom. The authors that are marketing will have success over those who are selling. The difference between marketing and selling is for some, well worth the time in consulting a good dictionary. :)

  11. Kurt Brindley

    Hello Derek,
    Big fan of yours on twitter. First time to your website.

    This is an important post for someone like me: been writing for a while; however, I’m new to this mad business of book marketing. It really does make my head spin sometimes.

    Great post and equally great comment/responses.

    Thanks for taking the time to mentor, Derek.

    ~ Kurt

    1. When I stop learning Kurt, I’ll stop posting. lol Self publishing in totally fluid right now, so what is true today could well be false tomorrow. But then, that’s half the fun. Trying to stay one step ahead is near impossible, so we all just try and keep up!

  12. Thanks for the great tips and encouragement. It really is stunning to realize just how many books are published in a year! I self published a year ago. I’ve been doing most of the things you recommend and sales have been quite good in the bookstores. Amazon kindle is another story though. Vey few sales there. I’ve been getting excellent reviews so that helps keep me going. I like your advice to keep writing though, that is what I must do when I’m not lost on social media.

  13. Great post though I’d add one more tip: When All Else Fails – Write More.

    Craft improves with practice. Sales improves with greater numbers of product to sell. A struggling new author can often improve their sales by buckling down and committing to better their craft and tightening their turn around between novels. Also, with self published books being the favorites of some truly voracious readers, being able to keep new titles popping to their attention helps them remember you and how much they enjoyed your previous book. It also helps to combat the “I’m not getting anywhere” blues, to submerge yourself in the creative act that you loved so much you tried to build a life around it; which then rejuvenates you for another round of the less fun stuff (editing, self promotion, review hunting etc).

  14. lindaajanssen

    Such a breath of fresh air. Thank you for stating simply and succinctly what every new (and most not-so-new) author needs to hear AND act on.This is why I love you :)

  15. Darlene Jones

    I figure it will take a few years to really see some sales, so I persist.

  16. I’ve been self-published for 3 years. I have 8 novels out and a bunch of short stories. A sage author friend told me that it takes between 8-10 novels and 4-9 years to truly make it as an Indie. He should know, he just got to retire from his day job and write for a living- he makes several thousand a month off his royalties. So, that being said, I keep my nose to the grind, market as appropriate, and do my best to create novels folks want to read. I’m happy that my recent release, “Silks and Sand” has been selling on Amazon. Last month, I sold 50 copies- far better than any of my books have been doing. Time and timing I think played a big part with the Triple Crown races, perhaps folks were doing more searches. Who knows, I’m just glad books are being bought. Maybe this will bring me more readers. Hang in there everyone, our time will come.

  17. Sebastian Aiden Daniels

    This was a great post Derek. Thanks for all of the vital information. I realize that I have a lot of work to do. Writing a book is just the beginning. As they say, just because you build it does not mean they will come.

  18. Thanks Derek for speaking truth. There is no magic – no secret. Just to keep on keeping on. My second novel is sitting with my editor – the third novel is underway. Every day I try to do three things to move the career along. Just three. Consistent and steadfast. Thanks for reminding us that overnight is not realistic for anyone. Including all those terrific webinars that offer immediate results.

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