I’ve yet to talk with an author that says, “My book is selling better than expected, and I don’t need to figure out how to sell more.” Most authors express the opposite. “How do I sell more books?”
In talking with authors about their books and their marketing or lack of it, there are similarities that arise that get in the way of improving sales. Many of these issues can resolve before the book is written and published, and some are post-publication fixes. This isn’t an exhaustive list. Check back next week for Part 2 when I discuss the obstacles an author faces personally when selling their book. For now, let’s talk about the 7 obstacles to selling your book.
One reason a book may not sell well is there may not be a big enough market for it. If you write romance novels, this is NOT your issue. It more often found in nonfiction books for which there is a designed target audience. For instance, if you write about juggling in Delaware, you can expect modest sales due to the fact that Delaware is a small state and jugglers are a small subset of those who live in or visit Delaware. Even if you sold a book to every Delaware juggler or every visitor who is a juggler or loves juggling, your sales have a ceiling.
Before you write a book, consider the market for the book. While having a specific target market in mind is a GREAT idea, if the market is too small, it will hurt your sales numbers. Consider how to increase the target market of your book without diluting the purpose of the book. Think about expanding the region (e.g., juggling on the East Coast), or the target market in other ways (e.g., profiles of creative professions).
The competition for books is fierce. It’s easy to see why books can get lost in the Amazon black hole. One of the big factors with missing a sale is that a competitor’s solution (book) is more well-known than yours. Perhaps they are famous or more visible due to positioning of the book or the author through organic means like their author platform online (on various social media platforms, blogging, webinars, etc.) or at live events through speaking or by offering workshops. They may also use paid advertising to increase awareness of their book.
Your book may not be different enough from the competition to warrant purchasing both books. If your book is like every other book on the market and the competition has more starred reviews or has built trust over the years in some other capacity, your book may get passed by.
Research the market before you write your book to approach your book from a different perspective. If you have already written your book, market the topic and your book in a fresh way. Find out how the competition is getting the word out about their book and positioning their book in front of your ideal readers.
Ouch. This is a time for self-reflection. It may be that your writing and/or editing is not up to the quality standards of your readers. Much of what drives book sales are the reviews and recommendations of others. If you’ve received poor reviews or you don’t get referrals from friends, family members, beta readers, or others who made the purchase, it may be an indication that you missed the mark.
Looks aren’t everything, except when it comes to a book cover. If you self-published, you might have tipped off the reader with an unappealing book cover or unprofessional formatting. This will give a reader pause unless you have many positive reviews to overcome this deficit.
If you did self-publish, many times you can have redemption by creating a second edition. Fix any incomplete, disorganized, inaccurate, or confusing information. Edit away those pesky grammatical errors, and get a professional design facelift inside and out for your book. It is more likely that readers will invest in you if you invest in your book. If you published through CreateSpace, you can upload another edition for free.
This may be self-explanatory, but if your book is too expensive or the price doesn’t match the perceived value of the book, you drive away readers. It is far more important to price it according to the value of the book and be in line with other books in your category. Even if you have spent thousands of dollars getting you book published, spend too much on the wholesale cost of purchasing copies to sell, or receive too little royalty on your book, the reader drives the market and therefore it needs to be priced based on their willingness to purchase it at a given price. Again, research the competition and note the price of different versions (print, ebook) of the book and price yours accordingly.
Book sales may be affected by where and how readers can purchase it. They may pass you by if there’s not a convenient way to get it in their hands. If it is only available on your website and the reader has to send a check to your home and pay for you to ship it, they may not make the effort. Most books are sold via Amazon.com. Even if your book is available on another online site, the effort to enter all of their billing info in a new site may be enough to send them away. Similarly, if you market to seniors, they may prefer to purchase it another way.
It may not be available where they shop or when they needed it. If your book is a beach read, get into bookstores at the beach. If your book is on party planning, get it into party stores or advertise on party supply sites. If you target business travelers, have it available in ebook for easy loading before their plane takes off.
Which brings me to the book format. Have your book available in the format your readers are likely to use. Using the example of seniors, an ebook-only book is unlikely to sell as well as a paperback of the same book. Know your audience and give them their favored format and position it on the sites and in locations most appealing to them.
Sometimes readers don’t know the value of the book or under value the information in the book. They don’t want to take a chance on or invest in something unproven. There are a couple of solutions to the problem of insufficient messaging.
First, make sure your book description gives a compelling account of what problem you are solving for the reader. Will they get chills, be swept away, be thinner, richer, happier, or something else? Let them know it is for them by addressing them. Give them a hint to the solution you are bringing to the table. Don’t give it all away. Make them lean in.
And finally, let them know how much others liked it. Put your efforts into soliciting reviews. Post them on your website, Facebook page, and on your book cover, among other places. If a reader knows what you will do for them and you convince them with testimonials from other readers, they are more likely to make the purchase.
Perhaps the biggest reason book sales flounder is lack of visibility. People just don’t know about it. Writers aren’t natural marketers. We often spend hours holed up in our favorite coffee shop or in the recesses of our houses writing until our fingers bleed. Connecting with readers is often an afterthought once the book is published. It’s our fatal flaw.
The problem then is that readers may have already purchased something similar or found another way to solve their problem. Your book wasn’t in front of them when their need was highest. That often happens when we mention our book once or twice and then don’t keep the book at a touch away.
There are many strategies and tools for increasing your visibility. Many are free while others, like advertising, challenge you to pull money out of your pocket. Most take a bit of patience to build a band of loyal followers and readers. Perseverance is the key to increase readership.
Here are a few of my favorite books on the subject to guide you in the right direction, including one of my own:
For some instant gratification, here are some blog posts:
Just start from where you are. Don’t worry about where you could’ve or should’ve been. Take baby steps or giant leaps, but move forward. Let me know your progress along the way. I would love to hear from you!