This is a guest post by Linda Cartwright. You may remember her from her recent post, Self-Publishing Basics. Linda is an author and a freelance writer with a background in education. She lives in Seattle, teaches creative writing classes online and supports e-learning initiatives. Her darkest secret is that writing is only her second favorite thing to do… after reading. You can follow Linda on Twitter.
Linda has been studying self-publishing basics. She’s sharing here what she’s discovered so far.
Why Your Book Isn’t Selling
You were excited with the idea, you wrote with passion, you edited meticulously, you worked and worked, you published… and nothing. Your book isn’t selling.
If anything can dampen creative spirit – that’s the thing. We all depend on feedback and appreciation just to keep going. This situation is even more frustrating for self-publishing authors who invest their time and money into the endeavor and rely on some return for a living.
Yet, do not despair. There are dozens of things that influence book sales and most of them are under your control, so you don’t have to wait for another chance to rectify the situation. Here are some of the areas you can look into to fix things.
Look at the Bad Reviews
Bad reviews can be a good source of information, as long as they are from people who have actually read your book. Usually, you can tell genuinely underwhelmed readers from trolls.
Huge services like Grammarly, Medium or not so popular Wow Essay writing service grew rapidly in part because of bad reviews people left at first.
Writing a book is similar to running a big company. You have a lot of feedback you can’t control.
So, how can bad reviews help? While you can’t satisfy every taste, negative reviews may offer some useful general insights. Why readers weren’t happy? If that’s the insufficient editing, bad formatting, and too many typos – you can rectify that. Practice self-editing, get beta-readers to assess your writing, and re-publish your book.
Other things that can help you improve sales include:
This is a key feature for a non-fiction book. Up-to-datedness is key for business-related literature or political journalism. If your book is out there for several years, chances are that sales will grow pretty thin, unless you spruce up your book with fresh data and release it as an augmented edition.
Maybe the market is too small or too saturated. Your book has no “reason to exist.” This can be helped by fine-tuning the angle or focus for non-fiction works. For fiction, you can add an unexpected spin. For example, do your readers think the genre has outlived its usefulness? Turn your book into a subtle parody by adding humor and highlighting some of the more obvious clichés.
If the story is the problem, try focus groups and beta-readers to get a further idea of the perception. Do the readers find the ending disappointing? Maybe there were things you were seemingly building towards that didn’t get the payoff. If some plot twists seem too jarring or unexpected, try adding details and foreshadowing.
Book positioning is also hugely important. If there are no reviews and people seem not interested at all, you have two main goals: make your book discoverable and make sure the audience’s perception of it is correct (aka they don’t think that your gory thriller novel is a YA paranormal romance).
Don’t skimp on the artwork. Your cover must look good and professional. Make sure the cover isn’t confusing or difficult to figure out even as a small preview. Browse books in similar categories to see what readers expect to see. Your cover should communicate the genre and tone of your book in recognizable visual language. Test it with someone impartial (not your family) to make sure it attracts the right kind of attention.
For non-fiction books, it must be clear and address your reader’s issue. For fiction – there are several creative techniques. However, in both cases, you should do your research and come up with a pool of keywords. Don’t forget to check if any books under such title already exist! Also very important: how readable is the current title on the book cover? Consider shortening it if it looks cramped.
Your blurb is not a plot summary – it shouldn’t be exhaustive. It should tease without revealing too much. Every sentence must hook your reader and drag them in. Also, less is more: in many cases, 2 or 3 sentences will suffice (read more tips on writing the perfect book blurb here).
Make sure your sample (or your reader magnet, if you have one) is properly formatted to make a good first impression. Get rid of all unnecessary stuff like dedications and copyright pages. Dive headfirst into the story. If the first 300 words aren’t enough to get your reader interested, then the beginning of your book is probably dragging. Think about shortening it and making it snappier.
Discoverability is influenced by two main factors: a hierarchy of categories on the distribution platform and the metadata you provide. Good metadata give a faithful description of the book. Yet, what is even more important, they should be crafted in such a way as to attract organic traffic.
When people are searching for a book or a gift on Google and Amazon they use keywords to describe what they want. If your book isn’t selling, maybe they just cannot find it. Try researching your keywords –which are more popular? Which words do people use more often?
Also, try changing categories and narrowing them down for less competition. Make the platform’s algorithms work for you. The deeper you drill, the better – find niche category that will suit your book like a glove. For example, Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Literary Fiction > Romance > Paranormal is better than simply Kindle eBooks > Romance (because here your title will be lost in the sea of other books).
Check out Dave Chesson’s his remarkably detailed, step-by-step guide, Secret Method to Choosing Amazon Book Categories in KDP, for more information on categories.
Your Marketing Efforts
Don’t stop after the first couple of months. Keep promoting your book on social media. Have a blog dedicated to your book and keep it alive. Engage in discussions, answer your fans and haters. Be respectful, however sharp the feedback is. “Sorry to hear you didn’t like it” will do nicely. If you don’t seem to care about your book, who will?
This one, I learned the hard way:
Don’t stop running ads. Self-published books take time to gain traction. If you are concerned with budget, narrow down your targeting. The right ad for the right book on the right site will do you more good than a full-blown campaign.
If I don’t advertise, I don’t sell. It really is as simple as that.
As for pricing, compare the tags in your niche and be reasonable. I know that this book is your baby, and that even $99/book is probably not enough to cover your hard work. Still, the price should be competitive and reflect the value your readers will get. You may even consider free samples or a free title for promotion of a series (if you have four to five books written already). Used strategically, it can help a lot.
Did you set realistic goals? Maybe your sales numbers are just fine, especially for something very specialized. Maybe you’ve miscalculated the size of the market and expect to sell more than it’s possible. Success is a very relative concept, especially in publishing.