Top reasons why your book isn’t selling and how to fix it

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Back in September 2012, I decided to self-publish my first book Diary of a Penguin-napper. I uploaded my e-book to Amazon KDP and Smashwords late in October, as I’d heard it could take a while for the listing to appear online. The launch date I had set for myself was November 15, so I was pleased when the listing for Penguin-napper was all good to go by the end of October with plenty of time before the launch date.

But then a crazy thing happened.  Even though my Amazon listing was finished and my book was available for purchase, for the first week of November, not a single copy was sold.  Not one.  In the second week of November, I sold one paperback copy.

Fortunately, from my extensive research prior to self-publishing, I kind of knew that this would be the case.  I’d read about the thousands of people who upload their books to sell online, don’t do any marketing and  just expect to be an overnight sensation.  They’re surprised then when they don’t sell a single copy.

Unlike the bewildered masses, I knew that I was going to have to work hard to market my book and get it selling.  Seeing my book online and being able to see the sales figures was great encouragement for me to get out and get promoting.  I had prepared a lot of marketing events, reviews and promotion surrounding the launch day for Penguin-napper on November 15 and because of this sales of Penguin-napper definitely took off from that date.

But what if they hadn’t?

If you’ve made a concerted effort to market your book after uploading it, with advertising, blogging and generally gathering a tribe on social media sites, and your book still isn’t really selling in the numbers you are after, there might be something else that is stopping you from getting sales.  As a reader of e-books, both traditionally and self-published, these are the top things that put me off even looking at the listing for a book online:

1. The cover is just plain awful.

Yes, you heard me.  A-W-F-U-L.  I can’t tell you how many times people have sent me copies of their book to take a look at and I just can’t even bring myself to look at the thing because the cover design looks so … not designed at all. The sad truth is that people will judge your book by its cover, regardless of how much you think they shouldn’t or won’t.  A great cover will at least get people to click on your book and take a closer look, which is one step closer to buying.

If you’re not sure if your cover is icky, why not send it in to The Book Designer’s monthly e-book awards and get feedback on it?  Or ask yourself these questions:

  • Does my cover have any kind of child’s drawing on it?
  • Does my cover have more than two different fonts on it?
  • Was it designed by a professional or semi-professional?
  • D0es it look like it would fit with most of these?

If the answer is yes, then a new cover could be one way to get your book selling.  Hire a cover designer if your budget allows or spend some serious hours trawling stock photo sites (like Dreamstime or Shutterstock) to buy an image that you can then use as part of your e-book cover design.  And,if your book has been out for a while, why not create a limited edition or anniversary cover revamp to boost sales.

2. Your book description is making potential readers go … Zzzzz

Writing your novel is one thing and writing sales copy that will actually sell your book is a totally different thing.  If you’re anything like me, I’m not really that great at selling myself, whether in person or on the page.  I’ve never really had any experience at writing in a style that is designed to sell anything and I spend quite a bit of time being worried that I’ll end up sounding like a total prat.

When it comes to selling books, your book description does make a difference and it is possible to improve it in ways that will help you to attract more browser and convert these into readers.

Laura Pepper Wu has a great post over at 30 Day Books about ‘Selling the sizzle, not the steak‘ (as does Kindle bestseller Mark Edwards at Indie HQ) which gives some great advice about what a good book description includes and why you need one.  She expands further on this idea in her book Fire up Amazon! which I haven’t read, but if it is anything like her posts, it will be worth every cent.

3. The price is not right

It is really hard to know what the right price is for your novel and there is constant debate about whether writers are selling themselves too cheap with 99c e-book pricing.

When it came to pricing Diary of a Penguin-napper, there were three channels of research I went down before I set the prices for the paperback and e-book. Firstly, I went to a few of my local bookshops and took a look at the price of books that were similar to mine in both size and genre.  I ended up pricing my book at the cheaper end of this scale because I wanted to encourage readers to take a risk on an unfamiliar author.  I then got onto some online bookstores and did the same thing with e-books of similar size and genre and decided on the best price for my e-book.  Finally, I read whatever blog posts I could get my hands on about book pricing and used this to inform my final decisions.

Currently, the paperback sells for $9.95 and the e-book for 99c.  I’ve tried playing around with the e-book pricing and it appears that 99c is the right price for it. So that is where it is going to stay.

No matter how fantastic your book is, if it is too expensive, nobody will buy it.

There are several ways that you can kickstart your sales based on price. You could:

  • Do some research about what prices similar books sell for, then adjust your price accordingly.
  • Have a sale.  Everyone loves a sale.
  • Enroll in KDP Select and promote your book during your free days.
  • Or sell your book across more than one platform – Amazon, Smashwords, Bookbaby, etc. rather than restricting yourself to just one.

So, is there something you think could improve about your book to improve your sales?  Or have you made a change that has boosted your readership? I’d love to hear from you if you’ve made a simple change to your book that has helped you to convert browsers to readers!

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6 thoughts on “Top reasons why your book isn’t selling and how to fix it

  1. Excellent post! I’m new to this whole self-publishing business, so I’m spending my days tweaking and experimenting to see what boosts (or not) sales. Price seems to be a key factor so far. Having a heavily discounted ebook and a more highly priced print book also gives a perception of savings; on the listing page Amazon will describe the Kindle version as eg “80%” off depending on the difference between print and ebook pricing. I’m in the process of dropping my ebook price back down to .99 to see if that starts moving things along a bit. I hope so!

  2. franklybooks

    Thanks for your comment and I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I’ve heard that having a more expensive paperback and making the e-book cheaper because Amazon shows the % difference between the two is becoming a more common marketing practice amongst self-published authors. I’d love to hear how you get on!

  3. Bizarrely, my print books are selling on par with my ebooks! It must have something to do with the fact that they’re chapter books, I think. Maybe younger readers (and their parents) prefer to read them in print format.

    • franklybooks

      It’s the same with Diary of a Penguin-napper – the paperback and e-book numbers are fairly similar. It will be interesting to see if that changes over the next few years.

  4. Good advice! Even with KDP Select (and perhaps, arguably, because of it), the competition is fierce. Even 99-cent books can have trouble selling. And I once saw an Amazon review where the reader said they decided to take a chance on it despite the “awful” cover art. So people do judge by the cover!

    • franklybooks

      Yeah an awful cover really does make me stop and think about whether or not I would want to buy a book – regardless of how good the blurb sounds! If the cover is awful, chances are that I’m not going to even click on it or pick it up, let alone pay money for it. It’s pretty simple – if you want people to spend money on your product then I think you need to make it look like it is worth it!

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