Books not selling? A Troubleshooter Guide

Sometimes it can feel like you have done everything you possibly can to try and market and sell your book which can be difficult, especially for those who are self-published or indie because most of us have to face marketing alone.

There probably is always something else to try when it comes to marketing books but the problem might be before that. This post is a troubleshooter that will hopefully lay out why a book might not be selling by focusing on the basics. It is taken from experience which for me is nearly 6 years of being indie published with 7 books that have all sold well. Let us dive in…

The Basic Anatomy

To me there are no real rules when it comes to books but over the years I have concluded that they need to be a certain standard or at least have basic anatomy to have a chance of selling. That anatomy can be seen as two separate entities. Firstly the visual basics:

An enticing book title that matches the genre;

Professionally designed cover that also matches the genre;

An enticing proof read blurb.

Most probably my favourite book cover…

And secondly, the internal basics:

Professional or some level of editing that is reasonably practicable;

Professional or some level of formatting that is reasonably practicable.

These five basic things are important to get right or as right as possible depending on budget but I would say if you want to publish a book well then you need to invest in the right services. These five basics will eventually hook at least one reader in to the point where they might be interested in buying. If you think your book has these things, then the reason it might not be selling could be a little more subjective, so let us look at some more subjective factors that factor in to selling books.

Partially Subjective Factors (visual)

A fair price;

Book Rating/Amount of reviews.

Pricing and reviews can be an enigma sometimes. Price too low and readers might not think the book has value, price too high and readers think you are just in this for a cash grab. To me, the price and the rating kind of go hand in hand with review quantity being the key here. If your book has over 100 reviews, the chances are it has sold well and proven it can sell well so you have scope to maybe price a little higher. This stuff has no real concrete answer as it is based upon the individual book and author but my suggestion would be to experiment regularly with pricing.

In terms of average rating, for books, again it can be quite subjective. My book The Teleporter dances between 3.8 and 4.0 stars on Amazon regularly and has only gone up in sales as the quantity of reviews has grown. The Teleporter is my most successful book by a large margin.

I would say as long as the basics are mostly there, these partially subjective factors won’t effect your sales too much unless they are at the extreme (really high or low priced) and I call them partially subjective because over time you can work to improve these things. Reviews coming in should make the sales situation better while you also figure out the perfect price, so what else is there to troubleshoot?

Social Media

This deserves a whole section because a majority of the time, the reason a book isn’t selling is mainly due to visibility or lack of, so you have to ask yourself the question: what are you doing to sell your book on social media? Or sometimes what are you doing not to sell your book on social media?

Conduct

Being on social media and being published places you in the glass house that is the public domain. So now it is time to think about what we say and do at all times. Everything you say online; good or bad, positive or negative will most likely be seen by your following and may effect your sales – for those on Twitter, the majority of followers will see an argumentative response – this stuff tends to be overlooked and of course freedom of speech is something I fully support but my advice would be to keep things light on social media.

What can you do to sell books on social media?

The good thing about social media is that it is busy. Things move quickly and so its important to remind your following and the wider platform users that your book exists. You could just drop a link everyday but that will probably be buried by the social media platforms as they would prefer to keep you and users right there so its time use a little variety.

These seven things are a week’s worth if you spread them out because variety is key on social media- keep it light, conversational and occasionally about your work. Click on my tweet to see seven more ideas. As you can see, all of these things don’t mention dropping a link, if you can, put your book link in your bio or somewhere easy to find – algorithms on most platforms tend to suppress links sometimes.

My biggest tip about selling books on social media is to focus on convincing people to invest in you first. If they enjoy your content such as good conversation or even a little positivity that will go a long way towards selling. Consider social media platforms your stage and your books are available out in the gift shop.

It takes some effort and time to build a social media presence so what else can you do to sell books?

Check out my coaching sessions for more inputs on selling via Twitter

Quick-fire short term and long term Miscellaneous troubleshooting

(Lot’s of Things to consider)

Have you thought about advertising?

If so is it paid?

If so, is it with a reputable advertiser?

Have you thought about a temporary price reduction?

Is it just for a limited time? (this works well)

If so, have you informed your social media following?

Are you consistently present on social media? (this helps)

Are you supportive of others in the industry? (this helps build trust and trust helps sell)

Do you have multiple books available? (this helps)

Do you have stand alone and series books available? (this really helps)

Have you really considered whether your book really has the basic anatomy?

The final troubleshooting question is in red because if you have tried all of the above without a single sale then it is probably something before such as the basic anatomy or even social media conduct. Understandably Rome was not built in a day but eventually if you follow the advice in this post you will sell at least one book, I am 99% confident of that. Now this is all subjective which is my favourite word when it comes to publishing anything and means nothing is guaranteed.

The majority of my guides are received mainly by beginner or debut authors and so I will say this whole deal gets better over time. One slow release doesn’t seal your fate in publishing and especially after just one release. If you really want your book to be read you need to get yourself out there and more importantly create new content. This journey got way better for me after 5 or so releases and even then the results were slow. Regular blogging and social media posting drives my sales and this isn’t my day job but I treat it like one. Today I sell books roughly every other day and that is driven by the fact I have kept going.

Concluding Points

To conclude in as simple terms as possible, your book will most likely sell if:

It has the basic anatomy visually (pro cover, enticing title and blurb);

It has the basic anatomy internally (editing and formatting);

You have a decent conduct and regular presence on social media;

You try as many ways as possible to market yourself and that book.

Keep going, keep writing and don’t give up. Someday someone will read your work and it could change their life!

Thank you for reading, there were plenty of opportunities above to include links to my various free-to-read guides but I would prefer to leave them below so it does not interrupt the flow of this guide, so here they are:

A Guide to Selling Books on Social Media

The Twitter Campfire Analogy

Book Reviews: Some Quick Tips

A concise list of Book Promotion Websites

And finally, you’ll find the Basic Anatomy of a Book mentioned in detail via my author/blogger guide book Consistent Creative Content which is a concise, one-stop-shop for everything I have learned in publishing:

Book Reviews: Some Quick Tips

The struggle for book reviews is real and while I put together a much longer guide about that struggle here are some quick tips to get more of them and how to deal with said struggle…

Leave a message in the front and back of your book to tell readers that reviews are important – this is obvious but sometimes overlooked. Many readers including me once upon a time never thought of leaving a review for a book. Remind your audience.

Fill that gap elsewhere by reviewing other authors works. You probably know how it feels to struggle for reviews so helping the industry will eventually help you. Plus reading, that’s supposed to fun right? But seriously, if you do help a few authors they might be inclined to return the favour but don’t expect it. Above all you’ll earn some trust and maybe even make a friend or two. Book reviews are partly the reason for my social media success.

Think about some book promotion or advertising because a lack of reviews is probably due to low distribution/visibility/sales. Theory would suggest that more sales equals more reviews… There are a stack of ways to advertise your book and I tend to use book promo sites every so often. The higher end sites also have higher end readers who review. More about those sites here

Shout about it in a few different ways because communication is key just like the first tip. On social media talk about the importance of reviews and then when you do get a good review share it and say how much you appreciate it. Make a thread on Twitter or put a review billboard together like this one…

Give incentives to reviewers because sweets for the sweet… from sending a reviewer a signed book to saying thanks to even giving them a shout-out or putting their review quote on the cover of a future release – these things provide some incentive for reviewers to share their thoughts.

Organise a pre-release and offer copies of your book to readers on the condition they review it on publication. If your self-published this will be easier, but basically offer your final manuscript to readers to review it early.

Try to compartmentalise the feeling of that struggle because it will never really go away and take it from me, my comedy ‘The Teleporter’ has over 130 reviews and I’m always wanting more because the chase is endless. I also have seven books published so if I spent every hour of every day worrying about the struggle I would get nowhere. My advice is to work on other things. Write that next book or blog post. Be busy and it won’t even cross your mind because that struggle is a state of mind.

Appreciate that it is really hard not just for you but for everyone published because it really is hard to get reviews. My debut book that dropped back in 2016 has 34 reviews and has sold thousands of copies. You are not alone.

Approach a book blogger because many of them are always looking for something new to read. Of course check out their blog and see if your work fits within their taste. Try to be personable in your approach. As a standard, offer a book blogger a free e copy for that review and be sure to read their submissions policy if they have one.

Talk about it with other authors because my Twitter DM’s, comments section on here and my Patreon are always open for any author in need. Reach out to one another because together our struggles are smaller, especially when we talk about it.

Time, above all is your friend here. Good things in writing take time and reviews take a lot of time to collect for a book which will be around a lot longer than all of us. Remember that. Most of these tips are long game style methods. Be in it for that journey.

Thanks for reading, this post is just a preview of another I have planned soon over on my Patreon which is my latest venture and a place where I intend to help more authors with coaching and future guides. If you sign up to one of my tiers you’ll get a free copy of my self help book Consistent Creative Content which has a whole section dedicated to reviews. Peace out, rock and roll man!

Let’s talk about… why your book isn’t selling…

It might be a sore spot but here it’s okay to talk about lack of book sales. They never told us we’d have to put in a lot of effort to market our own… While we’re all too busy wrapped up in thinking we achieved something by reaching the end we’ve actually only pulled up to the starting line… I’ll retract part of that statement and say writing and finishing a book is a phenomenal achievement but nobody forewarned me that selling it would be a pain in the ass. This post is going to explore what authors can do to fight back from the struggle to sell their work.

Sales don’t just magically appear for an author and so this post will explore what can be done to get them by listing the things we should have done or should be doing. While saying ‘buy my book’ tends to be frowned upon we’re gonna look at how you can still say that but in disguised form. Let’s dive in…

Things you can do Before Release

Let’s face it, fail to prepare and prepare to fail because most of the marketing work that goes into selling books normally takes place prior to release, hindsight eh? We could all argue otherwise but let’s agree that if we did it again for the first time, things would hopefully be better; from generating the initial buzz to ramping up all your social media efforts all the way to the nuts and bolts of putting a book together; all of this is supposed to take place prior to release. There are so many reasons why a book doesn’t sell because the initial ground work wasn’t effective enough. Most of my book promotion efforts revolve around amplifying my reach so people notice my work but if an extensive amount of effort is not put in before publication then that book might be doomed from then on to never sell. So what can you do before release to make sure it does sell? These things, some of which might appear obvious but are essential in my eyes:

  • Announce the project as early as you can – even during drafting you should have a book title and genre so talk about it. Tell your social media followers, create a blog post, create an email newsletter to send to folks on your email list – if you haven’t got one of these then get one. Make an early trailer or even a mock-up book cover. Tell your followers this book is coming.
  • Up your social media game on all fronts – don’t just talk about your work, engage and get that following higher. My top advice when it comes to selling books is to sell yourself by being present online. Be social and post stuff that aims to inform, inspire, engage and help others – this might be more of a long term thing but go for it for the sake of that book!
  • Review books in a similar genre – start making your presence known in that genre by supporting it. Supporting fellow authors is a guaranteed way of getting noticed trust me. Some authors might even return the favour.
  • Reach out to BETA readers and then ARC readers who will leave early reviews upon release – people are the power when it comes to books. If they are true supporters they’ll spread the word through their own social media reach. Perhaps ask a higher profile author who writes in the same genre to take a look and offer to have their review quote on the cover. This one might take some socialising and the debut author might struggle but having folks in your corner will help.
  • Make sure your book has a good basic anatomy – nothing sells books more than a professional looking cover and an enticing blurb. Do your best to get these as awesome as possible. When you’ve got the final book cover it would also be a good idea to create a book banner to share on social media and pin to the top of your profile. I made the book banner below, pretty nifty right?
  • Set up a pre order, a price promotion and self promote – even if this is your debut novel I would suggest setting up a pre order for the e version via Amazon. Least this way you’ll already have an Amazon page and then you can share that link. You’ll be surprised at the folks who come out of the woodwork to support and pre order that book. You can even set up that pre order months before release. As an incentive, perhaps set the price for the pre order lower than what it will be after release and remember to tell your social media following about it.
  • Organise some advertising – there are book promo sites out there that will have a specific new book release package. This is worth exploring to enhance your reach. Here’s my list of promo sites.
  • Organise the official release – create a Facebook event for the launch day of your book and make a spectacle of the date. Invite friends and potential readers. Schedule a blog post on the day which leads into…
  • Blog about it – the pre release days of a book make for some great material to document via a blog. Talk about the story, the setting, the characters, share the blurb and share anything else relevant.
  • Promote other books on your back list – this only applies to those with other books but it’s important to bring them into play. Run a price promotion and mention you have another work coming in that promo.
  • Get yourself out there – there are plenty of places to submit guest posts and reviews to that might have a higher reach or following than you. This blog boasts a 800+ following and is looking for guest book reviews and articles.
  • Contact local press – its always worth reaching out to local press about your book because you never know if they are looking for some news to feature on a slow week. Is your work unique or does it have an interesting back story – local press love that sort of thing.

That’s 12 things an author can do prior to release to generate sales and I guarantee there’s probably a lot more. Now hindsight is a wonderful thing and all but what about those with books already out there? What can we do to sell our already published works?

Things you can do After Release

We’re sticking with the Back to the Future Theme here…
  • Run a promo or sale – like any other product out there books can benefit from being discounted or even free. You can do this any time after release to get some sales. Combine this discount or even free promo with some advertising and things might start to turn around. Reaching out to the right higher profile book promo site might result in your lucky day.
Getting a Featured Deal with these guys is a huge step in the right direction
  • Let readers find you – this is a longer term strategy but just going about your usual business of blogging and supporting fellow authors will eventually get you noticed in a positive light. I’m saying this because it happened to me. After deciding to offer indie book reviews on this blog back in 2018 my views have continually improved and so did my sales.
  • Write more books – another long term one but having more books on your shelf equal more choice for potential readers. If someone liked one of your works they will at least attempt to find out if there are any more. I’ve released 6 books in 5 years and experienced a gradual increase in sales over that time. Consistency is key.
  • Try not to worry so much – Good things take time and it might actually be a constant battle to find sales. You might never be fully satisfied so don’t let it get to you. Back when I had even 4 books released there were some months when I sold nothing and now after so many years and more releases I sell on average a book every 5 or so days. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was your legacy…
  • Consider lowering the price permanently – I’ve never sold a fiction e book for more than $2.99 so maybe consider aiming for lower than that. If your an indie I’m pretty sure you don’t rely on book sales for income so consider keeping your e books at 99 cents for a while – this normally guarantees a few sales.
  • Reach out to some book bloggers for a few reviews – the more ratings a book has the more chance it has of selling and most book bloggers will accept a free e copy in exchange for a review.
  • Blog about it – you can still blog about your work long after it has been released. Perhaps an in depth post exploring 5 reasons why someone should read it or even a ‘making of’ post. Talk about it and be honest, readers are drawn to that.
  • Social media – every now and then I will share the link and cover art via twitter. It’s important to remind your following what you’ve written and what is available. On twitter those shameless self promo posts are good for visibility, especially on the weekends.
  • Read an excerpt out loud – go live on your social media and read a passage or excerpt of your work. Show your beautiful face and a passion for that work you created.

You’ll notice the list of methods after release is smaller because the preparation is way more important but that doesn’t deny the fact after release methods are any less important or effective. It is perceived that the first 30 days of a book’s release are the most important for future sales but I’d beg to differ especially if you can achieve a good promotional run. It took three years for my third book to gain any kind of traction along with my 4th. It’s great to do as much preparation as possible but that doesn’t doom a book for eternity because in marketing and book sales anything can happen.

There is also another often overlooked resource and that’s to ask your peers. The writing community is full of different folks on different parts of their journey and they have valuable experience. I put the question out on Twitter and so here’s some wisdom from those who have sold:

The best way to figure out sales and marketing is research. Saying your no good at marketing is old and cliché. If you can write a book and tell an effective story then you can sell it. The Google is also there for you and so am I. Check out my Resources section for plenty of pointers on all things book selling, marketing and wider social media.

I hope you enjoyed this rather in depth look at why our books aren’t selling and if you have any other methods not mentioned then please hit me up in the comments! If you just want to shout and vent about not selling books, that’s welcome also!

I also have a self help guide book out which goes into much more detail about selling books, promoting them and even social media stuff. You’ll find it by clicking on the awesome cover!