This is Why Your Books Aren’t Selling: 4 Ways To Improve Now

*updated 2017

Your Books Aren’t Selling

“My sales are awful, and I’ve done everything. I give up.” 

I heard this from three authors this week, and it’s not an uncommon sentiment right now. As a bestseller author, former imprint director, book manager and book marketing consultant, my first questions are always:

  • What do you mean by everything?
  • How do you define “awful?”
  • What do you mean by ‘giving up?’

Let’s deconstruct four ways to improve on that!

1) What Is ‘Everything’ RE: Book Marketing?

Your definition of ‘everything’ and my definition are probably quite different. When I asked one of these authors what he’d done, he said he’d:

  • placed a few Facebook ads,
  • sent out a bunch of tweets during his free days,
  • placed a FreeBooksy promo (cost: $45). That’s about it.

To me, that’s barely scraping the bare minimum of ‘hardly anything,’ but in his mind, that’s more than he’d ever done! When I asked him what he had achieved in his marketing plan, he replied: what marketing plan?

I asked this author some of these questions, to which he answered, “no.” How about you:

  • Are you consistently on social media building relationships with readers, sharing great content, blogging and commenting on other bloggers’ sites?
  • Do you know what your keywords and branding are? 
  • Have you optimized all your social bios? Are your graphics high quality, hi-res, and consistent?
  • Growing your followings through targeted keywords? Not spamming links, but interacting and networking? 
  • Have you bought your domain, and optimized your website for SEO and SMO? Do you know your Alexa Ranking and Website grade?
  • Are you advertising?
  • Are you approaching book bloggers (politely) for reviews?
  • Participating in weekly Twitter chats and blog memes like #MondayBlogs ?
  • Do you belong to Facebook Groups where you can share ideas and partner up with other writers to promote each other? 
  • Do you regularly visit the Help Sections of all the social media channels to learn how to use them correctly? 

If the answer is no to any or all, you have work to do. You’re not doing everything, and you know it.

Again, not uncommon. Here’s the thing: art is work, to paraphrase Patti Smith. You’ve taken what, six months to two years to write your book, pouring your heart into this work. You’ve (hopefully) worked with a professional editor, graphic designer, formatter, and proofreader, and now that your book is live, you expect to sit back and watch the sales roll on in.

Wait, what?

2) Marketing Your Books is Not An Option

Why? Where does this outrageous expectation come from? I just do not get it. Writers are not dumb. Why do they think marketing is an option?

[share ]In what job in the world do you do zero work and make money?[/share]

A few tweets and an ad here and there does not create a consistent author platform, which is what this author needs — what every author needs. This is how we meet readers, bloggers, and other influencers. This is how they find us, where the all-important word-of-mouth storm begins to swirl.

I suggested he rethink his author platform completely, create a robust marketing plan which he then implement, and lose the expectation that writing books is all about, and only about, selling books. One book will very, very rarely create an entire career for an author — and even those who do achieve those heights (Donna Tartt, The Secret History, Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation) still go on to write more books, eventually.

I’ve worked with many authors who feel their job is only to write, and expect to do zero marketing; they feel that once they sign with a traditional or hybrid publisher, the publisher will do all their marketing for them. Big Fat Lie. The reason I have a business is because I have many traditionally published clients who are signed by those big publishers and guess what? They hire me to help them market and do their social media because their publisher does so very little marketing, if any, for them.

Do the work. art is work #pattismith, BadRedhead Media,

3) Define ‘Awful’ and Improve Now

One author sells twenty books every day and is upset because she used to sell fifty. One is distraught because she’s only selling five per day and she used to sell ten. Another has sold ten in six months. Your definition of awful is going to be different than anyone else’s, and depending on Amazon’s latest policy or algorithm change, awful can mean different things to different people.

It’s always good to keep an eye on your daily sales, but we can also become obsessed with it. My advice, take it or leave it from one who knows (I have five books out myself), is to check your sales once weekly — no more than that. This is enough to give you an idea of what’s happening during that period of time, analyze any trends, and adjust your marketing efforts. (If you are in the midst of a promotion, however, feel free to check them more often, of course.)

4) Should You Ever ‘Give Up?’

NO. There is no ‘Sell By’ date on books anymore, really…especially eBooks. If you look at my third book, Broken Pieces, released in 2013, it held the #1 spot on Amazon’s paid Women’s Poetry list for a good three years (on and off), based on what…fairy dust? Yea, no.

If you choose to give up, that’s ultimately your choice. I hear from authors all the damn time who give me every excuse as to why readers aren’t reading them, but when I ask them the questions in that list above, the answers are always ‘no, I haven’t done any of that, but…’

Oh, okay.

I can tell you this: as the former director of the now-defunct Gravity Imprint for Booktrope, the books that sold the most were where the authors did everything on that list above — they interact with readers, build their platform, generously share others’ posts and content, blog consistently, and have a clear, strong message. H.M. Jones, Lindsay Fischer and Lisa Douthit — all amazingly talented author and their books are fabulous. All have built strong advocacy platforms (for postpartum depression, domestic abuse survivors, and wellness, respectively), and they do the work.

Writing and marketing ourselves, our brand, goes hand in hand — it’s not one or the other. Writing more books will help gain you visibility, of course. The most successful authors are prolific, having at least five to ten books out — so keep at it. We are authors first. You don’t need a degree in marketing to market, just as you don’t need an MFA to write. You simply need to improve upon what you’re already doing.

It’s really not as difficult as some folks make it: step up, be smart, do the work. 


 Buy The BadRedhead Media 30-Day Book Marketing Challenge Now on Amazon!



pictures courtesy of Unsplash
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  1. tomangel1 on January 25, 2016 at 3:25 am

    excellent piece, thanks very much indeed!

  2. Suzanne D Williams on January 25, 2016 at 4:53 am

    Though I agree with your list of “do’s”, as someone is not marketing-minded, frankly, it’s intimidating and over my head. I have a hard time remembering when I need to meet someone for lunch, must less tackling all that. I know I’m not alone in the feeling of frustration that “I” am not sufficient to ever become that kind of guru (no more than a dog can learn to fly, for instance). It’s just not me. That said, no, I will never give up, never stop writing, and I don’t check my sales more than once a week. So I’ve got it partially right.

    • Rachel Thompson on January 25, 2016 at 12:50 pm

      HI Suzanne! Thanks for reading and responding. I get it, truly. That’s why I provided so many links which explain so much of what I refer to — marketing requires research and a learning curve, like anything else we have to learn how to do in the business world. We aren’t born knowing how to do things, we must learn.

      I also provided a link to sign up for my free 30-day marketing challenge at the bottom of the post, which starts on Feb 1 — this will give all who sign up a daily task, complete with instructions and links. There is no fee, and no strings. I’m doing this solely to help people like you, who are overwhelmed and intimidated by the process of ‘where to start?’ I hope you sign up and find it helpful.

      Remember also: it’s not a race, and it takes a long time to learn how to market. I still learn every day, and I’ve been in book marketing since 2008, in business for myself since 2011 (in sales and marketing since 1989). No need to be a guru (which is silliness, anyway, in my opinion — we are all always learning). Learn enough to connect with readers and build relationships, read blogs and guides that provide the info you can put into action (I provide so much free info here — peruse for awhile), and you’ll find your way. I promise, it’s not rocket science!

      Be well!

  3. carol hedges (@carolJhedges) on January 25, 2016 at 7:45 am

    Yep. And double yep. I’m amazed at the number of writers I know on FB who are NOT on Twitter, etc, NOT running a blog or two and NOT engaging with other peeps than fellow writers. And then they’re surprised that they don’t sell much? I think I sell more by chatting about stuff or RT others than I ever do from promos. Oh – and I don’t use ANY of those ‘pay us and we’ll tweet your book’ guys. I think a lot of sales also come from word of mouth – and for that, you have to have a good product to begin with.

    • Rachel Thompson on January 25, 2016 at 11:16 pm

      HI Carol! It’s such a combo of all these different strategies, isn’t it? The constant spamming doesn’t work, but I guess people have to learn that for themselves, IDK. Social media is our word of mouth, as are blogging and promotions – but it can’t come across as the ‘hard sell’ or it just doesn’t work.

      as you say, the product has to be awesome. If it’s not, no amount of marketing can help an author! xx

  4. April Munday on January 25, 2016 at 11:47 am

    Thank you. Really good advice.

    • Rachel Thompson on January 25, 2016 at 11:12 pm

      Thank you, April! Glad you find the info helpful 🙂

  5. Michelle Irwin on January 25, 2016 at 11:22 pm

    Terrific blog. My biggest issue is time around working, family and writing, but I know that’s mostly just an excuse. I need to put the WIP aside for a little of the time I do have each evening and work on these things instead. I’m looking forward to the course 😀

    • Rachel Thompson on January 26, 2016 at 11:38 am

      That is the challenge we all face, definitely. That’s why tools like Buffer or Hootsuite make a huge difference for me. I also love ManageFlitter to help find targeted readers.

      I’ve written about all these tools in previous posts (feel free to peruse the site, using the search option). You can do it, you just have to learn how to use the tools available.

  6. P.Mattern on January 27, 2016 at 12:41 am

    Nice article!
    However I am finding that dumb luck and word of mouth trump marketing strategies (great examples are Amanda Hocking and Quinn Loftis…..they became NYT and USA Today Bestsellers with no social media effort.) There are intangibles at play here.
    How is it that countless authors wear themselves out building platforms only to be surpassed by authors who write one book that instantly hits # 1 organically?
    I have had as many as 14 of our books in Amazon top 100 in different genres at the same time and can tell you even that amount did not yield significant profits.
    I also can’t figure out why awesomely written works don’t sell and books centering around adult diaper fetishes blaze their way to number 1.
    I think for most of us Amazon is an opportunity and a jumping off point. I too have had an Amazon #1 and I still can’t figure out how and why a 37 page overpriced short read I wrote hit #1 and stayed in top 100 when others didn’t.
    Oh….I hate Twitter too lol.

    I have stopped feeling that success on Amazon is significant. If you sell 300 books a day and Amazon contacts YOU to sign you to one of their OWN 12 imprints…now THAT is a platform! Otherwise…not so much.
    That’s my experience. I love writing. I love readers because they are the coursing lifeblood of our books.But I think publishing is in free fall and in the future writers may have several publishers for different works
    “And that’s all I have to say about that”(*Forest Gump impression).

    • Rachel Thompson on January 27, 2016 at 7:49 pm

      HI Patricia and thanks for reading and commenting. I’ve watched Hocking for many, many years and found her marketing tactics inspirational — she did a TON of marketing, actually: ‘obsessively tweeting’ as she refers to it, connecting with a huge reader base that way; blogging daily with 3-4 blogs and invite her fans to guest blog was a huge part of her success. She also create Zombiepalooza, a sort of comic con of her own creation, where she interacted live with her fans that she’d spent years developing online; she also read more than she wrote, writing reviews and commenting on the blogs of writers she admired, creating fans of writers. Very, very smart on her part.

      Twitter is a wonderful listening platform — I use it to find out what readers want. If you focus on following readers and avoid the ‘hard sell’ of the many authors out there who are hawking their BUY MY BOOK! links, you’ll find it’s far more useful than you might think it to be. Dumb luck and word of mouth, sure. I won’t disagree with you there — social media IS our word of mouth now.

      However you feel is what you feel — with Amazon selling 80% of books online, success there can’t be ignored. Sustaining that word of mouth, those rankings, is important. Amazon can make it difficult with all their different changes (KU and ‘pages read’ has severely affected so much of our income, mine included) so it’s a constant effort to find ways to sell and market without being annoying. I feel you. There are still plenty of opportunities and that’s my goal — to find them, learn them, and share with everyone.

      thanks for your input and good luck!

      • carolynmcb on July 24, 2016 at 7:51 am

        A very useful article, thanks. I find though that connecting with readers of my genre (speculative fiction which is a mash-up of sci-fi, weird fic, fantasy and others) on Twitter is a lot like pulling hens teeth. I’m still trying to find out where my potential readers hang out.

        • Rachel Thompson on July 24, 2016 at 6:03 pm

          I’m sorry I didn’t answer your ‘finding readers’ question. Here’s an article with specifics: THIS is How You Find Your Readers @BadRedheadMedia What’s your demographic?

  7. Apryl Baker (@AprylBaker) on January 27, 2016 at 1:19 pm

    I preach this very thing to all the new authors and even a few old ones who ask me about marketing. Great article!

    • Rachel Thompson on January 27, 2016 at 8:07 pm

      thank you, Apryl! Sometimes, it’s like I’m talking to air LOL. But those who want to learn will learn. We know. 🙂

  8. RKClose (@RCKClose) on January 27, 2016 at 4:52 pm

    I couldn’t agree more. I’m working to get my ducks in a row with marketing for my first novel being launched in May. Heading to read more of your articles now. 🙂

    • Rachel Thompson on January 27, 2016 at 8:06 pm

      Thank you so much! Now is the time to start your pre-marketing efforts, so good on you.

      Definitely sign up for my 30-Day Free Marketing Challenge — so many of those tips will help you now (if you haven’t signed up already). One tip a day — you can do it!

  9. Wendy on January 28, 2016 at 10:22 am

    Great article! Thanks 🙂

  10. Tammie King on January 28, 2016 at 5:27 pm

    Thanks for such great insight. I loved this whole post.

    Tammie King
    Night Owl Reviews

  11. Donna Figueroa on February 1, 2016 at 9:26 pm

    Great advice. I wish I knew some of these things before I published my first book. Excellent post!

  12. Sandy on February 7, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    Excellent article. You’ve pointed out every inefficiency I’ve seen… Where you talking just to me? LOL. I get it. There are many other ways to promote and market ourselves. What if the day job is a complete opposite of your writing one? I struggle with separating my daytime marketing needs (for my other career) from my writing one. I’d prefer to not have multiple social media personas… but is that the best route? **Feeling hopelessly overwhelmed most days.** 🙁

    • Rachel Thompson on February 7, 2016 at 6:00 pm

      HI Sandy! I’m glad you could relate — it’s every author’s struggle, so you’re right in the mix, truly.

      Well, remember, it’s not a mad rush. Do a little here, a little there. And that’s also why I created this daily book marketing challenge (registration closes today, but if you don’t sign up, don’t fret — I’m turning all the daily assignments into a book you can purchase affordably in a few months). I’ll also do future daily challenges so again, the help is there.

      Many others offer help also — the major issue for most authors: not having A PLAN. Do one thing every day. Just like we need to write daily, we also need to market daily. Not everything is a success, but it’s how we learn. good luck!

  13. Alexis Cogwell (@alexis_cogwell) on February 8, 2016 at 1:24 am

    Very informative, thank you for sharing your tips with the world! 🙂

    • Rachel Thompson on February 9, 2016 at 12:08 pm

      Thank you for reading and commenting, Alexis 🙂

  14. Shelby Kent-Stewart on February 8, 2016 at 8:39 pm

    An excellent and inspirational piece, Rachel. One point in particular struck home with me, that we should not be solely interacting with writers but the public, all of whom are potential readers. I find it amazing that so many writers limit themselves to one-dimensional interactions with writers and then wonder why they’re not reaching a broader audience. Keep up the insightful work!

    • Rachel Thompson on February 9, 2016 at 12:08 pm

      Thank you, Shelby! That is a key point for any author: who is your target audience? Finding readers and interacting with them will always be an author’s number one goal, yet for whatever reason, authors seem to gravitate to other authors ONLY. This is why we all need a plan, again, something most authors lack.

      I appreciate your kind words!

  15. L.S. Slade on February 10, 2016 at 3:26 pm

    I always love your content Rachel. This piece really makes me think about how I should market my work more effectively. Some of these things I hadn’t thought of before.

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  17. […] This is Why Your Books Aren’t Selling: 4 Ways To Improve Now and These Are the Reasons Most Authors Fail at Book Marketing by Rachel Thompson […]

  18. Icy Sedgwick on February 19, 2016 at 4:28 am

    I’m printing this post off to use as a checklist. Thank you for the kick up the bum! 😀

  19. Friday Finds: Week 72 and 73 | Avid Reader on February 19, 2016 at 5:15 pm

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  20. Rosie on February 29, 2016 at 3:57 am

    Hi Rachel
    Wow, what an article. My head’s still racing. I seem to be struck with a massive sense of, I can’t do that. How do I retain all the knowledge I need” i am on twitter, instagram and have a page on Facebook and a web site, . Honestly, I’m terrified to put myself out there. But I will learn to overcome the fear. I want to sell my book, I can’t do that hiding behind, I can’t. I would like to develop a newsletter attached to my website. What on earth do I put in there? What’s regarded as interesting content? A friend of mine sent your article. I’m just sorry it was in time for first of March, not the first of February. I look forward to the publication of your little book that’s out in May. Until then, I’ll happily read you blog and newsletter. Ciao, Rosie.

  21. […] learned how to use social media by researching, reading, watching, taking webinars — learning. How much time have you invested in truly learning how to use social media? How much time have […]

  22. Kelly Ford on March 28, 2016 at 6:36 am

    This is a fantastic article. It goes beyond the typical marketing and social media tips. Thanks so much for this!

  23. lisawsmith57 on April 13, 2016 at 5:26 pm

    Well, I guess I’m NOT giving up! It hurts my feelings to think the world isn’t rushing out to buy my book and that I might have to pay someone to promote it…So, I’ll get over it and get to work! Thanks for all the good information:)

  24. chatebooks on April 15, 2016 at 8:57 am

    Thanks for sharing! Very informative and timely in today’s self-publishing world. I believe authors should not only focus on finishing their book, but also explore ways on how to market them. It may be a struggle at first but with everything’s made easier with the social media leverage we have now. Looking forward to your future posts!

    ChatEbooks recently posted

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  27. Tammy Maher on July 11, 2016 at 7:00 pm

    So, I read the article, however, my intention is only to publish the one memoir (my personal survival story) I have no intention of becoming an author.

    • Rachel Thompson on July 11, 2016 at 7:13 pm

      Okay, well here’s the hard truth: if you write a book, you’re a writer. Meaning, will it be compelling enough to keep readers interested? Your story may be fascinating, but your writing style may not be. A writer must be able to know the difference.

      And the question still is: how do you plan on marketing the book? Connecting with people? Letting people know that your book exists? Regardless of whether you write one book or one hundred, nobody will read a book they’ve never heard of.

      If your goal is to write the book and be done with it, and never sell a copy, then cool. If you’d like people to know about it, then you have to think like a both a writer AND a marketer. Best of luck!

  28. Georgina Young-Ellis on July 12, 2016 at 8:02 am

    My books are selling well thanks to some targeted advertising, but reading your post helps me to see I could be doing more, especially in the area of blogging and following blogs. By the way, I was happy to see the Patti Smith quote. She is and always has been a huge inspiration to me. Yes, she refers to herself as a worker. She doesn’t sit around with her head in the clouds “being an artist.”

  29. Marsha on December 12, 2016 at 9:05 am

    Great post.
    It will help authors quite a bit.
    Thank you.

    Marsha Casper Cook

  30. Five Links Friday 1/20/17 | Write Good Books on January 20, 2017 at 5:06 am

    […] 5. How many of us sit around and complain that our books aren’t selling? Well here is Rachel Thompson with a post at her Bad Redhead Media to tell us why: This is Why Your Books Aren’t Selling: 4 Ways To Improve Now […]

  31. Poppy on April 8, 2017 at 11:16 pm

    All well and good, but nobody ever tells you HOW to market… just “you should market yourself!” “develop your brand!” “try harder!” how do I find out HOW to do all this?

    • Rachel Thompson on April 9, 2017 at 7:58 pm

      Hi Poppy! It is confusing at first. I’ve been where you are. Keep reading my blog posts — I give SO much specific information and practical examples. I also provided a lot of links in this post. Click on them. Google stuff. Follow Joanna Penn and Jane Friedman.

      Start with this post on branding: The Reasons #Branding Confuses You and How To Fix That Right Now — read the free sample of my 30-Day book marketing challenge (on Amazon). SO many resources here in the guest posts, too. Take a look around.

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  33. Matthew Cross on July 9, 2020 at 3:26 am


    Thanks so much for these great tips and your keen insight. I’m getting to work!


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