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.
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.
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…’
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.
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