What to Do When Your Book Isn’t Selling

Guest post by Penny Sansevieri at Author Marketing Experts

Penny Sansevieri, CEO and founder of Author Marketing Experts and adjunct professor at NYU, is a bestselling author and internationally recognized book marketing and media relations expert. Her company is one of the leaders in the publishing industry and has developed some of the most cutting-edge book marketing campaigns.

Everyone wants their book to be a smashing success. But with 4,500 books published every day, it takes real effort to stand out in the crowd, even if your book is fantastic.

If your self-published book isn’t selling, don’t get discouraged. Instead, consider these strategies to give your book a boost.

What are YOU doing to market your book? And is it enough?

This may seem like an obvious first step, but it’s an important one. Here are some key questions to ask yourself:

How varied is your marketing plan?  Strong campaigns take a multifaceted approach with efforts that range across the board. Some of your campaign components can be really simple, but be sure you’re marketing on several levels, and in ways that work for your book’s particular market.

Are you relying on a publicist to do all the work?  Sometimes authors will hire a publicist like me and think they’re done. But successful marketing always requires author participation. Even big-name authors with a dedicated following put some effort into marketing their books. Book marketing isn’t a turnkey affair—and hiring a marketing/publicity firm should be just one piece of your efforts.

Is your approach effective?  If you’re taking an active and varied approach yet none of it seems to be generating sales, then it’s time to take a step back. Take some time to profile your market and dig deep into what motivates your target readers to buy. Where do they find and buy new books? Start by looking at authors in your market who have had success. Stay away from the big “brand-name” authors, but do look at those who show up on the first or second page of your Google search, and look at their social media and blogs. Then follow their examples. When it comes to social media, you don’t need to be everywhere, just everywhere that matters.

Reviews are key!

I can always tell if a book is struggling by the quantity and quality of its reviews. Ten reviews or fewer on a year-old book is never a good sign. Also, if reviews are largely negative, there’s probably a reason why. If either scenario is the case, one thing to carefully consider is whether the cover, title, and description accurately depict the book’s content. I once worked with an author who acquired a blurb from a big-time blogger who called her book the “next Fifty Shades of Grey.” The blogger intended this to mean that the book would be a big deal, but when readers saw this description, they thought they were buying a BDSM romance—which they were not. And several reviews reflected that. If you haven’t had someone who is objective read your book description for clarity, consider doing so. (You can read more about writing good book descriptions here.)

Even if your book has gotten plenty of good reviews in its first year, it’s worth continuing to pursue new reviews to help boost its shelf life. New reviews will freshen up your book’s Amazon detail page and tell potential readers that the book is still viable. Additionally, as reviews are important to your Amazon algorithm, gaining new ones helps to boost your book’s visibility.

How old is your book?

Age matters. You need to ask yourself, Is my book still relevant? For fiction, the answer is probably yes. Nonfiction, however, gets a little trickier. As time passes, your market will begin to change, as most nonfiction readers want current books. To stay relevant, you can release updated editions with new content. I periodically do this with my book How to Sell Books by the Truckload.

When you publish a new edition with updated content, you can, in effect, treat it like a new book and repitch it to the markets you reached out to with the first edition.

Look at your cover with fresh eyes.

Take a field trip to a bookstore and compare your book’s cover to those on the shelves. You may even want to ask someone who works there what they think. Tell them you’re doing research “for a friend” so they feel comfortable giving you an honest opinion. You can also ask friends and family, but keep in mind that they probably don’t want to hurt your feelings, so always take their feedback with a grain of salt.

If your research shows that your cover is confusing or could use some improvement, it may be time to consider redesigning or updating your cover.

Will your title drive sales?

The right title may be more important than you think. Your book will be stuck with that title for the rest of its existence, so make sure it’s the best possible choice. Just like your book cover, a good title is critical; for nonfiction, it must be benefit driven. Use your title to sell your readers on how your book will help solve their problems. Will it help them find love, lose weight, or make more money? If you need help, again, ask someone who isn’t connected to you and who can be truly objective.

How is your book priced?

Simply put, if your book isn’t priced competitively, you’ll see a direct correlation in sales. Not sure how to price your book? Read this article for help.

Are you just throwing money at your book?

Are you doing anything besides hiring a firm? If you’re blindly throwing marketing dollars at your book to see if more money equals more sales, it’s time to go through this checklist again. I have no problem with an author who wants to spend $20,000 on their campaign. But, again, that campaign won’t succeed if they aren’t planning to participate in it.

Is it time for a reboot?

If as you read this, you’re thinking, Well, my book could use some work. . . .—fantastic! A book reboot is one of the best ways to give your book a leg up, as it gives you a chance to solve some problems this article may have helped you to identify. If you love your book and its topic but you now see a few mistakes you made, why not address them?

When I started working in publishing, I wrote a book called Get Published Today. Great book, terrible cover. So when I rewrote the book (i.e., updated the content), I got a new cover that was a huge improvement. But I still felt like the book needed something more. It wasn’t until the third edition that I felt like I’d hit a home run. My point is that sometimes it takes a few tries to hit your mark.

Before you throw in the towel, take a closer look at these ideas. For most of us, being an author isn’t a passing hobby we try once or twice and then sort of forget about. It’s our passion. We have ideas for more books, and we want to keep creating and, maybe someday, make a living off our work. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

So I encourage you to keep trying. Figure out what works for you, and what works for your book, and never stop writing and marketing!