If you search “how to sell more books” on Google, there are only about 75,300,000 results. It’s one of the most commonly asked questions in the publishing industry, and chances are it’s something you’ve asked yourself a time or twenty.
Working in digital marketing for a literary publicity firm, I’ve had this question asked to me by countless authors and the conversation usually goes the same way. First, it’s about looking at what the author has already done. Then, it’s identifying new (or old) ways to reach his or her audience and sell books that the author either a) hasn’t done b) didn’t think about doing or c) doesn’t know how to do themselves.
As an industry expert, there’s almost always one or two unique methods for increasing book sales that I can recommend to any given author, but I’m not going to list them for you today.
Because there are several common problems that I’ve encountered in publishing today, all of which contribute to a lack of sales. These are things that most indie authors are susceptible to, myself included, and instead of trying to Google a quick fix to slap a Band–Aid on the problem, it’s time to dig out into the root of the issue and make a change.
Problem #1: You aren’t selling books because you’re cutting corners.
This is one of the single most frustrating things that I’ve seen in the publishing industry today. It’s something publishing professionals groan about behind closed doors, and—no matter how many times I talk about it—people never seem to learn.
You cannot skimp on quality if you want to your book to be a success.
It’s not as easy as writing a manuscript, slapping a cover on the book, and calling it a day. There are so many valuable elements to producing, releasing, and marketing a book that many indie and self-publishers skip, including: cover design, interior layouts, editing, publicity, and more.
I know what you’re thinking. It can be expensive to hire professionals for all of those things, and—if you’re paying for your book’s production out of pocket—the costs can rack up quickly.
However, as an indie publisher, that is one of the sacrifices you are making by partaking in this industry. You cannot and will not succeed with a subpar book, especially now that there are literally millions of other books out there—both traditionally and independent—that you need to compete with on a broad scale.
Problem #2: You aren’t selling books because you took the easy route.
This goes hand-in-hand with the first problem as they are two sides of the same coin. If you aren’t doing all of the things necessary to make a book successful, then you cannot expect it to succeed. You’re setting yourself up for failure!
We’ve all heard the old adage, “If it was easy, everyone would do it.”
In the case of independent publishing, everyone is doing it. Self-publishing is now easier than ever before, meaning more and more books are flooding the marketplace. While this is great for lowering the barrier of entry into the publishing industry and increasing diversity in what’s available, it also creates a very basic problem for independent publishers.
Now that everyone can publish books, you can’t get away with having a book that doesn’t stand out.
I’ve seen this more in recent years than ever before. As its getting easier to publish a book, we as authors and publishers are getting lazier. Maybe you’re following the same formula, over and over again, but instead of innovating and trying new things, you’re stuck in the same production routine.
Problem #3: You aren’t selling books because you’re trying (and failing) to follow the Big Five’s model.
That formula I mentioned? This is where it comes in heavily. For many indies, the publishing process looks scarily similar to what the Big Five are doing. And while there’s some merit to this practice, there’s also some madness to it as well.
You are not a Big Five publisher. You do not have the budget of a Big Five publisher. You do not have the resources of a Big Five publisher. You do not have the connections of a Big Five publisher.
Why are you doing the exact same things as a Big Five publisher and expecting the same results?
Moreover, why are indie publishers doing the same production and promotional tasks for different books over and over again whilst expecting different results? Let’s bring in another cliche here, but isn’t that the definition of ‘insanity’?
Indie publishers should be pushing boundaries, exploring what works and what doesn’t, and trying new things. You can try to compete on the same level as the Big Five, sure, but why not find a different space that provides better results?
Problem #4: You aren’t selling books because you’re focusing too much on book sales.
This is one of the hardest conversations I have with authors and publishers. The reality is that book sales are unpredictable. Even with a massive marketing budget and a stellar publicity campaign, there isn’t much of a direct correlation between many promotional efforts and book sales. Try as we might, there is often a temporary boost in sales but rarely a lasting effect.
Does this mean you should give up? On the contrary.
Book sales shouldn’t be your primary goal because, let’s face it, it will drive you crazy if it is. Instead, indies should be focused on things like brand recognition and increasing audience size and engagement.
While your first book might only sell fifty or a hundred copies, it’s still a great way to generate interest in your overall brand and drive traffic to your website, blog, or social media platforms.
Over time, your audience will grow along with your catalog—instead of selling a hundred copies, maybe you’ll sell five hundred with the next book and a thousand with the next. It’s about exponential growth over the long term, not the instant reward, because that’s what is both realistic and achievable.
Let’s face it. If you joined the book industry to make a quick buck, you’re probably in the wrong place. If, however, you want to grow your brand into something lasting—and you’re willing to put in the time, money, and effort into it—it’s completely feasible.
Bottom line? Be honest with yourself. It’s only when you acknowledge your shortcomings that you can learn from them and use them to improve.
Jandra Sutton is an author, marketer, and public speaker based in Nashville. After graduating from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana with a B.A. in History, she went on to receive a Master’s degree in Modern British History from the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom. Pluto will always be a planet in her heart. Follow her on Twitter @jandralee.