Why Your Book Isn’t Selling

by | Mar 19, 2012 | Book Marketing Basics, Social Media for Authors

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It’s a question I get asked a lot: “Why isn’t my book selling?” This question isn’t reserved for the author who is clueless about marketing. I’ve been asked this by savvy authors, even business people who can’t seem to figure out the system for selling.

Français : livre ouvert English: open book

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Sometimes the reasons why a book isn’t selling are easy: the cover is poor, the content is not edited or the topic is unappealing. But in most cases that I’ve seen, you need to dig deeper. So, overlooking the obvious, let’s go a step further because the mysteries of selling might be a lot easier to fix than you think.

  1. Start Early: In many cases starting early means earlier than you think. Often, I see authors beginning their campaigns a month prior to book launch. If you do that, keep in mind that your results won’t show up for months (and months), often it takes up to six months to see anything you seed start to grow. That’s partially why marketing people will encourage you to start early because it can take so long to see results.
  2. LA2-yearbooks

    Limited availability: Having a book that can only be purchased off of your website isn’t a great way to promote a title. You want to make sure that the book is where your consumer is: on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and even if you aren’t stocked on a bookstore shelf, you want to be sure that someone can order it. Limit your book availability and you limit your success. If you don’t give your consumer enough places to get your book, they will probably get someone else’s title instead. Don’t let your marketing serve the competition better than it serves you.

  3. The rule of seven: You need to be everywhere. A lot. But what does that mean, exactly? It means that your reader (or potential reader) needs to see your book in a lot of different places. Have you asked yourself how many ways you are marketing the book? Are you active in any social media? Do you participate in blogs? Are you getting reviews? Think of the seven ways or access points that you need for your book to gain traction with the audience. Seven seems to be the magic number for many marketing people so go with that, use it as a goal. Your book should have access points in seven different areas. With so much out there begging for your readers’ attention you want to be sure that your book is getting an equal amount of attention.
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    Multichannel marketing: How many different ways are you marketing your book? No, I don’t mean the rule of seven, though this applies here, too. What I mean is how many channels are you using to market your book to the reader? Email? Video? Print mailings? A successful campaign is one that encompasses the rule of seven, so seven public channels to reach your reader, but also consider multi-channel marketing, as well.

  5. You don’t think this applies to you: Often when I give these talks, I have authors who say, “Well, this may be true for some, but it’s not really what I’m about.” It might not be what you are about, but I can guarantee you it applies to everyone, across the board. Are there success stories that break out of the norm?  You bet, but it’s rare.

Now You Know, What Do You Do?

English: The interior of the Barnes & Noble lo...

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Let’s say that you’re reading this, you are knee-deep in promotion and thinking “oh, brother, this is me. What now?” A lot of authors just toss the first book out and focus on the second figuring they made the mistakes with the first and chalk it up to a “learning curve.” I don’t think that’s a great idea. You put a lot of work into that book, yes? Don’t you want it to succeed? I thought so. Here are some tips you can implement, right now, to get things back on track:

  • Get to know successful authors: Yes, it’s good and cathartic to commiserate with other authors who feel their book isn’t selling, but beyond that it won’t really do much for your success. Step out of your comfort zone and start looking for authors you want to emulate. Successful authors who have it going on. Build your list. Find at least 10 authors in your market that are doing well and presumably selling books.
  • Barnes & Noble nook (ebook reader device)

    Investigate: What do other authors do in your genre? You now have a list of other, successful authors, right? If you’ve collected this list, follow them on their blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Pinterest. Follow them everywhere, start to build your tribe. Get to know them almost better than you know your own marketing campaign. You may say “well, they have more money than I do to market!” That might be true, but I bet it’s not – not entirely anyway. Most of the really successful authors don’t get there with just a checkbook, they probably have a great sense of who their market is, what their market wants and exactly how to give it to them. I’m not telling you to copy, I’m telling you to learn from other successful authors.

  • Google Alerts: Now that you have your list of fabulous authors, plug their names into Google Alerts and see where they show up. Yes, when I say investigate I mean doing just that. Do your homework. Why does this matter? Because the blogs they show up on will be great places for you to network, and guess what? All it costs is a little bit of time.
  • Count the ways: How many different ways can a reader access you? Count them. I’m serious. You should have at least seven access points. Maybe you are syndicating articles, maybe you are on YouTube, maybe you are on Facebook, Pinterest, whatever it is it’s an access point. If you don’t have seven of them and aren’t sure where to start, go back to bullets two and three.
  • Get rid of what’s not working: I was at an event a few weeks ago and talked to an author who was doing lots of Google ads. He was careful to stay within his daily budget, but he wasn’t sure if they were working. Why was he doing them? He had been to a seminar that talked about Google Ads and thought he’d give it a shot. Initially it did well, then not so much. He kept doing them because he thought eventually it would turn around. Sometimes things like ads have a lifespan, if you aren’t monitoring this stuff you’ll never know. Don’t hesitate to get rid of what’s not working and be brutally honest with yourself. Remember that if you keep doing something that’s not working it will take away time and probably money from doing something that could make your book successful. The choice is yours.
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    Distribution: Make sure your book is out there, and I mean really out there. You may hate it that Amazon takes 55% of your book sales but would you rather have 45% of a sale or nothing at all? Don’t have an eBook yet? Why not? It’s easier than ever to have your book converted to an eBook. It’s so easy I’ve known authors to do it in less than 15 minutes. It’s no longer a matter of whether you can publish a book; it’s whether someone can find it. You might not be in stores nationwide, but if you can be on online e-tailers that’s a big and helpful start.

  • Persistence: Maybe the biggest piece of success is persistence. I know I sound like a motivational speaker right now, but it’s true. Persist, persist, persist. Often I find that authors are just weeks away from their success and they give up because of some of the reasons cited in the first part of this article. Persist even on the days you can’t be bothered. On those days do just one thing. Just one.

The key to success isn’t always easy or clear-cut, but the key to failure often is. If you have produced a good looking, well-written book but it’s still not selling then go back through this article to find the missing piece or pieces. Once you do, I can almost guarantee your book will start to take off.

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  1. Lisa Fender

    Thanks for the advice. I am knew to this platforming and the biggest obstical I have found is getting people to sign up for my blog. They usually just put in their email address instead of join this site. I am not published yet and I started early as been suggested to me a year ago. I am going to self publish this summer and the biggest reason I decided to do that is, first I don’t want to wait up to 2 years to get published and second, I hate the covers on books now adays. They all look like romance novels, and that’s fine if you write romance, but not for sci-fi fantasy. I have an artist doing mine and I plan to keep it that way. I want people to be attracted to the book because it is a fantasy. After reading your blog, I think I am on the right track. Thanks!

  2. Patricia Gligor

    Great tips! Thanks!
    “Mixed Messages,” the first novel in my Malone mystery series will be released April 17th. I’ve been actively pre promoting my book and, thanks to your post, I have a few more ideas on how best to do that.

    • Paula


      Thanks for stopping by, and we’re so glad we gave you some marketing ideas to use!

  3. Zita Consani

    Thank you very much for this kind push up the backside! Everything you say is perfectly true, even for those who think they’re different and don’t need to do all this. Thanks again and again.

    • Paula


      We’re so glad you found this blog post useful – thanks for stopping by!

  4. Jill Kemerer

    Perfect! I was looking for a jumping off point for a new blog post, and I noticed your link from Steve Laube’s blog. This is full of such great information. I often feel like I’m everywhere online and wonder if it truly does make a difference. But after reading your 7 access points, I’m convinced. Thanks so much. Will be linking back to your article in tomorrow’s post. 🙂

    • Paula


      We’re so glad you found some inspiration from this blog post! Thanks for stopping by – we hope to see you often.

  5. Marja McGraw

    I’m so glad I stopped by and read your blog. Great advice. “Bogey’s Ace in the Hole” was just released this month and I’ve been trying to get face time everywhere I can. You gave me a few more ideas.

    • Paula


      Good luck with “Bogey’s Ace in the Hole” – we’re so glad this blog post will help you market your book!

  6. Edward Smith

    All good points. Some people write ads for their books even before they write the book, so that when they write the book, it keeps them focused on what the reader wants. Off course after the book is published it it too late for that, but still writing an ad for the book, even though you aren’t going to run it, might give you a focus for your promotional efforts. OK, thanks for the tips. Edward Smith.

  7. Melanie Jackson

    “You don’t think this applies to you.” Too true! Too easy an out. I appreciate your tips, especially the Rule of Seven.

    • Paula


      Thanks for stopping by! We’re glad you found this post useful.

  8. Augie

    Penny, thank you for this post, I learned a lot, especially about the 7. I’m a member of Sunny Frazier’s Posse (author and acquisition),from the first email to today’s she promotes self-marketing, and one cannot expect the publisher to do everything (those days are gone), we have to take an active role in our success. Thank you again for your reiteration. Augie Hicks

    • Paula


      Thanks for stopping by! I hope our blog can give you some additional marketing inspiration.

  9. Peter DeHaan

    If it was easy to promote, market, and sell your book, then every author would be successfully doing so.

    Similarly, if it was easy to write a book, every hopeful writer would be cranking them out.

    The truth is that neither the writing or the selling is easy; they both require hard work — and that’s what separates the successful authors from the wannabe writers.

    • Paula


      So true – hard work, focus and dedication is required. Thanks for stopping by!

  10. Paula Petty

    Thanks for the advice. Persistence and patience are key.

  11. Shelly Koenig


    Thank you so much for sharing this invaluable information! I have taken so much of your advice and passed it along to my clients. I have been able to confront their apprehension by providing them with your advice and extensive expertise in the marketing industry. Thanks so much!!


    • Paula

      Thanks for stopping by Shelly, and we appreciate that you share Penny’s information with your clients!


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