The biggest recurring question: “Why?”
Why isn’t anyone clicking “buy now”?
Why are other books going through the roof while your numbers fall through the floor?
Some authors blame publishers. Others wonder if it’s the market. Still others begin to beat themselves up, convinced that they have no talent and their novels were simply no good.
There’s no straightforward, simple reason why a book might underperform. Here are some of the most common pitfalls — and some suggestions for how to address them.
1. Novel quality.
We’re going to start with the elephant in the room.
For those of you who wonder if your book was good enough — well, I suspect that it’s probably better than you think, because you cared enough to ask the question. (In my experience, those people whose books could benefit the most from quality improvement generally can’t imagine that their novels are less than perfect.)
Still, ask yourself: did you go through a thorough editing process, or was it rushed? If it’s a later book in a long running series, are you feeling disenchanted? That ennui can bleed through into the writing, showing you’re phoning it in. If you’re self-published, did you hire an editor? If not, are your beta readers experienced enough?
Possible solutions: Hire an editor. If you can’t afford one, ask about payment plans or look for the most experienced beta readers in your genre that you can find. If you’re traditionally published, either push out deadlines so you can spend a little more time on your work, or try to reconnect with your passion for writing to see if it livens up your novels. Continue to work on craft, by studying, taking courses, reading new references. If you think you know it all, your work will suffer.
2. Commercial viability.
Is your book targeted for a viable audience? This doesn’t mean for a mass audience, mind you — you could be targeting a specialized niche that you feel is underserved, or a cross-genre work. But if your novel is “impossible to categorize” and difficult to communicate at a high level, then you’re going to have a hard time marketing it.
They say write for yourself, and that is absolutely true… but selling is a different animal. You need to actively define and search out your market — and verify that there is, indeed, a market to find.
Possible solutions: Work on defining an encapsulated description that will clearly appeal to your targeted audience. (If you haven’t targeted an audience, do that… and see if there are any similar works, in theme or tone or sensibility, that would justify your belief that there is a market for your novel.) If you are self-published, revisit your cover, book description, categories, and keywords.
3. Cohesive marketing strategy.
Too often, authors look at the various possible tactics used for marketing, and see a buffet of options from an all-you-can-eat banquet, rather than seeing separate ingredients for a singular, harmonious dish. If you feel like you’ve been promoting your head off but nothing’s working, this may be why.
Possible solutions: Look at the tactics you’re using, and see how they work together. How do you expect readers to respond to each one? Which tactics seem to be working, and how can you tell? If you’re not sure how any tactic is performing, how can you establish tracking and metrics (like views, clicks, opens, etc.) and what sort of goals do you want to set?
One of the biggest reasons novels don’t sell is because no one knows the book exists. Given the sheer volume of stories being published, generating awareness is easier said than done — but generating awareness should be a top priority in any marketing strategy.
Possible solutions: Using your target audience as a focus, increase your awareness efforts through things like reviews, guest posts, social media, etc.
5. Clear incentive.
A reader, who has never heard of you or read your work, has stumbled across your novel. How are you going to convince her to give your novel a try? Many authors fall down on this part, because it means thinking like a salesperson, not a creative person.
Possible solutions: Tailor your copy to be the most compelling for your target audience — whether that’s rewriting your book description if possible, getting testimonial quotes from authors your audience admires, offering giveaways to generate reader reviews (and provide social proof to prospective purchasers,) or pursuing reviews from audience-focused review sites whose glowing praise could both add to your review count/social proof, as well as pull quotes for your book description and website.
6. Unclear expectations.
If your book has only sold ten copies, it’s easy to say, “Well, that book is a failure.” But if it has sold ten books in a week, then obviously that would be a premature call. What are your expectations for “success” — and why? What is your time frame?
Possible solutions: Do some research on sales in your genre, for authors at your career level. Adjust your expectations accordingly.
*BONUS REASON YOUR BOOK MIGHT NOT BE SELLING*
Finally, one reason your book might not be selling is your attitude towards promotion.
I run into a lot of authors who want to “just write” without delving into the details and frustrations of marketing their novels.
If you are financially independent or just want to write as a creative outlet, that is wonderful. But if you don’t want to sully yourself with the details of marketing — if you think that salesmanship is irritating at best and deceitful at worst, say — then there is a greater than average probability that your books simply will not sell.
You wouldn’t bang together a novel and throw it up for publication. You study, you work hard to hone your craft. Marketing is no different: it’s telling a different kind of story. It should never be deceitful, and done properly and with care, it can be an extension of your authentic self and your writing voice.