Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Ten Things to do if You Don't Want to Sell Your Book

By Andrew E. Kaufman

What does it take to sell a lot of books? In an industry that seems to change by the minute, I'm not sure anyone has the answer. I'm not sure I really do, either. But I do know what doesn't work. Here are a few of the biggies:

  1. Don’t hire an editor: That sounds really obvious, but it’s surprising how many skip the most important step in the process. Indie authors are often criticized for turning out substandard work, and in some cases, I have to agree. Not hiring a competent editor is one of the biggest reasons for low sales. Readers have become very savvy. Most read the samples, and most can spot poorly written work in a heartbeat. No matter how careful you might be, no matter how well you think you understand and implement the English language, you’re too familiar with your writing and have lost the objectivity necessary to turn out a polished manuscript. I often hear people complain that hiring an editor costs too much money, but you'll be wasting something far more valuable if you skip this step: your time. All the promotions in the world won’t make a bit of difference if you’re not turning out high-quality, professional work. 
  2. Don’t treat your writing as a full time job: Is selling a lot of books as important as having a social life? Sleep? More than likely, you’ll have to sacrifice both, maybe even more if you do this right. As competitive as things are, it’s become imperative to treat your writing career as second job if you already have one, a primary job if you don't. There’s an art to juggling writing and promoting, and time is an important part of that. I’ve yet to meet a bestselling author who says that getting there was effortless. 
  3. Don’t be persistent: Besides the rare exceptions, book sales won’t happen quickly—they might not even happen in a year or more; but that doesn’t mean it will never happen. This is a game of endurance and the ones who stay in it the longest (if they have a good product) are the ones who usually win. 
  4. Don’t enjoy what you do: If you don’t absolutely love what you’re doing, if you can’t wait to get back to writing, it will show not only in your ability to stay motivated but in the quality of your work. Passion is what drives us to success. It’s what keeps us from settling for Just Okay. You have to love doing this. 
  5. Don’t use the tools available to track and analyze your website traffic: 
Do you have a tracking system on your website and blog? If you don't, you're missing one of the best tools available for charting your progress and figuring out what does and doesn’t work. I use It’s free and it gives me more information than I’ll ever need, all in real time. I spend a lot of time analyzing my website traffic. One of the key features I use is the “Visitor Paths” section. It tells me where people come from (which of my promotions are working, which aren’t), how long they stay (overall effectiveness of my website), and where they go after they leave (did they follow the link to Amazon for my book? If not, we have a problem). It’s a great tool for figuring out which promotional tools to keep, which to toss.
    6. Be obnoxious as possible while promoting your book: I’m often horrified at the lengths some will go to in order to sell their books. I also wonder if they realize they’re repelling instead of attracting. Shoving your book down people’s throats makes them gag, or at the very least, want to ignore you. Be relevant, not intrusive. Give readers credit and let them figure out who you are on their own. Do not post a link to your book on other people’s Facebook threads or time lines unless they grant you permission. Do not follow people on Twitter, and then when they follow back, send them a “BUY MY BOOK BUY MY BOOK” message. It's icky.
    7. Don’t get to know your readers. Understand that every successful author builds his or her audience one reader at a time. It can be through word of mouth (which you have minimal of control over) or it can be through getting to know every reader you can, every chance you get (something you have a lot of control over). Take time to answer every email. Be gracious and kind. Say thank you so often that you feel like a broken record. And most important: realize that the readers owe you nothing and that you owe them everything. 

Before and after. 'Nuff said?
        8.  Don’t have a great cover, quality    formatting, or great synopsis: The best advice I ever got was from Indie Phenomenon, Amanda Hocking. She told me (with much nicer words) to lose the cover for While the Savage Sleeps, that it was amateurish and holding me back. And she was absolutely right: I created it myself, and it was horrid. I had to use Google to find the abomination, and when I did, I was horrified/nauseated to see it’s still out there. My only defense (and it’s a weak one) is that this was in the early days when most of us didn’t really know what we were doing. Hire a good artist and don’t settle until you are in love with your cover. It will make all the difference in the world.  Same goes for formatting. Hire a professional who knows what they’re doing. A poorly formatted book is a guaranteed return or bad review. Pay the extra money. Your work is worth it. About your synopsis: it must sing. This is one of the first things readers look at when deciding whether or not to purchase your book. Keep it simple, but make sure it draws them in immediately, then doesn’t let go. 

9.  Don’t use social media properly and to your advantage: I hear this all the time: social media doesn’t sell books. I agree; it doesn’t if you don’t use it properly. The key to using it successfully is to engage people, not hammer them over the head. I spend a lot of time on Facebook. When I talk about my books, I try to keep it relevant and not out-of-the-blue. I discuss my writing process, interesting and funny things that happen along the way. I do occasionally post promotions, but it’s a very small percentage of my total output. I also post other things about my life. Regarding Facebook book releases, most people I talk to find them really irritating. One of the problems is, as soon as an invite comes, the emails begin pouring in for every post and continue to do so unless you shut them off. I tried them myself in the early days but didn't find them helpful where book sales were concerned.
10. Don’t treat this as a business: It is one, and like any business, it takes money to make money. Invest in your business. Understand your industry. Pay attention to trends. If you’re selling widgets, you should probably have a good understanding about everything there is to know about the market, including the latest news and developments.

Andrew E. Kaufman is the author of The Lion, the Lamb, the Hunted and While the Savage Sleeps, both Amazon top 100 bestsellers this year. His books are the most borrowed, independently published books in the Kindle Owners' Lending Library, and his combined sales have reached far beyond the 100,000 mark.


  1. This is terrific information! In tandem with Hitch's post yesterday, I'll refer new writers to this one as well.

    The one aspect I've been remiss on is the website traffic. I haven't monitored it like I should, but I finally did all the SEO work I needed, and monitoring my new traffic is the next step. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Excellent post, Drew! Well-written and chock-full of essential info for every aspiring bestselling author! I especially agree with your tip #1! :-)

    Generous of you to share, too! I'll be sending all my writer clients here to check out this don't-miss list.

  3. Great information, and your covers are outstanding. Who is your artist, if I can ask?

    I'm always amazed by the number of indies who only do a beta reader or have another author act as an editor. How are we supposed to be taken seriously if we don't have the same quality control the Big 6 have? Of course it's an expense and investment, but isn't every business?

  4. A terrific post.

    My new website has a site stat page that's pretty exhaustive… if I just remember to use it. I need to learn to manage it by myself though, and that includes getting a better understand of SEO terms.

  5. This is an excellent piece and should be considered compulsory reading for all authors! I'm shortly going to publish my first indie book and it's great to see these things mentioned, especially regarding social media etiquette. I've only been tweeting about mine for a couple of weeks and I'm following as many people - authors, readors, editors, etc. - as possible...and getting loads of those auto-direct messages that are so impersonal and mean nothing!

    I agree with point 8. I have been amazed at the low quality of some e-book covers and I wanted mine to be something that wouldn't look out of place on a bookshelf.

    Great piece.

  6. Definitely good advice, thank you. I need to do better at tracking website traffic.

    It seems like most indie authors have figured out that they need good covers and decent formatting, but content editing is still a weak point for many. Isn't there a saying about polishing a turd? Looking pretty might sell your first few books, but it won't lead to long-term success.

    I also hear people raving about their cover artists, and then when I look at the cover art website, everything seems just a bit weak. Often the typography is a problem – too much hard-to-read cursive or cutesy fat lettering. An expert knows you have to have text that is readable at various image sizes, in black and white, and even for people who are red/green colorblind. There's a reason people go to school to study this stuff!

  7. Kris, I definitely agree with you. Too many newbie or aspiring authors are in a rush to publish their book and don't think they have the time or money to get it professionally edited - or they erroneously don't think they need it. A nice cover and good formatting are essential, but as the old cliche goes, "You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear." So yes, it's critical to get both content editing and a good copyedit and/or final proofread before publishing.

  8. Thanks, Stacy, Stewart and Kris, for stopping in. We appreciate your thoughtful comments.

    Stacy, you're right about the investment. If you don't believe in your work enough to invest in it, then you're not ready. It's a tough and painful truth. But copyediting is just not that expensive.

  9. Drew!

    Wow, will you marry me? ;-)

    Hitch here, and let me second this fabulous post. As someone "on the front lines," you cannot imagine what we here at see daily. I have a list of "go-to" line editors, and a much shorter list of more advanced editors available for our clients, but the sad state of affairs is that we are rarely asked for it. I've even pushed it on one or two, violating my own rules about doing/saying anything about the quality of the writing.

    I'd also like to say "aye!" about the covers--another very badly-managed aspect. If this job has taught me one thing, it's that humans really are Magpies without wings, and having a pretty or sharp or (whatever) cover is NOT optional for a serious writer.

    Thanks, Drew, great post--I'll be pointing at it from the KDP Forums often, no doubt!

  10. I'll echo what everyone else has said, great post. Nicely done to put it in the negative. Gets a bit more attention that way!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.