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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Don’t use the tools available to track and analyze your website traffic:
- 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.