Mike Spinak »

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Why Isn’t My Book Selling?

“Why isn’t my book selling?” is a question on most published authors’ minds.

I sympathize with those wondering. My book isn’t yet exactly a blockbuster, either.

Many authors are happy to share their opinions about what you need in order for your book to sell. Some will tell you that you need a fantastic book cover. Others will state that you need a damn good book. Yet others will say you need a great sales copy blurb. Others still will claim that you need the first few sample pages to be grabbing. Or you need glowing reviews. Or a lot of “followers” on social media websites. Or all of the above.

There are whole websites devoted to the topic, such as Why Isn’t My Book Selling? You submit your book and its case history, and they tell you what’s wrong that’s holding your book back – what you need to fix.

It’s probably safe to say that you’re better off if your book, cover, reviews, and the rest are terrific than if they’re terrible. “Awful” can only handicap you. In this sense, those pointing out the problems and fixes are legitimately helping authors in need.

The issue with such advice arises when people start equating things like, “You’re better off with a great book cover,” or, “A poor cover can only handicap you,” with, “Your bad cover is why your book isn’t selling.” The implication is that if you fix these issues and get all your ducks in a row, then your book will start selling well. Sadly, that’s often not true.

Take my book as an example. My book cover was made by the designer who does the graphic work for the Museum of Modern Art and Bloomingdale’s, along with select books. My book’s reviews are positive to the point that I have the #1 Top Rated book in my book’s category on Amazon. I have about 50,000 “followers” on Google+ alone, and many more on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. – compared to the oft-repeated recommendations that authors should strive for at least 1,000. And so on.

I have things in good accord with the common wisdom about book sales. Yet sales are meager. There are many thousands of other similar cases of deserving books not selling well. One of this year’s Pulitzer prize winners, Embers of War, by Frederik Logevall, sold a total of 40 copies prior to winning the Pulitzer, and sold a total of 353 copies in the first two weeks since.

If you’re wondering, “Why isn’t my book selling?”, that line of questioning is a red herring. The notion that there has to be something wrong to explain a book’s lack of sales is false. The belief that a book will sell well unless there are issues preventing sales is mistaken. Books don’t sell unless there’s a reason for them to sell. Otherwise, they just sit there, regardless how good they are or how well you have all the pieces in place. Doing things right enables sales, but it doesn’t make them. At least, not from the start, nor early on.

If books don’t sell without reasons for them to, then what kind of reason sells books? In most cases, the reason is you. Especially when you’re a new author with a new book. People won’t know your book has a fantastic cover until they encounter the book. Likewise with the damn good writing, great blurb, grabbing sample pages, and glowing reviews. These kinds of persuasions only help once readers have found your book. Someday, hopefully, people will be finding your book through word of mouth and through your reputation as an author. But in the beginning stages, when no one has heard of your book yet, you have to actively bring your book to the attention of your readers – not passively wait for them to discover it.

When I did a book reading and signing at a big event, I sold my book well. When I contact retailers and libraries and ask them if they want my book, I can sell them fairly well. However, if I wait for them to sell on their own through “etailers” like Amazon, days can go by without a sale – unless I do something to make the sales happen.

Then how do you make sales happen? I wish I could give an insightful answer, but I can’t. I’m just another author learning the ropes through trial and error, like most everyone else. In fact, I’m particularly poor at marketing and promotion. Furthermore, even if I knew how to do it perfectly for me, what works for me would not likely apply well for anyone else. Selling a paperback, nonfiction, photo storybook about hummingbirds is not the same as selling a text-only ebook novel about cowboy romance, or whatever else. When you also factor in differences of location, author personality and suitable sales styles, available marketing budget, etc., any specific advice would be of little use.

But I can tell you this (at least, for new authors with recent books selling poorly):

Don’t ask yourself, “Why isn’t my book selling?” Instead, ask yourself, “How can I sell my book?” Books don’t sell. Authors sell books.

When sales are slow, don’t be discouraged. Be active.