Why Does My Book Not Sell?

I don’t claim to be an expert on ebook sales, neither do I sell many thousands of copies; but I do receive a variety of emails relating to the subject, and I often spot frequently missed opportunities for sales and some rather more obvious reasons why books don’t sell.
EDITING. The single most important process of publishing a book is structural editing and proofreading. nick-morrison-FHnnjk1Yj7Y-unsplashThe lack of consistent, industry standard editing will kill sales in record time. Readers can forgive a smattering of minor mistakes throughout an 80,000 word novel, but if the first thing they see when they look inside the book sample are glaring grammatical errors – then there’s little chance they will buy. It’s a false economy to skip the editing process simply because your sister said it was ‘ok’. Or someone you met in a Facebook group said they’d edit the entire manuscript for £100. Only employ a recommended editor with a good track record and be aware there are many, many plausible fakes out there. Be super critical and don’t publish too soon. 
Picture-4COVER. The cover can and should work in a number of ways to help sell your book. Mostly it needs to match the content and the expectations of the genre – ie: not a photograph which you happen to like and may be related to the material in some vague way, but means absolutely nothing to a prospective reader on the other side of the world. Do some research and look at other books in your genre. Unless you have an eye for design, understand book marketing, and own the relevant software to be original and creative; pay someone who does. Of course, it’s perfectly possible to make your own cover with free software through Amazon’s publishing platform or something like Canva, but if the end result looks homemade – and you want to reach beyond friends and family – then consider the commercial impact.
FONT. Often overlooked, but the font is a vital bit of selling kit. Nothing screams homemade more than a bog-standard font scrawled across a third-rate cover image. If the cover and the font look third-rate, then the reader is fully entitled to presume that the content is much the same. Do the research: you will not find a loopy font on a cold-blooded thriller. Consider the impact of this and apply accordingly.
FORMATTING. If you can’t handle the formatting, then please pay someone who can. It might be the best story ever and perfectly well edited but if there are blank pages, irregular indents, or oversized margins, then after a while it just becomes too irritating to read. Your text needs to look consistent on a variety of screen sizes.
BRANDINGIf you’ve got all the above in order then do also consider branding. If you write across different genres this can be difficult but covers which are easily recognisable as one of yours, do help follow-on sales – so at least consider keeping the font of your author name consistent. Four or five cross-genre books with variable cover styles are notoriously difficult to sell. Same applies to using more than one author or pen name. This is why traditional publishers like material which is easily branded to match their current list. It’s easier to market and sell, and the reader knows what to expect. More on branding here: https://janruth.com/2016/06/24/the-importance-of-branding/

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SHORT LINKS. Every time you talk about your book across social media add the buy link! Potential readers will not go searching, and if you also use a pen name which is different to your social media persona, this can be an impossible task. Why make it so difficult and confusing? The social media audience has a very short attention span at the best of times. Make a short universal link – it’s so easy – and use it. I can’t recall the amount of times I’ve tried to find a book and given up because the author didn’t use a buy link and I couldn’t remember the exact pen name or the specific use of initials.
perfecto-capucine-2gllPE42ouU-unsplashPRICE. Study the market and take note how much is free or priced at 99p. How much do you spend on ebooks? Personally, I’m cautious at anything over £1.99 if the author is unknown to me. It makes more sense to sell 10 books at 99p than one book at £2.99. Free books have lost their impact in raising visibility. Still useful if you’re offering the first in a series as a free download – which hopefully will attract readers to buy the next, and the next. But always price the first book in the series less than the sequel – as a loss-leader – not the other way about! 
KINDLE SELECT, CATEGORIES & KEYWORDS. The Kindle Select programme (staying exclusive to Amazon) is worth considering, rather than spreading yourself too thin and being available on every other sales platform. Amazon Kindle remains the most popular so why not use this to your advantage – at least initially – and use the free promotional tools available. Select also means you can enroll in other programmes such as Kindle Unlimited. This allows readers unlimited access to books in the Select programme and for the author, pages read can earn as much – if not more – than those elusive sales. Experiment with categories on Amazon, the smaller ones are more likely to get your book noticed. Likewise the keywords – it’s worth doing some research, there are plenty of articles about keywords and which are trending and are currently effective
SOCIAL MEDIA & WEBSITES. snapchat---illustration-957668776-5b2e9008a474be0036c4c507Build a social media platform before you launch the book, not as an afterthought a few months later because ‘you really don’t do promoting, advertising, Twitter, or all that stuff…’ Your ebook is an internet-based product which is targeted at an internet-based audience who own an e-reader and therefore browse the internet for their next read. A commercial page – use your author name for this, not your book title – on Facebook and a website are both worth having because they are public sites and allow readers to discover you. They will not discover you via a personal Facebook profile. A website is more static – a ‘go to’ place to locate the books and hit that universal buy-link. Keep it clean and simple. Get rid of the dancing cats, change the white text on a black background to the other way about, and fix the links that don’t work.
REVIEWS. Reviews do help to sell books in that they increase customer confidence in the product. Approach book bloggers and reviewers who are interested in your material and whose opinions carry some weight; they will also have a good presence across social media. Don’t approach other authors or send multiple requests through Messenger to all your friends begging for reviews. And the other biggie: don’t respond to negative reviews in public. Nothing looks worse to a prospective reader than to witness an angry response to someone who didn’t enjoy your book. florencia-viadana-1iyGImW84cQ-unsplashThey are entitled to their opinion and if it’s malicious then interacting in any way will add fuel to the fire. There are plenty of people who will enjoy a good to-and-fro at your expense. Not only does it look desperately unprofessional to join in, but it’s wise to remember that reviews are not directed towards the author. Neither are they an easy, cheap critique service – they are there to help other prospective readers decide if they might enjoy the book. Only take them to heart if there are several reviews flagging the same issue. And then… get it fixed.
BLOGGING & NEWSLETTERS. The clue is in the title… these are not meant to be hard-sell sales platforms. Blogs are a good way to build a slow but sure fanbase, but your blog needs original and interesting content. Write articles you can share across social media and build followers. I’ve written some equitation-based fiction so blogging about horses brings me into contact with the right audience. And if you cannot produce engaging, interesting, and informative content on a regular basis, don’t start a newsletter. Sending advertising copy through email disguised as a newsletter is SPAM.
MARKET TRENDS. Are you writing fiction the public are looking to read? If it’s a complicated contemporary romance set in Newcastle and your main female character is aged 45, it won’t sell as well as a formula romance set in Cornwall with a heroine aged 25; even if your book is more original and better executed. Sadly, this is the way commercial sales and marketing works for the big guys, and the independent publisher can either try and swim with the mass-market tide, or accept that writing to their own agenda and enjoying creative freedom will always produce books which are more of a struggle to sell.

The Wisdom of Hindsight

A few funny words of wisdom for very new authors, and those in charge of household appliances.

Self-Publishing. If I could go back and start again, would I do anything differently? Yes, all of it! You see, I never read the instructions for anything. Half the programs on the new washing machine will never be used because I don’t have the patience to read the manual. I learnt about self-publishing the hard way, but maybe that’s not necessarily a negative. Sometimes, if you make horrible mistakes along the way, you’re not likely to forget them, or repeat them. Now, where’s that powder, the one that doesn’t foam? The one I was told not to use under any circumstances, the one that clogged the entire cycle… 

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The Pre-Wash:

  1. Editing & proofreading.
  2. Cover design & formatting.
  3. Website & social marketing platforms.

Editing & Proofreading. 

There are many, many books out there which are badly in need of a good soak and a pre-wash. I confess to having a head-start with regard to the actual business of writing fiction. Thirty years ago I went along the traditional route of trying to find agents and publishers. I had a modicum of success, but the most it taught me was how to write (and re-write, and re-write) and construct a novel, how to build character and how to observe the basic principles such as ‘show and not tell’. 

Editing covers a broad spectrum of skills, from advising on all of the above to merely checking punctuation, or that names and timescales are consistent throughout. Your product needs to be as near perfect as you can make it if you want to be taken seriously, and sell books to the reading public with confidence. It is not a good idea to wait until the reader-review stage to get your work critiqued publicly on Amazon by the very reader you wish to please! 

Anyway, to cut a long story down a bit, I decided to self-publish my languishing semi-edited manuscripts. I made mistakes, I chose the wrong people to work with. I was on the wrong spin cycle and foaming at the mouth in no time.

Then I met John Hudspith.

rawpixel-561415-unsplashSome say he has the eyes of an owl and the body of a crow. (He’s already admitted to the droppings). He can edit any genre. He’s not only comfortable with freaky – such as double-jointed women in gingham – but he also has a handle on quite ordinary things like school puddings and little dogs. What I like about Mr Hudspith is that he personally hand-washes everything; there’s none of this short-cut business with pre-programmed software. He can cope with any kind of material, just check that care label out. He actually enjoys shrinking swathes of narrative such as short stories and blurbs. Hey, he shrunk my shorts but they’re a much better fit. Not only this, but his personal machine can vigorously rid a manuscript of the most stubborn stains, or it can tumble the softest silk into an even smoother ream. As for fluff, he openly admits to being especially obsessed with cleaning that particular filter till it’s sparkling.

Cover design & Formatting.

Formatting the interior of the book is something which is more readily learnt if you have good basic computing skills. The cover, on the other hand can be a challenge. Homemade covers are fine if you have the right skills. The attention span of most people browsing for something to read is actually only a matter of seconds. Ideally, the book’s cover needs to sum up what the reader can expect to find on the inside. Trying to sell a book with the wrong cover is like working in a dry cleaners wearing dirty clothes. Image is everything. There may be a brilliant book inside that plain brown cover but we’ll never know because no one, not least your target audience, can be bothered to open it. 

Do consider that your cover needs to work hard as a tiny thumbnail around the Internet. I didn’t. Anything dark or difficult to read will not do the job. If it looks poor and ill-thought out, readers will assume the same will apply to the writing inside.

I made mistakes with all of mine, they were far too subtle. Virtually everyone would say ‘Yes… very nice, but what’s it about?’ 

Then I met Jane Dixon-Smith.

Working with someone who knows exactly what independent authors are faced with, makes the process so much easier. Many self-published authors write books which cross genres, and although my novels are often labelled as romance, I was anxious not to portray the softer side of this genre, that meant no pastel colours or smiling happy people. In fact, I didn’t really want faces or figures at all, but I studied the market with a more critical eye and put personal feelings to one side. In collaboration with Jane, we went for a more commercial look which not only increased the readership but started to form a brand as well. Another important plus: my books were more readily accepted for promotions on advertising sites.

Your cover is part of your story, and deserves the same thought and effort. That old idiom, about not judging a book by it’s cover, is wrong.

 

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  Read more about the process here:

http://www.selfpublishingadvice.org/publishing-why-i-love-working-with-indie-authors-by-a-book-designer/ 

Websites & Social Marketing Platforms.

A good-looking simple website with easy access to the books you want to sell is the single, most important piece of advertising you can do. It is your hub, your shop window to the world. If someone wants to find you or one of your books, the first thing they do is hit Google. Links to your blog, Facebook- Author page, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+ and so on, all those social networking sites are worth adding, and it pays to use all of them. 

Simple, clean and fresh always works. I can’t imagine anyone searching for your books will be interested in cats dancing round the edge or fish swimming up and down the sides, but maybe that’s just me. If someone really hates cats, they might, just might… look elsewhere. Are you selling your books or telling everyone you like cats? I’m always turned off by those sites that look hugely complicated, books revolving at a rate of knots, tiny writing, too many badges, too much everything!   

Hanging Out to Dry.

So, assuming you don’t have any of these editing and design skills, all of this is going to cost. Of course it will! You’re asking someone with professional credentials to spend time working on your product; those jobs which used to be down to the agent and the publisher. 

‘Oh no!’ I hear you cry, ‘It’s free to publish. All you do, is upload a file from your computer, it’s really easy! If you have a problem along the way with any of this process, there are plenty of experts to help you on Facebook and Twitter.’ 

All true, of course, but if you want a fully functioning product, please read the instruction manual first.

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Wild Water Wins Cornerstones Most Popular Self-Published Book!

Interview by Helen Corner, founder of Cornerstones Literary Agency.

cornerWe ran an internal competition recently that invited our authors and the public to vote for their favourite self-published book, based on a sentence blurb and the jacket. There were a flurry of votes as the deadline drew near, and three out of the 50 authors who entered were almost neck and neck. In the end, the winner was Jan Ruth for Wild Water. It was great to see how these savvy authors spread the word via twitter, emails, blogs and local word-of-mouth to garner support. It goes to show that apart from being a good read, marketing your own book is an essential part of being published. Have a look at Jan’s journey to self-publication:

Congratulations Jan! Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your journey to self-publication?

When I’m not writing I’m thinking about writing, or reading. I try and counter-balance this physical inertia by walking in the mountains or riding my friend’s horse. (That sounds very self indulgent but now at fifty plus, I finally have the time to be!)

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What inspired you to write Wild Water?
I wanted to write a book about infidelity where the man is the wronged party and the main voice of the story, and I wanted to write about the Welsh landscape; make it function almost as a character in its own right.

Is this your first book?
No, it’s my second. My very first novel (25 years ago) went to a London agent trying to set up her own project, publishing love stories with a difference but it never got off the ground because of finances.

How did you find the writing process?
Until I get the main guts of the story down I am consumed by the process really, to the exclusion of everything else. Husband could quite likely come home and find dinner in a burnt out pan in the garden!

Did you submit to agents and publishers?
Yes I did the usual route with agents, and with Wild Water I was lucky enough to get Jane Judd on my side, who then referred me to Cornerstones. After some tweaking with the original script we were ready to go but unfortunately Jane failed to place it with a publisher because ‘it fell between two genres and didn’t quite fit anyone’s list’. So it sat in a drawer for twelve years.

What led you to self-publish?
All of the above really. My son alerted me to the steady growth of Kindle, helped me with the technical details and set up a website: https://janruth.com/

write-a-blockbuster-and-get-it-published-helen-corner-and-lea-weatherlyHow has the experience been so far?
The best part of self-publishing is being in control of the whole process and getting feedback from the paying public. And although I have a sales background, the marketing of something internet based is somewhat different to a physical book, and I am still learning. But then, I didn’t set out to write something commercial, just something readable.

As we’ve seen from our competition, every vote counts. How did you market this?
The advantage I had with Wild Water is the tremendous support I have locally. I talked to a lot of people about the book and the competition. Generally I find people will respect something sincere and will get behind you, especially if it champions where you live.

The tragedy and comedy that is Jack’s life; secrets, lies and family ties.
Jack Redman, estate agent to the Cheshire set. An unlikely hero, or someone to break all the rules? Wild water is the story of forty-something estate agent, Jack, who is stressed out not only by work, bills and the approach of Christmas but by the feeling that he and his wife, Patsy are growing apart. His misgivings prove founded when he discovers Patsy is having an affair, and is pregnant. At the same time as his marriage begins to collapse around him, he becomes reacquainted with his childhood sweetheart, Anna, whom he left for Patsy twenty-five years before. His feelings towards Anna reawaken, but will life and family conflicts conspire to keep them apart again?

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Bookmuse Magazine: ‘You’ll enjoy this if you like: Nosing into other people’s lives, gossip and descriptions of the Welsh countryside. Avoid if you don’t like: Secrets, family difficulties, or you are going through a divorce. Ideal accompaniments: Wine and plenty of it, a big bubble bath, a cigarette if you are so inclined.’
Romance reviews Magazine: “Jan Ruth ruthlessly puts her hero through the grinder and God only knows how he retains his sanity. I’m literally breathless from reading this novel in one go in order to know Jack’s fate. Wild Water is a damn good read.“
Jaffareadstoo (top 500 Amazon reviewer): ‘The skilful manipulation of the story line and the author’s unique way of bringing her characters to life makes this one of the most enjoyable books I have read in a long time.’
Pan McMillan Books: “It has a good combination of humour and poignancy.The characters are well portrayed and Jan delves shrewdly into their make-up, gradually allowing their traits to become evident and appreciated.”
WINNER of the Cornerstones Literary Consultancy’Most Popular book’ Competition 2011.
NOMINATED for the 2013 eFestival of Words Awards. FINALIST in the Wishing Shelf Awards 2015