Dear Writer-Friends,

I've been self-publishing since 2011, and I've shared the knowledge I've gained in two books: the Indie Author Survival Guide, Second Edition, and For Love or Money. I'm not an indie rockstar or a breakout success: I'm one of thousands of solidly midlist indie authors making a living with their works. These books are my way of helping my fellow authors discover the freedom of indie publishing. Write on, writer-friends!

S.K. Quinn, Independent Author of Science Fiction

CLICK HERE TO GET YOUR QUICK START GUIDE TO SELF-PUBLISHING and to be notified when the 3rd Edition of the Indie Author Survival Guide releases!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Ch 7.3 Why Is My Book Not Selling?

(This is an excerpt from my Indie Author Survival Guide, available on Kindle and Nook.)

Ch 7.3 Why Is My Book Not Selling?

The best piece of indie wisdom I have about book sales came from the Kindle Boards, where an author posed the question, "Are you selling more today than you were a year ago? Then you're headed in the right direction." This was back when most indies hadn't been selling for a year or more (which is probably still true). The tendency is to get hyper-focused on sales of the moment and lose perspective.

But it's also hard when sales aren't meeting your expectations. 

First, check to see if your expectations are reasonable (see Measuring Success and Five Year Plan). It takes time for word of mouth to spread, even when you're doing everything right. Be patient.

If You've Broken Even With Your Book
If you've broken even with your book (say, within 6 months, or whatever reasonable expectations you've set in your Five Year Plan), you're likely not making the "Why Isn't My Book Selling?" mistakes. In that case, sow the field with a reasonable amount of marketing and focus on writing the next book. Write a better book. Write a series. Write in a different genre. The sales will come or they won't. You don't have control over sales; you only control what you write next.

If Your Book Isn't Selling Well Enough To Break Even 
Here are the most common reasons:
  1. Cover (see Creating Covers That Sell) - a good cover isn't just professional-level graphic arts; it has to instantly communicate genre and story and intrigue the reader enough to pick it up. Compare yours to the top-selling covers in your genre and see how it measures up. 
  2. Blurb (see Blurbs That Grab You) - a weak blurb often means a weak story. This is not my judgement, it's your reader's. If you have a killer story, make sure it shows in the blurb. If you don't have a killer story, see #5.
  3. Price (see Pricing Your Ebook) - first-time indie authors can command $2.99-$3.99 for their novels (this can vary somewhat by genre, but holds pretty true across the board). Here "first-time" is defined as "the first time a reader is discovering your book." Indie wars have been fought over pricing, especially the 99cent and free price points. But no matter where you stand on the low-price end, pricing high can kill your sales.
  4. Genre - some genres simply have very small pools of indie readers or those readers are hard to reach (middle grade). Indie readers tend to be adults who read genre fiction. There's room for all kinds of indie books to sell, but mysteries will sell better than young adult, and romance will sell better than everything else. This is true across the market, not just for indie books.
  5. Craft - if you're not selling, your craft may not be ready. In Taking the Leap, I used the analogy of getting 80% up the mountain before you have something that will sell. And usually it's the storytelling craft, not the prose, that's not quite ready. Readers are shockingly tolerant of bad grammar and rampant typos; I'm not saying this is good, simply that it is true. However, readers will judge by the first page/chapter whether an author has a command of storytelling. If it's not strong enough, they will not buy the book. By the end of the book, your storytelling craft better deliver on the promise of those first pages or those readers will not recommend your book to their friends (ergo, no word-of-mouth). All writers can improve their craft. I'll posit that all writers can improve their sales by improving their storytelling craft, no matter how much they're currently selling.
Your Book Is Not You
Note: none of the reasons above are you have no talent or you suck, stop writingThis book that isn't selling isn't the only book you'll ever write, right? Fix the "Why Isn't My Book Selling?" mistakes and write another book. 

Be Patient
Sometimes the availability of indie publishing makes writers feel they must rush to get their works on the market. Bestselling authors will tell you the best part about writing is the writing itself. When sales are down, remind yourself that you're in this because you love telling stories. Even though there's never been a better time to be a writer because of the unprecedented access we have to readers and the potential to make an income from our words, there are no guarantees in any of it. For the longest time, I was convinced that sales would just stop at any moment - a fear that's not entirely unfounded, given how much sales go up and down in any given month (or year). I never took a moment of it for granted, but I also didn't stare paralyzed at the sales tracker, terrified that I'd never sell another book (at least, I didn't do that often). 

Writing Is The Answer To Everything
Stressed about sales? Write. Afraid this indie thing was a complete mistake? Write. Terrified that your book not selling means you're a hack after all? Write.

Writing centers me, especially when I'm working Territorially (see Hierarchy vs. Territory). Writing reminds me why I'm in this business. Watching my word count rise helps remind me I'm making forward progress, not drowning. Writing the next novel reminds me the book for sale is not the only one I will ever create. Writing through a plot point wrestles my doubts into submission. 

Writing is a fount of creative energy. Use that. Immerse yourself in your writing domain. Not only will sales matter less, but you'll be doing the thing you love most. And that is worthwhile all to itself.

(This is an excerpt from my Indie Author Survival Guide, available on Kindle and Nook.)


  1. Great post! It's so easy to get discouraged or compare your "success" to someone who's had more. That's a terrible trap to get into, and it will suck your creativity. Much better to focus on the blessings of being able to write, publish, and sell. Thanks.

  2. Oh you make it sound so easy miss "I sell a billion books a day!" J/K...I heart you Ms. Quinn.