According to UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization) over two million books have been published this year. That does include everything written before or all of the books that will be published in the future. If I had a penny for every hundred books ever published, I’d certainly have a lot more pennies than I do now. While this statistic seems a bit detached, it is crucial for your success as an author. In order for a reader to find your book, you have worse than a one in two million chance.
There is one major problem with this statistic; launching a book isn’t the same as buying a lottery ticket. Luck might be a bit of a factor, but if you are not seeing sales, there is likely something you are doing wrong. I know this sounds harsh, and no matter what it won’t be easy, but if you are willing to work, you will sell.
Regardless of how you published, no one is going to buy your work simply because you wrote it. (Okay, that’s probably not true, but can your family really support your entire writing career?) In order to reach an audience, you have to catch and keep their attention. Before we even get into the nuts and bolts, you should give your work to someone who has no vested interest in you as person and ask them if your book is worth reading. (A friend or family member won’t want to hurt your feelings. A complete stranger is a much better gauge to your book’s overall quality.)
This may sound terrifying, but any reader can tell within the first couple pages if the writing is up to par. Think of a musician. How long does it take to know if someone has been playing the piano for years or if they just started lessons? An hour? Half an hour? A minute? No. We can spot a master from the mediocre within seconds. Writing is the same way. If your book isn’t ready, no amount of marketing will help, because people will not be satisfied with the end result. Before you worry about trying to sell, make sure that your book has been revised, edited, and has a professional-quality cover art. (Just because you’ve paid someone else do it, does not mean they are a professional. I’ve written a separate article about the topic of amateurs posing as professionals and why writers should avoid them.)
Assuming that you have some killer content, it is still hard to find a reader. They are constantly hearing that they should read a dozen different books, so what makes your’s special? It starts with creating awesome copy. (For those not familiar with the business side of writing, “Copy,” is the type of writing intended to sell stuff.) Blurbs, author quotes, and awards are all commonly used as copy to help sell a book.
A compelling blurb is one of the powerful tool to get someone to purchase your book. In fact, it will likely be the final reason whether someone makes a purchase or puts it back. One way to maximize your blurb’s impact is write it yourself, let it sit, then revise it. Once you think you have it as polished as it can be, hire a professional copywriter to take a look and see if they can improve it. This type of job doesn’t take long, and you should only end up spending between five to twenty dollars for a reputable freelancer. Ensuring that your book’s copy is perfect is how you are going to turn reader interest into sales.
(If you don’t know any, try looking on websites like Upwork. You can view a potential freelancer’s profile, and it will show things like their credentials, work experience, and previous client feedback. I’ve posted a screenshot and linked to my profile below as an example.)
At this point, we are going to assume that the only thing stopping your book from selling is getting it in front of a reader. Since you’re a writer, and you obviously have access to the internet, use your strengths to find readers, write.
If you haven’t done so, create a blog. The purpose of the blog shouldn’t be about trying to sell your book. It should offer stand-alone value to your readers. If your book is a paranormal romance, maybe you could write blog posts about local hauntings or urban legends. It is fine to mention that you have a book, but if that becomes the purpose of every post no one will want to read it. By offering non-conditional value in either the form of entertainment or education, you can build your audience and more people will find you work. (Jane Friedman has written a great article on the topic in case you are interested.)
Even though I don’t know you or your life, I’m willing to bet all of my earlier publishing pennies that you use social media. You’ve probably tried to use it to promote your book, but if you are still reading this post, (Cause it’s freaking long. I’ll wrap it up; don’t worry.) it likely wasn’t that successful. Social media shouldn’t be used like a traditional advertisement. It is a conversation, and a conversation requires both sides to be engaged. If you only post links to amazon, hoping someone will click on them, you are not really grasping what social media is all about. Each social media post should be either personal, interesting, or exciting. Best posts hit all three. The goal is to get people to talk to you, not to sell your book.
Selling comes later; first you must build a connection. Cats are popular on the internet, not because they cute (even though they are), but because we can relate to the people who own them. If you can consistently connect to others, the seldom times you do post a buy link, they will be far more likely to make a purchase. My guideline is that in every ten interactions, you should only directly promote yourself once. This means its gonna take nine cat pictures, before you get to post one “buy me” link. (Chuck Sambuchino, a staff writer at Writer’s Digest, penned the article “How Successful Authors Use Social Media to Sell More Books,” in case you are interested.)
Once you have some quality content floating around on the internet, make sure that it is Search Engine Optimized (SEO). This doesn’t just mean to only SEO the pages that sell your book; SEO everything. How many times have you typed into google something like, “How to sell more books”? Other people search this stuff all the time too, and if you can get one of your posts at number one, you might be able to make a sale. Read up on SEO basics and try to use the Google Keyword Planner to really get a grasp of this technique.
Finally, make sure to record the people that you interact with. The best way to do this is to create an email list. After you have an awesome conversation on Facebook, ask them if you can add them to your email list. Make sure you have an easy (Though not annoying, I’m looking at you pop-up ads.) sign up on your webpage and blog. Let’s say that you want to run a weekend promotion to generate some sales. Temporarily lower your book’s price, post a short bit about wherever you can, and send out an email. I guarantee you get some sales.
All of this stuff takes time, and it is not easy. Selling a book is almost as hard as writing one, so I highly recommend checking out some of the above sources, because they will give a much lesson than my poorly written post. If you want to get involved with a small network of bloggers to help promote your writing, join the facebook group Bloggers for Authors. If you haven’t done so, please subscribe to Chris’s blog, and if you feel like that I didn’t completely waste your time, head over to S.T. Capps and follow me as well. I hope that you are having a wonderful day, and I am looking forward to talking to you in the comments.
Steven Capps (me, though it should be noted that I hate writing about myself in third-person) is a fantasy writer and freelancer currently living in Augusta, GA. He regulary contributes on his blog and has had his work published in various websites and magazines such as: Fiction, The Bird & Dog, Survival Prepper, Markit Bulgaria, Survival Sullivan and The Cass County Star Gazette. Recently his short story, “Lux Nauta,” won an Honorable Mention in the Writers of the Future contest.