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Why Isn’t My Book Selling? 12 Reasons (and How To Fix Them)

I’ve written a book, put it out into the world and waited for those cheques to roll in, and waited, and waited. Why isn’t my book selling?

Does this sound familiar? It can be frustrating, especially when you’ve put so much time into writing. Unfortunately, there’s more to selling a book than just writing it and making it available.

In the book, Self-Publishing in New Zealand, I write about the three pillars that make a book successful. They are content, design and marketing. If any of these things are lacking, your book might be in trouble.

Here are some of the common reasons why your book might not be selling:

CONTENT

1. Your book is too niche

At least, too niche for the market you’re trying to sell it into. Some books have too narrow an audience to do well commercially, especially if you’re trying to sell to bookshops.

That isn’t to say that niche books don’t have their place. Try to find where your niche audience spends their time, either online or in physical spaces.

Facebook groups and advertising can be good ways to reach people with specific audiences. With Facebook adverts, you can target people by location and interests.

2. Your audience isn’t defined

On the other hand, if your audience is too broad you’ll struggle to reach them. If your target reader is ‘everyone’ you will struggle to sell copies.

It’s better to be the perfect fit for a smaller group of diehard fans than be an author who has more followers with lukewarm enthusiasm.

If you’re struggling to define your ideal reader, look at the subject and themes in your work, at similar books on the market and who their readers are, and ask for feedback from those who have already read your work. Sometimes it’s difficult to look at your own writing objectively.

3. Your book needs editing

This is a common problem with self-published books.

Ideally, in order to be ready for sale, a book should go through at least one round of editing and one of proofreading.

To save time and money, use a program like Grammarly to fix spelling and grammar before going to an editor or proofreader. It won’t pick up everything, but it will do a better job than the built-in spell-check in a program like Microsoft Word.

An editor will help you with bigger picture issues such as structure and plot, while a proofreader will go through and pick up issues that Grammarly can’t identify.

4. The illustrations are outdated or unfashionable

If your book is a picture book, the illustrations are just as important as the text. In some ways, the illustrations are actually more important because they are what sells the book. This is hard to hear as an author, but it emphasises the fact that who you choose to illustrate your book is of the utmost importance.

Illustration styles for children’s books change over time. Something we see frequently at The CopyPress is illustrations that would have sold well in the 1980s and 1990s. They’re not bad illustrations, they just aren’t what the market is looking for at the moment.

Before hiring an illustrator, look at children’s books that are being published now (there are some amazing ones out there). Compare a potential illustrator’s portfolio to these books and see if the style would look out of place.

5. Your book is too long

Unless you’re George RR Martin, it’s much easier to sell a novel that is 300 pages than one that is 1,000 pages.

Big books are intimidating to readers and risky for bookshops as they take up more retail space. There are exceptions to this, but if you’re a new indie author keep your book to a standard length.

Here is a fabulous infographic on standard book lengths in different genres by Renell Judais.

DESIGN

6. The cover isn’t right

There are many factors that impact the effectiveness of a cover.

We always recommend getting it designed by someone who specialises in covers, as it’s a specific kind of design.

If you’re evaluating your current cover, try putting it next to other books in its genre or category. Does it fit in with the others? If it’s too different, it may not be attracting the right audience. Does it look equally professional?

If you’re struggling with the evaluation, try asking some booksellers or someone else who can be objective.

7. The layout isn’t appealing

Have you ever opened a book and thought that something wasn’t quite right? It may have been the typesetting. This includes everything from the font choices to the size of the margins.

Good typesetting makes a book easier to read and improves the overall reading experience.

If your book hasn’t been professionally typeset, consider investing in getting it properly laid out.

8. It isn’t available in the formats people want

Is your book only available as an ebook? Many people prefer to read a physical copy.

Likewise, if it’s only available in paperback, you might be missing out on those readers who read exclusively on an e-reader.

Personally, I will only buy a physical book if it’s a favourite or if I have a holiday coming up. I consume most of my books as audiobooks instead.

MARKETING

9. The price isn’t right

Books are generally quite expensive in New Zealand compared to places like the UK. With that in mind, it’s important to price for the market. A book that is much more expensive than comparable titles is going to be difficult to sell.

If you’re selling in bookshops, understanding wholesale pricing is crucial.

10. Your blurb needs revising

This is a pretty easy fix, especially if you’re working on a print-on-demand basis, and can make a huge difference to sales. I’ve made a mini masterclass on blurb-writing for the blog.

11. You don’t have enough of a platform

It’s much easier to sell a book if you already have an established platform and online following.

To build a platform, you need to put out valuable free content to attract readers to you. You can do this on a blog or on social media.

Think about the kind of content that would be useful and interesting to your target audience.

12. People don’t know about it

Obscurity is a killer for an author’s career. In today’s world, it isn’t enough to simply write a book and put it somewhere on the internet or your local bookshop. A solid marketing plan covering both online and offline platforms is key to selling more books.

For more ideas on how to market your book. Take a look at our blog post, 20 Book Marketing Ideas.

Holly Dunn

Holly is a Nelsonian, studied in Wellington, and lived in the UK for about three years before returning to Nelson in 2017. She has worked as a bookseller both in New Zealand, and in the UK.

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