Selling books is nothing like you expect it to be. This is not to say that it’s harder than other vocations, though it is difficult. It’s that in the world of 21st century publishing, you have to work at things that you became a writer to avoid: chiefly, sales and marketing. Nobody who writes anything except books on salesmanship says, I spent hundreds of hours writing and editing and polishing and sweating and bleeding over this book; I can’t wait to get out there and grind, day after day, trying to sell it.
Most of us think that sales and marketing mean posting about your book on social media. Nothing could be further from the truth. Facebook and Twitter do not sell books. Even if you buy ads. Social media helps drive traffic to free content, but it does not sell your book. Asking your friends and family to spread your Amazon product link doesn’t sell books, either, even if you’ve got a big family. Email bookselling services like BookBub and Ereader News Today are costly to use, and you’re lucky if you sell enough through them to make it worth the expense. There’s definitely a helpful ego boost when you’re successful using them (however you measure success), so they’re not to be entirely despised. Psychic income means a lot when you spend so much time alone with your imaginary friends. Just know what you’re getting into.
There are no guaranteed sales methods: there are only gambits that may work for you. If you’ve got a good cover, good advertising copy, and a good concept, those help. Except when they don’t. Writing more books helps. Sometimes. Getting more successful writers to blurb your book might help. The amount of luck involved is more a factor than anyone wants to admit. Everyone in the Western world is writing and publishing books through Amazon. With all that competition, how do you succeed? How do you turn an expensive hobby into a money-making venture?
The good news is that you don’t have to write well to make a profit. Many terrible books sell. So quality (or lack of it) is no barrier to success. It does help to have a great cover. Readers know the difference between a great cover, a good cover, and a mediocre cover. The overwhelming majority of book covers are mediocre at best, even the ones you paid good money for. Even the ones I paid good money for. People do judge a book by its cover. When we had a good quarter, the CFO of the publisher I worked for would cynically joke, “Good job, art department.” It used to bother me. It doesn’t anymore. Readers are more likely to buy a book with a great cover and unlikely to buy a book with a mediocre cover. Player/game: you know which one to hate.
So we know what doesn’t work, we know what might work, and we know what helps. If you’re going to spend money on your book, focus first on cover (don’t do it yourself). Then advertising copy (don’t do it yourself). Then genre/concept/story (that’s all on you). Everything else is so far outside the bounds of consideration that it’s not worth thinking about, including editing. Oh, you should have the book professionally proofread and laid out, but nobody notices these things unless they’re poorly done. And if readers really like the book, they’ll ignore them.
It’s nice to be part of writing groups, because they help motivate you to keep writing. If you’re writing for the ego boost, join some groups and they’ll Retweet your Amazon link. Dopamine’s a good drug. Some of your fellow writers will give you writing tips. Even personalized writing tips. If you’re smart, you’ll ignore these tips, unless they’re offered by writers who are as successful as you want to be. Don’t take advice from people who haven’t succeeded. If they knew what they were talking about, they’d be doing it already. Including me.
Most writers don’t write well. They don’t read good books themselves, they don’t model success properly, and/or they just can’t produce anything but leaden, lifeless prose. This probably includes you. And me. It doesn’t matter: readers can’t tell the difference between good and bad writing. Look at the Amazon bestseller list in any genre for proof. There’s nothing wrong with that: people like what they like. Separating book sales from book quality is something few writers want to do, emotionally speaking. If it sells, it’s automatically good, right? Don’t burst the bubble.
Finally, don’t do what you see everyone else doing, particularly if they’re not terribly successful doing it. Giveaways, $.99 sales, bundling your book with like books, and review trades do not bring in respectable money. If you define success as selling three books a month instead of one, go for it. If your definition of success is more ambitious, save your money to buy that great cover. Hire a great copywriter. And acquire your comfort substance of choice if these things don’t work out. Paying a utility bill or monthly mortgage with book royalties is real money, and it’s why I don’t badmouth writers who can do it, even if their books are unreadable.
You have to be lucky. You have to write more books. You have to keep after it.
Otherwise, take your boring, poorly-written trash off the digital shelves and void the field for serious writers. You’re the horse crap that obscures the occasional pony.