It can be hard for me to watch when authors have a difficult time meeting their goals for marketing their books. We writers feel so passionate about our books and obviously want the world to buy them, so when reality doesn’t match our expectations, it can feel like we won’t ever be successful authors.
The truth is that it’s much more difficult to sell books than most people realize. Here are some reasons why, and what can be done about it.
Factors that Affect a Reader’s Decision to Buy
Recommendations from Friends/Family/Peers – Nothing beats word-of-mouth when it comes to marketing books, or marketing anything else for that matter. When a friend tells you about a great book, it makes you want to read it too. The same rule applies when he or she mentions a great restaurant, movie, or iPhone app. But there’s a caveat to all of this. If your friend tells you about a great romance novel, but you don’t read romance books, then that recommendation is going to land with a thud. Word-of-mouth needs to reach the right target audience.
Book Reviews – Reviews have always been essential to selling books, especially for fiction and memoir. With so many choices out there for casual reading, and most of us limited on time for reading, a review makes it easy for potential readers to choose. Unfortunately reviews in major publications are usually reserved for the big publishing houses. Self-published authors have to get creative and find ways to get their books reviewed or mentioned in trade publications, smaller magazines, newspapers, websites, and other outlets that reach the right target audience.
Time – These days the majority of Americans are buried under obligations. With kids, and internet, and 50+ hour work weeks, we have less and less down time, which means less time to read. So when a reader sits down with a book, he views it as an investment in his most precious resource: time. That means that we’re more selective about what we read because each book must demonstrate that it’s worthy of our precious time.
Number of Books Read Each Year – According to this article in the Washington Post, the Associated Press conducted a poll back in 2007 to learn about consumer reading habits. One in four Americans didn’t read a single book the prior year. For those who did read books, the average number of books read in the prior year was a measly seven total (an average of nine for women and five for men). Those who were the biggest readers included women and older people, citing popular fiction and religious books as their top choices. Now consider if the average person is reading just seven books each year, each book is carefully selected and must appear to be worthwhile, otherwise it will be passed over.
Reader Reviews – Reader reviews on Amazon and BN.com help sell books, provided a potential buyer has found your book page to begin with! Reviews can also influence and reach readers via review sites including Goodreads, Shelfari, and LibraryThing.
Best Seller Lists – The New York Times Bestsellers List is the most coveted list for authors, and most influential for readers. When a book makes it to this list, it catapults the author to a whole new level of success. Because the NY Times is secretive about how the list is tabulated (see this article for more details), nobody can say for sure how the numbers are compiled. But what we do know is that the list factors in sales from brick-and-mortar bookstores around the country, and if your book isn’t in bookstores, it can’t make the list (or other major lists like Wall Street Journal or Publisher’s Weekly). However, self-published authors still have a chance to make the ebook best seller lists (NY Times and WSJ) because sales data for ebooks is submitted by Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple and Google. Make sure your ebooks are listed with all major retailers for these numbers to get reported.
For the record, Amazon’s best seller lists by category also matter since buyers often browse these categories. But if your book lands there for a few minutes due to a manufactured launch campaign, don’t expect any long-term results. The book must maintain its status on the list for a period of time in order for it to have a significant impact on sales, and those launch campaigns rarely equate to long-term sales.
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