Authors, speakers, coaches, media personalities, business owners, and other individuals focused on building their personal brands often self-publish books. This can be a powerful way to further spread their messages, bolster their professional reputations and credibility, and generate new revenue.
Of course, this requires actually selling copies of the book. Many of them get a serious wake-up call post-publication about just how hard it is to be found and chosen in the sea of books out there.
To say “competition is steep” is an understatement. According to a 2013 Forbes piece, between 600,000 and 1 million books are published annually in the US, with at least half being self-published. On average, they sell less than 250 copies each. And considering the bestsellers massively skewing the numbers, a lot of those books are selling far fewer copies.
If you’ve self-published a book that isn’t selling (or if you’re planning to publish), below are 7 essential tips for optimizing sales. We’re not delving into complex, long-term, or particularly creative marketing ideas in this post. For now, here are relatively simple tweaks to your sales and marketing approach can quickly prompt new sales and start building momentum.
Sell an E-Book Version
Overlooking or ignoring the e-book market is a fundamental mistake many new authors make. Those new to the publishing game often don’t realize just how big this market is—especially if they aren’t e-book consumers themselves. Domestic e-book revenue has already climbed to over $6 billion, and it’s only projected to keep growing. Readers love the convenience and lower price, and e-books are also more likely to be bought as impulse purchases.
Sell to the Right People
When you’re selling your book through online retailers, and sometimes when you get placement on local bookstore shelves, you often choose how to categorize your book. Whether you’re adding tags, selecting categories and sub-categories, or requesting a particular area in a brick-and-mortar shop, align your book with the people who will want it. The many readers who search or browse by keywords, genre, or category typically have deeply ingrained expectations and preferences, and if your product doesn’t fit somehow, it will be passed up.
Set the Right Expectations
Beyond categorizing, you have even more power to play to buyer expectations in your back cover or dust jacket copy and sales copy. While it may be tempting to load it all up with hype and hyperbole and lots of empty, non-descriptive language about how amazing the book is, most readers don’t fall for this. They want a realistic idea of what the book is about, what they stand to gain from it, and—when it’s nonfiction or self-help—why you were qualified to write it. Speak to them honestly and relevantly and with specifics, and you’ll sell far more copies.
Include Reviews and Testimonials
While it’s meaningless to praise your own work, potential readers are influenced by the words of other readers, especially if they have some relevant expertise or experience. Solicit attributed reviews and blurbs from people in your field, even if you have to go out on a limb and send free copies to people you don’t know with a polite note telling them you’re interested in their opinion and whether they would offer a few words to use for marketing. If you can get a few statements that offer specific praise, feature it proudly and prominently. Also, submit your book to review sites and relevant book bloggers and contact Amazon reviewers.
Use a Professionally Designed Cover
Most of us are taught from an early age not to judge a book by its cover, but most of us do it anyway. Especially when buying books. A professionally designed cover is attractive, reinforces the message of the book, appeals to your target audience, and doesn’t send up a red flag that this is an amateur work. And while the stigma of self-publishing has largely faded in recent years, it’s still smart to go pro and not draw attention to the fact that your book was not issued by a professional publishing house.
Use a Professional Editor
Much of the above holds true here too. Also, lots of people who aren’t professional writers don’t write particularly well, and generally only well-written books sell respectable numbers of copies. But even professional authors use professional editors. Because when you’re so close to the words on the page, you lose a good deal of your ability to process them objectively. You can replace things on the page with things in your head and miss a lot of little mistakes. Nobody builds their credibility, personal brand, or book sales with a poorly written published manuscript.
Price Your Book Realistically
Sure, you may have put years of your life into your book, sacrificed all your free time to create it, included all you learned over 20 years in the real world, consider it a work of staggering genius, and paid a good chunk of change to have it edited, designed, and self-published. And maybe that doesn’t seem like it’s only worth $9.99. But you have to price what the market is willing to pay. Books are luxury items with high elasticity, meaning the cheaper they are, the more they tend to sell. Be careful not to over-value your product. Look at what similar books go for and experiment with small price changes over time to find that sweet spot where sales and price hit their peaks.