Do You Know What it Takes to Sell a Book?

For the past couple years, Digital Book World has conducted a survey of authors to collect information. Taking part in this survey is voluntary. This year, Digital Book World combined with Writers’ Digest to conduct the survey. The survey found:

buying books

  • 71.8% of indie authors sold fewer than 1,000 copies, compared with 40.5% of traditionally published authors.
  • 59.7% of indie authors sold fewer than 500 books.

I think that these figures actually skew high for independently published books. I believe this survey tends to attract those authors who are more invested and committed to marketing their books.

The interesting piece from this survey is the percentage difference in the number of traditionally published authors versus independently published authors who sold fewer than 1,000 copies. This survey would indicate that traditionally published authors sell more books overall.

There are a few reasons why this is the case:

  1. Traditional publishers vet for quality. In addition, traditional publisher have editors who edit the books and make sure the books they publish are finely tuned literary pieces.
  2. Traditional publisher use professional cover designers.
  3. Traditional publishers have marketing personnel who are involved in ensuring that a book’s description is clear and enticing. Additionally, these marketing professionals help the company’s authors acquire publicity.
  4. Traditional publishers ensure that the books they publish are placed in established distribution channels. In addition, many traditional publishers have developed relations with various book vendors around the country (and even internationally) ensuring that these book buyers take notice of new books they put out.

Acquiring readers for a book is hard work. This is where most independently published authors fall short. I have seen independently published books with exceptional editing, professional covers, and great book blurbs (descriptions) that fail to sell many copies. Often, it is due to lack of marketing and promotion know-how and perseverance on the part of the author.

Sadly, what I see more often are independently published books that are not well edited, that do not have sharp covers, and that lack clear book descriptions. Lack of clear book descriptions is truly one of the biggest reasons some independently published books don’t sell well. I have read many independently published book blurbs that leave me wondering what the book is really about. As well as wondering what a reader will get out of the book.

Additionally, I come across many independently published authors that don’t take the time to adequately educate themselves about what it takes to sell a book. Knowledge is power. There is so much information available today to authors that there is no excuse for not being educated on how to effectively promote a book. One good place to start is with my book Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace.

If you independently publish, educate yourself and be sure that your book descriptions are clear. Accurately communicate with readers the answer to WIIFM (see my blog post WIIFM). You may never sell as many copies of your book as a traditionally published author, but you sure will sell more copies if your marketing efforts aimed correctly, and you are clear with readers what your book is about and how reading it will benefit them.

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Put Some Fun in Your Marketing

Attention. It’s the goal of all marketing—turning people’s attention to your product.

Creativity. It’s the spark that creates interest in your marketing ploy. Creativity is needed for a blog post, Tweet, Facebook post, video, or Pin to go viral.

Viral. The ingredient needed for your product to get lots of attention.


It is hard to rise above all the other messages on the Internet to grab attention. The more creative tools you have in your toolkit, the better your chances.

One tool to consider adding to your toolkit of creative marketing ideas is Photofunia. This free website allows you to insert a photo of your face, book, or text message into a variety of background like billboards, magazines, newspapers, books, and more.

You can then use these fun photos to share with interesting posts on your social media sites and in your blog posts or newsletters.

I encourage you to try Photofunia out. It’s fun!

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Decreasing Book Sales

Did you know that at a time when more and more books are being produced that overall book sales are dropping? It is true.

decreasing sales

The American book market sold 770 million copies of books in 2009, but in 2014, it only sold 635 million. These figures are from Nielson Book. Given the vast variety of leisure activities available to people, the drop in book sales is not surprising.

eBooks have not increased book sales as some had predicted. Rather, ebook sales have leveled off, and print appears to be the preferred method of reading, at least for the time being. The latest Pew Internet Research found that percentage of American adults who read an ebook was 28% in 2014, up 11% since 2011. Still, that figure is small compared to the percentage who read a print book, 69% in 2014, only slightly fewer than the 71% who reported doing so in the 2011 sample. Americans are far more likely to read a print book than an ebooks.

Did you catch that? 69% of people read a print book last year, while only 28% of people read an ebook. It is remarkable that at a time of massive digital immersion, a majority of people still prefer to consume their reading the old-fashioned way—with a print book.

Print is still incredibly important in the book producing and selling business. Offering your books in both print and digital format is the best way to secure the most sales. Authors and publishers must do all they can to get readers to buy their books in an era of decreasing book sales.

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Are You Mobile-Friendly?

Mobile continues to grow. Here are some important statistics you should be aware of:


  • About 74% of smartphone owners use their phone to check email.
  • Amazon reports that just under 60% of customers placed orders using the company’s mobile app during the 2014 holiday shopping rush, more than double the number of those who did so in 2013.
  • 90% of American adults have a cell phone. About 12% of them read books on their devices. They account for about 7% of ebook purchases.
  • Nearly 75% of daily Facebook users connect with the service from their mobile phones, that’s over 550 million people every day.

Individuals are increasingly using their mobile devices to connect with the Internet. If you are an author or publisher with a website this is important information for you. Breaking news is that Google, the largest search engine on the Internet, has decided that the mobile trend is so important that they are changing the way they do business.

Google is tweaking its search engine algorithms to take into account websites that are mobile-friendly. Beginning on April 21, 2015, Google’s new business practice will impact all mobile searches in all countries where Google is available.

Starting on April 21, 2015, users who conduct Google searches on their mobile devices will be shown search engine results that are mobile-friendly. In other words, Google will give mobile-friendly websites a higher ranking for mobile device searches.

If you are an author or publisher and have a website where you promote your books (and you should have one), you need to take immediate action. Make sure your website is mobile-friendly. If your website is not optimized for mobile viewing, you will begin missing out on potential business starting next month as mobile users will find it harder to locate you on the Internet.

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A Shakeup in the Christian Book Industry

A shakeup is happening in the Christian book industry. Family Christian stores the largest Christian store chain in the country (counting locations, not necessarily sales revenue) with 266 stores in 36 states has filed bankruptcy.


Initially, Family Christian filed for a sale of its assets and operations under Section 363 of Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy code. This allows the company to reorganize. Family Christian Ministries, which owns the stores, had formed a new subsidiary to buy the stores for $73,773,000 and assume the property leases and other accrued operating liabilities. It was reported that the company expected to continue operations without closing stores or laying off employees.

Then last week, a group of 27 Christian publishers filed a joint lawsuit against Family Christian to keep the retailer from selling their products at a future auction. It appears that Family Christan recently made the decision to sell around $20 million worth of books, music and DVDs at an auction scheduled for later this year. However, the products that Family Christian plans to sell they did not purchase; rather these are consigned products. A few years ago Family Christian stores went to a consignment model to save money. In this model, publishers shipped merchandise to Family Christian and Family Christian did not have to pay the publishers for the merchandise until it sold.

Court documents show that Family Christian owes banks and vendors (publishers) about $97 million, not including the consigned inventory. Publishers are concerned that if Family Christian auctions off the inventory that they have consigned, they will not be able to recoup any money for these products. In the lawsuit, the publishers are demanding that Family Christian either return consigned inventory to each respective publisher or pay the publishers outright for the products.

All this appears to point to the fact that Family Christian is not doing as well as they originally indicated. That, in fact, if they need to auction inventory to raise money, they may have to look at closing stores and laying off employees. The company may not be able to continue “business as usual” even with a reorganization.

If this is true, it bodes ill for the Christian book market. While some reading this blog may say, “Since more books today are purchased online than in physical stores, the impact won’t be much.” I disagree. The more channels through which consumers can purchase books, the more books will sell—and selling books in bookstores actually earns an author more money.

Bookstores are important when it comes to selling books. A recent study showed that while only 54% of traditionally published books actually made it onto bookstore shelves, those that did earned their authors a median of $5,000 to $9,999 across all platforms. Traditionally published books that were not sold in bookstores only made their authors a median of $1 to $499. For self-published books, the study showed that those that were sold in bookstores (only 12%) earned a median of $500 to $999 compared to $1 to $499 for those self-published books that weren’t.

Every time a sales channel is lost, book selling takes a hit. If the largest Christian bookstore chain ends up closing its doors, publishers and authors will need to be creative to adapt and create sales opportunities elsewhere.

Update as of March 20, 2015:
Family Christian has filed a court notice withdrawing its motion of plans for bankruptcy. The company announced its plans this week through an official statement.

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