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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5 thoughts on “Do You Know What it Takes to Sell a Book?

  1. Hello Marketing Christian Books, Today I have more reason to purchase your book on marketing, as the publisher of my 2-1/2-year-old novel sent out a general email informing they are ceasing publishing at the end of April this year. The options are to transfer to a co-publisher, stock up on hard copies, receive the book file from them as a finale to both the title and the publishing relationship. I did allow them to exhibit my title in the major retail show last summer, and due to family matters have not been able to do personal marketing as I would like for some time. The display seemed to work nominally in terms of subsequent royalty. To date, I have sold about 100 copies. Could you addressw options faced by an author when the publisher informs plans to cease operation, in a future post? Not necessary to name the publisher, but suffice to say this was one of the major Christian publishers today. Sincerely, David Russell


  2. I wholly agree with points 1, 2 and 3. It is point 4 that causes the greatest frustration for authors though.

    As a manager of an independent bookstore that is part of a Christian Conference Center in Colorado, I am primarily responsible for the purchasing for our establishment. Speaking from experience and likely on behalf of independent owners everywhere, time is limited. I do not desire to buy even the best self-published books because of the challenge of negotiating, ordering, W9s, invoicing, payment, inventory management, and reordering. Even though we bookstore manager may desire to help authors market their books, as we are enthusiastic about quality offerings in the marketplace, we simply can not afford to secure new vendors who provide one product or one product line. Time is too expensive and too pressing.

    The most important factors as I consider as I contemplate purchasing self-published books are:
    1. Is it available wholesale from a distributor we currently have a relationship with?
    2. Does it have a stellar cover?
    3. Is there a demand audience for the title and does the book speak to that audience?
    4. Does the interior print quality and clarity of the pages meet basic expectations?

    Bonus: Don’t even bother showing me a spiral-bound or saddle-stitched book that has no spine to market it, or an over-sized book that does not fit on the shelf where is should go.

    Thanks for reading,
    Marcus Costantino, Colorado Springs, CO


  3. Thanks for sharing Marcus. I tell authors all the time to not even try to get their books into a bookstore unless the book is available through the usual wholesale and distributor channels a store orders through. As you said, stores just don’t have the time to open small accounts with single-book publishers.


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