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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How’s Your Grammar?

The other day my middle-school-aged daughter remarked to me, “Mom, why do so many people have such poor editing skills?” Confused, I asked her what she meant.


It turns out that my daughter’s friend, who owns a Kindle, had been showing my daughter the books she has been reading. My daughter had read small sections of a few of these fiction ebooks and had been appalled at the poor grammar in them.

Upon a little investigation, I discovered that the ebooks her friend had been downloading were cheap—costing a dollar or less. It appears that the vast majority of these books were independently published digital-only books.

Needless to say, I gave my daughter a lesson in publishing. She learned all about traditional publishing houses with editors who serve as gatekeepers and provide some measure of quality and control versus self-published authors. I explained to her that today it is easy for anyone to publish a digital book without any outside measure of control over the grammar, sentence structure, or even the elements of the story itself in the book.
I recently saw a blog post heading that read “The Overwhelming Majority of Self-Published eBooks Are Terrible.” Sadly, I believe this statement is too often true.

The zero-cost entry and easy access to digital publishing (think Smashwords and Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing) has enticed many aspiring authors—and remember 81% of people surveyed feel they have a book inside of them—to turn their manuscripts into digital books creating a glut of low-cost, low-quality ebooks for readers to choose from. Bowker  Market Research recently reported that self-published ebooks now account for 12% of the entire digital publishing market. In some cases, the number actually rises to 20%, but is fairly genre specific to crime, science fiction and fantasy, romance and humor.

If you are considering independently publishing a book, the best thing you can do for your book is hire an editor and a proofreader. Grammatical errors, typos, and punctuation mistakes are often a turn-off for readers. You don’t want to have a reviewer (as one BookCrash blogger recently graciously wrote) write the following about your book:

My only complaint about this book is that it needs more careful editing for errors, but the content of the book makes the typos easy to overlook.

A well-written book will sell better than a poorly written one, even if you are just trying to sell fiction stories to teenagers.

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