Three Challenges in Selling Books

Selling books is challenging. A challenge is something that requires special effort. Special effort is required to sell your books.

Challenges in Selling Books

The book selling climate is fiercely competitive. Every author must meet and overcome the following three challenges to sell books.

1. Attention

In today’s economy, attention is a valuable commodity. People have numerous entertainment options all clamoring for their attention: social media, movies, television, podcasts, sports, hobbies… and the list goes on. Reading faces stiff competition for attention from other entertainment activities.

Every author faces the challenge of hooking an audience into noticing their books. Catching people’s attention is becoming more and more challenging. With over 4,200 books published every day in the United States, even avid readers have a vast array of books they can pay attention to.

2. Time

Twenty-first century life is busy. Between work, family, church, and other activities, people have less time to devote to leisure activities like reading.

In fact, a recent study found that people spent 9% less time reading in 2019 than they did in 2018. Time is a precious asset. More and more, people are spending bite-sized minutes on content. For example, Facebook users spend an average of 2.5 seconds on any given piece of content.

3. Declining Readership

The number of people who do not read a single book in a given year is growing. In 1978, that figure was 8%. In other words, only 8 out of every 100 people did not read a book during the year. Now that number is closer to 25%. This means that one out of every four people in the United States did not read a book last year.

Woman reading

In addition, readership for Christian books is declining. Only 49% of the largest consumer group in America—the Millennials—identify as “Christian.” In the past decade, the percentage of all Americans who identify as “Christian” has dropped from 77% to 65%. The upshot is that the number of people in the target audience for any given Christian book is shrinking.

Overcoming these Challenges

The good news is that these challenges are not insurmountable. In fact, religious books have been selling well over the past five years. Following are three suggestions to help you overcome each of these challenges.

1. Increase your Familiarity Factor

The number one reason people buy a book is because they are familiar with the author. The best way to grab attention is by being known. Become known by writing and publishing multiple books. Those people who read one of your books and like it will go on and read your other books, helping you sell more books.

2. Shorter is Better

Time is tight for most people. As a result, we are consuming content in bite-sized chunks. Write to accommodate this new way of reading. Use shorter chapters that can be finished in a few minutes. Also keep your paragraphs short so that readers don’t become overwhelmed when viewing a page. Remember, most people are going to read your book in spurts using short chunks of time.

3. Become Irresistible

Write and publish a compelling book. Your book should not just be good. It should be “too good to not read.” When people feel they are missing out on something good, they will make time for it. Make your book so good that people won’t want to miss out.

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Words that Sell

Consumers are bombarded by marketing messages. Just about every website or social media site you visit online showcases numerous ads and promotional material. Any marketing messages that you add to this storm can easily get lost in the deluge.

So, how can you help your marketing messages get noticed? Try using words that truly speak to your audience.

Persuasive words that evoke emotion work best to motivate readers to pull out their credit card and buy your book right now. People respond best to positive emotions that give them a sense of hope, belonging, or accomplishment.

To help you craft better marketing messages using words that sell, check out the infographic below.

Words that Sell

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What influences Book Purchasing Decisions?

Whoever coined the phrase “Familiarity breeds contempt” was not talking about readers who buy books. In fact, when it comes to book purchasing, the opposite is true.

Familiarity is a leading influence on readers' book choices.

BookNet Canada conducts studies on book reading and buying behavior. In one of their studies, they looked at which element influence readers to purchase a particular book. Were readers drawn in by the awesome cover design? Were they won over by the gripping book description? Did endorsements influence readers purchase decision?

Familiarity

It turns out familiarity was the most cited influence for reading a given book. In other words, the reader was familiar with the author. Somehow the reader knew about the author. They may have read another book by that author. They may be familiar with the author because he or she is already famous. Maybe they saw the author on television or heard her on the radio. The key ingredient was that they “knew” the author somehow.
Here is the breakdown of the percentage of people who ranked each option first in terms of how they influence when books they read / listen to:

  • Familiarity with the author – 35.5%
  • Read a synopsis – 25.8%
  • Familiarity with the series – 17.2%
  • Cover design – 6.9%
  • Awards and bestseller stickers/badges – 6.5%
  • Saw an ad for the book – 4.7%
  • Author or celebrity endorsement – 3.1%

Notice in this breakdown that “Familiarity with the Author” was chosen by over one-third of the readers, and “Familiarity with the Series” was chosen by just about one out of every six readers. Combined, over half of all study participants chose familiarity as their number one influence in deciding what to read.

This means that as an author, you have to work hard to make yourself known to readers so that they are “familiar” with your name. In order for people to become familiar with you, you must be visible. Here are a four ways to increase your visibility as an author so readers can become more familiar with your name:

  1. Get interviewed on radio and television shows, as well as podcasts.
  2. Write articles and guest blogs.
  3. Speak at events.
  4. Write more books.

Reading a book sample

Book Samples

One-fourth of all readers reported that the number one influence for choosing what book to read was “Read a Synopsis or Sample.” A 2017 survey by BookNet Canada found that 15% of book buyers had downloaded a free extract/sample of a book in the previous year.

If you want to catch more readers for your books, then you should be offering free samples. Make the most of giving readers a taste of your book by:

  1. Allowing readers to read a chapter or two of the book on your website.
  2. Enabling the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon for your book.
  3. Getting wider exposure on social media for your book sample through Pay With a Tweet.
  4. Posting your sample chapters on reading sites like Wattpad, Booksie, and Noisetrade.

Through making yourself more visible so people become familiar with you and offering free chapters of your book to readers, you increase your chances that readers will by your book. After all, three-fourths of readers surveyed choose these two reasons—familiarity and reading a sample—as the most influential factor in their decision on what book to read.

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Photo courtesy of Andrewlloydgordon.

This Book Buying Behavior Can Affect Your Book Sales

Convenience stores have been around for decades. These small shops, usually attached to a gasoline station, offer everyday items that customers can purchase without having to make a specific trip to a grocery store. Clearly Americans like convenience because the number of these shops has steadily grown over the years.

Buyers Like Convenience

In a recent survey, BookNet Canada found that the single most important reason Canadian book buyers choose a particular store or website for their purchases is convenience. In the study, convenience ranked higher than other factors like good service and cheap delivery.

Amazon, the retail giant, understands this desire for convenience. To be more convenient, the company stores your credit card information and provides you with a “one-click” buying option. Amazon’s Prime one-day shipping is also convenient, unless you live in a remote location. Prime members in Alaska and Hawaii have to wait up to seven days and pay expedited shipping fees.

Clearly, what is convenient for one person is not necessarily convenient for another person. This is why it is important for your book to be available for consumers to buy where they shop. After all, not everyone shops on Amazon.

Just about half of all online paperback book purchases are made on Amazon. That’s 50%. The other half of paperback books are being purchased in other places. Since three-quarters (about 75%) of books purchased are print books, this is important.

If your book is only for sale on Amazon, then you are losing out on sales. Your book could potentially be selling twice as many copies if it were available in multiple online stores—think Books A Million, Barnes & Noble, Walmart, and ChristianBook—to name a few.

I am continually surprised at how many authors publish their book through KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) and that is all they do. These authors act as if Amazon is the only store in town. I have news for them: It’s not!

One of the twenty marketing fundamentals listed in my award-winning book Your Guide to Marketing Christian Books is:

The more channels through which consumers can purchase your books, the more books you will sell.

If you want to sell more books, then your book has to be available for sale in multiple places. How many places online can people buy your book? If you are unsure, do a Google search for your book’s title or ISBN and see what comes up in the search results.

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How to Sell More Books

Super Mario Maker 2, a Nintendo video game, released this summer. The game allows players to create game levels and post them online for other players to play. The game allows for creativity as well as game play.

How to Sell More Books

My son is a huge fan of this game. He played the first version and downloaded the second version as soon as it became available. He loves to create levels and post them for other gamers to play. The other day, my son was over-the-Moon happy. Of the thousands of levels that players create, Nintendo featured one of the levels my son created in a video showcasing exceptional player-created levels.

In talking with my son, he told me that he had studied the formulas the makers of the video game used to create levels within the game. He then used those same formulas to create his levels. It was successful.

Yet, it was not just following a formula that got my son’s game level noticed. Rather, it was a combination of strategies that came together. My son followed a formula to create better game levels, but he also showcased these levels on his YouTube Channel that is dedicated to Nintendo games. So, it was a combination of skill, marketing, and plan old luck (or providence).

Authors also love formulas. Just give us the formula for writing a best-selling book, and we will write it. Just give us the formula for marketing to sell thousands of books, and we will do it.

Every time I turn around, someone is peddling a course with a formula for authors on how to sell thousands of books or create a bestseller. Some of the courses I have seen are:

  • How to Sell a Thousand Books in Three Months
  • Launch a Bestseller
  • 3 Steps to a Bestselling Author Platform
  • Nonfiction Writers: Create Six Figure Classes (how to build an online class business)

Authors jump on these classes and pay anywhere from $50 to several hundred dollars to learn how they can sell thousands of copies of their book.

I wish it were that simple: Get the formula, follow it, and sell thousands of books. Sadly, it’s not that easy.

There is no proven formula for creating a best-selling book

There is no proven formula for creating a best-selling book.

If there were:

  1. Every book published would become a bestseller.
  2. Someone would patent the formula and use it to create best-selling books, making themselves a lot of money.

Often the people selling these online courses on how to sell thousands of books are authors who have written and published a book that sold well. They then think that they know the “formula” to do this and decide to teach others how to do the same thing.

JA Konrath, a best-selling author, raises a good question about these authors. He asks, “If you know how to write a bestseller, why aren’t you writing bestseller after bestseller? Why are you writing How-To books (or courses)?”

The bottom line is that there is no formula. What works for one type of book may not work for another type of book. Additionally, selling a general-market book is vastly different from selling a Christian book to a niche market. Selling a self-help book is vastly different from selling a Bible study book or a memoir.

So, how do you sell more books?

First, you have to write a compelling book. Second, you have to publish it with a professional-looking cover and interior layout design.

Then, you have to market the book. This is the tricky part. No single marketing technique is a surefire way to sell your book. Instead, you must use a variety of techniques that can include:

  • A launch team
  • Book reviews
  • Media exposure
  • Developing an audience
  • Connecting with influencers
  • Advertising

Just like my son’s game level, any book that sells well is due to a combination of factors including sometimes just being in the right place at the right time.

Your Guide to Marketing Christian Books

If you need marketing ideas for your Christian book, I encourage you to read my award-winning book Your Guide to Marketing Christian Books. As one reader said:

“Wow, this book provides so many marketing ideas that it would take years to implement them all. As I am reading, I am making a list of all the tasks I need to perform to improve my book sales.” —Susan

Remember, there is no marketing formula that guarantees success. You have to use a variety of marketing strategies to sell more books.

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