Why Do Some Books Sell & Others Don’t?

May 12, 2013 in Articles, Book Marketing, eBook publishing, Writing & Publishing

Book Selling SecretsI am not going to claim to know all the answers, but I might know a man that does. I have been reading Mark Coker’s (Smashwords) sales analysis of the books published on his site, and it makes very interesting reading.  Of course there are no hard and fast ‘do this and it will sell’ options, but there are some general trends that can be used as guidelines to help you improve your chances of making a sale. Remembering of course that there will be exceptions to every rule and common sense needs to reign with respect to each individual decision you make about your book, what to put in it and how to market it.

So what are the first and most important considerations Mark points out:

  • Most books don’t sell well i.e. very few sales initially and then taper off to virtually nothing
  • Books that sell, sell really well i.e. lots of sales initially and then sales grow exponentially

That is a bit of a wake up call really and could be interpreted in a number of ways. For what it’s worth, my opinion is that once a book is selling the distributors promote it more and generate more sales as a result. Look at Amazon as an example and the way they operate. How many times do you see the statement ‘people that bought this also bought this’ when you view an Amazon product, books or otherwise. Clearly if you are not selling that is less likely to happen.

Scenario number 2, Amazon give a product a ‘best seller’ rank, based on sales of course, and the results returned first on searches are the ones with the better ‘best seller’ rankings. In fact even when you search for a product based on ‘most relevant’ criteria, higher ranking products will appear above exact match descriptions. You could ask, how does that work? But it is clear Amazon like to promote best selling products because they are more likely to sell than closer fit low selling products, I think this is especially true of books, Kindle or otherwise.

eMail campaigns, Amazon send a lot of recommendations to their customers via email, based primarily on the things you say you like, put in a wish list or have a look at when you are on their site (yes they do track your very move). Of course they will often remind you of what you said you liked, but they will also offer alternatives of a similar genre or type and guess what, these will again be best sellers.

I could bang on about this forever, but I am sure you are getting the point, popular or best selling products get promoted consistently and frequently by the distributors while poor sellers get left to languish in obscurity. So it seems to me when you first introduce your new product/book on Amazon or any of the other major distributors, you need to be sure you have your ducks in a row and your marketing campaign ready to roll.

Does that mean if you have had your book published for a while then it is already too late? I think the answer to that is ‘no’ it’s never too late but if I am honest it will, I think, be more difficult to get that spark. What I am sure about is that if the book does suddenly start to sell, it will then be treated like any other best seller and it will start to be promoted. The reason I think it will be more difficult, is that I believe that there is an initial period after publication where the book is given the benefit of the doubt and is promoted in a similar fashion to products that are selling. A testing of the water period if you like, and that is a statement based on my experience of publishing books.

What are the characteristics of Books that Sell

This is the $64 question and one that is very hard to pin an answer on, but this is what Mr Coker has discovered:

  • Longer books sell better than shorter books, that is books with an average 115,000 words sold best
  • Shorter book titles are slightly better than longer book titles the best average number of words for a title was 4.2
  • $3.00 to $3.99 seems to be the price that brings the highest reward on average i.e. books sell well at that price and in sufficient quantities to return a better yield than books at any other price
  • $1.00 to $1.99 seems to be the price that provides the least reward on average

What Books SellBut before you get too excited, Mark goes on to temper these findings by pointing out that each book is unique (or should be) and that these findings are based on averages that may or may not work for your particular book. In fact the best way to find out is to experiment and see what works for you. So what I would add to his conclusions is that these figures can be used as a starting point, something to aim for in terms of content, title length and price. But as with all things subjective you probably need to go with gut feel and if you think your book is finished at 100,000 words then stop likewise if you think you have more to say, then say it. It is your book after all and the same applies to the title and the price, a little tweaking along the lines of something you think is more fitting probably won’t do any harm and you can always adjust a little later if things don’t quite seem to be working.

If you want to see the full report and the other things Mark points out then you can find the full article here Smashwords Survey, I found it very interesting and read every word, so you probably will as well.

What Can You Do to Try and Get Those Elusive Initial Sales?

There are a few things every author can do to try and promote their book after initial publication, simple things that actually don’t take a lot of effort and a few that do take time and effort:

  • Ask for the help of family and friends, give them a free copy of your book and ask them to do an honest review
  • If family and friends like your book ask them to indicate that by liking it, rating it or giving it a thumbs up on the distributor sites
  • Use tools like wish lists and listmania on Amazon and other sites, where they are availabe, friends & family can do the same
  • Register on sites like Goodreads, Library Thing and Shelfari and make sure your books are listed there
  • Tell people about the book through social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn
  • Set up your own website/blog to promote or even sell your book
  • And finally try and get your local paper, or even better a national paper, to feature you, your book or both

Getting sales often leads to getting more sales and of course when you publish your next book you can have an existing fan base sitting waiting for it to arrive so they can purchase immediately. If you don’t believe me take a look at the best seller listing on Amazon and make a note of how many are actually one in a series by the same author and very often not the first book they published.

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