Why isn’t my book selling…?
If you’re asking yourself this agonizing questions, continue reading. Following is a list of “most-likely-and-very-possible” causes why your brainchild is not flying off Amazon’s electronic shelves.
- Book pitch/blurb that appears in Amazon
This is the hardest thing to get just right. Many ‘advice’ gurus out there will tell you to go look at what the bestselling writers’ blurbs are…except their blurbs were likely done by very expensive (and therefore experienced) sales-pitch copy writers.
I can’t afford to even look for one, never mind hire one. Just do your best. These copy-writers were also very much ‘in-tune’ with the said writer’s works. They had developed a formula for that writer’s themes, characters, style and many other characteristics and then just keep hanging attention-triggering ‘action’ words on it.
What can you do here? Not much, really. Just keep learning. It doesn’t come easy to me. I suspect that’s the case with many indie writers. One thing that sort of calms down your anxiety about this very important aspect of marketing, is to pick out all the ‘interesting and action/excitement’ words in a bestselling author’s blurbs on Amazon and wherever else you can find, and make a list. Then make a list of ‘key ideas’ that are contained in the blurb. How to recognize ‘key ideas?’ Well, read the blurb. What makes you slow down when reading it, is what captures your attention—hence, key idea. What sticks in your mind about the blurb is another one of key ideas. What makes you scoff at it, whatever makes your scorn it, and what makes you angry are more key ideas. In summary, whatever elicits an emotional reaction from you is what the copy-writer intended as a ‘grabber’ in the message. eg. returns home after death of her child and marriage, contacted by childhood friend with a cryptic message that makes him/her return once again where they swore they’d never to go again, brings turmoil to his/her life, witnesses mysterious lights, when his buddy is killed, when the ghost of her father visits her one night, when she witnesses a drive-by shooting, when her fiancé runs out on her, when she finds her husband/boyfriend/father in bed with her/his best friend, the cowboy leaves an heiress for the country girl back home, etc. etc. These ‘themes’ depend on the genre so pick the works that are closest to your genre and make a list. Then slowly, change some of the words in the theme(s) for those that apply to your work.
Once you learn how to do that, start on changing the ‘themes and ideas’ to tailor them to your work.
- Genre – or your book is cross-genre
You want to appeal to a wider audience…or so you think but that cross-genre actually shrinks down your reading audience. Many readers (and here my hand goes up) are genre-specific fans. That’s why Amazon developed those hated categories and slots that you need to assign to your book. If you get them to slot your book in a very difficult (obscure) genre category where there are only 10 other similar works, then you’ll be in a bestseller category forever. (but they don’t let you do that these days – not anymore)
In this case, pick the strongest genre that runs through your book. Promote it on twitter and facebook as that single-theme genre book. Don’t worry if you cringe because your conscience is pinching you. Bestselling writers do it all the time (hey, I read them. I know when I picked up a crime-thriller and it turns out to be a romantic mess) so don’t feel guilty. Decide on the strongest element of one popular genre and pitch your work that way.
- Unimaginative book cover – and notice I said unimaginative, not poor quality
Don’t know how many times a day (evening really) when I’m surfing twitter I see negative comments about writers’ book covers. Not quality comments, but ‘what were they thinking when they designed this’ comments.
Find a good cover designer. Tatianna Vila is one of them. Affordable too. Under $100. http://www.viladesign.net/
Melody Simmons is another, albeit more expensive. She has affordable pre-made-covers. http://ebookindiecovers.com/tag/melody-simmons/ or you can surf this huge shop of pre-made covers almost all under $100 – and these are really nice book covers.
You have to register at this site but that’s just to establish your ‘dashboard’ so you can pick your favorites and then collect them. Or go here and I doubt you’ll need to go somewhere else after all these good sources. http://www.bigskywords.com/writing-blog/top-10-ebook-cover-design-sites
NOTE: If you surf through Amazon and find an appealing (to you) cover, copy it and make a collection of all the covers that appeal to you. When you come to a cover designer who works with stock images, it’s easier to tell him/her what you like – colors, layout and subjects – so they can design a cover for you.
- Your opening paragraph (opening lines) are not grabbing
This has to do with the Amazon’s so-called ‘sample reading’ feature. The reader can browse and start reading. I don’t know how many books I’ve opened up on Amazon and started reading—and never made it past page 1.
Hard to fix this one; after all it’s your story and you want to start it this way. Once again go ‘open’ up a few bestsellers on Amazon and shamelessly copy out first half-a-page that you start reading. Then analyze it. Go back and pick a genre that is NOT the same as your book and do the same thing. Compare at least 4-5 genres this way. See how each genre starts off. You’ll see some romance novels opening with a proverbial bang—giving an impression that you were going to be sucked into dangerous mystery right off the bat. Twenty pages into the book, nothing could be further from the truth but by then the reader will be miffed but also curious and it will cease to matter.
Even if you think that starting off your book with a ‘bang’ is misleading, find the best ‘bang’ your conscience will allow and start with it. Try it. It’s harder than you think and I’m still sweating when I have to look for those first few opening sentences. Remember THEY ARE CRUCIAL!
- You start with long…looooong drawn out descriptive paragraph and it won’t stop
Few readers can tolerate this nowadays. Remember the age of your audience – it’s forever getting younger. Young people have no patience for lines and lines of prose, regardless of how pretty it is.
If your novel starts with a narrative that goes past ONE – and I mean just that ONE average-size paragraph, you better make sure you are describing the secrets of eternal youth or something similarly enticing.
If you are describing mayhem and destruction, this might fly for two or even three such descriptive paragraph but these better have a protag in them in mortal danger or grappling with a global-size dilemma so the reader can become invested in the character.
Start with your most VULNERABLE character.
- Your ‘voice’ is not appealing – or worse, downright off-putting for the reader
Hard thing to fix again. Have you ever opened up on Amazon a book and started reading only to grow irritated—it means the story’s ‘voice’ is annoying you. Find a few novels like that so you learn what is annoying you.
By ‘voice’ I mean either your narrator’s voice (when you are writing in 3rd person limited/past tense) or your main character’s voice (when you are writing in 1st person past tense). NOTE: If you are writing in 1st person present tense, you’ve lost me as a reader. This is something that New York’s big 7 pubs seem to hail as the second coming of the chocolate gingerbread man but I hate it with passion. 1st person present tense is irritating, has a place in live newscast reporting and should never, never appear in books. What is it? Ah, if you have to ask that you’ve earned my respect. But here is an example: “I stand on the corner and watch him walk away. His figure is getting smaller and smaller and I feel a tear roll down my cheek. I say, “goodbye my love” and that is all I can say because the rest is choked off by tears. The passersby bump into me until I yield and walk across the crosswalk.”
It’s ‘reporting’ style and the last thing I want to read. Don’t ‘report’ to me, journal or worse—diary style—tell me a story.
Find a voice, once again in the bestsellers of your genre – or your favorite genre—and read over and over first five or ten pages. Do this a few times, over a few days until the ‘voice’ of the writer/character starts playing in your head—as your own story’s/character’s voice. Rational here is that if that bestseller’s writer’s voice or character’s voice is appealing (and bestseller should be) then you will pattern yours after it and then dress it in your own story and characters.
- Your prose is awkward, your dialogue is stiff and your characters speak in clichés
Editor. There is no other fix for this but find a very good, very honest editor and run your work by him/her. Not beta-reader. Those tend NOT to tell you these things. Editors, however, will do. Go on Upwork, register and post your job with your budget. It will be costly but you can ask to have just a first few chapters evaluated. Be specific what you need. Don’t hide behind your pride. A 10,000 word editor-evaluation of your prose, style and grammar, should not run past $100 or $150. Max. Shop for the editor who will do exactly what you want and need. Don’t shy away and then when you get the report READ IT and heed it.
- You’re promoting to other WRITERS – not readers
We’re all guilty of this, particularly when we get desperate because we don’t know where to turn for promotion. Yes, your publisher (if you have one) will want you to belong to the in-house group. Why on god’s green earth would you promote to your other fellow writers, is beyond me. Oh, the publisher will say that others in that group, more established writers, will want to help you. Okay. One axiomatic truth. Truly established writers do not have TIME to help anyone. No criticism here intended. It’s just the way it is. And those like you, making marginally correct claims about their success, may have you as a guest author on their blog but…hey, what good is that going to do for your book? Yeah, warm and fuzzy feeling, and the fact you belong to a collective—strong feelings, I’m not dissing them but they do absolutely nothing for your book’s sales.
You have to do paid promo. You just can’t expect to grow your sales and your presence as a writer on blogging to thin air, appearing on your fellow writers’ sites and hosting them or contributing to their newsletters…all fine activities but none of them should stand above paid promo.
Set your budget. Then do research; a lot of research. I’ve started evaluating more than 100 paid promo sites that I’ve used—and believe me this is a once-as-a-writer exercise so take advantage of what I’ve said in my 3 blog posts so far. http://www.editaapetrick.com/blog/ I will not have the money that I’ve spent on promotion these past 18 months again. More paid promo evaluations will be coming.
Get a 12-month calendar you can write in and map out your promo days. Assemble all the promo sites that don’t require reviews, and then those who do (keep track of how many) and play with the calendar on a monthly scale.
NOTE: ALL the good and functional promo spots have to be booked weeks in advance. Sometimes months so plan. On the day of the paid promo, promote on your own side with links to where your book is promoted—on facebook, twitter, pinterest, google+ and anything else you can think of. THIS is the place and time when you promote your paid promo to your writers’ group or to your peers.
9. Your story’s flat and so much like all the others that surround it
Hard 2 fix this. But this actually comes across from your blurb – on Amazon and everywhere else where you promote the book. You believe that your vampire/werewolf/elemental/zombie and anything that roams with this horde is different from all those other books about the same creatures. You believe that your private eye/tough guy/hitman/commando/federal agent/policeman/fireman is unique and very different from all the other characters that are in your neighbourhood. Problem is no one else will believe it if you put the standard description of the genre into your blurb.
Word of advice—don’t. Formulate your blurb description WITHOUT mentioning any of the most common story-characters that have been floating around for decades. Pick that one key element of the story that is called a turning point (and every book should have it) and pitch that in your blurb. It should be a unique turning point, or point of no return, but that’s what you lure the reader with—it should be your bait, not a vampire-with-a-soft-spot-for-misfit-teens, not a tough guy who’s about to get hammered with love, and definitely not a policeman or fireman who are traumatized by their jobs but hey, they have to save this one victim. Find ONE UNUSUAL thing in your story that makes it stand out (and makes it truly your own) and pitch that.
10. Length of your book (and in a sense genre) and its structural presentation
Longer books (over 90,000 words) are harder to sell than those that hover around 75,000 words. Shorter chapters are much, MUCH more palatable to readers than long chapters. Make your chapters no more than 5 pages each. Less if you can. Yeah, your 75,000 word book will have 60 chapters but so what.
YA genre is the hardest to sell. Sci-fi/fantasy are just as hard if not harder. Yours must stand out, head and shoulders above the giants of sci-fi&fantasy these days to even make the top 10,000. Romance is the easiest to pitch and sell, unless it’s poorly written and heavily clichéd. Romantic mysteries are a middle-of-the-road; some are easy to push of the electronic shelves, others languish there for a long time, gathering electronic dust. Anything cross-genre is difficult to sell.
Mysteries sell so-so, suspense-ditto. Thrillers are a hard sell because readers don’t trust thrillers written by indies. This is another one of my ‘axiomatic truths.’ If yours is a top-notch thriller then all you have to do it get one or two readers to endorse it and you will get some sales. Not great sales, but some for sure.
Police procedurals are hard to sell by indies, so are hard crime, true crime and political anything. Financial and legal fiction is equally difficult, unless you storm out there with five PhDs in the field from Harvard and Yale, or have been just released from prison for running a Ponzi scheme. Then you’re all set as a writer.
Easiest to sell—yeah, HOW-TO category books. Except these are not really books, they’re booklets or books that have dieted down to bulimia state. Unless you are someone famous or infamous, your biography is going to remain a psychological purge that you had to write to get yourself rid of emotional baggage.
In summary, your blurb is your business card. It leads the pack, so to speak. That should be your main focus. Other than that, in your promo and advertisement, you MUST convince the reader that your story and your characters are unique and more importantly, they are likable or at the very least the reader can sympathize with them.