20 Reasons Books Don’t Sell (Part 1)

books-21849_640When your book doesn’t move off the shelves or Amazon warehouses in vast quantities, our first tendency is to point fingers. There is something deep in the human psyche that needs to blame someone when hopes, dreams and plans don’t work out. Publishers blame authors, authors blame publishers (or oddly enough, their agents), retail might blame marketing.

The truth is, there will never be one reason why a particular book doesn’t sell. All any of us—author, publisher, agent, retail partner—can do is look in the mirror and ask, “Did I personally do all I could to help the process?” The other truth is, everyone who invests time in writing, agenting, editing, packaging, marketing, publishing, and selling a book wants the book to turn a profit.  We all want books to sell . . . every single book! Otherwise, none of us could stay in business.  So let’s disabuse ourselves of mistrusting motives of the key people trying to help our book—everyone wants to stay in business!

So why don’t books sell? It’s usually not because of a lack of desire, or effort, or skill, or hope, or prayer… it’s a myriad of tangible and intangible factors. Some an author can control, some a publisher can, and many are outside the control of anyone.

Welcome to the world of publishing in the 2010s. Times… they have changed. So what are the reasons a good book may not have great sales?

  1. Hundreds of books have been scuttled because a war or national tragedy took center stage right when a book releases. Suddenly, all of the great PR efforts and TV interviews set up get pre-empted, never to be rescheduled because everyone has moved onto the newest front list of books to promote.
  2. A bad package. It doesn’t happen too often these days; publishers like to make authors/agents happy. But cover designs do sell—or not sell—books. A great title that screams “must read,” a subtitle that grabs, back cover copy that says, “keep looking,” engaging table of contents, endorsements or a foreword by someone of note, a compelling first few pages… these are a few factors that can turn a book browser into a buyer.
  3. Champions leave. With uncertainty in the industry and publisher entrenchment these last five years, editors have been leaving or moving to different jobs at an enormous clip. Without an in-house champion to keep the book on track, details often fall through the cracks no matter who is following up. New editors must inherit projects, but if they didn’t acquire them, sometimes those books get treated like the red-headed step-child.
  4. Marketing/PR failures. A publisher had no effective marketing plan, or didn’t work their marketing plan no matter the agent effort or follow up. The truth is, the 80/20 principle is truer in publishing than likely anywhere else. Eighty percent of their marketing money goes to 20% of their books, because 80% of their income comes from 20% of their books. A huge fact of life in a very tough publishing environment. Sadly, these days, it may even be 90/10.
  5. Author ambivalence. An author decided they’d let others do the heavy lifting in creating awareness about the book. The writer took the attitude that “Everyone, other than me, should tell the world about my book—because I don’t want to be seen as commercializing anything; I’m above that.” Or, “God has called me to write, not to market my writing.” Or, “I’m busy writing my next book. I don’t have time.” Or, “I’m just not good at pushing my own stuff.” Spiritualizing or tossing out excuses about your inactivity likely means one thing in today’s book culture: a short writing career. God will more often “bless” hard and smart work. If you don’t believe in your work enough to champion it, rethink book publishing. Or, perhaps become a collaborator, you can write and not have to worry about promotion.
  6. Author platform. Ah yes, the scourge of authors everywhere. If you haven’t built enough potential readers into your sphere of influence through blogging, speaking, radio or social networking, publishers will just often say, “We can’t help you.” Why? See reason 20.
  7. Friendship failure. An author’s famous friends (the ones your proposal said were on board) who promised to blog, tweet and Facebook about it forgot, or got too busy, or finally read your book and didn’t like it, or have been doing too much of it for every other author friend they have and are just tired of filling their social networking space crowing about someone else’s product (when they have their own to PR).
  8. Small target audience. The book doesn’t meet a broad enough felt need. Niche books used to have a chance. These days they often do not.
  9. Topic overpopulated. The book has been done a million ways from Sunday and there is just too much competition on the subject.

Not all is as discouraging as this post might have started out—and how you might be thinking. I’ll continue my post on Wednesday with further analysis, but also a bit of hope that I hope will help shift the publishing paradigm and eventually change how we as authors, publishers and agents approach the industry.

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How to Write a Nonfiction Book that Sells — Pt. 2

Good NewsIn Part One, I talked about the importance of subject, title, and content for writing nonfiction books that sell. All of these are key elements. Missing just one could mean the difference between a publisher’s bite on your bait, or their swimming away.

Equally, if you neglect the power of your marketing strategy, including future books you can write, a publisher might say no instead of yes. Short-cutting is not worth the risk of losing a book deal.

So let’s talk specifics.

  • Intriguing marketing strategies are an integral piece of your non-fiction book proposal. Every author’s heard it, “You must help promote your own book.” But most, even those of us with sales and marketing backgrounds from other industries, can feel overwhelmed at how to effectively boost book sales on paper or in application. So what’s an author to do?

Think outside the industry. How do movies and TV programs promote their wares? What are the big producers doing to move sales? Think Coke, Wal-Mart, Apple, Under Armor, Cabelas, or others you see frequenting the air and radio waves, or filling store shelves. Learn from the big boys while creatively using your small budget.

For instance:

  • Getting Through What You Can't Get Over Book CoverBuild human curiosity into the heart of your sales tactics and specify samples in your book proposal. i.e. Six Secrets to…, How to…, What ______ Want, Three Things Most People Forget that Could Cost You Sales. See the pattern?
  • List all of your speaking events, including those you volunteer for, or that may feel more like family than a professional gig. Any exposure to a potential buying public counts — and those with built-in fans increase the odds of book sales.
  • Look at conferences, organizations, businesses, that don’t immediately seem like a fit for your message. Is there a way to connect your book to their needs? For Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over, I’m promoting the impact personal issues have on the workplace and vice-versa. I’ve booked new speaking opportunities as a result.
  • Include something unique. *Talk about the psychology of color and how you can use it in your marketing materials. Note your intent to attract those looking for peace through shades of green, your strategy to pursue passionate responses with strokes of red, or your ability to stir deeper thinking by adding blue.

*After you’ve made the sale, don’t forget to work with your publisher on appropriate colors when considering cover art for your book.

  • Future books you’d like to write are like adding scent to the lure for a publisher ready to bite. After writing your proposal on a subject matter readers are interested in, brainstorming a dynamite title, writing clear content, and adding unique marketing flavors, offer a list of intriguing future titles, true to your brand. This shows the publisher you are more than a one-hit-wonder. You are an author readers will follow for a long time to come.

In conclusion, I must stress the need for a teachable attitude and patient demeanor. Two common challenges we must overcome if we want to succeed. There is no place for arrogance or impatience in any professional venue. Be a turtle, not a hare, and in time, you will write a nonfiction book that sells.

Have you sold books and if so, can you offer insights I missed?

How to Write a Nonfiction Book that Sells — Part 1

Nonfiction Readers Want in a BookYou can have the greatest book idea in the world, but if it won’t sell, what’s the point in writing it? Unless you simply want to leave a legacy for your family and friends with no concern for sharing the message with anyone else.

As a Christian author, I’m driven to offer lasting hope to those who might read my words. So it’s important I wisely choose the subjects, the titles, the content, the marketing plan, and the future books listed in my proposals. There’s a lot I still don’t know about this process, why some titles are purchased while others languish, but I’ve certainly picked up a few secrets. Some of them, I wish I’d known earlier. Maybe what I’ve learned will help someone else in the place I was a short time in the past.

  • The first and most important thing is choose your subject(s) wisely. But with so many books in existence, and a plethora of authors scrambling for attention, how do you find a fresh subject to write about? Here’s one of my secrets. I listen to others, but I also listen to myself. Both of my initial book titles came about that way. With First Hired, Last Fired, someone said to me, “Anyone can be replaced.” I automatically replied, “Is that really true?” Voila, the subtitle, How to Become Irreplaceable in Any Job Market was born as Greg’s variation from my first take on the idea of being irreplaceable at work. My second title happened when I heard myself say to someone, “You know, there are things in life we learn to get through, but no matter what anyone says, we just won’t get over.” A little tweaking and tightening later, Getting Through What You Can’t Get Over became a book that a lot of people say they or someone else needs to read.Getting Through What You Can't Get Over Book Cover

Listen to your own conversations. What scares us? What are we complaining about? What confuses us? What aha moments do we encounter and why? What works and what doesn’t? How have we discovered hope and healing? For Christian authors, what does the Bible say that’s relevant to 21st century issues, in the here and now?

  • The second most important thing is titling. I’d say the process you use to choose a topic works as well for picking a title. What grabs you? Can you turn a cliché upside down? Is there a pithy quote you can tweak to make your own and spread the message in your topic? What do you hear yourself and others say?

For subtitling, follow the advice of Alice Crider, my former coach and agent with WordServe, “Make a promise you can keep to the readers in every subtitle.” Anytime someone offers us a solution to a big problem, we’re interested. Right?

  • For this segment, I’d conclude with the power of valuable content. Slapping a few words together will not provide opportunities to grow your career as a professional author. Do your homework by reading books on writing well. Hone your craft constantly. Connect with other professionals and barter for editing/critiquing services; look for that rare mix of honesty and encouragement. Karen Barnes Jordan deserves credit for every book of mine that’s sold. You can have the best concept in the world, but if you can’t communicate it clearly, it’s lost on potential readers and they will tune you out.

In part two, I’ll share insights about marketing and future books. No proposal worth its words will sell without showing you have great message promotions in the hopper. There’s a basic formula to writing a non-fiction book that sells, the key is in following it all the way through.

What obstacles are you hitting in your efforts to sell your projects?