The Terrifying Truth on Why Most Authors Sell Fewer Than 100 Copies

Posted on Posted in Author Platform, Marketing, Publishing

It’s scary and sad, but it’s true. If you plan to publish independently, be prepared for disappointment. Without good marketing behind your book, it will get drowned out by millions of others.

According to BookScan, 80% of new indie authors sell fewer than 100 copies. Pretty discouraging, isn’t it? There are clear reasons that this happens:

  1. Authors assume their content is different from anything ever written on the topic, or that no other books exist on the subject. With more than 1 million books published per year (according to Bowker), it can be hard to get heard above the noise.
  2. Authors think their book is for everyone, while not defining the target reader or niche. This is a critical mistake and can result in massive failure. Not everyone will want your book. In fact, the percentage of people who may be interested is incredibly small.
  3. Authors describe a personal experience under difficult circumstances (“Everyone said I should write a book about that.”) and assuming, a) that it applies to other people, and b) that they will be interested. This goes back to #2 and why failing to hit your target market is a critical error.
  4. Authors publish without a fresh perspective on a topic which target readers will find different, important and relevant. You can’t write the same old thing and expect a good sale.
  5. Authors expect a book to sell with no – or limited – marketing by the publisher or the author. In the noisy world ruled by our overlords at Amazon, marketing is a must no matter who you publish with. If you don’t market, people won’t find it. If they don’t find it, the book won’t sell.
  6. Authors publish a book without using the services of a professional editor and experienced designers for cover and page layout. It shows. Authors think they have edited the story well enough, failing to hire a professional to look it over. These stories often have plot holes, grammar issues, and a lot of passive voice. It shows and makes you seem like an amateur. The adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is dead. If your cover design isn’t gripping and doesn’t look professional, readers will browse right past it. Cover designers know what sells in what genres, and how to design them. Failing all of this is a sure way to get pegged as an amateur and will hurt future book sales as well.
  7. Authors do not understand the publishing business (distribution, pricing, competition, promotion, finances). It isn’t just about print and sell. Pricing makes a difference in sales, as do some other factors. If you don’t know how to handle all of this, hire someone who does.
  8. Authors only sell through bookstores (bricks and clicks) without pursuing non-bookstore buyers. Non-bookstores? Like who? This depends on what sort of book you’re selling. Fantasy could sell well in a new-age store. Science fiction could sell in a gadgets and tech store. These options are limited by your imagination… and ambition.
  9. Authors price a book based on page count or competition, without considering its market value. This can be a little more tricky, but just because fellow authors are selling for $3.99 doesn’t mean you should. Don’t undersell your work. Don’t oversell it. Think about what the market is used to and adjust your price accordingly.
  10. Authors do not have strategic, practical, and objective marketing and financial background. It’s just a fact. Unless you are an author who also works as a marketer, odds are you have no idea how to market your book. Find experts who do and contact them. Not all marketing costs an arm and a leg. It’s also important to understand how these sales can impact you financially. While selling fewer than 100 copies may not make finances as much of a concern, you still need to be prepared for higher or future sales.

But don’t let the numbers hold you back. While 80% may fail, 20% don’t. The key is understanding how that 20% finds the sales.

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