15 Reasons Why Your Book Isn’t Selling

by | Mar 12, 2018

We’ve all been there: a book we were excited about, one that we worked on earnestly.

But when it hit the market, all that came back was a big yawn.

No author wants to be in that situation, most of all a self-published author. We gamble our own time, money, and commitment to our books, and we really need a positive response sometimes just to keep going.

But there it is: your baby isn’t selling.

What went wrong? Is it something you can fix, or is it embedded in the DNA of your book, a flaw so grave it can never recover?

Take a look at this list and see if you’ve been guilty of any of these oversights.

And don’t feel too bad, we all make mistakes, miss important road signs, get confused on the journey to publication.

Take heart, one book won’t be the beginning and end of your publishing career, and there are essential lessons to lear from every book you publish, no matter how well or poorly it sells.

Here are some common reasons your book may not be selling as well as you’d like, and embedded in each reason is the key to how you might overcome that particular obstacle.

Why Isn’t My Book Selling???

  1. You didn’t hire an editor—It’s easier than ever to locate editors, either through referrals, editorial websites, or the freelance markets that have arisen to fill the needs of indie authors.
  2. Your cover is boring or off-target, or worse—While it used to be difficult to find cover designers and expensive to hire them, that’s no longer true. Today’s best designers for indie authors work more quickly, and with great knowledge of the genres they design for.
  3. You didn’t do any marketing—Marketing isn’t selling, it’s letting the right group of people know about the ways your book will fill their needs, whatever they may be. It doesn’t happen by itself.
  4. You marketed, but your marketing is all about you—Other writers may be interested in your process, your publishing timeline, or your biography, but until readers become fans, concentrate on their needs.
  5. Nobody knows you published the book—Putting some thought, planning and effort into launching your book is a great place to start.
  6. You only have 25 people on your email list (and you know them all)—The time to grow your email list is before you publish your book. Give yourself enough time to gather the community that will support your publishing.
  7. The book has no “reason to exist”—Does your book stand out? Does it contribute something that wasn’t available before? Offer unique insights, research, or entertainment?
  8. Your book isn’t available in the right formats—More than ever before readers have options as to how they read, and it’s up to you as the publisher to answer them. Determine the right balance to print, ebooks, audiobooks for your readership.
  9. You forgot to research keywords and categoriesMetadata in all its forms has become more and more important to making your books visible online.
  10. Nobody understands your title—Don’t defeat your communication by getting too cute with titles. And for nonfiction books, realize how valuable an effective subtitle can be. These key elements are worth your best work.
  11. You wrote it to appeal to “everyone”—You’ll sell more books if you can accurately identify the ideal market for your book.
  12. Your 200 page paperback novel is priced at $29.95—Sometimes authors get so far out front of their project they lose touch with common sense. Study the pricing of books like yours that are selling well.
  13. You wrote about a subject so obscure sales are negligible—This is not necessarily a bad thing, but as a publisher you need to have some feeling for the potential size of the market, especially when writing very specialized books.
  14. You rushed to get your book out “in time” for Valentines/Christmas/the Olympics/your birthday—One of the best indicators of sales success is the quality of your book. Producing the best book you can is made much more difficult by artificial and, in the end, futile deadlines.
  15. You expected to sell more books more quickly than is realistic—There’s no escaping our own way of defining “success” when it comes to book sales. What pleases one author disappoints another.

As in any effort in life, understanding your own goals will go a long way to making sure you get satisfaction of every kind from your publishing projects.

I’ll leave you with some words of wisdom:

“It doesn’t matter how you publish, most books don’t sell very well… As authors, we can be thrilled with a handful of sales a month or miserable with “only” 10,000.”—Hugh Howey, bestselling author

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Terry Boyle

    I published my Memoirs (I Had My Cake And Ate It Too, Thanks To My Angels) with Outskirts Press in April 2018, a story about all the people (My Angels), who helped propel me from Hign School dropout to a retired Systems Programmer at IBM for 31 years. I also signed up for marketing packages with Amazon Kindle, Publishers Magazine Ads, Amazon weekly choice and Evvy Awards. According to Outskirts, I sold a whopping 35 copies. People I know said they loved my story. I reached out to Outskirts, Amazon and Ingram, but no answers.

  2. Cris

    Great points. I made quite a few mistakes in this list. But I agree: “How long do I have to market my books?” = “Only for as long as you want to sell them.” Brilliant answer.

  3. Joel Friedlander

    Ernie, thanks, you always have the perfect quote for the occasion. BTW I received your package and will respond shortly.

  4. Ernie Zelinski

    You ended with some great words of wisdom by Hugh Howey:

    Here are some more great words of wisdom:

    “Good isn’t good enough! With the glut of high-quality books, good books aren’t good enough anymore. Cheap books aren’t good enough (Smashwords publishes over 40,000 free ebooks). The books that reach the most readers are those that bring the reader to emotionally satisfying extremes. This holds true for all genre fiction and all non-fiction. If your readers aren’t giving you reviews averaging four or five star and using words in their reviews like, “wow,” “incredible” and “amazing,” then you’re
    probably not taking the reader to an emotionally satisfying extreme. Extreme joy and pleasure is a required reading experience if you want to turn readers into fans, and turn fans into super fans. Wow books turn readers into evangelists.”
    — Mark Coker, Owner of Smashwords

    “Every book deserves a 3-year committment. Don’t write or publish a book unless you are willing to commit at least three years to keeping that book alive. You don’t have to commit to each book fulltime, but do something every day for each book you love.”
    — John Kremer, writing in “1001 Ways to Market Your Books”

    “Even the most careful and expensive marketing plans cannot sell people a book they don’t want to read.”
    — Michael Korda, former Editor-in-Chief at Simon & Schuster

    “Yes, hard work is generally a good recipe, although not a guarantee of success, in any business. I think there are lots of authors out there with tremendous talent, but because of their day job, inadequate time resources to devote what it takes to make this happen. There are also plenty who are marginal, but have the time, but lack the critical thinking skills to figure out what the best way to proceed is. These are the folks who buy the “How To Sell Blazillions!” books and then invest thousands
    of hours in marketing that doesn’t work for them. I believe that every author’s journey is different, and no two will have the same experience. But each success will be atypical, and impossible to duplicate, which is both part of the magic, as well as the frustration, of this business. Hey, if this was easy, everyone would be doing it . . . ”
    — Russell Blake, bestselling author

    For the record, I received an email from an author who is a professor (he has a PhD) at a university in Australia. He wanted advice from me on how to market his three books. Guess how many copies he had sold of all three? In fact, he had sold zero copies. Yes, zero! This guy later emailed me offering $100 to help in the marketing of his books. I didn’t bother responding to him.

    As Russell Blake said, “if this was easy, everyone would be doing it.” Fact is, creating a true bestselling book (one that sells over 100,000 copies in print) is ten to hundred times as hard as getting a PhD degree. Yes, getting a PhD degree is extremely difficult but I can provide pretty solid reasoning that creating a true bestselling book is ten to hundred times as hard as getting a PhD degree.

    • Joan Stewart

      Thanks for including John Kremer’s comment about authors making a 3-year commitment to market their books. Here’s my advice when an author asks me, “How long do I have to market my books?”

      My answer: “Only for as long as you want to sell them.”



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