Why Your Book Isn't Selling

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Original image courtesy of Juhan Sonin via Flickr Creative commons.

The writer’s worst nightmare. You researched, you wrote, you finished, and then published your book. You wait for the sales and……….*crickets*. This is something that can happen to any kind of author, traditional or nontraditional. We think we have a hit on our hands only to later be checking it for a pulse.

What happened? Why is the book just not selling?

The Market

Remaindered Titles

Remaindered Titles

In the not so distant past, there was only one way to get published and that was traditional publishing. Though many authors cheered when they were finally able to cast off the chains of New York, let’s at least respect that agents and editors might have known a thing or three about the book business.

Writers would often get vexed at the stack of rejection letters, believing they couldn’t actually write well. This was not always the case. Agents make their living off books they know will sell, which means they just don’t have the bandwidth left over to take on pro bono work. Yes, the book might be lovely, but they are agents, not charities.

A large part of their expertise is predicting market changes and trends. They look at what is already out, what is to be released, what is selling, what isn’t, what is saturated, etc.

This is where it can get tricky for writers. Yes, write what you love. We shouldn’t write for the market…but we have to write for the market.

*bangs head on wall*

Sometimes a book might not be selling simply because there are too many titles that are too similar. Readers just don’t want yet another sparkly vampire.

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If you are traditionally published, this could still happen. Agents are making an educated guess and sometimes they miss the mark. For the self-published folks? If the book is good, just leave it alone and keep writing. The great part about the digital paradigm is the book can remain there indefinitely and when the trends change? So could the sales.

The Product

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Bad Pun Dog

I hate saying this, but sometimes it’s the book. Obviously this is more the case with indie and self-published books. The problem is that the market has just been inundated with amateur writing. I go into this in more detail in Five Mistakes Killing Self-Published Writers, but here are the Spark Notes.

Bad Writing

No one wants to hear they are not ready. Worse still? No one wants to hear the words, “You just are not a good writer.” Too many newbies want to skip the unfun training and go right to the title, “Author.”

Sadly, the slush pile has been handed off to readers. I can’t count the number of times I have gotten pages for a contest win and absolutely slayed the writing, only to get an e-mail back that the book was already for sale.


Even more common is that the writing is not per se bad, it just isn’t anything remarkable. Folks these days have a lot of competition for their time and attention and they simply won’t devote 12-15 hours of undivided attention to a blasé book.

Bad (No) Editing

Our story might be the best thing since pumpkin spice lattes, but if it is rife with errors it won’t sell. Additionally, editing is not simply looking for typos. That is line-editing. A good content editor will be able to help you shape the overall flow of the novel.

When I edit I can tell writers if they are starting the book in the correct place. Are there scenes that need to be cut because they are bogging down the momentum? Are there redundant characters? Are there plot holes? Is the ending a knockout or a fizzle?

Great editing can take a book from mundane to magnificent.

Bad Cover

There really is no excuse for a bad cover these days. Technology has come a long way and many experts offer fabulous covers at affordable prices. I would love to say people don’t judge a book by its cover, but that is untrue. Of course we do.

One thing many new writers don’t appreciate is that when you hire an expert, you are gaining a lot more than that one skill. Yes a graphic artist knows how to use Photshop (or whatever) but they also have a knowledge of what sells. 

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For instance, I have seen authors post images of their new book cover and cringed. The cover itself was lovely, but we have to remember how we are selling. That book isn’t going to be on a shelf where a potential reader is seeing a full-sized version. Likely it will be on Amazon and that beautiful full-sized image, when shrunk to thumbnail size looks like a Rorschach ink blob.

Do you see a butterfly?

No, I see Satan eating kale chips.

If a writer tells me they can’t afford to hire an expert, my response is they cannot afford not to.

Boring Title

This goes along with a bad cover. New writers are notorious for titles that we have to read the book to “get” the title. NO. The title is the hook and we will move on to other writers who don’t make us think.

The Platform

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Discoverability is a nightmare. There is a lot of noise and part of our job description now entails branding. This is all writers.

I recently had a distraught writer contact me. The author was recently dropped by a well-known agent because the book simply wasn’t selling. Yet, I could tell with a quick google search what a big part of the problem was.

The author didn’t have platform/brand capable of driving sales. Simply puttering around on Facebook isn’t enough. That isn’t a brand.

My first royalty check would have covered dinner if no one super-sized anything. Why? My book came out before my platform could drive sales. Once my platform improved? My sales skyrocketed.

What does it say in front of every big author’s name? Best Selling Author. Not Best Writing Author.

The writing alone is not enough. Frankly, it never was. Before 2006, writers had a 93% failure rate. Most first books sold less than a thousand copies (even traditionally published books). Only one out of ten published authors ever saw a second book in print. Most were dropped.

In the old days, we just had no control over the brand and the platform. Now, we do. And authors want to complain that it is too hard. Yes, it is hard and there are many reasons this profession is not for everyone.

Less Marketing/More Writing



Traditional marketing does not sell books. Never has. For more on why, check out Why Traditional Marketing Doesn’t Sell Books. I have had to unfollow writers on Facebook who do nothing but promote one book over and over and over.

They tweet non-stop about their book.

They even dedicate their blogs to selling books (and that is never the direct objective of a blog).

They deluge us with newsletters we never signed up for and can’t figure out how to escape.

Thing is, we don’t care about you or your book. We didn’t want to see that crap in our feed, we sure aren’t going to subscribe to a blog/newsletter that is nothing but self-promotion.

Writers often become the equivalent of that sales clerk in the department store who ambushes us with perfume.

Here is the blunt truth. The odds of breaking out with our first book are about the same as being hijacked by a terrorist after we’ve been hit by lightning while holding a winning lottery ticket.

Most writers are not going to break out with one book. Or even two. An author might never break out, but the odds certainly improve the more titles we have. This was always true. It’s why you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a James Patterson title.

Marketing and building a platform/brand are two completely different activities. But writers believe they are the same. They aren’t. If you want to promote and market without a platform, I suggest piling money on the floor and setting it on fire. Same end result and you can get to the self-loathing and binge drinking far faster that way.

There are no shortcuts.

Obviously there are many many other factors to why a book might not be selling, but these are the top offenders. Good news is most of this, we can do something about. In fact, I have classes addressing most of these issues (listed below).

What are your thoughts?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of AUGUST, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Check out the other NEW classes below! Now including a log-line class! Can you tell me what your book is about in ONE sentence? If you can’t SIGN UP.

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

Blogging for Authors  (August 26th)

This class will teach you all you need to know to start an author blog good for going the distance. Additionally I would also recommend the class offered earlier that same week (August 22nd) Branding for Authors to help you with the BIG picture. These classes will benefit you greatly because most blogs will fail because writers waste a lot of time with stuff that won’t work and never will and that wastes a lot of time.

I am here to help with that 😉 .

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist September 2nd–September 2nd

All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.

This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

This is a personal workshop to make sure you have a clear story problem. And, if you don’t? I’ll help you create one and tell the story you want to tell. This is done by phone/virtual classroom and by appointment. Expect to block off at least a couple hours.

Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line

September 7th

Log-lines are crucial for understanding the most important detail, “WHAT is the story ABOUT?” If we can’t answer this question in a single sentence? Brain surgery with a spork will be easier than writing a synopsis. Pitching? Querying? A nightmare. Revisions will also take far longer and can be grossly ineffective.

As authors, we tend to think that EVERY detail is important or others won’t “get” our story. Not the case.

If we aren’t pitching an agent, the log-line is incredibly beneficial for staying on track with a novel or even diagnosing serious flaws within the story before we’ve written an 80,000 word disaster. Perhaps the protagonist has no goal or a weak goal. Maybe the antagonist needs to be stronger or the story problem clearer.

In this one-hour workshop, I will walk you through how to encapsulate even the most epic of tales into that dreadful “elevator pitch.” We will cover the components of a strong log-line and learn red flags telling us when we need to dig deeper. The last hour of class we will workshop log-lines.

The first ten signups will be used as examples that we will workshop in the second hour of class. So get your log-line fixed for FREE by signing up ASAP.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook



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  1. “…you can get to the self-loathing and binge drinking far faster that way.” My fave quote of this post! And so true…? As always, you put everything into perspective. Thanks for the chuckles!

    • Lorraine Roe on August 22, 2016 at 11:21 am
    • Reply

    Your blog just arrived in my email in all of its glory! I love the whole entire enchilada! This quote is blunt and honest, “The problem is that the market has just been inundated with amateur writing.” Thank you! I’ve always had an editor. Either one from a publishing company or one I hire or both. However, I’ve realized that now that I need another editor to ruthlessly edit for content. Thanks in part to your blog and a few other publications, I’ve realized I really need to move beyond my marketing skills and get social media help. I do have a platform, but it has really stalled out in the last few years. Thank you for always holding a space for integrity, expansion, and humor for writers!

    • Suzanne Best Barnes on August 22, 2016 at 11:22 am
    • Reply

    Brilliant as always! Every time I read your blog it ignites that spark in me to get back to writing. I need to read your blog more often…

    • Jean Lamb on August 22, 2016 at 11:37 am
    • Reply

    The book I published during the end of May is just lying there, though it has two four-star and well-thought-out reviews. But…it’s the first of a series, and when the next volume is out, it will be heavily discounted, if not free, with an ad for the new volume. But right now, I’m working on volume 2 of the book that has sold the best so far (once I got over the whining stage ).

  2. Reblogged this on Jens Thoughts and commented:
    Key reasons a book isn’t selling, but every one of them can be fixed.

  3. Thank you, Kristen, for another great post. I reblogged on Jen’s Thoughts.

  4. Reblogged this on carsonrenomysteryseries.com.

  5. Why My Book Isn’t Selling: I haven’t finished writing it yet!

    Gotta keep writing, and now hopefully I can avoid these problems once I get that far 🙂

  6. I’m working on the revisions of my first book. I’m also trying to narrow down just exactly what my brand is! I know what it means to have a brand, but in this process of writing, I’ve found my genre is changing a bit. So for now I’m saying that I’m a suspense writer/crime fiction writer.

    1. YOU are the brand, not necessarily the genre. I do advise taking that upcoming branding class I have because it can save you a TON of time. Sorry to hawk a class, but I did all of this the hard way so you don’t have to 😀 .

      1. Well then my brand is awesomeness! LOL Oy!

  7. Sharing on my FB page, delaneygreenwriter. Binge-drinking would come next if I drank–but I don’t, so instead I’ll take the bit in my teeth and carry on.

  8. As ever…right on the button. Thank you for your insightful post.

  9. Another great post. Thanks, Kristen.

  10. I keep reminding myself that it is a first book and I’ve only been working on my platform for a few months and my blog for even less time. So it’s always nice to hear from someone that has been there that I just need to keep working at it.

  11. Just loved this.

  12. Lots of writers check their sales numbers all the time. The only time I’ve done that is when I was running the title FREE on Kindle or had done some other promotion. I just don’t see the point. I should be writing another book not refreshing the sales page.
    As you know, I’d rather go to the dentist and get a root canal without anesthetic than attempt to market my book. Good thing I have a Social Media Branding Jedi Master who won’t let me drop the whole author brand/platform thing.

  13. Mary will be reading sometimes and complain about the editing that some authors do, or more than likely DON’T do. And it’s the little crap, things like to-two-too, “Bob and me went to the store,” run-on sentences, punctuation where it doesn’t belong, no punctuation where it does belong… really, even if you were taught by nuns who told you every time you misspell a word it drives another nail into the hand of Jesus, have someone else read your work before you publish it. I was in a writer’s group with two different people who published works before anyone else had a look at them, and both were riddled with SPaG errors, not to mention their stories made absolutely no sense whatsoever.

    When someone follows me on Twitter, I’ve learned to go read their feed and see what they’re putting out there before I follow them back. I don’t even bother reading DM’s, because nearly every one is “Follow me on Facebook and my blog and buy my book.” There are people who never put anything out there but “buy my book” messages. They really need to get a life…

  14. I love your blog entries, they really speak the truth about today’s writing climate. Hope I meet you someday.

  15. Great advice as always. So, when it comes to the eBook just sort of being there for when sales may break-out (based on a variety of things), how much control over that shift do I – the author – have?

    I recognize my book isn’t the best book ever, nor is it groundbreaking and revolutionary. I’m not the worlds best author nor am I life’s gift to readers. I’m just me. But, while the eBook is on the eSales Shelf, how much can I really do to build my name and brand so that when the following is there, the sales pick up?

  16. This is really interesting. My book has been out for a year, and Im thinking about rebranding, and starting on another book in September. Thanks for information. Alexis

  17. I stopped checking sales figures so it’s a nice surprise when I find I’ve sold something. I know I don’t have enough books yet!

  18. Excellent post that I will be recommending to my students. It only lacks that one last bit, the odds on a writer making a living as an author are no better today than they were before 2006 and probably worse, given basic economic trends. That said, the idea that we have a bit more control over our platform now is a positive and true.

  19. Reblogged this on Pearls Before Swine and commented:
    Excellent points. I loved all of them. I always enjoy Kristen’s posts because they’re so real: Straight, no chaser: “Thing is, we don’t care about you or your book. We didn’t want to see that crap in our feed, we sure aren’t going to subscribe to a blog/newsletter that is nothing but self-promotion.”

  20. Good information. Thanks. I find marketing and platform building a lot more difficult than writing.

  21. Reblogged this on Erotic Vampire.

  22. Reblogged this on Mystery and Romance.

  23. Well, you had me in stitches with this post. So perfectly right on the nose.

  24. Good advice. We writers need to realize that we can’t do this alone.

    • R. A. Meenan on August 22, 2016 at 2:48 pm
    • Reply

    This was a much needed reminder to WRITE MORE. I just need to make more time to write.

  25. Very nice article, thanks for sharing!
    You seem like an experienced blogger/writter, I would love to hear your proffesional opnion about my writing (content, structur, anything else pro do). If you find about find minutes, I will be humbled if you read one of my posts.
    Thanks again for sharing 🙂

    1. Actually I did read your posts last week. You have a good voice. Good length. Keep blogging and you will get stronger 🙂 .

      1. Oh wow, thanks for taking the time to do that! I will keep on blogging and educating myself 🙂
        Looking forward for your posts!

  26. Brilliant!

    I confess, I no longer read anything from a self-published author. I’ve been burned too many times with lousy writing, horrible characters, and more spelling errors and typos than I can count.

  27. Reblogged this on Linda Bradley.

  28. I knew, at some point, I would have to face the non-writing part of the deal. And now I’m scared because I have no idea how to promote myself. Well, I guess it’s just one more skill to add to the list – write, revise, edit, then what? Ha.

    Thanks for your honest words. 🙂

    1. No. Platform and promotion are two different things. I will blog on this to add some clarity 😉 .

  29. Reblogged this on Whitney N. Cason-Author and commented:
    Very insightful read!

  30. I know why my book isn’t selling – I haven’t finished it yet! [facepalm]
    We’re moving house this week, so it’s all kinds of crazy round here (why are the books in boxes? why???) but I am doing a bit of writing every day, even if it’s not on the WIP.
    On the plus side, all this other stuff sucking up my time and attention means I’m raring to get back into my old habits of three solid hours a day writing.

  31. I loved this article, it really didn’t simper its words and it pretty much read my mind for the frustrated comments. I sat here saying; “Yes, yes, yes!” at my computer and getting funny looks. My book is selling, but very slowly, even if it is surely, and I know its all about getting more out there, even if my genre isn’t huge. So far people have really loved my book, and to me my reviewers are worth their weight in gold. Great, article, and very on point, I needed the reminder to keep going on the next book in my series while I wait for the editor.

  32. As a freelance editor, I am amazed at the quality of manuscripts I receive. I often tear through the pages doing a light developmental edit, or perhaps some basic fact-checking. When I returned the material to the author, I am often amazed to learn that the book was already for sale on Amazon or some other digital format. I often ask if the author sought or hired an editor before me. Often, the response I get goes something like “well … no … but (insert obscure family member, sibling, favorite aunt, spouse, life partner, etc.) thought it was wonderful.” Most first time writers submit their ms to me and expect me to just love it; giving it my seal of approval (as if that meant anything). I tossed the first 40 pages of one ms, writing with a big, red felt-tipped pen “your book starts here.” As an editor, I need to have a good working relationship with the writer. If I cannot work with the author, perhaps someone else in my editor’s guild can.

    1. I think it is because new writers really do not understand what editing is. They believe it is line-edit and it is soooo much more. And I hear you. I quit editing for a long time because I was tired of writers arguing with every change. It was just exhausting talking them out of Little Darlings.

  33. Hi Kristen! Thank you for sharing this insight. You are helping me so much in ways you never knew. I will always have your thought in mind since I am very new in this writing career. May God continue to bless you as you are a blessing to your readers. Have a great day 🙂

    • Murali Neelakantan on August 23, 2016 at 12:53 am
    • Reply

    A good write-up which shows where all one has to take care. But, I feel, you have missed out one important thing – the content. You do everything right, but the content, I’m sorry, the book will reach the shops, will be displayed at the racks, but, but…. it will remain there. So, one has to give that, that much importance to the content. With a good content, and not so good marketing, it takes time. With a bad or so so content and the very best marketing, the book will have an initial hype and sale, and that will be that.

  34. One more thing, can Iequest your opinion about my writing? if you may. It would mean a lot to me. Thanks again,

  35. Great post…has got me thinking!

  36. Trying SO hard to be patient. First book – check. Sequel – check. Third in the series – coming in October. Some great reviews, including a positive one from Kirkus. Sales? *sigh*

  37. “You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a James Patterson title.” LOL Love it.

  38. Reblogged this on Don Massenzio's Blog.

  39. You speak the truth. There are no shortcuts! Thanks for the honest facts, you have inspired me. Thankyou.

  40. Really great post, very informative! 🙂 Re blogged on http://www.suzannebowditch.wordpress.com

  41. Reblogged this on suzannebowditch.

    • Jenk on August 24, 2016 at 4:25 am
    • Reply

    I am always glad when your blog arrives in my inbox and this article was no exception. Lucid, intelligent, incredibly helpful and refreshingly honest. I have four books out with major publishers but find social media and building a platform a huge struggle. None of it comes naturally and I cringe whenever I have to go to my website (it looks fine, it just feels kind of narcissistic to me). I’d love to do better at building a platform, managing my brand (!) and marketing and so I keep on reading your fabulous advice and hoping one day I’ll improve at it! In the meantime, many many thanks for your insight and expertise.

  42. I’m actually surprised at how steadily my book sells given how little I do to make it do so… My aim has always been to keep writing and get more out there before investing any money in the problem and trying to attract more readers, so that there’s something for them to find if they like the first one and want more! I’d love to break out one day, but I don’t expect to do it with one book… The trilogy I’m working on at the moment I want to have edited all together rather than finishing and publishing one at a time… which means it’s taking ages to release my second book… but I’ll get there!

  43. I’m editing my book at the moment because it is too long. Must be brutal, not brittle. When I think I’m done, I’ll have it edited. I’m a good listener even when crying.
    Thank you for another timely article.

  44. Wow. I’m so glad I happened upon your article. Refreshingly blunt with some concern re: new writer’s feelings. A balance appreciated. I’ve signed up. Thanks.

  45. Before reading this post I was actually googling how to market a book. This was so much more informative than Google. Thank you do much for the advice. Have rebloged on my site.


  46. This is the first time visiting your blog, but it won’t be the last! I’ll be checking out the archives, too. I’m so not a “techie” person and the business side of this is mind-boggling to say the least. CHEERS!

  47. “It’s why you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a James Patterson title.” I can’t stop laughing.

  48. thank you. Very helpful. Another one for me to re-blog at some stage (linking directly to your article).

  49. Reblogged this on Author Akers and commented:
    Normally I would blog something of my own. However, I came across this as I was getting ready to do today’s blog. It has helped me to understand some of the mistakes I have been making. Read the blog and give her a follow.

  50. Reblogged this on Motown Writers Network . . . Michigan Literary Network and commented:
    Great read. Must share

  51. Wonderful article! Appreciate the directness of a topic that can be hard to discuss! One of the things that’s challenging (even for authors who do have publishers) is the lack of control over the cover. I found that while I could influence, final decision was left to the publisher. Thanks for posting this. I am going to share on my Facebook page and reblog as well to https://karlenecameronbooks.com

  52. Reblogged this on Dark Awakening and commented:
    Fabulous article that’s both applicable to published and independent authors.

  1. […] love Kristen Lamb’s posts. This one, Why Your Book Isn’t Selling, I admit I haven’t even read yet. I will do later today after work, but this first image had […]

  2. […] Source: Why Your Book Isn’t Selling […]

  3. […] If you’re self-publishing, you need to make your book look and sound great. Joel Friedlander explains how to work with cover artists and interior designers, Dan Balow shows how to choose a good title for your book, and Kristen Lamb explores why your book isn’t selling. […]

  4. […] — also in order to keep up levels of professionalism in self-publishing. We can’t, like Kristen Lamb so rightly says, hand the whole slush pile over to readers now. But it’s what is […]

  5. […] Key reasons a book isn’t selling, but every one of them can be fixed post from Kristen Lamb. Click her for her awesome website. […]

  6. […] Why Your Book Isn’t Selling […]

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