Penny Sansevieri, CEO and founder of Author Marketing Experts, Inc. (AME) and Adjunct Professor at NYU, is a best-selling author and internationally recognized book marketing and media relations expert. Her company is one of the leaders in the publishing industry and has developed some of the most cutting-edge book marketing campaigns.
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When indie authors come to me and ask “Should I just give up?” it’s hard to answer. Without knowing a lot of the history of the book or what the author has done, it’s a bit like trying to diagnose a patient you’ve never seen. There are, however, some tell-tale signs that you can breathe new life into your book. Here is a list of thing you can try before throwing in the towel. They might just help improve stagnant sales.
Are You Doing Enough?
Let’s start with the obvious – are you doing enough? And by enough I mean are you working it? I completely understand that everyone’s version of “working it” varies, so let me expand on what I mean – exactly.
How complex is your marketing pie? If you don’t look at your book marketing efforts as a pie with one piece for this, another piece for that – you should. And it’s okay if sometimes half of the pie is your speaking gigs, if that’s what you do. In other cases, the pie chart may reflect half of it being a strong social media focus or review pitching, or…etc. A good/solid campaign is one that combines a variety of efforts that combine to help make your book marketing a cohesive whole. They don’t all have to be groundbreaking or costly, but they should be things that work for your market (if you don’t know if they do, keep reading because I’ll get to that in a minute).
What else are you doing? Sometimes we get authors who hire us and then do nothing else, and I mean nothing else – they sit around and wait for sales to pour in. That never (ever) works. A marketing/publicity firm is just one piece of the pie. We are not the entire pie and I think any marketing and publicity firm worth their salt will tell you the same thing.
Are you doing the right things? If you’re putting a lot of effort into your book promotion, but none of it seems to be moving the needle, then take a step back to review what you’re doing. Have you ever taken a couple of hours to profile your market? By this, I mean dig deep into what motivates them to buy, where they find new books and/or how they buy. Not sure how to figure this out? You can start by looking at other, successful authors in your market. And I’m not talking about brands. So stay away from big brands like James Patterson, Nick Sparks, etc. because these folks have huge bases. Someone like Stephen King could hop on the now defunct MySpace tomorrow and millions of his fans would no doubt join him there. Instead I want you to look at authors who are doing well, not household name well, just on the first page of Google (or sometimes the second, depending on how cluttered their genre is). Then see what they do on a regular basis. So what social sites are they on, do they blog and if so, how often and what about? This will help you refine your book marketing plan.
Success leaves clues. By researching other authors in your market, you’ll get a pretty good idea of where you should be putting your effort. And once you’ve done this, you have my permission to punt anything that isn’t working for you – this includes discontinuing social media sites you don’t need to be maintaining, etc. When it comes to social media, you don’t need to be everywhere, just everywhere that matters.
Let’s Talk Reviews
I can always tell if a book is struggling by the reviews. Maybe there are just a few of them and the book is a year or more old. Ten reviews or fewer on a year-old book is never a good sign. Also if reviews are largely negative, there’s probably a reason why. As examples, maybe your book cover, title and/or book description is telling the reader one thing, but the book addresses something totally different. One time we worked with a book that got a blurb from a big time blogger who called the book: The “next Fifty Shades of Grey.” And what she meant was that it would be a big deal, but when we put that quote in the book description, a lot of readers thought they were buying a BDSM romance, which they were not. And several reviews reflected that. So, while that’s a smaller example of what I’m trying to express here, by all means do not mislead your readers because it will backfire.
Additionally, one of the best ways to help keep a book alive, is to keep getting reviews for it. I’ve seen this even in older books (meaning a year or more) that are continually getting new reviews. It freshens up your book page and tells your potential reader that it’s still viable.
The flip side of this is that reviews are also important to your Amazon algorithm, so continually adding to your reviews helps to boost your book on that site, in terms of visibility.
Is your book still relevant? Really? If your book is fiction, then the answer is probably yes, but if it’s non-fiction, you may have to rethink how viable the book is. As your book sits in the market, the market it serves begins to change and most readers want current books – especially when it comes to non-fiction so be really careful here. You can release updated editions of the book and republish them to your Amazon page. I do that with my How to Sell Books by the Truckload book on Amazon, I will update it periodically and just republish it.
But if your book has aged and you’re still finding it challenging to market, I can almost guarantee you this won’t get any easier as the book gets older, so consider updating it and republishing it. Also, if you re-release it you’ll be able to treat it like a new book which means maybe a repitch to bloggers or media or whatever it was that you focused on the first time around.
Your Book Description
What is your book description saying about your book? Have you had anyone with some clear objectivity read it? Book descriptions, especially the one you put on Amazon, can make all the difference, and really help make your book shine. I won’t go into this a ton here, because I did a blog post on it (you can read it here), but your book description needs to invite readers, not repel them. Also, when was the last time you refreshed your book description? This is especially good if you’ve recently updated the book content, won an award, or gotten some great new blurb for your book!
Your Book Cover
An author recently sent us his book, and the cover was a painting someone had done for him. It looked like a part of the female anatomy. Honestly. We were not able to work together, but due to the cover, I can almost guarantee you he won’t sell any books. Maybe a few to his family and friends, but that will be the end of it. If you aren’t sure if your cover is up to snuff, why not take it to a bookstore and compare it to ones on the shelf. Or even better, ask a bookstore employee if they like the cover. Tell them you’re doing research “for a friend” so they won’t feel bad telling you it’s a bad cover, if that’s the way they feel. Friends and family don’t want to hurt your feelings so you can ask them, but take their feedback with a grain of salt.
If you’ve gotten some feedback from people that your cover is confusing or difficult to see or figure out. Then maybe it’s time to think about doing a new/updated cover.
Your Book Title
This is a biggie for a lot of people. Naming a book is kind of like naming your kid, right? Your book is probably going to be stuck with that title for the rest of its existence so you want to make sure it’s the best title it can be. Here’s the problem: most authors don’t do enough research before they create a book title. They think up something or maybe use an industry catch phrase or something like that and call it good, right? Wrong. Much like your book cover, your title is significantly important and must be benefit driven. Consumers buy on emotion. They are either trying to lose weight, get healthy, be entertained, find love – whatever their reason your book title needs to reflect that. If it isn’t or you’re not sure – again ask people who can be objective.
I see this a lot, books that aren’t priced right for the industry. I won’t spend a ton of time on this because we did a blog post on this a while back (read about book pricing here), but suffice it to say that your book should be priced for a sale, not so you can make back all the money you invested. A few weeks ago an author asked me if I could promote his book that he priced at $75. Yeah, likely not – when I suggested he lower his book price he said: How am I supposed to earn back the money I’ve spent on it so far?
I can almost guarantee you, much like the author with the ve-jay-jay book cover, he won’t sell a single book. Even friends and family will balk at a $75 book price.
Throwing Money At It
I have no problem with an author who wants to spend $20,000 on their book marketing campaign. However, what I do have a problem with is if that author wants to spend that kind of money, without doing anything on his or her own and, just to see if throwing more money at it moves the needle. If you’re putting a huge investment into your campaign and nothing has happened, go back through this checklist and see if you meet all of this criteria.
Maybe after reading this you are thinking: “Well, my book could use some work…” – that’s great! Now you’ve identified the potential problems and you can get to work fixing them. The thing about a book reboot is that it’s one of the best ways to give your book a new leg up – maybe with a new book cover, updated content, a new title. If you love your book and topic, but see a few mistakes you made, why not do this?
When I was first publishing books I wrote a book called Get Published Today. Great book, terrible cover. Yes, even marketing people make mistakes. Granted, this was 15 or so years ago and I know much more now than I did then but still – the cover was bad, bad. So when I rewrote the book (updated the content) I got a new cover which I liked better, but still felt like it needed more. It wasn’t until the third edition that I feel like I hit a home run. Sometimes it takes a few tries. And sure you can hire book shepherds to help you along, or pricey cover designers but if you’re working on a limited budget, you may only want to spend $500 on your cover and you don’t have the money to spend on a book shepherd. Let’s face it, most of us are going this road alone and frankly, we need all the advice we can get.
So if you feel like you’re ready to throw in the towel, take a closer look at these ideas. Maybe you’re over it, being an author I mean – but for most of us, being an author isn’t like learning how to cook French food. It’s not some passing hobby we try once or twice and then sort of forget about. It’s our passion. We have ideas for more books and want to keep creating and, maybe someday, be able to make a living off of this. And wouldn’t that be fab?
Remember, failure isn’t a feeling, it’s a fact. So make sure you have all your facts straight before you throw in the towel.