How (and Why) to Revise Your Book

If you have an older book that just isn’t selling the way it used to, you’re not alone. And maybe your older book could have been better to start with.  But, once your book has been out for a while, you may be wondering if it’s time to move on or keep moving forward with your book marketing plan.

There is not an easy answer to this. Unfortunately. And so my advice to you is not only largely dependent on the book itself, but also on your plans as a writer.

Because, if you are considering this book a one-and-done type situation, or, if you don’t ever plan to revise or update your book (especially if it’s non-fiction), then you may want to move one completely.

But for most of us indie authors, we don’t plan on being one-book wonders. And this is due to several things. First, we know that it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to retire from one book. The reality is, unless you’re already famous, you need more than one book to make enough money to never write another page again. And even some famous people don’t sell a ton of their books. It depends on the correlation between your audience’s needs and your book’s topic.

Second, most of us write because we love it. And, by the time our first book publishes, we may already have several more books waiting in the wings. Whether they’re already written or still in our head, we may have ideas for where we want the series to go.

And third, most often, even non-fiction writers usually have more to write about. As the news cycle changes, as technology changes, and as new studies are done. Or maybe we simply have more wisdom to impart to make the world be a better place or to better solve a problem.

If you fall in the category of writing as a passion, of wanting to retire from writing eventually, or having more to share with the world, and plan to do more, this article is for you. It’s for you even if you don’t plan to necessarily publish another book, but to keep publishing future editions of your existing title.

In this case, keep pushing it.

Does Your Book Need to Be Revised?

If your older book is still relevant, you may not need to revise it yet, though this varies to some extent for fiction vs. non-fiction. However, many of the guidelines for these books do apply in a crossover sense. Marketing you can do for one title, can also apply to others you’ve written. So how do you know if you need to revise?

Consider your Audience:

The first rule of revising a book is to see what other books have been written about your topic. Do an Amazon search for your keywords and come up with a list of 5 to 10 titles. Bonus if they’re selling well (aka have a low ranking on Amazon).

If you can’t find 5 to 10 titles, you may want to revisit your topic and whether or not you actually have an audience. But if you come to this conclusion, you may still have a book, you may just need to apply the principles of your book to a different topic.

How?

I once worked with an author who wrote a great book about living with chronic Lyme disease. And although awareness of Lyme is growing, it’s not a highly searched topic. So instead of exclusively marketing it as a book on Lyme disease, we did some research into her book and learned that some of her information and techniques also applied to other chronic illnesses. And, did you know that Lyme often masks itself as a host of other issues. So we helped the author come up with topics that aligned with hers and helped her market her books along those channels as well.

If you’re already planning to revise you book, you can include a nod to similarly aligned topics within your book. But if you are happy with what you’ve written and your research is still current, then you may want to make some simple marketing tweaks. More on that later in this article.

Find Any “Holes:”

Next, once you’ve found your 5 to 10 titles, do a quick review and see if there are any holes that they don’t cover that yours does. Or find holes that they aren’t answering that you have the answer to. If you can find a potential problem out there that you have the expertise to solve, then congratulations! You may have just found the revision your book needs to become a superstar.

Update Content as Necessary:

Now that you’ve found the holes, and determined what your audience needs, it’s time to start writing. Now, this isn’t exclusive to non-fiction either. As I mentioned above, some of these rules can apply to both fiction and non-fiction.  I’ve known some authors to update things like switching a character’s use of a Blackberry to an iPhone, or updating pop culture references.

Michael Jackson isn’t super current anymore. But the Kardashians are. Maybe your characters have never opened a computer or used a tablet. Time to give them a fresh lease on technology.

Most of this is pretty easily done with a few quick word searches and yes, it does mean that you have to reformat the book. But if you want to keep it fresh, or if you’re planning to use this book as a carrot to draw readers in to your newer books, this may be worth it.

Hire a Professional Editor:

Yep, even if you just changed a few things, hire a professional. Your work is never 100% perfect. Maybe your editor can help you identify more ideas to update. Or maybe they can find holes in what you’ve already updated. A good editor should make you want to primal scream sometimes. If they look at it once and it’s perfect to them, they are not the editor for you.

They should have references and sample books they have edited before. If they’re hesitant to share this information with you, do not walk, run.

Change Your Book Cover:

This is an odd trick, but it works. I’ve tried this a few times with books across fiction and non-fiction. What I’ve found is that changing up the older book’s cover can often help to spike the book on Amazon. More than that, a new cover can really help attract new readers, regardless of whether you’re revising your book or not.

Hire a Professional Designer:

Yep, you want to hire a professional designer too. I often write about the importance of a professional who is a neutral third party. Unless your budding artist niece is a book cover designer, you may not want to use her design for your cover. Save it for artwork inside your book. Similarly, don’t use your kids’ drawings. Don’t be afraid of hurting your best friend’s feelings. If they really want you to succeed, then they’ll understand.

Like a good editor, a good designer should have references and sample covers. And they should put something together that will stack up to your competition. So remember those 5-10 books we pulled up in our research early on? Your new cover should stack up to them. What do I mean by this? Well, there are certain elements that the audience of each genre or market comes to expect in books. A romance novel shouldn’t look like a business book. And a thriller shouldn’t look like self-help.

So if your business book has your own flair but looks more or less like a business book, then congratulations! If your romance looks like a thriller, then go back to the drawing board.

And another note on feelings. Don’t ask your best friends what they think about your existing cover. They won’t want to hurt your feelings. Go back to that neutral third party. However, if your designer comes back with a few options that you think fit the bill, then go ahead and share them with your social media audience to gauge their thoughts.  This will help them feel like you are truly connecting with them, and it can be a decent test market for the book’s covers. One may emerge a clear winner.

Consider a Pre-Order Campaign

This is a great way to build advance buzz for your book. Plus, they can really help you connect with new audiences. Not to mention the books you can sell in advance of publication. All are great reasons to do a pre-order.

There are several things to consider, and in fact, I recently wrote about 13 pre-order campaign strategies, so I won’t get too deep into those here. But, suffice it to say that from pricing to swag and social media, there are several great ways to really engage and make the most of your pre-order,

Once You’ve Revised Your Book and Ready to Publish, How Do You Build Momentum?

So now you’ve been through the revising process. Or maybe you’re still deciding whether or not you need to revise your book. There are a few things you can do to start building momentum for your book, whether older or not. Here are some things that are worth your time to consider.

Keep Those Reviews Coming: 

Reviews can easily make an older book look relevant. People are still reading it, still reviewing it, so it must be worth reading. Even just a few new reviews per month can make a huge difference. So do some outbound blogger and media pitching. And ask if people will post reviews to Amazon. Each time one of those comes in it triggers Amazon’s algorithm and makes your book seem more relevant to Amazon’s search engine.

Update Your Amazon Book Page:

One thing that shouldn’t stay static is your Amazon book page. I always recommend updating it when you update an older book, get an award, big new blurb, etc. Even sometimes just updating the copy can be helpful to refresh the page. In fact, it’s a good idea to run through your book page several times a year. You can use it to capitalize on seasons, current events, and any trending searches. Trust me when I say it’s worth it.

Run Regular eBook Promos:

Running regular promotions for your eBook can really help to keep up your momentum. I recommend trying one promo per month. This doesn’t mean you have to reduce the price to free each time, although free is powerful.

One month, you can discount the book by $2, or make it half-priced, and then another month, mark the eBook down to zero. It’s just a great way to keep the book top of mind with your audience. Plus, eBook promos done regularly can help trigger your Amazon algorithm.

And, make sure you really promote these promos to your audience, and again, on your book page. By stating that the discounted price is for a limited time in the book description, you may push people to buy right now.

Plus, there are lots of great sites you can list your eBook promotion on. They have a great following and it’s a great way to move more copies of your book and get it to surge upward on Amazon.

Play With Pricing:

Pricing, much like eBook promotions, is also a great way to play with the Amazon algorithm. Pricing a book at .99 cents for a day can really help boost purchases.

Again, make sure to share any promos/pricing changes to your social media fans. The needle won’t move far if you change your price in a vacuum. A note on this: I’ve had authors approach me, concerned that this will upset their readers and I haven’t found this to be the case. We all stumble on sale items after we’ve bought something. If you get a lot of flack, or find your readers are pretty vocal, offer them an Amazon gift card for $1 or whatever the pricing difference is (they have to show you proof of purchase).

When I had an author offer this, she got no takers – the readers were just satisfied that she was willing to honor the sale price. So if yours start making some noise, make it clear that you hear them. By acknowledging this, you may solve the problem. So unless you’re doing hefty discounts like $10 a book, most of them won’t be so upset that they never want to read your stuff again.

Tie into Current Media Hook:

There’s a trendy term for this: newsjacking. And with the media cycle moving faster and faster every day, it’s something you want to stay on top of. I’ve spoken with several seasoned journalists that have never before seen a media climate like this one.

While newsjacking mostly fits into the non-fiction category, it’s a great thing when you can find a national (or regional) angle to your book that the media might love. It’s also great if you’ve got a background with the subject matter. If you’re an expert in missile defense, and your book covers that topic, even fictionally, use it to your advantage! If you’re an expert in innovation, use that angle within your book’s framework.

I’ve known authors to do this for older books that are going on five or more years old who have done very well. You can use it to pitch media, or you even on your blog and in social media. Finding a great book hook that has some national interest can go a long way to getting more current attention for your book.

Keep Blogging, Stay Busy:

I see a lot of authors who seem to leave their own promotion party as soon as the book hits a year old. They stop blogging, rarely show up on social media anymore, and forget pitching. Events? What are those again?

But put your thinking hat on. What does this tell your potential readers? If you aren’t interested in your own book, why should they want to read it? Stay active on your blog, even if it’s just once a week. Get into your social media and keep talking, your readers are paying attention more than you think. And once you stop talking, they will move onto someone else.

So what can you share? There are a ton of great ideas to share on social media out there. In fact, I recently published a list of 50 things you can share to boost engagement on Facebook. But I think you’ll find that a lot of this relates to your blog and your newsletter, too. Share things that make your readers stand up and listen. Offer swag and giveaways. And really, be personal and have fun with it.

Every Update Deserves a Repitch:

If you update the older book in any way, you should consider a fresh repitch of it. The Amazon date may show that it was published in 2014 or 2015 – if you have made specific, helpful, or significant changes and you just republish the book to the same page (a lot of authors do this to keep the reviews in tact).

If this is the case, make sure that anyone you pitch knows that the book is newly updated and make sure your book description reflects that as well. For example, you could say something like: “Newly updated as of March 2018!” Make sure to use big, bold letters – so it’s easily visible at the top of the book description. The more prominent the better. And, as I mentioned, if you are pitching it to bloggers or reviewers, make sure they are aware of this as well.

Ultimately, it’s up to you, the author, to determine how relevant your book is at any given time. But, just because it’s been a year or two, or even more(!), since your older book was published, doesn’t mean that you can’t breathe new life into its marketability.  Just like eBook promotions don’t do anything in a vacuum, share any new information with your followers and in your newsletter. And maybe, giving your book a little kick will resuscitate it sufficiently to kick it to number one in its category!

So Maybe Your Revised Book Isn’t Ready Yet, What Can You Do To Keep Building Buzz?

Maybe your existing book is simply too old to do much with. Maybe it’s simply too late to ask for reviews for your book. What can you do?

Well your book may be old and may be hung up in the revision process, but you are not. What do I mean by this? Your expertise is still good. So why not leverage that in the meantime?

You can approach bloggers about writing guest content for them. Maybe a book excerpt, an author Q&A, or maybe a fun link trade. If you’ve got the chops for it, go after some of those bigger blogs and online resources.  Otherwise, maybe approach less-high profile bloggers who can still give you some nice exposure, but aren’t so tied to book street dates the way some of the very high profile bloggers are.

Exposure is exposure, whether it’s a review, mention, excerpt, or guest blog. Don’t just assume that because your book has aged, that it has completely aged out of the market as well. And if it seems that all the doors have closed, see if there are any windows anywhere that you can knock on.

The Bottom Line

Your career as an indie author is largely in your own hands. You’ll get out of it what you put into it. So don’t let one book’s performance stop you from doing more. In fact, by doing more, by continuing to write and republish as needed, you’ll see it pay off. Plenty of successful indie authors say that they’re glad they didn’t give up at three books, because it was the fourth or even fifth that really started to take off for them. The longer you stay in the game, the more it becomes a numbers and time game, and the less a game of chance.

The thing about book marketing is that there are two constants. First, pick your strategies and execute them consistently to see them pay off. Second, things change, and they change from year to year, so you need to be prepared to be flexible and update your strategies. Don’t be a slave to ROI, per se. And by that I mean, try multiple strategies at once and give them time before deciding that they don’t work. But, also don’t be afraid to try new things and innovate. You might just be at the forefront of a brand-new book marketing trend.

I’d really love to hear how your older book starts working for you with these new techniques and strategies. And, if you decide to revise your book, I’d love to hear from you as to what is working best.

If your book needs a revision, you now have the tools to make it happen and to make it a success. I’ve shared a ton of tips for deciding if you need to revise your book, and things to consider when you go to update it.  If it doesn’t need a revision in text, there are still some things you can update (like the cover and price) to give it another chance.  There are plenty of strategies you can work with things to make your older book work for you and ideas to make it surge up in Amazon’s rankings.

I can’t wait for you to make it happen! I wish you – and your book – the best of luck and success. I’m rooting for you.

***

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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