Has Your Self Published Book Become Irrelevant?
What if your self published book becomes irrelevant? Yes, it could happen. But what causes a book to become irrelevant? There are several factors, including:
- The subject is now irrelevant or passé. This is particularly a problem for nonfiction, especially that which deals with technology or more newsworthy topics. Technology can superseded or eliminated by a new development or product update. Similarly, any book on the current political administration will be moot when a new person is elected to office. Books on today’s hot diets fade when a new diet fad makes the scene.
- The genre is no longer hot. Popularity of genres and subject matter wax and wane. A while back, fiction involving vampires (Twilight), dystopian worlds (Hunger Games, Maze Runner), and magic/fantasy (Harry Potter, YA fantasy novels) were all the rage. Now, the vampire craze seems to have cooled a bit. The Harry Potter series ended with the seventh novel. So newly published fiction along these lines may struggle since readers may have moved on.
How Do You Know If Your Book is Irrelevant?
This should be obvious, but when your book becomes irrelevant, sales of your book decline rapidly, go flat for an extended period of time, or just stop altogether.
However, be aware of the waterfall sales cycle that is unique to books. Sales will naturally fall off after launch. So don’t immediately interpret that as irrelevance until you’ve monitored sales performance for at least a year or more after launch. If after an extended period of time, sales fail to stabilize and drop to near zero in spite of promotion and fan base building efforts, then you can more accurately determine that your title or this genre/niche trend may be in decline.
If you determine that your book sales are declining due to irrelevance, think very carefully whether it makes sense to publish future books of the same type. In monitoring your genre or niche, if you see less and less new entries of your type of book over time hitting the market, don’t keep publishing more and more of the same, hoping to jumpstart sales. Also, don't use past sales figures for your previous books as evidence that you'll have success with similar books in the future.
Is a Book the Best Way to Deliver Your Content?
Books in all formats (print, eBook, audio book) are a great way to deliver fiction content. Even if the subject or genre becomes irrelevant from a sales perspective, it can still be offered and make some sales for years to come.
However, for nonfiction, you need to decide if a book is the best vehicle for delivering your content since the subject may change so frequently and dramatically that new editions need to be published regularly, sometimes annually or more often, to keep a book from becoming irrelevant. This can be a drain on resources, time, and money.
Consider whether other channels and formats such as blogs, online courses, or podcasts might be better suited. Not only do readers expect these other channels to provide the most current content, they can often be updated quickly and easily as changes in the subject occur.
For example, my Udemy course lectures, many of which have a significant tech component, can constantly be updated with the latest information so that my content is always current. Offering it in a book would require so many changes that I’d have multiple editions floating around Amazon, causing confusion for potential readers. So online courses are a better way to deliver this content.
Concentrate on Evergreen Content
Fiction genres may never completely go out of vogue, although sales may flatten out for the future.
Even for heavily tech-dependent topics I write about, I keep my books about them as evergreen as possible. For these books, I concentrate on strategies that don’t change much, as opposed to specific how-to information which changes constantly.
Publish When Hot Before It Becomes Not
Publish quickly while the trend is hot, but realize that it could go from hot to not just as quickly. Luckily, since you can typically self publish faster than going the traditional route, you can hop on trends. Just don’t be disappointed when sales and royalties go flat or dry up after a short time on the market.
How I Deal with My Books that Have Become Irrelevant
I write business nonfiction. Of course, the world of business and technology is constantly changing. So, as you might expect, I’ve had to deal with a couple of my books becoming irrelevant.
One book was on text message marketing. It was a book of practical tips for small businesses who wanted to tap into the new mobile marketing trend. Some time after I published the book, the FCC, FTC, and other acronym agencies and regulations changed how text and telephone marketing was done. While the strategies were sound regardless of how the laws changed, I didn’t want small businesses to consider a marketing technology that would be a huge and continuing investment in legal fees, technology, marketing, and constant updates. So I unpublished the book since it wasn’t going to be viable for a large swath of my reading audience. As well, it would have been a big investment for me to keep pumping out updated editions.
My other books are on social media and email marketing. Like the text marketing book, these focus on the strategies which are evergreen. They haven’t sold many copies over the years, due to high competition in these topics. I’m just leaving them up for sale for the moment, but may unpublish them at some point.
Another book I wrote on QR code marketing issues is still useful for those that do use QR codes in marketing materials. I did a fair amount of sales of the title in 2013 to 2014. Surprisingly, I still sell some copies of it, even though marketing with QR codes is now off trend. These barcodes (that’s what they are) are now just being used like they should be, facilitating logistics and data collection. Since the book is making some sales, I’m leaving it up for sale. But should that change, it may be unpublished, too.
Does Your Book Just Need Refreshing and Repackaging?
One of my publisher friends was working with one of her authors on redoing an existing book series. Sales had been dropping. The plan was to update the book cover designs to be more cohesive, number the volumes, and update the series’ branding, in other words, the “packaging.” The actual content wasn’t really going to be a major part of the refresh. However, she commented that she had done this with other books in the past and that it was a lot of work.
So how can you decide if an investment in refreshing a self published book or series is worth the investment?
As I’ve discussed in other posts and resources, only about 1 percent of your total fan base actually buys your book. So there is sales potential to one’s existing fan base. A refreshed series offers the opportunity to market a “new and improved,” updated, or collector edition to those fans who haven’t already purchased, maybe even selling to some who already have the book.
The challenge is that you need to determine if the dated packaging or marketing was what actually made the book irrelevant. This can be very difficult to assess, even if you were a big trade publisher.
Especially these days, in the era of online book sales and growth in consumption of audio book editions, packaging elements for print are less of an issue when it comes to sales impact. As discussed earlier, the natural waterfall sales cycle may be at work, too, as it is with all books. Peak possibilities will be at launch, and then they will flatten out or even disappear over time. You might be pushing against a natural sales cycle.
So how could you assess the potential sales for a refreshed book or series?
Look at the sales over time for the original publication. Would the normal post-book launch sales volume and profits recoup the refresh cost in a short period of time? If it would take several months, even years, of normal sales volume to recoup those costs, the refresh could be a losing proposition. Your sales volume of the refreshed or repackaged could be similar, even less, than the original publication because your most loyal fans probably already have the book. Unless there’s something super special in the refresh, they won’t be rebuying it. That's one reason why sales of your refreshed book could be less than that of the original.
Another publisher friend of mine who did updated and collector editions for one of his most popular titles received good sales with every repackaged edition, even to fans who already had the book. But that was likely due to his rabid niche fan base. That is very rare. So in addition to reviewing past sales to forecast sales of a refreshed edition, assess the size and strength of your fan base.
The hard reality is that a book or series may have already achieved peak sales in its original publication. The other hard reality is that the content may not be something the market wants now. Don’t get lulled into thinking that cosmetic changes to the publication will magically turn sales around. And if you haven’t done any fan base building and maintenance since your book launch, that could be causing a sales drop that can’t be fixed with cosmetic packaging changes.
One other thing to seriously consider in a book or series refresh is offering new formats, such as audio editions if appropriate for your material. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at sales I’ve received from publishing audio editions of existing print/eBook editions I’ve had on the market for years; last year my audio book sales outpaced my combined print and eBook sales of my existing titles. Yes, it could take some investment in time, talent, and money to develop a new format. If you have a shorter book in your catalog, you could use it to test out a new format to see if that might be the refresh needed to jumpstart sales.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2020 Heidi Thorne