Top 10 Reasons Your Self-Published Book Isn't Selling

Updated on November 4, 2017
heidithorne profile image

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing expert, nonfiction book editor, author of 21+ books and eBooks, and a former trade newspaper editor.

Source

“Why isn’t my book selling?” I think most self-published authors agonize over this issue at some point, or even most of the time. From my own experience selling a self-published book on Amazon, as well as observing the challenges of other authors, I’ve identified several reasons why a book isn't selling.

1. Too Much Competition

It's been said that self publishing has democratized the publishing world. That's true. Almost everyone can self publish on the likes of Amazon's Createspace and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). And that's the problem.

Just to give you an idea of the magnitude of competition for any self-published book...

In September 2016, R. R. Bowker—the ISBN number registrar in the United States—reported that there were over 725,000 ISBN registrations for self-published works. Keeping in mind that since Amazon's KDP eBook publishing program does not require an ISBN, this number is a low estimate of what's really out there. Plus, this doesn't include ISBN registrations for traditionally published works.

Amazon's Kindle Unlimited (KU) monthly book reading subscription program advertises that there are over 1 million titles available. That includes both traditional and self-published titles. Plus, that's only those titles that are eligible for and participate in the KU program. There are certain to be many, many more titles that do not participate in the program, but are available for sale.

And, as reported in 2010 on Fast Company, Google estimates there are over 129 million books in the world. That was the estimate in 2010. That number is sure to have ballooned even more since then.

That's a LOT of competition! The publishing world, both self and traditional, is a noisy, crowded space, with offerings ranging from long forgotten ancient works to the latest eBook published a few moments ago. So this is a legitimate reason why any individual self-published title will struggle in any marketplace.

While the sheer volume of books of all types can dwarf any self-published book's chances for sales, that doesn't mean that authors can't improve their chances of making sales and earning royalties. But it all comes down to the book's marketing and mission.

2. Not Knowing the Book's Direct Competition

It’s clear that any self-published book will have an overwhelming amount of competition from every possible book on the planet. But there is going to be a specific subset of books and authors that will directly compete. To help the readers see your book as a potential choice, you need to position your book near these relevant competitors.

3. Writing a Book in a Vacuum

I’m always shocked when I ask authors about the audience for their books and they don’t have a clue. Essentially, they're writing a book in a vacuum. Then they're surprised when it doesn't sell because it doesn't resonate with readers.

4. Writing Where There's No Market

As discussed above, it’s wise to see what other similar books are in the marketplace. If there are very few or no books even close to the one being written, it could signal that no market exists for it. The book may be too unique to attract sales. Or there may not be enough potential buyers and the market will be exhausted quickly.

5. Writing Without an Author Platform

If authors don’t have a following on email, blogs, social media, and mass media eager to read what they write—usually referred to as an author platform—sales will be slow or nonexistent since a following must be built after the fact. Create the market, then create a book for it.

Create the market, then create a book for it.

— Heidi Thorne

6. Book Cover Issues

Many self-published book covers (and interiors, too) look amateurish. I definitely recommend that self-published authors save some cash and use free or low cost cover creation tools and services. However, don’t make it look like junk! Again, looking at competitors’ offerings, especially those that are traditionally published, can show what might appeal to the target market.

And always make sure cover art is easily viewed in a tiny size that would be typical on online book product pages. In today's online world, that can have quite an impact on sales.

7. Price Too High or Low

This is another instance where knowing the competitive landscape for a self-published book is essential. What are other similar books in the genre or category charging? Pricing a book in line with others can also help position a book as a choice for readers.

Don’t buy into the notion that pricing a book at $0.99 will automatically attract sales! That may even make the book look like it has less value. Conversely, charging way too much could cause readers to pass the book over in favor of similar lower-cost options. Figure out an ideal price point based on cost and competition!

8. Unrealistic Book Sales Expectations

Even if their books are selling, some self-published authors are disappointed with their volume of sales. Their expectations in terms of volume could be based on wishes.

The reality is that self-published book sales will initially be made to one's immediate pool of family and friends. And sales may not extend much farther than that without more extensive and expensive marketing and PR. Backlist titles can bring in sales long after a book is published, but they will probably be sporadic.

9. "Sell" Is a Four-Letter Word

Authors who fancy themselves too much as artists may bristle at the thought of having to actually sell or market their self-published books. Whether their resistance is caused by arrogance, ignorance, or fear, their books languish in the no-sell zone. In self publishing, authors must come to grips with the fact that they are marketers.

10. Is the Book Just Bad?

I've saved the worst possiblity for last. Many self-published books are just bad. Sometimes I'm just embarrassed for the author!

But I've also placed this problem last because I also know that there are a lot of hardworking self-published authors who do create great books. In these cases, the lack of sales can be attributed to one of the foregoing issues. So continue to do great writing, but also do great marketing!

In self-publishing, authors must come to grips with the fact that they are marketers.

— Heidi Thorne

Disclaimer: Both the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparation of this information. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and both parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice and strategies presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional advisor where and when appropriate. Neither the publisher nor author shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential or punitive, arising from or relating to your reliance on this information.

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Heidi Thorne

    Comments

    Submit a Comment

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      12 months ago from Chicago Area

      Linda, I wonder if people really knew what it took to successfully self publish, would they still do it? So I threw this out there in the hopes that even at least one starry-eyed self publisher might get a dose of reality. Thanks for stopping by and commenting! Happy Halloween!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      12 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for sharing the information, Heidi. It's something that everyone considering self-publishing should read.

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      12 months ago from Chicago Area

      Peg, no kidding! The numbers are just so overwhelming, it's a wonder any self published books get sold at all. Thanks so much for stopping by and joining the conversation! Have a Happy Halloween week!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      12 months ago from Chicago Area

      Kristen, absolutely true! Poor--or no!--editing is one of the biggest issues with self publishing. Since I also am an editor, I've seen the issues you note here. Thanks for adding your professional experience to the conversation! Have a great Halloween week!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      12 months ago from Chicago Area

      Bill, a lot of your Mailbag questions (and a terrific comment from our friend FlourishAnyway) were certainly inspiration for this article. Thanks for stopping by and I'll see you in the Mailbag this week!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      12 months ago from Chicago Area

      Flourish, like you, I'm definitely not one to mince words. Thanks for stopping by and chiming in. Have a great Halloween week ahead!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      12 months ago from Chicago Area

      Donna, I think you're definitely not alone in your thinking! I think it will dissipate as time goes on and self publishing becomes more of the norm than the exception. Thanks for adding that insight to the conversation! Have a Happy Halloween Week!

    • PegCole17 profile image

      Peg Cole 

      12 months ago from Dallas, Texas

      From a numbers standpoint alone, the competition for sales is astounding. Along with the rest of your clearly detailed reasons, it truly explains the challenges self published authors face.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      12 months ago from Northeast Ohio

      Heidi, great insightful thoughts on why those self-pub books aren't selling like hot cakes. Another reason could be it's poorly edited and feels like a rough draft, or the author didn't know the right genre for their books. (I've came across this issue twice, when I had to read two e-books for Upwork from my client last month and had to give them a low-rated review with only edit advice.)

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      12 months ago from Olympia, WA

      A reality check if I ever saw one. Thanks for issuing it. This needs to be required reading for all writers.

      I completely agree with everything you wrote. I hear complaints all the time through the Mailbag series...why won't it sell....and without exception the answer to that question is in this fine article.

      Happy Sunday to you, Heidi!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      12 months ago from USA

      You tell it like it is! Fabulous article with truths that needed to be told.

    • purl3agony profile image

      Donna Herron 

      12 months ago from USA

      Hi Heidi - I must admit I'm just getting used to the idea of self-published books, mainly by reading your hubs. Generally when I hear of self-published books, I think that the book wasn't good enough to be published by an established publishing house. I know this is an out-dated assumption, particularly in our modern digital age. But I think I'm probably not alone in this out-dated way of thinking and I wonder if this plays a part in some book sale issues?

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, toughnickel.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://toughnickel.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)