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Why Are Your Book Sales Down?

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

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In an online author group, an “author” (I use that term loosely) was getting frustrated by a sudden downturn in sales for her notebook, presumably a blank notebook. Another author chimed in, expressing discouragement about changes in her coloring book sales; even though her book had been selling, had some 5-star reviews, its Amazon BSR (best seller rank) was improving, and she was doing Amazon ads.

What is happening and why? Could it happen for your book? Can you do anything about it?

What Is Happening When You Have a Sudden Downturn in Book Sales?

The notebook author had been getting consistent sales for the past year. Then, in the past month, she had received zero sales. In her particular case, her sales may have been impacted by Amazon and KDP’s new policies on low content books, which had just recently gone into effect. These new policies may have reset categories and visibility for many existing journal and blank notebook products.

The other example author had been receiving daily sales for her coloring book, which trickled down to an occasional sale in spite of ads, some nice reviews, and improving best seller rank. Unlike the previous author, this author’s coloring book sales may have been impacted by a variety of market forces, primarily competition from new coloring books entering the market and greater competition for Amazon ads. Amazon Best Seller Rank is such a volatile number that changes literally every hour, that it would be impossible to accurately assess whether it was responsible for a decline in sales.

The one thing that unites these two authors’ stories is that their book sales were negatively impacted by forces beyond their control. While the coloring book author could boost her Amazon advertising spend to compensate for increasing competition, it would have to be a dramatic increase to move sales upward. But even that is not guaranteed to produce results.

Could a Sudden Book Sales Drop Happen to You?

It absolutely can.

Policy changes for Amazon or other self-publishing and book-selling platforms could be swift. When Amazon and KDP made the changes for low content books, it happened quite suddenly in May 2022. I don’t remember seeing any warning about it in emails from KDP.

Or one of your competitors could upload a slew of new books to KDP in one day that could easily increase the number of books that compete with yours. Similarly, competing Amazon advertisers could up their ad game instantly by buying more ads or pumping up their existing ad bids.

You have no control over these things. Worse is that you may have little to no warning when changes will occur, as in the low content book situation. This isn’t just a problem for self-publishing. This is the risk of doing business. It happens to the world’s largest corporations and governments, all the way down to individual authors.

Can You Do Anything About Sudden Downward Book Sales?

As you might expect from the preceding discussion, there’s little you can do prevent your books from suffering a surprising downturn in sales. However, there are things you can do to help minimize the impact that big changes can cause.

Monitor Your Book Sales and Advertising Weekly

Though you may only be paid royalties through KDP monthly, I recommend checking both your monthly book sales progress and Amazon advertising spend weekly. This will help you keep tabs on what’s happening with your books’ sales without being obsessive about it.

Particularly for Amazon advertising, checking ad spend and sales generated by your ads weekly can help identify when changes to ad bids are needed. Recommend looking at both year-to-date and month-to-month stats to prevent knee-jerk reactions to minor fluctuations in ad performance. If one of your ads is racking up costs for clicks without racking up sales, you need to revise your bids.

Recognize the Book Sales Cycle

Books, both traditional and self-published, go through what I call a waterfall sales cycle. Sales are highest at book launch, then can slow to a trickle once they become backlist titles.

Recognize, too, that there could be seasonal peaks and valleys for your book sales. Some of the fluctuation may depend on the book’s topic. But there are seasons through the year that can be slow for all books. Though books are popular gift items, it doesn’t mean that your book will experience a holiday sales bump. Again, it depends on the topic.

For example, since many of my nonfiction books and online courses discuss small business and self-publishing, I can see bumps in sales in January when people are setting New Year’s resolutions and goals.

Don’t Take It Personally

I often see authors blame themselves for changes in book sales. While it doesn’t hurt to see if there are things you can do to help smooth out your sales picture, many of the changes happening in the publishing markets cannot be controlled and have nothing to do with you. Don’t take any sales downturn as a judgment of you or your work.

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.

© 2022 Heidi Thorne