The Complete List: Five Great Things That Don’t Sell Lots of Books… And Two Things that Do

Five Great Things That Don’t Sell Lots of Books…

These are all essential and important details that can help you sell books, but they are not the most important factors in selling a book.

Two Things That Sell a Lot of Books…

These are the two most important factors in selling books according to my own experience and to other authors I know.

Two Things that Sell a Lot of Books: #2 A Trusted Name with an Extensive Platform

Whether you have a popular web site, a radio show, an informative newsletter, or professional credentials, selling a book requires a personal connection. Selling a lot of books requires this level of personal trust on a large scale.

While reviews, social media, and web sites are all part of extending a marketing platform, these pieces should not be confused with making very personal connections with readers. Twitter and blogs are great, but they have their limits.

The Kind of Connections Authors Need

From what I can tell, my greatest success in selling books has come from personally talking with readers whether through personal conversations, events, e-mail, or interaction on web sites.

When I have a chance to share my passion for my book, I have a much greater chance of convincing readers to spend their hard-earned money on it. However, reaching potential readers with your personal message and creating enough trust for them to spend money on your book requires a fairly significant number of connections with readers.

I personally would not endorse every method used by authors out there to sell books and some will be more difficult for new authors to use effectively, especially radio and television, but there are lots of ideas out there about building a platform that will help you speak directly with readers and develop a level of trust for you and your book from a monthly newsletter with valuable information to a niche-focused public event.

How to Connect with Readers

Building a platform begins with the question, “How can I effectively connect with readers interested in my topic?” Keep in mind, this isn’t the same as advertising, and posting to a web site is probably the least personal way to do this, making it generally less effective.

I’m building my e-mail newsletter, working on some videos, leading workshops with local community and arts organizations, and connecting with various podcasts, but the possibilities are endless. I’ve been encouraged to hear from a respected author and friend that he finds my newsletter very valuable, and many of those who attend my workshops give me positive feedback. It’s good to know I’m doing a few things right, even if there’s always a lot more to do.

The hardest part about building these connections with readers is starting small. You may begin with twenty newsletter subscribers and workshops with only five attendees. However, if you continue to make connections, to help people with your material, and to build on those relationships, you should be able to connect with enough readers who will not only trust you enough to buy your book, they may also recommend it to others.

Previously in this Series:

Two Things That Sell a Lot of Books: #1

Also in this series: Five Great Things That Don’t Sell a Lot of Books

Great Endorsements

A Great Forward

Great Reviews

Social Media

A Web Site

Two Things That Sell a Lot of Books: #1 A Well-Written Book Targeted to an Audience

There are many factors that determine whether a book sells. After taking my own crack at publishing and reading about the experiences of other writers, I’ve learned about the things I’ve done well and the areas where I need to improve. I’m speaking pretty specifically about my experiences with nonfiction writing, though I’d say that a fiction writer, with a few tweaks here and there, could generally follow the same principles.

While authors can’t control the economy, the trends in popular culture, and even unexpected reader preferences, there are two factors that will disproportionately influence how well their books sell.

Today we’ll cover the first thing that sells a lot of books: A well-written book that is targeted to a specific but wide audience.

Writers can’t simply sell books based on the merit of an idea or the quality of their writing—though these things are very important. They need to write clear sentences, paragraphs, and chapters that guide readers from chapter to chapter and convince them to keep reading and, on a related note, address the needs of a wide but specific audience.

Write Clear Chapters That Engage Readers

After reading what other writers do when composing drafts of their books, I’m often impressed with the number of drafts they complete and the detail of their revisions. They think about word choice, introductions, conclusions, transitions, and edit with a fine-tooth comb several times. The amount of text some delete is astounding.

Good writing isn’t an accident.

My own editor encouraged me to think about why I’m making a particular point, how it relates to the next point, and how each point ties in with the larger argument or concept of my book. As I read bestselling authors I’ve noticed their skill at hooking readers with an problem, a concept, or a mystery. They convince me that I need to keep reading in order to find that information.

Step-by-step, a good book walks readers through a story, an argument, or lesson. The writer can’t abandon the reader part-way through the book. No matter how good the idea or how important the information, if readers feel overwhelmed with information or confused by dots that aren’t connected, they’ll put the book down. Typically, writers will fail in this regard because they have ignored the closely related principle of writing for an audience.

Address the Needs of an Audience

While good writing is important, authors must also adopt a targeted approach to their book’s intended audience. Besides merely addressing a need of potential readers, authors should address that need in a way that is accessible and hopefully remarkable. When many readers find themselves inserting caveats such as “I liked this book, but I found it hard to follow at times…” some wind is taken out of its word-of-mouth appeal.

I have learned how easy it is to get wrapped up in covering my bases or in addressing every possible angle of a topic that I miss readers in the process. Most readers of my book don’t take any issue with my ideas, but some weren’t too happy about the amount of information I included. Though many readers were tracking with me, I’ve found that I sometimes warn new readers, who may be completely new to theology, about two chapters in particular that are a bit… dense. In other words, my desire to be thorough trumped my ability to connect with all of my intended readers.

We can pick up books from the library, look up information online, and hear authors talk about their books on the radio, therefore, if writers want readers to say, “I really need to own that book,” and to take the next step of saying, “All of my friends need to own that book too,” we need to get into the minds of our audience. This is an ongoing struggle to figure out the best way to connect our ideas with the preferences and needs of our readers.

It’s easy enough to think of an idea or concept that may appeal to a wide group of people, but to present that idea in a way that addresses the questions and concerns of a broad group of readers, meets a felt-need, walks readers through step-by-step, and prompts them to tell others is the holy grail of publishing—that is, if you ask me.

The next step…

Our next topic in this series will be the second thing that sells a lot of books: A Trusted Name with an Extensive Platform

Also in this series: Five Great Things That Don’t Sell a Lot of Books

Great Endorsements

A Great Forward

Great Reviews

Social Media

A Web Site

Five Great Things That Don’t Sell Lots of Books: #5 A Web Site

It’s common wisdom today that every author needs a web site. A web site is a lynch pin for any social media strategy, and it is an essential place where authors can build up an audience of readers. Seth Godin tells authors to invest about three years into making a web site successful.

To really make a web site work takes quite a bit of time and effort.

For starters you need to develop a plan for composing posts and learning how to write for a blog. A good place to start includes:

  • Writing a series each week on a particular topic.
  • Keeping your word count to a lean 200-400 words.
  • Focusing on “How to” content to make sure you connect with readers.

Besides this you’ll need to make sure your web site is optimized for search engines, that your posts appear on social media, and that you’re leaving useful comments on the sites of fellow bloggers. Are you feeling a bit dizzy yet? Well, I’m leaving a lot out!

The trouble is that authors can invest a ton of time into their web sites and even draw a nice crowd of readers without necessarily succeeding in selling a lot of books. In addition, a web site can fall on hard times when writing and promoting a book comes into play—especially for writers who have day jobs!

Great content and high numbers of readers are certainly important for any author looking to promote his/her work. Readers need to be able to find you and to learn about your writing based on your site.

However, a web site is not an active marketing tool. Rather, it’s more of a landing and conversion tool. Marketing campaigns need a web site that readers can visit, but having a web outpost does not guarantee readers. Web sites can be designed poorly or marketing can fail to draw in readers.

By all means invest in a web site, but don’t forget there are two other things you can do that may well effectively sell more books in the long run… That’s where we’re going next.

The rest of this series:

Great Endorsements

A Great Forward

Great Reviews

Online Social Media

A Web Site

 

Two Thing That Do

A well-written book that is targeted to a specific but wide audience.

A Trusted Name with an Extensive Platform

Five Great Things That Don’t Sell a Lot of Books: #4 Online Social Media

Social media is possibly the hardest topic on this list to write about because there will be exceptions to what I have to say, and cultivated properly, social media can do quite a bit to spread the word about a book. Once something goes viral an author may well have it made.

While there is much to commend about building up a presence on social media, and it can work over time, I’ve spoken with plenty of experienced publishers and marketing experts who caution authors about the danger of giving up on traditional marketing tools in favor of, as one put it, sitting at their computers all day to do online networking.

Don’t get me wrong, it can be incredibly powerful, especially when someone can read something you’ve written or a video you’ve made and click through to a sample of your book and then a sales page.

However, many times social media may only result in more blog views, followers, and interest rather than actual book sales. Online tools may still only make a weak connection with readers.

You can take Seth Godin’s discussion of faux followers vs. viral growth as a great example of this. Someone could spend a lot of time amassing followers on Twitter or friends on Facebook, but how many of these connections will actually become invested in your book, buy it, read it, and tell their friends about it? Godin suggests, “A slightly better idea defeats a much bigger but disconnected user base every time,” but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

In order for book sales and referrals to happen, you certainly need to use social media and to become a contributing member of the community. However, for people to actually buy your book there needs to be a bit more going on than a weak social media connection. While social media is essential, it’s not powerful enough on its own to help authors put books into the hands of readers.

The rest of this series:

Great Endorsements

A Great Forward

Great Reviews

Online Social Media

A Web Site

 

Two Thing That Do

A well-written book that is targeted to a specific but wide audience.

A Trusted Name with an Extensive Platform

Five Great Things That Don’t Sell a Lot of Books: #3 Reviews

We’ve all picked up a movie at the video store with a great blurb on the cover from someone at a major newspaper who said, “Best film of the year!” Little did we know:

a) This person said this on January 2nd.

b) This person doesn’t like the same kinds of movies as yourself.

I’ve found that with friends and family it can be very hard to recommend a book or a movie. At a recent gathering of friends several discussed their take about the Twilight series. To a person they all thought the books were poorly written, but some admitted that the books made for great leisure reading.

Since books can serve a variety of functions, providing an escape or valuable information, it’s hard to discern based on a review and even a friend’s recommendation whether a book will be a good fit. A reviewer may praise an author’s use of description and ability to set a scene, but perhaps the story doesn’t connect. A review may lambast an author for writing a book lacking essential information about a topic, but perhaps you found just enough to make it helpful.

Reviews are a wonderful tool for drawing attention to worthy books. They may play a significant role in convincing some readers, who may have been sitting on the fence, to pick up a book.

However, when it comes to making that personal connection with readers a review is still a very limited marketing tool. Reviews should be part of every author’s publicity plan, but a good review does not automatically translate into book sales. Those who rely on them to do this will only be disappointed.

The rest of this series:

Great Endorsements

A Great Forward

Great Reviews

Online Social Media

A Web Site

 

Two Thing That Do

A well-written book that is targeted to a specific but wide audience.

A Trusted Name with an Extensive Platform

Five Great Things That Don’t Sell a Lot of Books: #2 A Great Forward

Besides lining up a great group of endorsers, I also asked a very popular author and blogger to write the forward for my book. I reasoned that any kind of positive endorsement from him would lead to instant sales.

However, the more I talked with people about the forward, I realized that many hadn’t even noticed it. Once they read it, they found it a persuasive case for buying my book. However, I began to realize that forwards aren’t quite as powerful a force for book sales than I had imagined.

The forward certainly leant me a little more credibility and I’m very glad that I had it, but it wasn’t the earth-shattering force that I expected it to be.

While a great forward should be the goal of any author, we can make the mistake of trusting things such as endorsements or forwards to do a lot more than they are designed to do. I’m very grateful for my colleague’s kind words, but his forward could only do so much by way of actually selling books.

I didn’t realize that selling lots of books had more to do with my own abilities.

 

The rest of this series:

Great endorsements

A Great Forward

Great reviews

Social Media

A Web Site

 

Two Thing That Do

A well-written book that is targeted to a specific but wide audience.

A Trusted Name with an Extensive Platform

Five Great Things That Don’t Sell Lots of Books: #1 Great Endorsements

books and pages I confess that when I worked on publishing my first book that I thought landing a few great endorsements would just about guarantee success. Whenever I read a positive nod from a writer I admire, I usually consider buying the book.

From what I can tell, I assembled a pretty good group of endorsers. They were all respected and published authors in their own rights, and they said very kind things about my book.

While I’m sure that some folks picked up my book based on their endorsements, an endorsement can only take readers so far. An endorsement may convince them to pick up your book and look it over, but a potential reader’s interest may well stop there.

I invested a lot of time into the endorsement process, which I don’t necessarily regret, but I think I put way too much trust into it. In addition, I probably didn’t work as hard on some other things that were much more important since I trusted that the endorsers would expand the appeal of my book.

Endorsements are great, but they aren’t the most important factor in selling books.

The rest of this series:

Great endorsements

A Great Forward

Great reviews

Social Media

A Web Site

 

Two Thing That Do

A well-written book that is targeted to a specific but wide audience.

A Trusted Name with an Extensive Platform

Five Great Things That Don’t Sell Lots of Books… And Two Things That Do

I thought I’d done everything to give my book Coffeehouse Theology a chance to sell a lot of copies. I was very busy in the time leading up to the book’s release and afterwards with endorsements, reviews, blog tours, and social media buzz.

While there are a lot factors that go into a book’s sales from the marketing ability of a publisher to the state of the economy (which was at rock bottom at the time of my release), I’d like to process a few things in public about marketing my book and what I learned.

These are things that you the author can control. Results may vary depending on any number of factors, and the rules of publishing are generally made to be broken. However, there are some trends I have noticed.

The more I speak with other authors and industry professionals, the more I think I missed a few strategic opportunities to improve my book’s chances because I focused on developing some areas that were certainly important, but not quite as critical when it came to selling books. They may have helped sell some books, but they were not the most important factors when it came to selling LOTS of books.

I’ll spend this week and the next unpacking some of this a bit more, including how my publishing strategy has changed over the past year.

Here are the lists that I’ll dig into over the coming days:

Five Great Things That Don’t Sell Lots of Books

Trustworthy Endorsements

A Great Forward

Great Reviews

Social Media

A Web Site

 

Two Things That Sell Lots of Books

A well-written book that is targeted to the needs of a specific but wide audience.

A Trusted Name with an Extensive Platform (One note: the 5 things in the list above are part of a platform, but there is much more to a marketing platform than those 5 things)

Why You Have to Promote Your Blog or Quit

Earlier this week I wrote about the importance of writing a good blog post, but after a post is written and made available to all, your work is only half done. You need to work harder than ever to make sure people read it.

When I started reading blogs in 2004 and then started my own blog in 2005 there were three primary ways to drive traffic to your blog.

  • Share an RSS feed so that readers can subscribe.
  • Ask other blogs to list you on their blog roll.
  • Participate in the discussions on other blogs.

While some of these methods still work, especially the third one, the first two are not quite as relevant anymore. In fact, there are a few other ways to market your blog that may be even more necessary these days.

As I mentioned in my previous post, competition is fierce. There are a lot of great blogs out there fighting for the limited attention of readers. Here are some thoughts on why marketing your blog is more important than ever:

Readers Want You to Find Them

Folks are using Twitter, Facebook, and other social media tools to share their information with others. When big news happens, many people don’t have to look much further than their facebook or twitter feeds. In fact, these days I find out most big stories from social media before I hear them on the news. Readers expect the best content to find them, even if they won’t admit it.

Today’s Online Tools Give Immediate Access to Your Blog

Rather than praying for someone to subscribe to your RSS feed, you can stick your posts right into the Twitter and Facebook feeds of hundreds, if not thousands of readers. It’s very easy to promote a link on social media a few times a day, so why not plan on it 3-times a day? Those two sites are the most important sources of traffic for my blog.

Blog Rolls are Less Important

While it’s never bad to have your blog listed on the sidebar of a high-profile blog, or any blog for that matter, blog rolls are becoming less important with the large number of blogs out there and the variety of ways the people read blogs these days that render a blog roll link useless.

Online Conversation Has Not Changed

It’s still vitally important to comment on the blogs of those with similar interests. Finding time for this is the most challenging part of blog promotion for me, but it can also be the most rewarding since you’ll make some great friends and acquaintances along the way. Some of these friends have become friends in person or have become collaborators in projects.

Align Your Promotion Plan with Your Goals

A big part of determining how hard you want to work at promoting your work will depend on your personal goals. Perhaps you just want to write as a personal discipline or as a way to share ideas with your friends. That’s a good and viable plan for a blog. However, if you want to be a major contributor to an area of knowledge or even a leader, then you’ll need to think of ways you can ensure that readers have multiple opportunities to run into your work.