Three Reasons Your Books Are Not Selling – Part 1

You put yourself out there and launch your first self-published book. You nervously watch your KDP dashboard everyday trying not to panic. You’ve done all your marketing correctly—did just what the experts ordered. And now you wait.

Six months later you’ve only sold about 50 books and your confidence starts to waver. Where did you go wrong?

In this three-part series we’re going to explore key reasons why some books never take off. I vow to be brutally honest, but don’t fret. Every challenge has a fix. Hope is on the way.

Reason #1: Bad Book Covers

When I get an email from an author asking why their books are not selling the first thing I do is go to their Amazon author page. Why? I want to see all their book covers. The majority of the time, that is as far as I get.

Many authors have awful book covers—there I said it. I can tell the authors haven’t done any research on the covers in their genre. They look like something made in the 1980s on Photoshop. It’s painful to see, and it’s obvious.

It’s Not a Budget Question

If you want to sell your books or even make a living from your books, you need a mindset change. You are a business person. This means you are competing in a marketplace to get your books discovered by potential readers. And you don’t want to stand out for the wrong reason.

There is one non-negotiable item you need to spend money on to get your book to market: a professional book cover that can compete in your genre. You can save money by having a free website on wordpress.com, starting out with a free email version of Mail Chimp for email, and a Facebook page is free. You have to buy a book cover. It’s not an option.

Every month there are almost 100,000 new books loaded on Kindle/Amazon. How many of them are in your genre? What is the first thing authors see when they are looking for books? It doesn’t matter where they search: Amazon, BookBub, a blog tour, a review blog…they see your cover first. What does it say about you?

Cover Experiment

Try this experiment to get an idea of how attractive your book covers are:

  1. Go to Amazon and search Kindle books in your genre. Go to a sub genre, if necessary. For instance, in mystery and thrillers there are several styles depending on if you are cozy mystery, romantic suspense, and so forth.
  2. Find the Amazon top 100 bestsellers in your genre. Drill down to your sub genre (see category list on the left). Click on your sub category and scroll slowly through the top 100 paying attention to the covers.

  1. Go back and find your top ten favorite covers. Make a list of the elements that draw your eye. Are there colors, images, and fonts that are common? What about the titles? Does the cover look good in a thumbnail?
  2. Are you striving to get book covers that can compete with the best books in your genre?
The Trouble With Do It Yourself

Authors make a critical mistake when they see themselves as cover artists. Unless of course you are one. You want to learn to separate your book into two parts, as Bryan Cohen calls it: the inside parts of your book and the outside parts of your book. You write the story–that’s the inside part. The outside parts are what the reader sees and interacts with before they buy.

Authors who insist on doing their own covers may pay the price in sales. But in the spirit of fairness, some authors are not trying to make a living writing books so sales are not foremost in their minds. I get that, I am okay with that. But if that’s not you, a professional book cover is a must to get your book attention in the mass of choices. The adage “you can’t judge a book by its cover” does not fly today.

 

A Wide Variety of Prices

Good book covers can come at all price points. If you do your research, you can find decent cover artists on sites like 99Designs ($300 and up) and even Fiverr ($25 and up). You can find pre-made cover images on some websites that will involve less of an investment.

I suggest you use your author network, Facebook groups, or chat boards and get some recommendations. Start with a budget. How much can you afford?  Do you have a series that needs to be done? Sometimes cover artists will give you a break on a bulk order. If you’re not a graphic artist you have no business designing your own covers.

Get Some Smarts

School yourself. My favorite place to start is with Joel Friedlander’s monthly ebook cover awards blog post. Friedlander, a well know cover designer, gets hundreds of book cover submissions every month from authors and he chooses the best and some of the questionable ones to highlight. The best thing about the monthly post is that he tells you why each cover is good or bad. Go to the site and start with the most recent month and work your way back until you are confident you know a good design from a bad design. Start on his website here: https://www.thebookdesigner.com/2011/08/monthly-e-book-cover-design-awards/

Everybody Needs An Occasional Refresh

If your book covers are more than 10 or 15 years old, it might be time for a refresh. Some genre cover styles change with time and the last thing you want is someone being turned off by an old tired cover design. A cover refresh can give new life to old books as well as a rejuvenated book description.

One of the biggest road blocks I see out there to selling books is bad cover designs. Don’t take this part of your book for granted. First impressions.

  • Pingback: How important is a book cover? | Dayne Sislen Children's Book Illustration()

  • Chris Syme

    I think you hit the key phrase Trish–“after doing all my homework.” Mostly this piece is aimed at authors that don’t do their homework. Or authors who do their research and disregard what they see because they have “a better idea.” If you’ve done your research and you believe your covers will not be out of place in your genre or look unprofessional, I think you’re good to go. If you haven’t read that Joel Friedlander blog post I think that will really help. He goes into depth about which elements do and don’t work. As long as you have confidence in your graphics guy, don’t sweat it. Good luck with your launches in the fall!

  • trishheinrich

    Book covers are honestly my biggest stresser. I’m Indie Publishing my first two books this fall, and they are in a series. I have a very good friend who is a graphic designer for everything from poster art, to RPG’s and everything in between. He’s offered to do my covers for free, which is awesome. Trouble is, even though I’ve got my comps list and I feel that his cover is on track with what I’m seeing in my genre (Fantasy-Super Hero), I am never sure if I’m making the right decision. How do I know if it’s the right cover? After doing all the homework, is it a gut thing?

  • Chris Syme

    Iola- Your comment made me laugh. 🙂 Not because it was humorous but because I can relate. I do hear from a lot of authors who want an easy solution. The solutions are usually simple, but not easy. I feel your pain. Unfortunately I think many indies are trained by the hordes of books out there titled, Sell a Boatload of Books By… and sometimes they ignore the part where they have to do the work. I guess it boils down to writers just want to write. But covers are staring you in the face, so to speak. I want to help authors learn how to spot a good one (and a bad one) and, most importantly, to know how critical having a good one is. The story doesn’t sell the book. The cover and the description do. Thanks for your thoughts–you are right on. And I agree on not wanting to show the awful covers. Readers don’t want to see those.

  • Iola Goulton

    I once wrote a blog post on five reasons your books aren’t selling, purely from a reader/reviewer perspective. Covers were a major factor.

    Not long after, a lady in one of my Facebook groups was whining that her book wasn’t selling. I checked, and she scored 5/5 on my list, so I sent her a link to my blog post. Her response? “Why did you send this to me? I’m not making any of these mistakes.”

    Gah.

    That’s the other reason her books weren’t selling: she was happy to whine, but wasn’t willing to listen to any advice as to how she could improve.

    Also, call me shallow, but there are books I’ve not wanted to review simply because I didn’t want to have to show my blog readers the covers. Fortunately, the writing is usually as bad as the covers which makes the decision not to review simple.