When Visibility Doesn't Lead To Book Sales

nerdcardWriters are pretty creative about getting exposure for themselves and their books. Self-publishers especially are always experimenting with innovative ways to move the sales needle.

Like many of you, I’ve tried a little of everything at this point, and the list of stuff that works is far, far shorter than the list of stuff that doesn’t.

But what if I told you that you had a chance for some serious exposure? Imagine appearing on a reality TV show with millions of viewers, week after week. That level of visibility should have some kind of effect, right?

YA fantasy writer and King of The Nerds contestant Genevieve Pearson is here to share her story:

* * *

“Writing is easy. It’s the marketing stuff I don’t understand.” I remember telling my husband. So many queries, review requests, blog posts, ad space purchases, and my new book, Revelations, was still just…lingering. My first book, Chasing Power, didn’t have as good of a cover or summary, and yet its initial sales had been better and it still sold more by the day than Revelations did. I suggested a title change, concerned that people were seeing the book as too serious, too religious. My husband didn’t like this idea and advised me to wait. “There’s always the show.” He said.

cpCoverThe show. The show. Several months prior, I’d sent off an email on a whim to a casting call for a show called King of the Nerds. It was going to take the format of a Big-Brother style reality show. Eleven contestants would all live together in a house, competing in challenges and whittling down the playing field week by week.

I’d entered on a whim, but despite my initial low-expectations, every now and then I’d get notice that I’d made it through another round of finals.

First I was in the top fifty, then twenty. Around March I was notified that I was in the top 16, and my ‘ha ha ha, wouldn’t this be fun?’ was becoming a viable possibility as I was asked to provide grocery lists, given a list of what to pack, and found myself studying at home in case I made it.

And I did. And once on: I stayed on, eight episodes worth of me on a national TV show with over two million views, not counting repeats. My twitter and FB fan pages exploded with likes and followers (I estimated I’ve added about 100 Twitter followers every day since the show aired) and I began eagerly checking my KDP sales page for what I expected to be a huge jump in sales. My social media profiles mentioned my books, my website was appealing and easy to find. I’d laid it all out, nice and easy to google. And yet, the sales increase was modest, if that. My increase was an average of one or two more books a day more than my before-TV sales numbers.

revelationsCoverNow I’m nearing the run of the show and wondering, what else could I do? Every day I get messages asking me if my books are published, and the names of my books. I happily respond, but I’m confused by the frequency of the question. Type my name into Amazon and my list of books pops up. Just look at my web page and the titles and links to buy my books are right there. Why the ongoing confusion?

And why is this still not enough? My hope with going on the show was to gain exposure for my books. And yet, for all intents and purposes, even though I’m more visible, my books remain unseen. I can plug them more — should plug them more — but even that is not always an effective tactic. At around 3500 twitter followers and 1500 FB fans, I posted a simple plug (“A lot of people have been asking about my book, here is a link to where you can buy it!”) about my books on Facebook as well as on Twitter. While regular statuses on Facebook will garner 40-100 responses, the plug generated a mere 15 original responses. Also intriguing was that while around one third of those comments directly stated that they were buying one of my books right then and there, and another one third implied they were buying them, only three copies of my books sold that day.

This leads to another interesting fact about fans — as much as they may like you, and may want to be your friend, that does not always translate to buying from you. Even when they say you have. I’ve lost track of how many times someone direct-messaged me asking about my book, I responded to them with the link, they wrote back that they just bought it and yet…no sale. Not on Smashwords, Kindle, B&N — nada.

genesisCoverOne issue, I’ll admit, is that there is a definite disconnect between the books’ target audience — young women from the ages of 16 up — and my fans — young men from the ages of 16 up. It’s a completely disparate demographic, and many of the men who are fanning me on social media are more into video games and comic books than reading YA novels.

But I also wonder if I approached this from the wrong perspective. Perhaps rather than expecting my TV appearance to draw people into reading my books, I should have been drawing in readers and using the TV appearance to hook them after they were already interested. Maybe rather than expecting the fans I already have to be interested in my writing, I should have been trying to increase the visibility of my books and creating new fans through that avenue — ones more amenable to my genre and style.

Either way, I’m definitely doing something wrong, and hoping for a new perspective on how to bridge the gap between fans and sales.

* * *

Thank you to Genevieve for sharing her story. She appears in the finale of King of Nerds on TBS tonight at 10pm Eastern and her books are available from AmazonBarnes & Noble, and Smashwords.

This is a topic I’ve been meaning to talk about for a while as I’ve experienced plenty of exposure in traditional media, and I always monitor my sales afterwards to see if there is any bump. Usually it’s negligible. Even when I’ve been featured in national newspapers with circulation figures in the millions, sales were largely unaffected.

I think there are several inter-related reasons for this, but from my own experience and other authors I’ve spoken to, one thing is clear: traditional media exposure does a very poor job of shifting e-books.

Digital consumers are spoiled. When they see a product online they are interested in, it’s usually accompanied by a clickable link. Anything without an easy, immediate way to purchase is quickly forgotten in the maelstrom of the internet

If you appear on a TV show, or do a radio interview, or are given a view column inches, your target readers (if you reach any of them) don’t have a way of easily and immediately acting on any interest that your books may arouse.

It’s very different online, where you can drop a clickable link anytime you mention your books.

On the internet, consumer behavior is easily tracked. Usability studies are unanimous: with every click (or step) you place between the consumer and the product, an increasing proportion fail to complete the transaction.

Marketing digital products to someone offline creates a yawning gap which is only traversed by a tiny percentage. The disconnect that Genevieve mentioned above between her target readership and the audience of the show merely compounded the problem.

It’s much more effective to focus our marketing efforts online. And it’s much easier to target readers when they are all gathered at one place. Like Amazon.

For this reason, Let’s Get Visible focuses on teaching you strategies to optimize your placement at Amazon, increasing your opportunities for the kind of visibility that does translate into sales.

Visible will be off to the editor soon. You can sign up here to get an email when it’s released.

David Gaughran

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

92 Replies to “When Visibility Doesn't Lead To Book Sales”

  1. You can have the best book in the world, and no one will buy it. The problem is partly economy and partly freebies. When people can’t eat, they will not pay for your book. And all those giving away freebies don’t understand that it destroys the book market. Why should anyone pay for your book if you give the whole thing away for free? People will look for and grab up any freebie they can. And since thousands of authors are now offering their books for free, no one is going to bother paying you for your work. They’ll just wait till you get desperate enough to put up that freebie, or discount the book to the point you won’t make a royalty. The sales you might get are people specifically looking for your genre. If you target you own audience, you can get those sales, maybe. The indie book industry is about as dead as indie movies. You can’t make alot of money anymore. We have a bad economy, and like I said, people want free. With thousands of free books up there, why would anyone bother to pay one of us. You’d have to write twenty books, target twenty audiences, and you still might not make enough monthly to call it a career.

    1. Well, I don’t have 20 books and I give away lots of freebies, and I’m making a living. So are lots of others.

      Libraries haven’t destroyed the market for print books, so I can’t see why giving away free ebooks would destroy the market for paid ebooks either. In fact, as you point, more and more ebooks are being given away for free, and more and more are being sold. One is not cannibalizing the other. More free ebooks are downloaded via Amazon than anywhere else. If your theory was right, they would be suffering most. They aren’t.

      Sure, the economy is bad, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing for indie authors who tend to price significantly cheaper than traditional publishers (and significantly cheaper than alternative forms of entertainment). I suspect more reading gets done during a recession, not less. People may be less willing to drop $30 on a hardback, and more likely to hit the used bookstore, but indies are perfectly poised to satisfy the urge for bargain reads in a digital world (and are doing so, in huge numbers).

      But that’s the market in general. Let’s look at it from the individual writer’s perspective, as she doesn’t have to worry about the viability of the market as a whole, but more whether she can put food on the table with her book sales. From the individual’s perspective, free is a *proven* way to expand your audience.

      While KDP Select isn’t the sales boost it once was, other ways of using free (such as making the first book in a series free, or writing a free intro novella to the series) have proven very successful to lots of writers. As such, self-publishers shouldn’t be scared of free. Not at all.

  2. Reblogged this on Library of Erana and commented:
    Definitely seems that strategies which work for some don’t work for others. There is no hard and fast rule and that makes it all the more difficult.

  3. Some agencies offer their services to help us, see this one:
    My reason for connecting is to see if you have considered working with an outside PR agency to help you with the promotion of “Toxic Capitalism.” Newman Communications (www.newmancom.com) is a national leader in the book publicity space, and over the years we have worked successfully with a number of self-published authors.”
    Can those agencies really bring something, in terms of value-for-money?
    As wer are often at the end of our ideas, it looks “an interesting proposal”.
    Wondering anybody has further insights on this.

  4. WOW! David, spending time reading your comments and replies is like a whirlwind course on what to do right. Appreciate the repartee. I’ll be reading more often from now on — just found you today.

  5. Hi David. Great article.

    Looking at her online media presence, I noticed a few things:

    1) There are no links in her Twitter bio to her Amazon page. That could help her immensely as more and more, Twitter is showing to link directly to sales. She also doesn’t use her name (it’s already taken) but that limits people’s ability to find her.

    2) I’m a big believer in Google AdWords — say what you will about Google (Skynet lol), they are the most visible. I can spend as little as $2/day and see a bump on whichever book I’m promoting. I’ve no idea if she’s doing any ads, but I can tell you, it works (if done right).

    3) Her books have few reviews. IDK if she’s done any kind of promotion or blog tours, but contacting reviewers/betareaders prior to release is a critical component. No guarantee of a positive review of course, but at least it’s something!

    These are helpful tips for ANY author.

  6. I too have achieved some top rate publicity for my books yet not seen this translated into online sales. The online explosion of ‘Fifty Shades’ was, I presume, a fluke. I have resorted to a more traditional approach nowadays. Having identified my target audience (My novels thus far have been Irish historical fiction) I work out where they go and I go to those places too to physically sell my physical books. I try to give value for money as I deliver powerpoint slideshow talks on my subjects (unique aspects of Titanic, Irish War of Independence, self publishing one’s family history etc) and can often sell 30 books at a single event. This is of course harder work than armchair selling, and sometimes I feel like a vacuum cleaner salesman as I hike around with a wheelie full of books, but I really enjoy meeting my readers face to face and seeing my own enthusiasm for my stories rub off on them, to the extent that they line up for a signed copy. I have got to visit new locations and done some sightseeing along the way. I have also made some new friends and built up a powerbase for selling the next book. My sales are not running into six figures, but I have a satisfyingly steady rate of sales and it gets me out and about in the fresh air.

  7. “as much as they may like you, and may want to be your friend, that does not always translate to buying” Goodreads is a classic example of this David. How many people placed one of your books into their ‘To Read’ list? Answer – hundreds. But how many actually purchased a copy – very few. 🙂

  8. Some great arguments were made about sales, but let me bring my 2 cents into the mix.
    What drives producers to produce is sales. I can’t produce if I can’t sell. And I can’t sell if people aren’t able to buy. Therefore, aggregate demand needs to be stimulated. If you ask any business owner, why he’s not hiring new people, the first argument he’ll raise is sales figure, and only after that does he/she invoke other things, such as high taxes, and/or the high cost of a business loan.
    I’ve read a lot of comments from ebook readers saying that they’re under a tight budget. That they can’t afford to buy a book that’s over 5 dollars, and that they prefer to get at least 2 lower priced books for that cost. So I think that austerity measures and implicitly fiscal drag is hurting demand for ebooks. And it’s a shame, since reading is such an important and useful activity for any individual. It really pisses me off that bankers don’t have to pay a tobin tax on their ruinous transactions, but readers have to pay VAT to purchase ebooks.
    I’ve made my debut novel, A Stage For Traitors, FREE at Smashwords in order to get it out there to as many interested people. During Read an ebook Week I saw some downloads of the book, but a lot of those page views didn’t translate to downloads… Oh, well. Back to writing, drawing, economics, gaming, music, sleep. I do love to sleep. ^^
    All the best, Genevieve.


  9. that’s really interesting because we’ve found the same thing. Appearing in a national newspaper, a local newspaper and appearing several times in a well known writing magazine has done absolutely nothing for our sales. Promoting our books, doing guest blogs, interviews etc, does nothing either. Sometimes, we can’t even give them away 😀

    1. I can only agree, at least now we realize we are not alone in our frustration. I think some of the keys, as commented often by others, is we target the wrong audience and we underestimate how lazy people are – they want a simple one click way to buy, not get out of their coach, surf the net to find the link and buy. All easy to say but difficult to find the right way…

  10. “One issue, I’ll admit, is that there is a definite disconnect between the books’ target audience — young women from the ages of 16 up — and my fans — young men from the ages of 16 up.”

    Sounds like the same problem I’m having! All of my books were written for the 16-30 demographic, yet all of my readers appear to be middle-aged moms. All I can say is, the current reading market is largely females aged 40+. This is a shame, because when your book is in the hands of the wrong demographic, your reviews tend to reflect that.

  11. It was funny to read this as J.A. Konrath said exactly the same thing last year on his blog. He said that whenever he does any traditional advertising for his books his sales are COMPLETELY unaffected. Now this guy is one of the most successful ebook authors around so if it doesn’t work for him then what hope have the rest of us got?! As for my marketing plan I’m going to focus on finishing my fourth book and once I’ve accomplished that, I’m going to take marketing a bit more seriously.

  12. As a first time author, I feel indeed also disheartened reading all this as it sounds Ohhhh so familiar to what I am going through. I have held many public talks that are announced on the web, etc. But sales are another matter indeed and I was wondering these days, what did I do wrong? Well at least I see others struggle the same way. I must say this blog is great stuff for me to learn. Thanks David

  13. This post makes me sad. I’d never heard of Genevieve Pearson, though I too write fantasy (not YA, but still, I try to keep tabs). I went and checked out her books. The cover images are beautiful. The blurbs are great. The beginning of Revelations is well written and *very* hooky. Now that I’ve looked at it, I want to read it. And it’s priced to sell. So why aren’t these books getting more traction? Genevieve is doing everything right, so far as I can tell, and while a TV reality show may not be perfectly targeted for translation into online sales, it’s certainly more exposure than most indie authors get. To me this situation looks like a great product languishing for no good reason at all.

  14. I was on the Rick Stein series last year (a TV chef from the UK who does food/travel documentaries), and my food/travel book about Spain got a couple of hundred sales from it in the UK, and some more when they ran the series again. It is very much a niche book, but was also a very good fit for the program. I think that is the key. Had I been on Big Brother I would probably not have sold any extra copies.

  15. I think it is the nature of the TV show. If it had have been Nerdy Authors Discuss their Books, the audience would have been low, but Genevieve probably would have sold more books. Even with all the valid points about clickable links, a book or author’s appearance on a well-watched book show will sell books.

  16. Amazon is its own world, and outside marketing doesn’t do much (unless it’s mind-bogglingly-huge, like a feature on the “Today Show” or Oprah’s Book Club). Even someone like Russell Brand has dismal Kindle sales.

    Glancing at Genevieve’s books on Amazon, I immediately notice (1) they’re not in KDP Select, (2) $4.99 is a high price for an author beginning to build a reader fan base.

    I would highly recommend free promotion via Select (unless she has good sales on Nook– but who does? :-), or a 99-cent promotion, and then a price of $2.99.

      1. For me personally, more books sell at .99 than 2.99, but not enough to make up for the loss of royalties. When I tried 3.99, sales were dismal. So I think 2.99 is the sweet spot. But, it will be different for every author and book!

    1. Ämazon is its own world” Excellent Sam, that is it in a nutshell. Very little of the marketing we authors do connects us directly with Amazon account holders. One that does – free days – is flawed, not because the books are free but because people download and forget. Your book end us on the NTBR list – never to be read. If anyone has any strategy for reaching Amazon members, it would be nice to share.

      1. Bernie– Some thoughts on marketing *within* Amazon (other than free giveaways with Select): your book’s title and cover design are your #1 marketing tool. Your cover/title has to stand out when it appears in a line-up of other book covers. Next, when people click on your page, you have to have a book description that’s as professional as one from a major publisher. Put the same level of thought into writing your hook & synopsis that you put into writing your book. Use Author Central to include bold and italic type.

        Then, if people are hooked by your description and click on your sample– the first pages of your book have to draw them immediately into the story and make them want more. Finally, the rest of your book has to be good so they’ll be inspired to write a reader review when they finish. No shortcuts here! 🙂

        And mind the little things– before publishing on KDP, do some research to pick your best categories and keywords. Landing on a category bestseller list is an important marketing tool, so specific pick categories where you have the best shot. And try to associate with similar books that are bestsellers. i.e., “Fans of ‘Harry Potter’ will love {your book title here}.” Make it easier for fans of those similar bestsellers to find your book.

        1. Sam, Amazon is currently clamping down on people who compare their books to other, more successful ones, as it makes books come up in searches when they shouldn’t.

        2. Is that the case with making a comparison like that in the blurb? As far as I’m aware, the only thing that triggers search are keywords, title, and sub-title (and sometimes alsobots). And I’ve only heard of people getting dinged when they mentioned other books/authors in their title, or used them as keywords (probably for that exact reason).

        3. You may be right – I’m remembering a recent thread on KB which I now can’t find. I think the suggestion was that the blurb and even customer reviews were used in searches, so Amazon didn’t want them rigged.

        4. Yeah, I remember that thread. We tested that claim and it was pretty much debunked. Terms unique to blurbs or reviews didn’t trigger any searches as far as we could find. Titles and sub-titles do, and keywords of course. The only other thing we could see appearing in searches was Also Boughts of the books that were actually triggering the search.

    2. I priced Revelations for 4.99 around the time the show came out to see how the sales compared to Chasing Power, which I left at 2.99. It was just as an experiment. Interestingly, their sales are currently identical and have pretty much stayed even since the show began. That’s why I haven’t lowered the price of Revelations to match, though I have thought of doing a promotion.

      1. Oh, and I also did Select for a while, however, knowing I was going to be on the show, I deliberately allowed that to lapse so I could make my eBooks available on Nook and Smashwords as well as I figured I could always go back to Select if the sales weren’t great in those areas. But I thought mass market distribution > free download days.

      2. Best of luck, Genevieve! I bet your success will pick up– it takes time, getting more readers & reviews to snowball. (Appearing on this blog will help.) You’ve got terrific book covers. (I much prefer the darker version of “Chasing Power” with the girl on the front, though– people draw attention as a focal point. The cover with the glasses isn’t as eye-catching for me.)

        The Select free-book-giveaways are the best promotional tool I’ve found (unfortunately!). Free promotions get books circulating and attract reviews, creating momentum. Did you try giving books away for a couple days in a row while on Select? (give away one title at a time, spaced out between books– having one free can generate interest in your other books.)

        Also: Use Amazon Author Central to add some bold catch-lines to your book descriptions. Include snippets from reviews or other words of praise. In other words, create descriptions that are similar to those of the big-publisher-bestsellers.

  17. Truly an interesting saga, and encouraging for someone like me who’s below her and most online authors for sales. I can say with confidence that my respect for the role of an agent is only growing over time- I really don’t do that job well! I take comfort in the long view: took me 50 years to start writing, and if the good die young I’ll have 50 more years to be writing. Try to write good tales. Online, try to be an interesting person. Do what you can with platform, don’t do the rest. Wait.
    I find being able to self-publish and talk about writing is the spur I needed to keep at it. I’m self-imposing my own deadlines, ridiculous but it works. What marketing magic trick actually gets buyers? I’ll figure that out when I’ve got maybe three or four more novels done.

  18. I’m sorry the show didn’t translate into sales for her. She definitely should have won the show for her play. I wish her the best in her publishing ventures.

  19. Really interesting post. I am currently reading as many marketing books as I can to attempt to raise my profile and hopefully sales, but it can all become a bit of a muddle. A simple breakdown of daily do’s would work for me, I need visualisation. It’s getting exposure which seems to be the key, and arranging events to promote yourself as an artist. Utilising guerilla tactics is also a great way of gaining some sort of following. The thing is with Twitter and Facebook, it does get boring. Looking forward to your book and again, great post.

  20. I dunno what’s so surprising about the failure of TV to sell e-books. It’s unlikely that any TV viewers (except Oprah viewers) would jump from TV to Amazon and buy a book.

    How many New York publishers advertised on the Super Bowl? How many commercials for books do you see on “Walking Dead” or “Big Brother?” None, nada, zip. Big NY publishers could advertise on TV. They would do so if it sold books and was cost-effective. TV is for selling beer and cars. Even Walmart doesn’t advertise on TV.

    I’m not sure this experience says anything relevant about SOCIAL MEDIA. It’s a no-brainer that young men aren’t going to pay for young-adult fantasy written for a female audience. Besides, isn’t 16 about the upper age limit for YA fantasy?

    If most of Genevieve’s Facebook and Twitter followers had been young women in the 12-to-16 age range, the social media exposure might have sold books. Social media is useless for marketing if you’re not communicating with the peeps who want what you’re selling.

    Price is another issue. E-books by a new author, in that specific genre, might be more likely to sell briskly at 99 cents???

  21. Very poignant assessment of marketing/PR. Ironically, the things that don’t work are often considerably more expensive (radio/TV promotions). We’ve had members undertake successful radio tours with no effect on sales, and we agree with David’s assessment – with TV/radio there’s no direct link to where your book is for sale and this is an impediment. You would expect though with repeated appearances like on a reality TV show that this would be an exception, but obviously not. Very interesting. Would love to repost this in our Forum: Radio/TV – would that be OK?

    1. Usually that would be an automatic yes, I don’t mind anyone reposting my blog as long as they link back to the source. In this case however, the words are Genevieve’s rather than mine (and I don’t want to presume for her), so if you want to post my intro and a link to the rest, I guess that could work.

  22. A very interesting read. I don’t think you can ever do anything that will be poor media for your book, but I think the more you experiement and try different avenues, the more you will see what works. I have found both traditional and online promotion to help sell my novel, Entice Me. I am always seeking new avenues and ways to get the word out. It is timely and I wish I could pay for someone to do my marketing for me, because it can take a huge chunk out of your time. But its worth it. Without, no one will hear about your book. I find there are so many avenues, why not try all of them. I aim to do one marketing activity a week, whether its an interview, profile, some whacky thing and go from there. Just keep at it. If you keep promoting it, it will keep selling. Once you stop, sales will plummet.

  23. My take on this is that people who watch – usually devour – reality type shows aren’t interested in reading, or in the participants as people. They are interested in the celebrity status being showcased on the screen, and in particular in transferring themselves into that status. Connecting via Twitter & Facebook is touching the cloth of gold. Emailing **and getting a reply** is a heart-stopping validation that Celebrity, ie being Famous, is a mere side-step from them.

    Enjoy the fun experience Genevieve, take from it masses of research material, but… It’s just the way life is.

    1. Great points.

      Also, only a handful of “American Idols” have actually translated TV-success into album sales.

  24. Very interesting post. Since I’m not any good at social media, I’m tickled pink that it doesn’t translate into sales.

    But really, why would anyone think that exposure of the author will sell the book? Just because someone “likes” you doesn’t mean they’ll like your book. Even if they really LIKE you, they may not like the kind of thing you write.

    I don’t know about you, but I don’t like to waste my money. The primary factor for me is: does it look like (or sound like) the kind of book I’d like to read? Oh, and I’d also like to know that it’s reasonably well written and edited well enough that I’m not going to be constantly tripping over typos and wrong words. (Hey, I’m an editor). Word of mouth will tell me all those things more honestly than any author’s plug. Or if I can read a sample of a book before buying, I’ll do so and then decide whether or not to buy. So maybe some of those people who say they’re going to buy your book simply change their minds once they get a better look at it. I think you need to find a way to reach the audience your book is aimed at, and you also have to make sure that your book is a quality product. (That is, it must meet whatever quality standard your audience expects.)

    1. So true! I hang out at Indies Unlimited, and I’ve noticed I will check out books by authors who write interesting things in their articles. Once I get on Amazon I read the blurb, maybe a review or two, and if I’m still interested, I’ll ‘look inside’. If all that still has me interested I’ll buy the book. This filtering process has more to do with my love of reading than any concern with cost – after all $2.99 is not a huge amount to waste but my time is precious.

  25. As always David, thanks for this post. It doesn’t surprise me. I always thought the lag time between a reader telling me they were going to buy my book and getting it was because my target market audience are children.
    The only thing I’ve found that sells books is getting on an Amazon Top 100 list. I remember reading somewhere, that even Stephen King’s book tours do not result in large sells. A great, well written story that stands out from the crowd and a great book cover are essential and where I like to spend the most of my working time. The Amazon Top 100 lists are the most effective marketing tools out there – just based off personal experience. All the best!

  26. Wow. Disheartening from the sales point of view, but kinda nice to know that plenty of great writers, intelligent people with excellent books, are having the same struggle to be discovered. I recognise many of the names in these comments and had assumed all were enjoying buoyant sales and a comfortable income from their books and blogs. Sales of one or two copies at a time – I can relate to that! Maybe there’s hope for us all once we get visible. I shall carry on writing book four in the meantime. Good thing it’s so much fun! 🙂

  27. Very interesting post. But I was puzzled by one sentence: ‘Perhaps rather than expecting my TV appearance to draw people into reading my books, I should have been drawing in readers and using the TV appearance to hook them after they were already interested.’ How would she draw in readers – that’s what I don’t understand. If they were already reading her book she wouldn’t need the TV show anyway, they would already have bought the book(s)

    I can see how this is disappointing though. I think part of it is as she says: the people watching that kind of show weren’t the sort of people who would read that kind of book. The magic formula must be to connect with the right sort of people. For instance I teach a lot of foreign students and teachers, so I have a lot of face-to-face time with them and always try to sell them a few books at some point. And what I notice is that whereas I have reasonable success with middle-aged people – schoolteachers over 30 mostly – I sell hardly any to students in their early twenties. They’re nice friendly intelligent kids, very media savvy, but the idea of buying a print book doesn’t grab them at all, and very few seem interested in the ebooks either. Whereas the older ones are much better. So what we really need to do, online, is to connect with the right sort of reader for our particular type of book.

    If you can tell me how to do that, David, I’ll worship you for ever!!

  28. A few years ago I spent a lot of time and effort on traditional media, and eventually made it onto national TV, national radio and national papers. I sold about 3 books! At that point, I decided to learn about online marketing, because the distance between attention and clicking to download a sample is much smaller. Looking forward to the book David 🙂

  29. When Fast Company magazine e-mailed that they would like to feature me as one of four “Kings of content” I was perplexed (and happy) because I was such an unlikely candidate. My next thoughts had to do with the explosion of sales I was going to have when the issue came out. While my visibility was negligible compared to Genevieve, I was sure sales would ensue. Nothing. Maybe one or two trickled in but no surge. So there you have it. Another disconnect story.

  30. I think her suspicion about the disconnect between her viewers and her books is a huge factor. If I marketed my fantasy to people who read hard sci-fi, I wouldn’t expect good sales at all! Likewise, guys, at least here in the US, will not read a book that seems aimed at girls. I know that’s less true in some countries I’ve been to, but very true here.

    1. Hi Christine,

      I read that article the other day, but I saw precious little in the way of evidence for the strange claims that are made there. Many of those claims could easily be supported by documentary evidence, but there is exactly zero of that there.

      Amazon skimming sales off indies? Well, that’s so ridiculous I don’t know where to start. Amazon prints money. They PRINT money. If they are making a billion dollars a week in sales, do you really think they are going to nickle-and-dime some self-publisher who’s selling a couple of books a month? It makes no sense at all.

      Look, these theories are prevalent because they are seductive. It’s comforting to believe that are books are performing better and that our sales aren’t crap because of some other reason.

      I’ve read plenty of conspiracy theories like this and not one of them has advanced a single shred of hard evidence for their claims. And, it must be pointed out, it’s often authors who aren’t doing too well that notice this “fraud.” If it’s so prevalent, surely it must be 100 times more noticeable to someone at the top of the charts, right?

      But those guys are strangely silent.


      1. We know that very large international publishing houses ‘nickel & dime’ authors out of money any way they can including fraud, David. Is there a reason a huge retailer which notoriously keeps its sales records secret would not find it simple & easy to report only an algorithm of sales to a source of income they created:- ie indie authors of ebooks & POD books? Rectitude is unfortunately not associated with publishing now, if it ever was before.
        If Amazon declare only 1 in 6 ebook sales how would you know?

        1. I’m extremely skeptical regarding the purported intentions of any large corporation towards anything other than making money, but this conspiracy theory makes no sense whatsoever.

          First, there’s no motive. Amazon is creaming the competition in virtually all areas. It has no reason to cheat its suppliers out of income, especially not in a way which is open to being caught. They make so much money from just being better than the competition that it would be the dumbest move of all time to jeopardize that by stealing from their suppliers. People have a range of opinions about Amazon, but no-one claims they’re stupid.

          Second, there’s no evidence. In this long rambling post, not one shred of proof was produced. There were a lot of claims, but none of them were substantiated in any way. If you want me to take this seriously, show me the sales records. Show me the receipts for these purchases that weren’t counted. Right now, there’s nothing. I can’t take this seriously without evidence.

          Third, people are unreliable. People will often tell you that they have purchased your book, or that they are currently reading it, or that they are getting it tomorrow, or whatever. They are just being polite. They don’t want to tell you that they don’t fancy the sound of it because they don’t want to upset you. That’s human nature. And it’s certainly no evidence for a conspiracy.

          I don’t know if you noticed, but this blog post was written in September 2012. No hard evidence has been advanced since then.

          Also, I don’t know if you noticed, but this author isn’t self-published, but published by a small publisher called AgeView Press. Of course, this means the author isn’t looking at KDP and Createspace reports herself and is relying on the word of her publisher – the very person who wrote this guest post, and who has produced no evidence.

          P.S. If Amazon only declared 1 in 6 ebook sales, the odds are I would have noticed by now. I have eight titles out, and purchase each one the moment it goes live to test the formatting etc. Every purchase has always been reported on KDP within the usual timeframe. In addition, I’ve conducted tests with a group of authors to measure the effect on Sales Rank of purchases (research for Let’s Get Visible) and all of those purchases – without fail – have been reported.

  31. Thanks very much for sharing Genevieve’s story. I haven’t seen the program but in general terms, I think one of the factors in whether book sales jump or not when an author has the opportunity to be exposed to a larger audience, is the context around that exposure and whether or not they are a known entity prior to appearing. For example if your author “brand” or genre isn’t in sync with the brand or reason you’re appearing before a larger audience, it’s difficult for that audience to make the leap to purchasing your book. Couple that with being a virtual unknown and the challenge is that much greater.

    Repeat exposure also plays a large part as does being “endorsed” by personalities who may have greater credibility because they are more widely known. I appeared on a station in New York (on a weekend music program that has a strong following) to promote my book, which happens to be a humor collection. I had the opportunity to read excerpts and be interviewed and get a few jokes in. Sold 3 books. That I’m aware of.

    It’s easy for Tina Fey or Ellen DeGeneres to sell millions of books because their brands, identities and perspectives as humorists are well known and directly in sync with their books. If Ellen DeGeneres wrote a book on Nietzsche, I’m not so sure she’s going to sell quite as many copies.

    And finally, to your point about immediacy where someone can click on a link if something appeals to them on the web, the odds of a viewer/listener taking action to learn more about you or purchase a book via the web drops significantly with each passing moment after seeing or hearing something through traditional media. At least that’s my take on it. I’ve been wrong before. Just ask my wife.

  32. Interesting post, yes disheartening in one way ( no quick fix, no certain strategy) but not in another ( no or few sales does not mean my book is no good). I visited a bookstore yesterday who simply said, if you think your book is any good, give lots away, just give them to people who will appreciate it, and then make it available and keep talking. I think this I will find easy! I am not persuading you to buy my book…here have a copy…comes much more naturally. if it is any good that will persuade/ Am I missing something? Because I am oh so tempted.

    1. I do this all the time. After giving away thousands of “free” books using KDP and not gaining anything from the experience, not even a review, I stopped doing that, and started giving away books to people who seemed interested. My mail-lady, my mother’s hairdresser, the lady at the bank, the secretary at my daughter’s school. And you know what, I’ve gotten more reviews and more sales by doing that, than by any other promotion I could dream up. Word of mouth does sell books. And I should mention I only do this with e-books. However, that being said, I have had an increase in paperback as well.

      1. Word of mouth is the only thing guaranteed to sell books; it’s probably the biggest single source of books on my bookshelf. It’s also much better than self-promotion because, beyond a certain level, it’s self-sustaining as people tell friends who tell friends, etc, etc. The problem is getting to that point.

        I suspect the real issue here is the one mentioned in the blog post: the fans from the TV show are not the audience for the books, so they’re not going to buy them.

  33. David and Genevieve, this was a wonderful post. It confirms all that has been rattling around in my brain for the past two and a half years of Indie publishing. Traditional avenues don’t work, unless, perhaps one of the big 6 (umm… ?5) takes out a full page color ad of an author’s book cover in a major national publication.
    David, you have hit the nail on the head – ebook consumers are an audience that has come to expect purchases immediately with a simple click. Such consumers do not have the time nor the inclination to go looking for something if it means leaving their easy chair in one room ( having watched TV or read a publication there) and going to sit down in front of a computer in a different room, login on, and oh wait- there’s the emails to search through, the youtubes to watch, the links to follow up on, and – now what the heck was that author’s/book’s name? I dunno. I’ll try to remember it later…

    It’s just too long of a journey for them anymore. Amazon takes them straight to the heart of a mission – one click book buying.

    1. You know what doesn’t sell books? A giant ad in the New York Times. The only reason publishers take out those ads is to assuage the ego of big name writers after some disagreement or other.

      You might ask why publishers spend so much money on billboards touting the next Dan Brown if it doesn’t work. Well, the short answer is that those billboards are merely an announcement to *existing* fans of Dan Brown that the latest installment is out. Publishers know that Dan Brown fans will buy the book eventually, but they would prefer if they bought it in launch week so it hits the NYT list.

      As for ebook consumers… I’ve noticed when I’ve been interviewed in newspapers (and they have an online edition) a dramatic difference whether they include a clickable link to me or my books or not. Without the clickable link, people just read the article and move on. Even in a newspaper with circulation in the millions, there was barely an uptick in website/blog traffic or in Google searches for my name.

      With a clickable link, traffic spikes.

      1. Thanks David for the advice on the clickable link. I am about to have a review in a State newspaper with a digital presence. I will ask them to put a clickable link at the bottom of any digital review. Do you think I should link to the eBook or the print copy? Of course there is still the problem that most who click will not be Amazon members. Which is I guess why you are writing about climbing in Amazon recommendations.

  34. I’ve already noticed: no matter how glowing the reviews I get, they don’t sell more than a couple books. I’m active on lots of social media… same thing. None of this translates into sales. I admit I’m mystified. Is word of mouth the only thing that works?

  35. Her story sound amazing! I do believe her. But I’m just asking… is that possible that she doesn’t get the real sales from the companies that sold her books?

    1. That is one of the accounting concerns in this digital age for publishers and authors.

      When you were dealing solely with print editions and traditional publishers, it was easy audit the records and determine whether the sales reports were accurate. How many copies were printed? How many sold? Boom, there are your sales numbers.

      But with eBooks, if a big online store was careful, it could easily “shave” reported sales without anyone ever knowing. They could essentially write an algorithm to keep the numbers looking “real enough.” Say you sold 100 copies. They could change that to 95 and you’d never know the difference. As long as they weren’t too greedy about it (changing your 100 to 10, for example), how would you ever know?

      You’re pretty much trusting that the retailers are going to be honest with you because what other choice do you have?

    2. It’s possible, but it’s also possible that this is all a giant computer simulation being played out in my brain while terrorists from Mars attempt to extract the secret codes from my frontal cortex.

      There’s precious little evidence for either possibility though.

        1. There’s no “growing evidence.” In fact, there’s no evidence at all. There’s a string of wide-eyed claims, with zero evidence. That post was made in September last year, and no evidence has been offered since. If you read over the comments here, we’ve covered this in depth.

  36. So much of what works is a matter of luck and timing (after a lot of hard work) and what works for one author can’t always be replicated for another because the luck or the timing may not exist there. There are definitely things you can do to improve your chances of selling more copies (better cover, better sales copy, better editing), but sometimes it’s a total mystery why one book sold and another didn’t.


    1. Sometimes it is a total mystery, but the advantage of digital is that we can usually uncover a little more of the picture. Often you can trace the breakout of a book to an Amazon promotion, or an ad on ENT, or going viral on Goodreads, or some controversy or other.

      It’s a little harder to diagnose why a book of similar quality underperforms, and often it’s a case of persevering until you get lucky (so to speak!).

  37. I love Genevieve’s last two book covers – gorgeous.

    When I was interviewed on You and Yours I got emails from would-be authors, and also to my surprise had a sales bump (print as well as e). So I’d have thought that exposure on television would have a positive effect on sales. Strange.

    My next blog post is likely to be on this subject. Spoiler: it’s all about fairy dust.

  38. Interesting stuff, David. And a little disheartening. I think we all like to think that if we just got our name out there, that’s the final step.

    Hell, maybe there never is a final step. Bottom line, I think it all comes down to word of mouth. Write something great. Get a blog. And use some of those sales from the blog to generate more sales. Repeat often while finishing the next book, and never give up.

    1. I’m still very new to self-publishing, but I’m starting to see those patterns emerging too. Word of mouth is slow, even online, but it seems to be the only sure way of increasing the popularity of your book. Being a popular /person/ may lead to greater visibility but only good reactions from readers will ever lead to greater sales. Sadly, knowing the importance of longevity, and having the patience to wait are two different beasts.

    2. You shouldn’t be disheartened, Stan. I think it would be depressing if the conclusion was that you need to appear on a reality TV show every week to stand any chance of selling books!

      And yes, it all comes down to word of mouth, but what I’m trying to break down (in my book and on this blog) is how word of mouth has transformed in the digital era.

      If you break word of mouth down to it’s simplest components, it’s one person recommending a book to another. The advantage of technology is that we can do that much more efficiently (whereas before it was literally done in person, one at a time).

      For example, social media can act like a CRAZY accelerant for word of mouth. We’ve all seen books go viral in such a short space of time. That would never have been possible before Twitter, email and Facebook.

      I actually view Amazon’s entire recommendation system as an extension of that word of mouth, or, at least, something designed to both stimulate and simulate word of mouth.

  39. There is a powerful theory in marketing that consumers associate a single concept–sometimes just a single word–to a external presence or “brand”. It’s possible all those people who saw her associate her with “reality TV star” who also wrote a book – I mean, don’t they all? – versus “author” who happened to be on a TV show.

    Once it’s set, changing that psychological association can be very hard.

    1. One thing I’ll say that falls into this, is that in early episodes, I was referred to as “writer and super hero expert Genevieve” by the show hosts. For the finale, I was referred to as, “Fantasy author Genevieve…” and the name-tag under my appearance was changed. I don’t pay very close attention to the show, I’ll admit (hard to relive the drama), but it seemed to me that this was the first time it was explicitly stated, ‘fantasy author’ and not ‘writer’ or ‘superhero expert’. Interestingly, I saw the largest spike in digital sales yet. So the branding may very well be the issue here, although it could also be sympathy from viewers after I lost.

      1. You might have got a few sales from appearing here. Affiliate reports are lagging but I can see a lot of clicks on your books.

        I didn’t have space under the post to give a few tips, but there are a few things you can do right now to try and improve sales. First, if you aren’t selling outside Amazon, you can try KDP Select again. While it’s not as powerful as it was, it can still produce great results if you get a bit of luck. Book your days in advance and prepare for your free run. Make sure to notify a bunch of the bigger free sites. If they pick you up, you could do really well.

        Another option you could consider while you have everything up at the other stores is to make the first book in your series free (although you might want to wait until you have another installment out). This is one of the main strategies employed by people who do well outside of Amazon. Some make the lead title in the series free, some write an intro short story or novella and then make that free instead.

        Aside from “free” you should consider running a 99c sale on one of your books (or all of them in turn). Doing this in conjunction with a paid ad can really boost your sales. The boost is often temporary, but if you raise your price back up once you hit the charts, you can make nice money in the week or two after – depending on how quickly you slip back down. You could also consider a group promo with a bunch of authors in the same genre – all slashing your books to 99c for a day or two, and cross-promoting via your respective social networks.

        Most of the very successful authors use a rolling mix of all these strategies on their various titles. Sales will always ebb and flow, but the more books you have out, the better. There’ll be more ways for readers to discover you, and there’ll be more options when it comes to putting together a marketing strategy.

        It looks like you have all the basics in place (covers, blurbs, price, formatting, sample). With more books and some smart promotion you should see some real improvement.

  40. I’m using various methods to get my debut novel promoted, but totally agree that just because you have a lot of friends and followers it doesn’t always result in sales. I am too searching for that secret way to make the book more appealing…

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