4 Lessons I Learned from Writing a Book No One Bought

I published a book no one bought.

Well, that isn’t entirely true. Some of my family and friends ordered a copy.

This isn’t a badge I wear proudly on my chest or a depressing song I play in the company of others. But it’s true.

Now, to be fair to myself, I didn’t expect my book to sell beyond my small circle of influence. Apart from a few updates on social media, I barely marketed my book.

Call me a purist, but my motivation for publishing a book was for the joy of writing. And I’m thankful I did.

Writing and publishing a book provided me with a ton of experience and helped to pave the way to the work I do today.

But today, I don’t have the time to write a book for fun. I’m married, have five kids, work full-time, participate in the life of our local church, and exercise on occasion. So, if I’m going to invest my time into writing another book, I want to make sure I’m in a position to influence more people with my words than my family and friends.

I know your life is different than mine, but I bet we have this one thing in common: We’re not full-time writers. You have demands — in a good way — from significant others, family, and friends. You work full-time, part-time, or you’re looking for employment. You may be a full-time or part-time student. And you might be hustling on the side as a blogger or freelancer.

If this is you, take a moment to heed the four lessons I learned from writing a book no one bought. They will help you prepare, publish, and promote your book well.

1. PEOPLE BUY BOOKS BASED UPON THE TOPIC

One of the primary reasons people buy books is based upon the book’s topic.

Basically, it works like this: Readers identify a problem, have a specific question or interest, and then search for a book to help solve their problem, answer their question, or satisfy their interest.

So, as an author, it’s important to not only clarify the topic of your book, but satisfy a specific need of your target audience.

This is important to nail down from the very beginning since these two pillars — your topic and audience — will serve as the foundation for every facet of your book: writing, publishing, and promotion.

But there’s more to compelling readers to purchase a copy than writing just a great book with a focused topic. This leads me to my next point.

2. PEOPLE BUY BOOKS BASED UPON WHO THE AUTHOR IS

Another significant reason people purchase books is based upon the author. This has been the case for years — well before the concept of platform was accepted as common vernacular in publishing conversations.

As an author, you will sell more books if you are known by more people. (This is especially true for first-time authors.)

Yes, you can sell copies of your book. But if you lack celebrity status or you’re not considered an expert in your field prior to the release of your book, it will take a tremendous amount of work over a long period of time to sell thousands of copies of your book.

If you want to publish a book, the best time to start building your author platform is now. In the words of Seth Godin, “The best time to start promoting your book is three years before it comes out. Three years to build a reputation, build a permission asset, build a blog, build a following, build credibility and build the connections you’ll need later.”

Back to my book as an example.

The book I wrote was on political engagement. I did not have a following of people outside of my small circle of influence and I was not considered a subject matter expert in civic engagement.

Even though my book addressed a specific problem, as an author, I wrote on a topic people did not — and do not — consider me an expert on. It is for these two primary reasons no one outside of the people I knew purchased a copy of my book.

As an author, there are several ways you can build an audience online, but if you are in need of creating awareness for your book sooner rather than later, there are two fast ways you can connect with a lot of readers.

Regardless of the approach you take in creating awareness for you and your work, I encourage you to start right away in sharing your knowledge, experience, and passion with the world. You will be thankful you did when you’re ready to publish your book.

3. PEOPLE BUY BOOKS BASED UPON WORD-OF-MOUTH

The most common way people become aware of books is through a recommendation. Whether it’s a family member, friend, colleague, or an acquaintance on social media, word-of-mouth is the most common way people learn about books.

Before addressing how this influences book marketing, the first thing you need to focus on as an author is to write the best possible book you can, because no amount of marketing can compensate for a poorly written book.

After writing a great book, you want to equip your audience with the ability to easily share your book with their network. Here are some ideas to help you get started:

• Quote images

• Book giveaways

• Freebies

• Blog posts

• Blog tour

• Ask your fans, family, and friends to share it

Though these tactics are helpful, the most important thing you can focus on as an author to ensure your book is shareable is to write the best book you can.

4. PEOPLE BUY BOOKS BASED UPON A SERIES

One last important factor that influences the purchase of books is whether or not your book is tied to a series. This is true in two ways.

First, if people enjoy one installment of a series of stories, such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, or The Chronicles of Narnia, they will be inclined to purchase the next installment in order to know the entire story.

Second, writing or contributing to series of books tied together by a specific theme works well, too. A series of books can be tied directly together, such as A Book You Will Actually Read by Re:Lit, or a series can be loosely connected together, such as Transformational Groups, Transformational Churches, and Transformational Discipleship, by a common theme. (In this latter case, the concept of transformational.)

This publishing strategy works well for fiction and non-fiction authors alike. Before moving forward in this direction, take time to develop a long-term publishing strategy for your story or series of books.

Also, if you’re a non-fiction author, consider collaborating on a series with other authors who write on similar themes. You can develop a series theme and then delegate who writes on what topic.

MAKING THIS WORK FOR YOU

Today, I’m sitting on several book ideas. I have written dozens of pages for two of my ideas, I have outlined others, and I have delayed a few due to timing.

The lessons I learned from writing a book no one bought have served me well in not only preparing to write my next book, but in helping other authors promote their book well.

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