Why Your Self-Published Book Isn’t Selling

And how to make sure it has a chance

Stack and stack of books, slighty out of focus
Image by Eli Digital Creative from Pixabay

Self-publishing is not as simple as uploading your book online, sharing the link on social media, and sitting back and watching the sales roll in.

Publishing Is A Business

It is often assumed that all one needs to do to self-publish is upload their book and watch the sales come in. However, it is much more than that and requires wearing different hats to succeed. The reality is that any form of publishing is a business in itself; it just depends if you want to take on that responsibility.

There is a reason that traditional publishing houses are massive and have teams of professionals in different fields. If you are self-publishing, you have to take that publishing house and take on all that work to have a chance at success. I have seen many self-published authors post about how their book is not getting any sales and they don’t know what to do. I hope this can help open up some eyes to what is needed and what to expect.

What is involved with self-publishing?

The obvious start to any self-published novel is the actual writing of it. This may be the hardest part for some and a breeze for others, but it should be the part we writers are most comfortable with. Once you have written your first novel, don’t rush to upload it to KDP or other platforms just yet. It should be sat on for a few weeks before moving on to the next steps.

Once some time has passed to allow your mind to get a fresh look at things, it is time for self-editing. Again this is fairly standard practice, but I thought it was worth mentioning as I have seen some who seem to have forgotten this step. The self-edit is looking at your novel piece by piece and fixing any issues that you can find with the plot, characters, etc. This is typically done at least a few times, depending on the need.

At this point, those seeking traditional publishing may start to query their novels to agents. For self-publishing, the work has just begun. The order of what you do can vary slightly, but to get the most bang for your buck, I have listed it in my preferred order.

1-Get another pair of eyes on your work

Preferably there is someone you trust that can give honest feedback on your work in its current state. Family is fine if they are willing and can give actual feedback. Alternatives are online communities to find critique partners and beta readers. There are paid services available, but try to find a partner that you can work with long-term. You may have to offer your services to help with their work as well.

2-Start looking for a professional editor

This step can be a tricky one to find a good editor for your work. Fiver can be an ok option to start, but look more for independent editors who have some experience in your genre. A great starting place to look is Reedsy which can connect you with an editor. Keep in mind this step will cost you a decent amount of money, so make sure that you have the funds and that your work is the best you can make on your own.

When finding a professional editor, make sure they offer sample edits and that they work in your genre. The last thing anyone wants is to pay hundreds of dollars to find out you don’t mesh well together.

There are two main types of editing services, both having various names. The first is a developmental edit, which can help with identifying a host of issues related to the plot, pacing, character development, and more. As you get more experienced, you can possibly skip this step in future work, but starting out, I believe it is a must.

The next would be a line or copy edit. This is primarily focused on spelling and grammar once all previous edits have been completed. This is the final polish of the work. This generally will go beyond a standard spell and grammar check, (which you should do on your own prior) but can also look at how a sentence on its own reads.

3-Cover design

Things will start to ramp up here. The writing and editing will likely take the longest to complete and are typically not independent of each other, but these next steps can mesh together and happen concurrently.

We have all heard don’t judge a book by its cover, but who actually believes that when it comes to real books? We all judge books by their covers unless one is recommended to us. The cover is what grabs our attention and makes us want to know more. This is possibly the most important step after writing the novel itself. It doesn’t matter how well it is edited or marketed to your audience; if it has a bad cover, no one will get to see the work you put into it.

I thought having a good cover was common knowledge, but unfortunately seems not to be if you haven’t spent much time learning all about self-publishing. The price for a good cover, and what makes a good cover varies wildly. It can be as cheap as free if you are able to do it yourself and understand what makes a cover good, or thousands of dollars on the higher end of things. Get the best cover you can afford, and if needed, skim some money from the other steps to focus on this. There are a good amount of premade covers for $100 or less if you can’t afford custom.

4-Planning a launch & marketing

This is going to be an oversimplification as marketing your novel can be a whole book in itself. The idea is to build hype for your novel before release and continue that hype after release.

Generally, you want to start marketing your book at least a month before you publish it. Ramp up the efforts the week before, go full out during launch week, and slow it back down the week after. Unless your book is an instant hit, you will want to continue some marketing long-term on a smaller scale.

There are two main types of marketing out there. Gorilla style, do it yourself, and pay for ads. Both are effective, and frankly, both should be used to some extent. Posting on social media to announce the new book, doing a cover reveal, and creating content about your book to inform people should all be done leading up to its release. The paid side of things, if possible should be similar efforts and an easy way to do this is to promote your social media posts.

Again this is an oversimplification of things, but the key point here is to get your book in front of readers' eyes before it launches so they know it exists. Set up preorders and encourage people to do so. All pre-orders go towards having a big launch. You can also give out free copies for people to read and review early so that on launch your book already has some feedback.

In summary

This is not an end-all-be-all list but is meant as a peek inside what it takes to self-publish a novel. I have seen too many authors skip one or more of these steps and then be confused when they have no sales. People have to be told about your book, and some time and money have to go into it after writing.

If you want to self-publish, you have to wear many different hats or hire the processes out if you can afford it. Traditional publishing houses have in-house staff that consists of editors, cover designers, marketers, etc. You have to take all of those roles on top of being a writer to have a chance. If this amount of work scares you, then it might be worth looking into traditional publishing instead. Self-publishing is a business and should be treated like one. You cannot have a successful business if you don’t put in the time.

So get out there, get that novel the best it can be, and remember that even with all this extra work, it takes a good amount of luck on top of everything. Don’t expect instant wealth and fame, especially if you don’t give it a fighting chance.

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