Tips for a Better Book Sales Strategy

Monday, March 12, 2018

Are your book sales at the level where you expected them to be when you published your book? Are you doing the same things you always did to try to sell them? Have you heard the maxim, “If you do what you always did, you’ll get what you always got”? If your sales are below forecast, maybe it's time to try something different. Learn more about how to distribute books to stores.

Sometimes when authors feel they've invested too much time and money getting to where they are, they just keep doing what they have been doing until it works. But why in the world would someone do that? Based on my discussions with many authors, there are at least three reasons:

  • The sunk-cost myth. When considering a decision to change, people often factor in costs they have already incurred—both time and money. Authors think if they abandon their book now, they won’t recover those costs, but if they continue doing something, their costs will be recouped. But a rational decision-maker will look only at future costs, not historical ones.
  • Believing their own publicity. The authors have told so many people that their books are the greatest ever written that they have come to believe it themselves. Now they must continue until everybody else realizes that, too. To not do so would be to admit they were wrong, that perhaps their book was not so great.
  • Loss of objectivity. People do not like to admit they may have missed something. They blame other events or people for their lack of success. Their publisher didn't give it enough effort, bookstores wouldn't give it shelf prominence, and the TV or radio show they appeared on did not generate any sales.

These biases lead people to ignore signals that their current strategy is no longer working, and they continue on the same path. So, what can they do? Here are a few suggestions.

Understand the Problem

Poor book sales are a symptom of the problem, not the actual problem. Your book could be priced incorrectly, improperly distributed, poorly designed, or not professionally edited. Or the culprit could be launching without a marketing plan and promoting only via social networking.

Determine that you must do something different. “Something must be done” is rarely as effective as “I must do something.” Think about what will happen if you continue doing the same thing without adjusting your current course of action.

Develop Realistic Expectations

Recognize what you are getting into. Millions of books are published every year. You are competing with those for librarians’ and retailers’ shelf space, media time, and the budgets of potential buyers. Creating large book sales can take years of persistent book promotion. Don’t expect any shortcuts because “your book is different.” It’s not if nobody knows it is.

Go back to the basics. Learn about book marketing. Read books and blogs. Attend webinars and workshops. Also, join associations. While book marketing is most effective when you develop your plan before you publish a book, there are still many book marketing actions you can do after your book is published.

Objectively Assess Your Circumstances

Do you have a plan in place, and are you willing to invest the time and money to implement it? Do you have the skills to do so? If not, all is not lost. You can hire people to do much of the work for you. Next, appraise the quality of your book. Is it edited and designed professionally? Is it priced competitively? Is it distributed properly to retailers (including bookstores) and non-retail buyers? Are you implementing an assorted promotion mix?

Know What You Are Really Selling

Do not define your book in physical terms (trim size, page count, binding) but in terms of what your content does for the reader. Does it help people feel better, live longer, make more money, be a better parent, or cook? Who could use that information? Where and when do they shop? How can you reach them with your book promotion? Stop selling your books and start selling what your book does by showing buyers how your content can help them.

Distribute Where Your Buyers Shop

At the very least, people buy books online and at chain and independent bookstores. If your books aren't in these places, you're already doing yourself a disservice. Beyond that, you can consider how to get even more targeted. If your prospective buyers are parents, have your books in supermarkets, health-food stores, toy stores, gift shops in national parks, libraries, discount stores, and appropriate specialty stores. If your potential buyers are travelers or business people in an upper-income bracket, have your books in high-end specialty stores, airport stores, business-supply stores, and gift shops in hotels or cruise ships.

Remember that you are in the top echelon of the general public because you have done what many people only dream ofyou wrote and published a book. Do not allow that tremendous accomplishment to be diminished or lost. Never give up, but never give in to the temptation to continue doing what is not working. Try something else. If that does not work, try something else. Eventually, you will find the right combination.


Brian Jud

Brian Jud is the author of the book, How to Make Real Money Selling Books, the Executive Director of the Association of Publishers for Special Sales, and the administrator of Book Selling University. Contact Brian at or