Writing a great book with wonderful cover art and getting it on the “shelf,” virtual or pine, is not enough to make it sell. This reminds me of the boom in home-based internet businesses when the thought was that all you needed to do was create a website with a “buy” button and have some cool product to sell, and those “internet people” would flock to your site and you would be rich. Well, four or five of those companies made it, and the other three million are still having garage sales to try to get rid of all the doggie diapers and stained glass window decorations.

Shouting “buy my book” is not enough to make it sell either. The only person who will buy it because you tell them to is your mother. Maybe. The rest of us? We’ll just put our hands over our ears. Or unfollow you. It’s self-serving. It’s annoying. Your instruction to us has no credibility. You give us no motivation to buy it just by telling us to. In fact, it motivates us to do exactly the opposite. People are peculiar that way :-).

So how does an indie published author sell a book? We’re still learning, but what we have learned on this adventure so far is that you sell your books by:

  • Getting people to tell other people that they should buy it.
  • Being interesting.
  • Making people care about what you have to say.
  • Finding ways to get your book linked to other books by other authors that are selling.
  • Creating the appearance that it is selling (people buy books that other people are buying).
  • Having more than one book, so that if you do create a “fan” that person will have another one (or five) to buy.
  • Making the process of buying your book easy
    • Make it easy to find – get it in front of your target market.
    • Minimize the steps in the buying process.

If I went into detail on what each of those mean this blog would be forty pages long and those that haven’t already fallen asleep would pretty soon anyway. Stay tuned and I’ll break some of these down over the next few months.

Meanwhile, at the risk of losing a few followers I want to share an observation that will be in a series of tweets with this hash tag: #Skippyadvice.

I have a personal Twitter account with 2000+ random people, and it is a cool stream of consciousness: ideas, smiles, and funny stuff. #Skippyadvice

I have a publishing Twitter account with 500+ writer followers, and its feed feels like I am in a room full of people shouting BUY MY BOOK. #Skippyadvice

People will not buy your book because you tell them to. You need them to want to get to know you. You need to be interesting enough that other people will sell them for you. #Skippyadvice

That’s all for now, folks.


p.s. see some advice on what DOES work in the comments below — don’t worry — we’ll expound upon all of that soon.

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7 Responses to Selling books: what doesn’t work.

  1. Pamela says:

    I’d add that some things that do work are: announcing the release of your book, having release parties, blogging, guest blogging, reviews,giveaways,media (newpaper, radio, TV), book sales, and signings. The reason I think these work, is that they give you a reason to raise the awareness of others, especially your closest contacts, that your book is out there FOR REAL, and that motivates them to remember to buy it. It’s way different than saying “go buy my book” to say “come to my launch party and celebrate with me b/c I’m happy as a pig in shit.” :-)And it creates the most important sales tool: word of mouth. The others that read about your _____ (event) will talk about it, you, and your book. That’s awesome use of social media and grassroots.

    I do not think paid advertising works except as part of a targeted CAMPAIGN, which costs big bucks, so I won’t be trying it.

    I think a publicist can help if they can score you media, but that costs money, too.

    I also think that rankings, comments, tags, “associations” sell books online. I am completely unsure whether giving your book away for free on amazon helps — I hear mixed messages here. If people really READ your book when they download it free, and then as a result they talk about it to others who then go buy it, that could work, but the reality is that many people don’t read free books. They download them, but there’s 5 bajillion other free ones for them to get to so why would they then tell people about your book and suggest they pay for it? It makes no sense to me. Who knows tho. I haven’t tried it. I also don’t know if going exclusive with Amazon/Kindle helps. Again, I hear mixed results. Certainly I’m not retiring off my Nook income yet haha but I am selling on B&N, at a decent clip.

    Anyway, I know you’ll blog on these types of things later. I know this was mostly just to say what doesn’t work, since you’re getting inundated with it (and so I am). The books I have bought most recently, and why:

    Chitra Divukarani’s “Sister of my heart” b/c I attended a speech she gave. I bought the sequel on Amazon for Kindle b/c I liked Sisters.

    Rhiannon Frater’s The Vampire Bride, when I saw her speak. I gave it away as a gift.

    Bill Bryce, “A walk in the woods” about the Appalachian Trail b/c I’m interested, and a friend recommended it.

    Terri Sonoda, “Sara’s Sleep,” because I like her writing from the blogs I’ve read, and I knew about her book from her blogs

    Lisa Scottoline, (can’t remember title) because I like her legal thriller/mysteries and wanted to study her voice and a friend mentioned liking her which reminded me of her (word of mouth)

    Not a one of them because I saw a posting in social media saying “Buy my book” or some version thereof.

    And a slew of books on indie publishing, because I saw them referred to by other indie authors (word of mouth)

  2. Eric says:

    Good Stuff,
    And I didn’t mean to come off negative. This is a really really cool exciting thing we are working on, and I think there are lots of things that DO work, as I said in my bullets, and you and I both will expand on them as we go.


    Those of you that know us well know that we are NOT trying to be preachy or act like we know everything. We don’t, we just have decided to share as we go, and hopefully some people will benefit from not repeating our mistakes and taking advantage of the things that have worked for us.

    This is not a sprint, it is a marathon.

  3. Terri Sonoda says:

    Hi Eric;
    When I first read this article, it sounded a bit harsh to me. But, trust me, it didn’t hold a candle to some of the stuff I’ve been reading in my research for my thesis. So…I read it a second time. The second time, I came away with a softer, clearer opinion. And I’ll tell you why. I realized what you meant by people shouting “Buy my book.” You really meant that they do that! And that turns me off too! Ask me nicely, or give me a list of interesting reasons why I should buy your book, and I’m not so turned off…but don’t just say “buy my book.” And for gosh sakes, don’t Twitter it every two seconds!
    I get it. And your list of things that work for you all may not completely work for everyone else, but you didn’t demand they would work for everyone.
    Other articles I’ve read “insist” it is their way or the highway, and they really have nothing with which to back up their advice.
    I think you have something here. I will continue to read for sure. And comment. Because I’m a rebel that way. LOL

    And Pamela: I couldn’t agree more with your comments above. I just recently had a launch party online for my new book and it was so much fun. We had lots of participation and enthusiasm and we sold some books without even one shout. Just sayin.. And I think I’m going to check out that book about the Appalachian Trail.

    Hope ya’ll are having a great 4th! We’re having a quiet one, but with some good food!

  4. Deb says:

    Good post! I’ve always joked about the folks that DM new followers with “buy my book at xxxx”. I just met you, for crying out loud! THAT’S someone’s first interaction with a new follower? Sheesh.

    I have bought a lot of books from social media connections, either because the pitch was really cool, or I’d developed an on-line relationship with them and wanted to check out their writing. Yes, I do buy some of the big dog authors’ work, but most of my indy/debut/midlist purchases have come as a result of an initial relationship with the author.

    And I’m looking up that book on the Appalachian trail. . .

  5. Eric says:

    Thanks for reading it the second time. And, you definitely got it in the way I intended on the second read. It was just to try to point out that telling people at every opportunity to “buy my book” typically has the opposite effect. Its annoying. As you expressed and I covered in the orginal blog, authors need to give people are reason to want to buy, not tell them that they should.
    I was worried that the title might be a little too much and give people the wrong impression (but I can blame that on Pamela). 🙂
    Glad to hear that you are having success!
    Thank you for your comments I think you are spot on.

  6. Eric says:


    Thank you very much.



    And, the first four chapters of that Appalachian Trail book are about the funniest thing I have ever read.

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