Friday, June 15, 2012

Why Books Sell - Or Not?

Welcome to today's Friday Friend, Linda Swift, who is asking a question that every writer must ask at some point!

– IMHO (In My Humble Opinion)
Let me say in the beginning that I am speaking here from my own opinions based on my experience with my books since 2008 when I became a digitally-published author. I have also discussed these topics with a few other authors of my acquaintance in the business which I may refer to (who shall remain nameless).  Knowing my lack of impressive credentials, you may choose to move on to something more worthy of your time and if so, I wish you a wonderful day.
Now, for the benefit of those curious enough to stay, I’ll try to make it worth your time. I have had books published with nine digital publishers and have more contracted for later this year. In all, I have ten ebooks (also in print) and four short stories currently available at these various publishers, Amazon and many other distributors. Some of my books have done well. Others have not.
What makes the difference?  I have tried to promote them equally but with books released last year in March, April, May, June, and July by different publishers and two holiday books in November by still another, I’m sure I did not succeed. An author friend who found herself in the same situation frequently commiserated with me and we asked each other “How did this happen? What were we thinking?  Will we survive this avalanche of new releases?”
So how did this happen? Heeding the old adage of not putting all one’s eggs in the same basket, I  submitted to several publishers simultaneously. Much to my delight, many were accepted, but I hastily add that at least as many were rejected. However, elation turned to dismay when I realized just how many were being released in 2011. There are only so many times an author can get the attention of people when announcing new releases on the loops. And let’s face facts here. Many of our sales come from other authors who read our promo excerpts there. The larger the number of a publisher’s loop members, the more an author interacts, the more opportunity for sales. I admit that I’m not very good at doing this.  So the moral to this confession is that I believe it is better to have fewer publishers and be able to focus on fewer books at a time.
I don’t have a blog. I wasn’t  born with a mouse in my hand as some of you were, and being totally overwhelmed with all things technical, I simply haven’t had the time to learn to use this great promotional tool. I do guest blogs when invited and also interviews for other authors’ blogs. I participate in publishers’ chats and recently did a marathon 12 hours forum with six other authors who “volunteered” to help me. We had about 1,500 viewers throughout the day with only a small fraction  of those commenting even though we gave away a book each hour. Did this result in added sales?  Who knows?
Not being a techie, and having so many print books to sell, last year I began focusing on book signings. Since most book stores won’t carry our print books due to not being able to return POD  (print on demand)unsold  books to our publishers, an author must buy and furnish books. Book stores such as Barnes & Noble do have an “open” signing annually at which local authors can sell self-published or books not carried in their systems.  I’ve lived a nomad existence so I can qualify as “local” in a lot of places. I’ve also arranged signings at libraries (sometimes in conjunction with doing a program), coffeehouses, and special events. Some have been very successful, others have not. Libraries have been least successful (probably because they lend books)  However, due to my association with them, I have libraries in three towns who buy my books from me at retail price and two others who order them through their distributor My university bookstore also buys from me,carries all of my books in their alumni section, and has sponsored two book signings for me.
Does paid promo increase sales?  I had a Civil War saga released in 2011, which began the four-year commemoration of the C.W. Sesquicentennial. I felt it deserved my best efforts so I bit the bullet and paid $225. for a 1/8 page BxW ad in Romantic Times. I did not find an increase in sales as a result. Others may have better luck. I’ve paid for a few inexpensive promo ops at LASR and other sites but have no idea if it paid off in sales but it did offer name recognition.
I’m lax about keeping up with my sales through statistical data. I do check the publishers’ best selling lists on Amazon and also where my books rank on Amazon sales overall. I was instructed on how to track my books but decided my time would be better spend promoting than tracking. My royalty checks tell me how my books are doing . . . or not.
What about the price of books? My various publishers have different  prices for books of the same genres having the same number of pages. I’m sure they have their reasons and the size of the publisher has nothing to do with it.  Overall, due to not having minimum 30K print runs like the NY pubs, I understand that they can’t compete with those prices. But neither can I sell a paperback book of less than 100 pages for $19.95 with good conscience, even to my friends! And ebooks for $6.95-$8.95 don’t sell too well either. This is one reason why I’m in the process of republishing some of my books with an independent publisher who has more realistic pricing.
Do book titles/blurbs/covers affect sales?  I am completely convinced they do. I’m glad that all of my digital publishers have allowed me to maintain the names I have given to my “babies.”  I renamed my Civil War book three times while submitting but don’t know if the present name helped it to be accepted.  I don’t enjoy writing blurbs and am always happy when an editor tweaks what I’ve written. I’ve had cover artists “get it right” the very first time and I’ve had some covers I’ve had to accept with “close enough.” I want to leave you with one current  example of my conviction of the part covers and blurbs play in sales.
My best contemporary book ever was released last year with a very dark scenic cover (which I accepted after a few tries as “close enough”). I’m guilty of writing the blurb that touched on all of the negative circumstances and events in the story. Despite a lot of promo the book did not do well. The publisher and I talked about this and I was asked to rewrite the blurb. From my conversation with the publisher, I realized for the first time (I admit stupidity here) that the theme of this book was overcoming the obstacles in life’s journey.  I agreed to rewrite if the publisher would change the cover.  The result was a beautiful new cover showing the H&H in a very tender embrace and a blurb that summed up the dilemma they faced. The price was cut drastically for a month’s promo and as I write this, remains .99 for the ebook and $13.56 for print. The book has been #3 and #4  on at the publisher’s bestsellers list the last two weeks and today is at #2. What made the difference in failure and success? Cover, blurb, promo or a combination of all three?  I wish I knew!
Why books sell . . . or not?   I’m still trying to figure this out, as are most of you who are also reading here. It goes without saying that it helps to have a good story (or the most clever packaging won’t result in re-sales). An attractive cover, an attention-grabbing title and blurb will help. Competitive pricing,  promoting widely, (both the book and yourself to gain a readership one sale at a time), and determination to succeed through continued effort day after day. It also helps to have a soft cushion in your computer desk chair because you’ll be spending a lot of your time there!
I want to thank Paula for inviting me to HWH. I hope my post has justified the time you have spent reading it.  I welcome your opinions on this subject and hope you will share with us what has worked for you.
Linda, thank you so much for being with us today - and for tackling such an important question!
Linda divides her time between her native state of Kentucky and Florida. She is an award winning author of published poetry, articles, short stories, and a TV play. .  Her  first two books were published by Kensington.  In her other life, she earned an Education Specialist Degree from Murray State University with post-graduate work from U. of Alabama and was a teacher, counselor, and psychometrist in the public schools in three states. She credits her husband and adult children for providing encouragement and technical support necessary for survival in the cyberspace world.
Linda is the only non-musical member in her family of professional musicians but likes to think she makes music with words. For more information, please visit her website at
Love sometimes happens when least expected.  Scott Parker and Leah Carson, principal and counselor of Central High in the small town of Olive Hill are blindsided by the deep emotion that grows from their dedication to their jobs. Working together day after day toward common goals, their friendship and respect for each other gradually turns to love. When purpose turns to passion, they attempt to deny their feelings without success. Scott and Leah face a decision that will lead to happiness or heartbreak. Caught in a vortex of circumstances beyond their control, how can they choose when so many others are affected by the outcome?


  1. Good morning, Paula. And it is very early morning for me here in Kentucky. Thank you for inviting me to share my thoughts with your readers today. I hope all who read will share their thoughts, too. Linda

  2. Oh, Linda, what a fantastic post. I have to dash to work, but I am going to read this again this evening. Thank you. I wish you great success.

  3. I really enjoyed your post, Linda, as for having the answer...

    Of course, we have to start with a damned good story and some great characters, but wouldn't it be nice to have some sort of magic formula to do everything else by?


  4. Hi Ana, and thank you for your kind compliment. To be re-read is a high honor in my book. (pun intended) See you later. And thanks for your good wishes.

  5. Suzie, your comment about a damned good story brought a smile of remembrance of a very close (now deceased) friend, who on reading my second published book, said, "That's a damned good story." So that became our highest commpliment of each other's work. And I use it with a very dear cyber friend these days. It is our words of highest praise. Damned good story says it all!

  6. Hi Linda,

    Thanks so much for being here with us at Heroines with Hearts.

    Super post. I think we all wonder what makes some books sell when others don't. What is it that grabs a reader and propells the author's sales through the roof and onto bestseller lists?

    I think some of it is dumb luck. Who can ever predict what people are going to want to read next? I think some of it is theme and timing. I had a Christmas novella e-book out last year. It was my fourth title overall, and other than copies of my print books that I sold to friends and family, it probably did the best out of all of them. Apparently having a Christmas book out at Christmas time is good for sales! (g)

  7. Excellent synopsis of promoting our fantastic books. Of course, they are all great, so why not use everything at our disposal to sell them? If we don't, no one else will.
    The transformation of To Those Who Wait is really a success story. I've been following the book on its way to selling better and better. The cover is a far better one than the first; the blurb now is more positive; and the reduced price really caught some eyes, too. A winning combination.
    Now, if we could just make that work for all our books.
    I read your post twice--because the first time my eyes were still bleary from sleep and I'd only had two sips of coffee. Now that I have my make-up one and my Cheerios, I feel much better--ready to tackle the day.
    Continue your plan and you'll see more success come your way.

    Readers, I recommend To Those Who Wait--Celia

  8. Good post, Linda. It would be nice to find an effective way to track sales based on these promotional tools--we all just wing it! I agree that cover, blurb and PRICE seem to make the greatest difference. M. S. Spencer

  9. This was a very thoughtful, analytical post. Thanks, Linda. Your thoughts have helped me solidify a few of my own and bring up even more questions.

    I agree that COVER-BLURB-PRICE are three essentials. How ironic, then, that we the authors have control over only one of the top three!

    Perhaps the telling of "a damn good story" will in the end be the most important factor of whether a book is successful...but let's not forget that it must also be "damn well told."

    Your post is worth reading repeatedly, both as a how-to and a how-not-to in this tricky business. I appreciate your insight.

    Slán, Erin O'Quinn

  10. Hi Linda, thanks for stopping by today. You're right, it's really hard to determine what makes a book sell. I know I've had a more difficult time selling my second book, Skin Deep, but I think personally that's due to my lack of promotion (it was released at a really busy time for me and I've just started my push now--hoping that helps). My first book has done very well. I definitely recommend blogging, although it takes a lot of time. And that's an interesting idea that having so many books coming out around the same time can have a negative impact. Good luck and thanks for sharing!

  11. Hope Linda won't mind if I pop in with my two cents' worth!
    First of all, I agree with the importance of cover-blurb-price, and this is where I think we 'published' authors are at a disadvantage compared to self-publishers who can (on the whole) set a lower price for their books.
    Secondly, I'd beg to differ with Jennifer about the effects of promotion. I think I've promoted my three novels fairly equally. and yet whereas the first one sold well, the second and third ones haven't done anything like as well. So much so, this past week, while I've been struggling with my current WIP, I've started to wonder why I'm bothering when so few people seem to be reading my books! Maybe I'd be better writing paranormal erotica with bdsm, and menage shapeshifters or vampires??

  12. A fascinating post, Linda - thank you. Wish we knew the answers to the questions you've posed - but I do like the cover of your book! See below for one possible problem these days.

    Paula, your remark reminds me I was wondering the other day if there are just too many books out there now. I have 60+ on my kindle alone and I just don't know when I'll get around to reading them. Some of them were offered free for a few days (or reduced for a while and I took advantage). But I feel quite overwhelmed with having so many to read - and I read a lot! At one time, I really looked forward to choosing a book to read.

  13. Thank you for the post. You answered the same questions that I have been struggling with.

    I am not getting the sales that I need to turn my writing into a decent living. Yet, when I do sell my books, a large percentage of the buyers are repeat buyers. I have five books out. If one is sold, they often buy the others.

    So, I'm guessing one major problem for me are the covers and blurbs for my stories to set a wider net. Yes, I did them all on my own. I just don't have the money to hire experts.

  14. Hi Debra, and thank you for your thoughtful comments. You'v made some excellent points. I also have two holiday books and I don't really promote them except at Christmas,yet sales seem to stay pretty much the same year around.
    I agree on timing and theme. I have a Civil War book that was released the first year of the CW Sesquicentennial last year. It seels without promo at every signing. And we've all seen cases where dumb luck seems to be the only factor!

  15. Celia, thanks for visiting today. And before your Cheerios yet! A true friend. I almost used your success with your Dimne Novels in this blog. That is such a great inspiration. And if you could tell us why one was such a runaway bestseller, above the others, we could all be bestsellers, maybe.
    I an going to heed your advice and so much more online promo than I have been doing. I can see it helps.

  16. Hello Erin. Analytical? Insight? Who me? Thank you so much for those complimentary words. If I had to guess, I'd say the .99 price (in these lean times) was the largest factor in this book's reversal. But the cover is a real plus. I confess I crammed ecery negative event in the book into the first blurb (what was I thinking?) and now that is better, too. What really distressed me was knowing that this was my "damned BEST book" and not getting it read. And the response from those who have bought it has been so gratifying! The bottom line is that a book has to be read and the challenge is getting that to happen.

  17. M.S. yes, we are back to the cover, blurb, and price aren't we? And as has already been said, we don't control but one of those unless we self-pub. But we can leaern to be more discriminating about our covers. And we should be. And some publishers will also listen to authors' opinions on prices. I have two who do this out of six. And books offered for special sales help.

  18. Hi Jennifer, I was interested in your comments about a second book. I've discussed this with other authors and some feel that people buy your first book because they're curious. Than maybe not the second unless they were really "hooked." And I do think one can have too many books out to do justice to promotion. I also write in multi-genres and that can have a negative impact on building a fan base. My only consistency is character-driven stories, no matter the genre.

  19. Paula, I'm delighted that you popped in. And you wouldn't dare change your writiing style and/or genre. You have a good thing going here. I've read three of your books and all have some things in common so that when I buy one I know it will not disappoint me. So keep on doing what you're doing so well and success will come.

  20. Hi Rosemary. Thank you re my cover. Gemini Judson did this one and she's a great artist. I did choose the couple myself as they "are" Scott and Leah as I saw them in my mind's eye.
    Strange, you should mention too many books out there. I had the same thoughts this week and wondered how on earth we can compete successfully with so much to choose from. And there seems to be too many blogs, too many loops, just too much of everything to keep up with (at least for me) One has to learn to discriminate and not become unfocused with all the distractions. A hard task.

  21. Anonymous, it sounds to me as if you are doing something right if your readers return for more books. You are building a fan base one reader at a time. And it is discouraging how slow this process is. I don't personally know any digital authors who make a living with their books, sad to say. But if you can focus on making your covers and blurbs more appealing, you may sell more. If you do your covers as well as blurbs, do you have a good source to choose from? I've found Stock Photos to be a good source for recommending pictures to my independent publisher's artisits.

  22. Hi Linda,

    I rushed over after seeing Paula's FB post about this.

    Getting to the crux of sales remains an enigma. There is no accounting for reader tastes, and what sells one day can plummet the next. Last month on Amazon my self-published novels sold mostly to America, Australia & South Pacific region. This month the Brits are coughing up the dosh, and the rest of world lagging. That said sales are steady when taking averages into account.

    As you say covers and blurbs sell in the first instance, and it's up to the story thereafter to keep a reader reading and willing to come back for more from a specific author. I've adopted a fairly low key attitude to promotion and to be honest I prefer steady sales ticking along rather than that of the boom (best-seller listing)and crash variety (forgotten in a month).

    You have a lovely cover image conveying sweet romance, and the story sounds rather gentle in context re loving affection. ;)


  23. Hello Francine, it's nice to meet you here. And I think you have summed it up well in one word---enigma. If we only knew what would grab the reading public, we'd all be bestsellers.
    In a way, To Those Who Wait is a sweet romance but the H&H are married to other people. Regardless of one's moral conviction, I challenge anyone to read the book and not approve their love affair. One reader even implored me to write a sequel of some years later and give it a different ending. But of course, I couldn't compromise the "true" resolution that way. Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

  24. Interesting post, Linda. I've enjoyed reading your books and I think you hit it spot on when you said that covers and blurbs make the most difference. I certainly agree with you there! Good luck!

  25. Hi Danielle. Thanks for visiting. And we do have control over our blurbs for the most part. With a NY pub, I did not. People were employed to do that job! And I've learned that we can have a lot of input into our covers, too, as well as filling out the cover art forms that most publishers give us. It pays to speak up and ask for another cover to choose from if you are not happy with the first cover offered. Chances are if you don't like it, not many others will either. Thanks for your compliment and good wishes.

  26. What an interesting and useful post! I have suspected for some time that paid advertising doesn't work and I felt in my bones that the cover and blurb were vital! Thanks Linda

  27. As an independent author, one advantage we do have is complete control of our books. Cover, blurb, price are the major influences in sales. BUT so is promotion.

    My first novel came out (a medieval fantasy) in 2007. I pushed and promoted hard. Yes, the cover was striking and the blurb epically sweeping. But (as I was with a publisher then) the cost was a bit steep. 19.95 for 200 pages. *hisses* A new author, I kept track of every sale made in person (festivals, signings, conventions, grocery market, etc.). Amazon helped me keep track of online sales. I sold hundreds!

    That being said, my second book (a paranormal mystery) self pubbed and released in 2010. It's release fell just before a bad point in my life. My cover was professional and passed my beta readers' approval; my blurb was approved by critique circles and beta readers; my price was nominal ($10 for 200 pages). My sales were...bupkis. I simply wasn't out there promoting it.

    Roll around to book three (also paranormal mystery and a follow up to the second book). It released (self pubbed) May of this year. All the same care went into it - cover, blurb, price. The cover was darker and drearier (darker subject matter) was the only noticeable change. The result in less than a month of release? Sales are through the roof! Why? I'm out there pushing it, talking it up and promoting hard. What has this helped with? Book 2 (1st in the same world) book's sales are up.

    I'm not saying cover, blurb, price isn't a phenomenally HUGE contributing factor to sales. I do think that promotion is also a big factor. I have yet to pay for advertising in my publishing career (I do not count business cards, bookmarks, etc), so I believe that unpaid advertising works just as well.

    Great article! I look forward to reading more from you. All the best and BREAK A PEN!

    BC Brown ~ Paranormal, Mystery, Romance, Fantasy
    "Because Weird is Good."

  28. B.C. - I agree that promotion is a big factor, but I wonder if there is also a danger of over-promoting oneself or one's book? I have seen this happen on the yahoo loops, FB and Twitter, to the extent that it must surely have a negative effect?

  29. This is one of the big secrets of the universe!

    Morgan Mandel

  30. Hi Jenny, thanks for visiting. I am reminded of a recent book giveway when I had the winners go to my web site and choose any book they wanted. And one man and one female chose a short story called Nathan, the Buttercups Are Blooming that showed an older couple in a field of flowers. Their choice had to be related to title and cover.

  31. B.C. thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us. I was thinking as I read your comments that this should be a guest post here and/or elsewhere and not just a response to my post. (are you listening, HWH?) You have made a very strong case for promotion. It is obvious that you are writing in a popular genre but if your work wasn't good that wouldn't result in such success. I hope you will share some of the ways and places you have promoted. You must be doing everything right! Thanks again for taking the time and effort to post this helpful reply.

  32. Paula, you make a good point here on "over prommotion." I recall one author who did that for months witih the same book and I stopped reading her excerpts after a while. I have been afraid that I may have been guilty of that with To Those Who Wait. I thought I had less than two weeks to promote it as .99 so I hit the loops hard with blurb and excerpts. Then the time was extended and I'm still out there. But I wonder if some readers are thinking that I cried "Wolf" (the sale is ending in two days, etc.) as a sales gimmick. It's difficult to know when enough is enough.

  33. Hi Morgan. You are a lady of few words but they were wise ones. Thank you for visiting and for a smile today.

  34. On some of the things you had to say, I have to totally agree. I once thought having several publishers was a good idea but I've changed my mind about that because I felt compelled to write a book or short story every 3 months to keep something new at each publisher. Well that's just not feasible. Also, i believe readers looking for your work find it hard to locate an author at different places. I think it's best to find a publisher that best fits your genre and style and stick with them.
    I hate to say it, but blogs have become essential to authors and so has Facebook. An author page at Amazon and the loops that allow it are good, too.
    Readers have to know you're there so interfacing with people on loops is required but relelntless promoting just becomes annoying.
    Once readers get hold of a book they like, they'll return to that author again and again. In this particular case, you should do well because I have read your work and it's definitely quality work, Linda. It takes time to establish a fan base but I have every confidence you will.

  35. Enjoyed the article and learned some things. Thanks for sharing.

  36. I just have to comment. I flew in from Google alerts but I'm aching to give my two cents worth. I love the rhythmic flow of this, if this is any indication of what her book is like, I think I'd enjoy it very much but I would like to agree with the author as well. I've always said the cover, the title, the blurb and the price is what will help sell your book. I say help because it all comes down to what's inside but you'd be amazed how many people judge something from first impressions. Great blog post! As for what else you can do - pray.

  37. Sarah! It's so good to see you here. And I'm glad you agree about having multi-publishers. You mentioned something new about readers having more difficulty finding us or keeping up with us. Good point. I KNOW I need to get a blog but I think I'd spend too much time trying to do guest interviews, etc. unless I just did what Celia Yeary mainly does, write articles herself. She has a large following for that. I have the Amazon Author Page. And do Facebook and Twitter. And I'm about "promo-ed out" on To Those Who Wait. I'm ready for the sale to end! Thank you for your praise of my work and encouragement.

  38. Hi Lynn. Another lady who doesn't sugger from verbosity! Thanks for your concise comments and for visiting today.

  39. Admin, you are welcome to stop in and leaave your two cents worth anytime! And especially when you have such nice things to say about what you read here. Thank you. I'm glad you agree with the majority that title, blurb, cover and price are essential elements in book sales. Ad unfortunately readers do seem to judge a book by its covers and the aforementioned factors and sometime never get inside to discover what it says. Have you heard the expression:Pray as if it all depended on God and work as if it all depended on you? Good advice.

  40. There is so much more to writing than writing.

  41. Hi Joyce. What truth you speak! And people think writing is an easy job and glamourous. I'm working harder than I've ever worked before and for a lot less money. But I would do it all for free just for the joy of getting my work into readers' hands and hearts. Thanks for visiting.

  42. My thanks to all who have stopped by and left their thoughtful comments. I have been so gratified by your response to my guess blog here. And thank you, Paula and HWH for inviting me.