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Why Isn’t My Book Selling? – Part 1

Updated: May 5

Woman browsing books.

I get asked this all the time. 

As a publisher and bibliophile, I firmly believe that there are many books to write and many ways to write a book. I honestly don’t believe that the issue, though there is great debate in the industry right now, is that there are too many books being published.  Too many books? Is that even possible? (More on this topic in my next two blog posts.) 

And while there are many factors that can influence a book’s sales, I always start with the most basic question. What positioning was done prior to the book being created and published? 

Publishing at its most basic is a three-part process. There is the writing of the book, the publishing of the book, and the selling of the book. In working with published authors struggling to sell their books, what I see is often, unknowingly, they front loaded this 3-step process. Meaning the emphasis is on the manuscript and the finished book. 

The selling of the book, arguably the most important part of the entire process, is seemingly an afterthought that starts only once the book is printed. And by then it is too late. 

You only have one chance to make a first impression. In today’s consumer driven, immediate gratification, curated content, and digital economy, you absolutely have to start with the end in mind—the reader. 

What does that mean? While still in the manuscript phase, the author or publisher must be thinking about the positioning of the book to maximize visibility and sales.  Factors like—who is the specific reader, what is their demographic, what are the competitive categories for the book, what is the genre, what are the SEO keywords, who is the direct competition, what is the promise and the benefit of the book, what are the design standards in the genre, etc.

All of these factors need to be taken into account BEFORE the manuscript is published. Why? Because they significantly impact the creation of the finished product—the book. Everything about the finished book, from the title / subtitle, the cover design, imagery, color palette, internal design, the font, the back cover copy, to the book description, needs to be optimized for the intended reader. 

The truth is that the first impression a book makes on a reader is visual—the cover.  And in an instant, based on that first impression, a decision I made. Good story, bad story? Who knows. The opportunity to draw the reader in is often won or lost based solely on the reader being “drawn” to the book, often before the story was considered

We do in fact judge a book by its cover, with many more factors playing into that decision than most of us are aware of. Yet how are most book covers designed? In a vacuum. Often by a graphic designer who has not read the book and likely knows little about the specific reader niche or genre they are designing for. 

And just like covers, titles, back cover copy, and book descriptions need to be optimized for the intended reader and niche as well. 

Bottom line? In my experience it’s rarely the story that is the issue. It’s the packaging that is limiting sales.


PS. To help you get started thinking about positioning, you can find a free digital download of the initial positioning analysis What If? Publishing uses with its authors.




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