Have you ever been in this situation: you publish your book, you spend a lot of money on the cover, you spend even more money on advertisements to drive traffic to your book, you put a lot of time into writing the book description, not to mention the book itself, you put that book out into the world and…nothing.
Don't worry, you are not alone.
Very often a book will have poor sales, and this can be extremely discouraging to authors. Sometimes there is little you can do about this, but other times there are glaring issues, that if corrected, can result in better sales.
That's what we're going to talk about today: how to diagnose a book's sales problem.
I will give you a list of the top problems that authors run into, ideas on how to diagnose the problem, and potential solutions to these problems with information on where you can find out more, and how to figure out exactly what's wrong.
- What are the biggest culprits to book sales failure
- Methods to pinpoint exactly what is wrong with your book
- Steps to fix your sales problems
Table of contents
List of the Biggest Culprits for Book Sales Problems:
Here's a comprehensive list of the most common problems for books that fail. If you know that one of these is the problem automatically, then click on the links to learn how to solve them.
Let's dive into each of these one by one:
1. Check to Make Sure You're Not in a ‘Ghost' Category
The problem: When adding your book to Amazon KDP, you get to select 3 categories from the list. However, there are ways this can sabotage your book sales.
Because, you see, there are these things called Ghost Categories.
We define these as categories that, essentially, don't exist in Amazon's store, but they're selectable in KDP.
And the worst part is, these Ghost categories make up 27% of all categories.
How to know if this is your problem: Thankfully, if you use Publisher Rocket, these categories are easily identifiable. When you look up a category in Publisher Rocket, you'll see some tags that mention if that category is a Ghost category, Duplicate category, or selectable.
- Step 1: Learn more about ghost categories and why you should (generally) avoid them
- Step 2: Use Publisher Rocket to identify ghost categories
2. Unprofessional or Unremarkable Cover Problems
The problem: Your book cover is unprofessional and looks cheap. Therefore customers will not get your book.
This is easily one of the most common issues when a book is not selling well. You've got the wrong cover.
Book covers are one of the most important marketing tools. If they do not look professional, or look like they were slapped together in half an hour on Photoshop, then they are not likely to be taken seriously.
The truth is that if you have an unprofessional cover, no amount of ad spend or email marketing will make a difference. People just won't pick it up.
How to know if this is your problem: Consult Method #1 below. If you can run ads to your book and you get a lot of impressions and not a lot of clicks, the problem is probably with your book cover.
3. Confusing Cover Problems
The problem: Your book cover is not targeting the correct genre, meaning that when people see it, they think it isn't right for them.
Covers are a poster for the genre of the story you are trying to write. They are an opportunity to show the reader exactly what to expect from your book, and the key is that you want a book cover that looks familiar to fans of your genre.
However, it is easy to get a cover that is sending the wrong message. When this happens, you could be confusing your reader, making them think that your book belongs in one genre, when it really belongs in another. This could easily be a big problem if your book looks like a clean romance, for example, when it is actually a lot more spicy.
How to know if this is your problem: Consult Method #3 below. Be sure to ask people what they think your book is about based on the cover alone, or what genre it belongs to.
4. Poor Book Descriptions
The problem: People are arriving on your book sales page but not converting, because they see your book description and believe the book is not for them.
Besides the cover, the book description is one of the first things that a reader will look at before deciding to buy your book. If you have a bad description, the number of people buying your book will go down.
Ultimately, you want a description that catches people's attention, gives some key points about your book that makes them want to know more, and inspires them to action. Your book should not be a laundry list of events, or any other potential no-no's like that.
How to know if this is your problem: Consult Method #1 below. If you can run ads to your book and you get a lot of clicks but no sales, it's probably a book description problem.
5. Useless Keywords
The problem: people aren't finding you when they search for books on Amazon. Your book just doesn't come up.
When inputting your keywords into Amazon KDP or other online vendors, you want to pick keywords that people are actually searching for. If you have keywords that no one searches for, or has too much competition, your book will never show up for those keywords.
What you need are keywords that are not too competitive, meaning there aren't a lot of books out there that use those keywords, but that people are searching for enough that you can still make sales.
How to know if this is your problem: Use a tool like Publisher Rocket to look at the keywords in your title, subtitle, and 7 Kindle keywords and see if they are low competition but high volume of searches. If they are too competitive, or don't have anyone searching for them, then it's a keyword problem.
6. Poor Reviews
The problem: You've received enough negative reviews that your overall average has dipped low, causing potential buyers to pass over your book.
While reviews are not a factor in Amazon's search algorithm, they are a huge factor in getting readers to buy your book. If you have an average review star rating below 4 stars,, your odds of getting a reader to take a chance on your book go down significantly.
What you want is a lot of high quality, positive reviews. Those can be hard to come by, which is why you have to be intentional about it. Additionally, you'll want to make sure that any issues that come up in bad reviews are addressed.
How to know if this is your problem: You have less than a 4-star average on Amazon. See Method 2 below.
- Step 1: Decide if your poor reviews are salvageable. If there are too many bad reviews, you might want to consider making corrections then republishing the book once the issues are fixed.
- Step 2: Fix the problems that reviewers are citing in their negative reviews
- Step 3: Do not respond to the negative reviews
- Step 4: Get an editorial review (optional)
- Step 5: Build a relationship with people who like your book to get more positive reviews
7. Low Reviews
The problem: You don't have enough reviews to be taken seriously by potential buyers on Amazon, so you end up not selling books.
If your book has been out for a while and still has less than 10 reviews, you've got a different kind of review problem. And it can be hard to get a lot of good reviews, especially if you're just starting out.
How to know if this is your problem: You have less than 10 reviews.
8. Poor Launch Tactics
The problem: Your book had little to no fanfare when it first launched, so no one bought it, and Amazon assumed these low sales = low interest, so the book didn't get picked up by the algorithm.
If you just throw your book out there and do very little to promote it once it's published, you are not likely to see many sales.
A good book launch has to be intentional. You need to have a strategy for how you are going to promote and market that book once it is available to purchase.
How to know if this is your problem: You had poor sales at the start of your book's release. This is especially true if the book cover and book description were good, though it is common for all three to be a problem.
- Step 1: Decide if you can simply update your book, or if you need to republish and start over with a new launch
- Step 2: Make sure your book cover and book descriptions are ready to go well in advance.
- Step 3: Set up an email list well in advance
- Step 4: Review these sales tactics for ideas to incorporate into your launch
- Step 5: Share your book with your email list
- Step 6: Use Facebook Ads and Amazon Ads to make sure the algorithm is targeting the correct readers
- Step 7: Schedule out book promotions and social media to enhance your launch (see this video for more).
9. Amazon Honeymoon Period
The problem: Your book launch fails or you get the wrong type of readers so Amazon's algorithm does not pick up your book to promote organically through its channels.
Current evidence shows that Amazon gives preferential treatment to new books. If you are not spending that time wisely, it can have a permanent and long-lasting effect on your sales.
What you want to do is have a strong book launch (see above) and make use of continuous promotional strategies (see below) in order to take full advantage of that Amazon honeymoon period.
How to know if this is your problem: You see a huge drop-off in sales anytime you stop promoting your book via ads or promotions. There is no “stickiness” or staying power.
- Step 1: Understand how the honeymoon period works on Amazon
- Step 2: Use social media, promotions, Facebook Ads, and Amazon Ads to optimize your honeymoon period
10. Lack of Continual Popularity
The problem: our data shows that books that don't show continuous popularity will see declines over time on Amazon. If you cannot prove to Amazon that people are willing to pick up your book over time, and not all at once, you may have fallen victim to the algorithm.
What you want are continuous sales, spread out over time, and you will experience an uptick in the amount of promotion that Amazon will do for you, as well as your ranking for the keywords that you have selected.
How to know if this is your problem: You don't see any stickiness after a spike in sales, meaning sales drop off entirely. You don't see new, continuous book sales.
Methods to Find What Problem exists
All of that is well and good, but what if you don't know what your book's problem is?
This is another legitimate problem for authors, because many of us are either too biased toward our work, or inexperienced enough to see where the problem lies. Sometimes things just don't work out. Whatever the case, we could use some help to diagnose sales issues.
The following methods will help you figure out which of the above issues could be the problem.
Method 1: Using Numbers to Discover the Problem
While it can cost you money, using Amazon Ads can actually be a great way to diagnose your problem.
Amazon Ads give you data, and that data can help you understand where your biggest choking point is during the buying process for your reader. For example, when failing to make money from Amazon Ads, most authors tend to fall into one of three scenarios:
- They are not getting impressions
- They have a lot of impressions, but no clicks
- They have a lot of impressions and clicks, but no sales
Let’s break each of these down one by one.
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Scenario #1: No Impressions
If you are not receiving any impressions on your ads, there are two reasons why this might be.
1. You are not targeting enough keywords, or
2. Your cost per click bid is way too low, and other people are outbidding you so your ads are not getting seen
So you want to either increase the number of keywords you are using, or increase your bid, for your ads to be seen more. Remember that you don't have to pay for the number of impressions, just the number of clicks.
For more information on how to get good Amazon keywords for ads, I’ve got a free course about it that you can find here:
Scenario #2: Many Impressions But No Clicks
If you are getting a lot of impressions on your ads but no clicks, that means that you have one of three problems:
- The keywords that Amazon is using to show your book are not relevant
- The book cover is not good enough to attract new buyers, or does not fit the right genre
- Your book description (in the ad) does not fit what you are showing readers
Usually this is a case of a bad cover, or a cover/description that doesn't match the genre.
For keywords, finding appropriate keywords for your book can take hours and hours of time. To save that time, I developed Publisher Rocket so that you can easily find keywords to use in Amazon Ads, not to mention the keywords you should include in your titles and seven Kindle keywords when uploading your book.
Scenario #3: Many Impressions and Clicks but No Sales
When you are getting a lot of impressions and clicks, but are not seeing the same success in sales, this usually means that your book description is not good enough.
Since you are getting lots of impressions and clicks, that means that your book cover in your keyword selection is good to go. But if they don't buy the book after clicking on it, that means that something went wrong after they landed on your book sales page.
The most likely culprit: the book description.
Method 2: Read the Reviews
Reading the reviews will give you a heads up if there is an issue with the formatting or the story itself. Sometimes it can even show you if you are marketing in the wrong way or to a wrong genre tone – for example, your cover may look like it is a steamy romance, but it is actually a wholesome romance. Your readers will let you know.
Your reader can help you identify issues with the following:
- A misleading book cover
- Poor writing habits that you do consistently
- Formatting issues with your book
Side note: the formatting issues can easily be worked out with a good formatting software. Personally, we recommend Atticus as the best formatting tool for most authors.
Method 3: Book Cover Test (Fiction only)
I love this test. Go to people who don’t know what you write, and show them your cover, and tell them the title and subtitle. Ask them to describe what kind of book they think it is. Listen for what Genre Tone they think it is, and whether or not it is even close to the mark.
The person doesn’t have to describe your story completely, but if they are calling it a noir mystery novel, and you’re a suspense thriller, then clearly, your cover is way off.
Why is this effective? Because that’s exactly what runs through shoppers' minds as they are scrolling through the results on Amazon.
For example, take a look at some of these books. Can you tell what genre they're in by the cover and title alone?
Disclaimer: We do not personally know any of these authors, some of which have books that are quite popular regardless of the book covers (largely in part to brand names they have built up over time). This is just to illustrate how the cover design can be misleading without the context of knowing the author beforehand.
Example #1: Hitch
Based on the artwork alone, here, it's unclear if this is just a western, or if it's a western romance like the title might imply.
Also relevant is the time period, which the cover gives no clues on. Is it Civil War? Wild West? Are those supposed to be fireworks or could they be explosions? We just don't know.
The font is also misleading. If this is a romance, it would be much more in line with the genre to have a cursive font of some kind.
Example #2: Astray
This is actually a pretty popular book on Amazon, but if you know nothing about it and just look at the cover, what do you think it's about?
First, it's clear that it's probably some kind of science fiction because of the planet on the cover, but the font makes it look like maybe it's a romance? (it's not). There are no other clues on this relatively minimalist design to give us a hint as to what the book is about.
Example #3: Rest and Reanimation
At first glance, this book looks like it's some kind of manga, or at the very least a book for children. Additionally, the font color gets a bit lost in the background, and doesn't match any genre styles.
If you look at the bottom subtitle, you learn that this is supposed to be an urban fantasy thriller, but there is absolutely no design that would suggest as much to the reader.
Unless you already know, and are a big fan of, the author, there’s not a good chance that you will pick a book up when it has a poorly designed or confusing cover.
I love the adage of “If you confuse, you lose.” We want every reader who sees your book cover (especially if they read that type of fiction) to know exactly what kind of book you have.
When we don't see any sales, it can be extremely discouraging for authors. But it doesn't have to be.
While poor sales can be a reflection of a poorly-written book, it can just as easily be a problem with your marketing materials, your launch plan, or other areas that can easily be fixed.
There is hope for books that are failing.
If you rigorously apply these methods to diagnose your problem, then take strategic steps to solve that problem, you are well on your way towards a book that is much more likely to sell.