How to Revive Dead Book Sales: Managing Your Backlist

Have you had a book that failed to make sales? Or, perhaps a book that was doing great and then all of a sudden the sales just dropped? 

What’s with that? After all, it’s not like the book was bad. Your reviews show that readers enjoyed the book, so what happened? 

Or, better yet, what can you do about this and revive your book sales? 

graph of declining book sales over time

As someone who’s worked closely with Amazon’s algorithm, and recorded book sales data over the years, I’ve found that there are phenomena that cause this, and that there are methods authors can take to correct it. 

Today, I want to show you how and why this happens, but more importantly, how to correct it and revive your book sales. 

In this article, you will learn:
  1. Why Amazon drops your book after a certain time
  2. The effects of what I call the “honeymoon” period
  3. How to identify the problem with your book and fix it
  4. How to kickstart sales and revive a book

So, with that, let’s get started. 

Step 1: Identify the Original Problem

In order to fix a problem, we first need to figure out what went wrong. Below are most of the culprits that can cause a great book to fail in the market, however, if you’d like to go into full detail on how to identify these better, and fix them, then be sure to read my full article on Finding and Fixing Book Problems

  • Cover Problem: A cheap looking cover, or a cover that doesn’t match the correct genre, is easily the biggest culprit for most book sales problems. 
  • Bad Keywords: If you don’t have keywords with low competition and high demand, you are unlikely to come up in search results. You can learn more about choosing the right keywords here.
  • Amazon Honeymoon Period: Amazon gives preferential treatment to books in their first few months, and there are ways to take advantage of this. If you don’t, you could lose out on book sales. Learn more here.
  • Poor Launch Tactics: While a good book launch is not required to eventually have a profitable book, it doesn’t hurt either, and a bad book launch can kill your momentum. 
  • Poor Reviews: If you book has poor reviews, people might not buy it. This is not only a red flag for poor book sales, but also a potential reason to republish the book (see below). And learn how to get editorial reviews here.
  • No Reviews: If you have no reviews, that can be an issue as well. A lot of people won’t take a chance on a book with no reviews. Learn how to assemble an all-star team of ARC readers to help you leave those reviews here.
  • A Bad Book Description: Besides the book cover, a book description is your biggest sales tool on your book landing page. Write a poor description, or one that doesn’t match the genre, and you will have a problem. Learn how to write a good book description here.
  • Publisher Failed You: If your book was published via a publisher, they don’t always do things the right way. While publishers can be a huge help for some, they do make mistakes. Fixing those mistakes as the author can be difficult, but it also can be an opportunity if the rights revert back to you.

Like I said, the above is a quick overview, but if you really want to get into details on how to identify problems and fix them, read my full article on that here

Step 2: Fix the Problem

Depending on what the problem is, there are many things that could be the issue. But here is a list of resources to fix some of the most common problems:

Cover Problem

Bad Keywords

Check out Publisher Rocket for the quickest and easiest way to find the right keywords for your book. Get it now at the lifetime price!

Amazon Honeymoon Period:

Poor Launch Tactics

Poor or No Reviews:

A Bad Book Description:

These are just some of the big ones, but there is a good chance that your problem falls under one of these categories. You can visit the links to learn more about how to fix those issues.

Step 3: Make the Decision to Update or Republish As New

The next step on your book-revival journey is to either update your book or republish it entirely.

Which one you choose will depend on your needs.

For most small mistakes, updating your book will be the best option. Even some of the slightly larger corrections, like updating your book cover or book description can be done with a simple update. And that update can be enough to turn your book sales around.

However, in other situations, or when your book has too many problems to be resolved simply, a republish is in order.

Republishing means, essentially, removing your old book and creating an entirely new one with your updated manuscript. This could be a second or third edition of your book, but it could also be a complete rebrand and relaunch of a fiction series, for example.

Here's a quick look at the different reasons why you might want to update or republish:

BenefitUpdateRepublish
You can keep your reviewsGreen Check Mark
Green Check Mark
(with steps)
Changes are easy to makeGreen Check Mark
Sufficient for most issuesGreen Check Mark
Your book gets to have another honeymoon periodGreen Check Mark
It’s a great way to rebrandGreen Check Mark
Lose the bad reviews and start overGreen Check Mark
You can change things like the title, subtitle, or trim sizeGreen Check Mark

If you're interested in learning more, I have a full article about updating versus republishing, and which one you should do.

Step 4: Prepare for Keywords and Growth Discoverability

Before you work on updating or relaunching your book, you need to understand this concept of the Amazon Popularity Effect.

In essence, Amazon gives preferential treatment to new books, and it shows preference towards those books that show steady, sustained sales (say that five times fast).

I ran a series of experiments, resulting in these articles: Amazon Popularity Effect and The Honeymoon Effect. The findings from these experiments are crucial to successfully set up your relaunch. Let's recap some of the data…

1. Sales vs Number of Keywords

When you see a steady increase in sales, Amazon begins to show your book for more keywords. This means that when a potential buyer types in a keyword relevant to your book, Amazon is more likely to show your book in the results. However, it takes about 6 to 8 days of consistent sales before Amazon will start to take notice.

What kind of keywords does Amazon show? Well, with more sustained sales, Amazon is more likely to show your book for other terms similar to the ones that your book is already ranking for, as well as broader terms that have more competition. See this image as an example:

popularity-effect-3

2. A Sales Spike Does Little for the Amazon Algorithm

In another experiment, we found that spikes in sales do not have long-term effects, which means that promoting your book all at once is not a good idea. Instead you want to focus on a steady series of promotional efforts.

3. Amazon Gives Preferential Treament to New Books

The third experiment concluded that new books are shown for more keywords than books that have been out for a long time. You can still trigger the Amazon Popularity Effect with an older book, but it can take more effort.

That is why, for some people, a relaunch of an old book may be a good strategy to revive the sales of that book.

The Perfect Tool to Nail Those Keywords

example of nonfiction keywords in Publisher Rocket
Captured in Publisher Rocket

In order to take full advantage of this Amazon Popularity Effect, you have to get the right keywords to start with: keywords that will lead to steady, sustained sales over time.

I have detailed instructions of how to do this manually in this post, but a far easier solution is to use Publisher Rocket.

Rocket allows you to quickly and easily find keywords with a high search volume (meaning a lot of people are looking for it) with very low competition. If you can rank for one of these keywords, you are much more likely to make passive and steady sales as people search for those keywords.

Furthermore, Rocket also allows you to find categories to put your book in: categories that also show a high demand but low competition.

It's the perfect tool for preparing your book launch, to get that organic growth discoverability.

Check out Publisher Rocket today to get lifetime access before the price increases!
Check it Out!

Step 5: Commence a New Launch Strategy

Let’s assume your book is well and truly dead, and a full republish is your strategy to revive that dead book.

After you have done the above steps, it will be incredibly important that you have a full launch plan set up so as to benefit from the new book status and the Amazon Honeymoon factor. 

Thankfully, I've assembled a perfect book launch strategy, one that you can download for yourself right here, but I will give you some of the most important steps that you can follow in order to relaunch your book and revive those sales.

  • Step 1: Launch Preparations
  • Step 2: Pre-Launch Actions
  • Step 3: Launch Day
    • Set the price at a discount
    • Send personalized emails to your ARC team to leave reviews, as well as Thank You notes
    • Contact Amazon to switch the preferred categories
    • Update back matter of previously published books to include new book’s link
  • Step 4: Marketing Efforts
  • Step 5: Bonus Marketing Tactics
  • Step 6: Post Launch Strategy
    • Change to normal price
    • Confirm your book is in the right categories
    • Send to your email list announcing your new book
    • Initiate your book promotions, spread these out over the first few days and/or weeks
    • Participate in newsletter swaps with other authors.

Again, if you want the full launch strategy, be sure to pick it up here! And if you’re interested in any other book sales strategies to add on, feel free to check out our article on how to sell books.

Case Studies of Authors Turning It Around

I used to do a special segment on my podcast called “Revive a Dead Book” series where I would find authors who for some reason decided to take an old book, fix its problems, and then republish it. You can check out those podcast episodes here:

Generally, there were a couple of common threads that I saw throughout: 

  1. Covers almost always needed a refresh (seriously, this is an important one. If your book sales are dead, there is a good chance this is the problem)
  2. Authors had better marketing plans than when they first launched the book – we all learn and gain experience over time
  3. Coming up with new and improved keywords had a major effect
  4. Amazon Ads was a heavily used tactic that kept the honeymoon period going and thus prolonged the life of the launch and thus sales and stickiness on Amazon. I have found this to be true, especially when simultaneously combined with other tactics like book promotions.

Let’s Revive Those Sales!

By now you should have a good idea of how to revive that dead book. It may be as simple as updating the cover and running a few ads, or you may need to invest in a full republish and book launch.

If that is the case, no worries! You can use all of the strategies listed above to have an amazing book launch, and make sure that every aspect of your book marketing is on point.If you’ve had success reviving your book sales, I’d love to hear about it! Make sure to let me know on our contact page.



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