Most writers have been there. They spend months—maybe years—writing a book. They get all excited. Maybe they think one book will change everything for them.
They publish it…
The world keeps turning. Nobody knows their book exists.
It’s heartbreaking when this happens. Not only because it leaves you feeling crappy, but it’s one of the main reasons that authors give up.
I’m here to tell you that you shouldn’t give up. And also to give you some tips for what to do when your book launch fails.
You see, my first book, What Happens in New York, took years to take off. It had been out in the wild for three years when it hit #19 on Amazon, and #1 for multiple categories. If I’d given up when it had first flopped, I never would’ve achieved that success, and my life would be very different to how it is now.
So, what did I do wrong? What do other authors do wrong? And what can you learn from our mistakes?
Clearly and specifically define success
Most people have vague ideas of what success looks like to them. They want to sell books; they want to make a living; they want readers. None of this is productive or helpful.
Specific goals to work towards keep you focused and allow you to track what you’re doing right—or wrong.
For instance, you could start off by saying you want to sell 100 copies of your book. Or that you want to make £100. You want 100 reviews. You get the idea.
It doesn’t matter which goal you focus on. You could focus on one, then move on to another. A clear focus will always make it easier to achieve what you want, though, because the path will be clearer and your time won’t be split. You can say yes or no to opportunities based on if they help you towards your goals or not.
These conscious goals mean you can investigate strategies to help you get to your end point. The rest of this blog post contains tips to help you do all three.
Reflect on your process
Failure hurts, but we can’t improve if we don’t look back on what we’ve done.
So, take off your rose-tinted glasses and ask yourself what you did, and what you didn’t.
Be objective here.
And don’t be mean!
We’re not reflecting to find ways for you to punish yourself. We’re here to analyse.
Some things will always be more successful than others. What differentiates those who achieve their goals from those who don’t are that people who achieve them focus their time and energy on the things that do work. Then abandon things that don’t.
How do you do that? By analysing what you did with a clear, logical head. There’s no room for emotions here.
If you’re too emotional to do this step, come back to it later. However, you must come back to it at some point. And there really is nobody else to do this—you’re the only one who understands exactly what you did.
Some questions you could ask yourself:
- Were my goals clearly defined?
- Is my book in the right categories for its target audience?
- Do I even know who I’m selling my book do?
- Do the blurb and cover align, or are they selling two different books?
- Am I spending too much time on marketing techniques that don’t work?
- Am I spending enough time on marketing techniques that do work?
Get some reviews
Some authors will tell you reviews don’t matter. I’m here to tell you otherwise.
Negative reviews can be difficult to swallow. I also don’t buy into the whole ‘it validates your book and doesn’t harm your sales’ schtick, but I do believe that you have to accept they’re inevitable and move on. Not everyone will like your writing. That’s just how it is.
If you have a slew of negative reviews, you need to break down why they hate your book and fix the problems they’ve raised either in this book (if it’s things like typos or poor marketing) or going forwards, if it’s a plot or character weakness.
But what if you can’t get any reviews?
I was totally there a few years ago. I only really started to get reviews and ratings on What Happens in New York when I made it permafree. When a book is free and readers don’t know who you are, there’s less of a risk to them if they download it, since it doesn’t cost them anything. So they’re more likely to take that risk. Humans are risk-averse, and it’s your job to mitigate that risk as much as possible. Getting reviews in helps with this.
I understand if you don’t want to go down the permafree route. Instead, you could try a service like BookSprout.
BookSprout helps you to find people who are ready and willing to review your book. You can refer people you know to it (such as mailing list subscribers or social media followers), or people can find your book using their searches.
Reviewers then have a set amount of time to read your book, and they’ll get a notification when it’s ready to review. If someone doesn’t fulfil their review commitment, you can block them from downloading future books by you.
BookSprout free for up to 20 review copies per book, which, for most authors, is more than enough to get you started.
NB: I’m not affiliated with BookSprout, just impressed with them in the short amount of time I’ve been using them.
Check your marketing
Marketing, marketing, marketing.
Some authors hate it, some love it. I haven’t found many in between.
Regardless of your stance, it’s unavoidable.
Sometimes, sales can dwindle either because the cover and blurb don’t align, or you’re targeting your book at the wrong people.
Let’s take a moment to look at some big marketing mistakes authors often make, and how you can fix them.
Cover and blurb mismatch
People judge books by their covers. You really need to make sure that your book cover matches what’s going on in the rest of your market. That’s how you’ll get the attention of your target audience.
It’s therefore really important to do this before you start the cover design process, whether you’re doing it yourself or outsourcing it. You need a good understanding of trends in the covers of your industry, in your target country. There are often significant differences in what’s popular depending on the country, so knowing your target country is just as important as knowing your target genre.
If you discover that your cover doesn’t match your genre, you can always change it. That’s the beauty of self-publishing! You can change whatever you want at any time.
Sometimes blurbs and covers don’t align. The cover sells one book, the blurb sells another. This is another place where research is key. Does your blurb match what other blurbs in your genre are doing? Does it contain keywords people who read similar books might use?
There are some great courses out there on blurb writing. If you’re new to it, I’d highly recommend studying blurb writing because it’s bloody hard.
Check your quality
I’ve seen so many authors complain about their book not selling. When you delve a little deeper, it’s because the quality of their book is poor. And this is evident from the little readers get to whet their appetites.
Poor proofreading, poor cover design, poor use of the English language…you get the idea.
Sadly, this issue is more common than you might think.
I get that hiring a copy editor or proofreader is expensive. However, we simply don’t spot issues in our own work as easily as we think we do (or want to).
Reading your work backwards helps as it interrupts the expected pattern, so you’re less likely to read what you think is there.
However, sometimes it really is worth just outsourcing. If you’d like to outsource your proofreading, or get a second pair of eyes, I’d recommend Luna Imprint Author Services. Alexa is lovely and really knows her stuff!
The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) also has a list of vetted editors you can work with.
Obsessing over social media
Unless you use paid social media campaigns, social media does not sell books. There is rarely an exception to this rule. Social media followers are passive, and algorithms kill your post exposure. Most people simply won’t see what you share.
If you enjoy it, have at it. By all means, keep going.
If you don’t, consider this permission to stop wasting time on something you hate and start spending more time writing.
There’s a whole lot more you can do with social media if you’re a writer, but honestly? Even though I enjoy social media and have worked in it in the past, I don’t spend too much time marketing my books on there.
According to Janet Murray, it takes A YEAR—sometimes longer—for social media followers to convert.
Your time is better off spent nurturing mailing lists, being interviewed by other people to reach their audiences, and writing more books.
It can be hard to stay motivated when you’re feeling forlorn, but this is what separates the writers who achieve their goals from those who give up. Perseverance is what builds a successful career in any industry, and writing is no different.
Perseverance is easier when you really, really want it. The more you want it, the harder you’ll work to make it succeed.
If you give up too easily, either you didn’t want it badly enough, or you’re being controlled by your fears.
Fears controlling you? It’s time to do some soul searching. Why are they controlling you? And how can you get over them? You totally can, too—we’ve all done it plenty of times in the past—it’s just a matter of putting the work in to do it.
Remember: one book is unlikely to change your life
Despite the mythology, one book simply won’t change your life. Building a sustainable writing career takes time and commitment. It isn’t just about how great your writing is—it’s about how great your marketing, business, and mindset skills are too.
I sometimes think these skills are more important than writing skills when it comes to succeeding in the literary world. Most of the successful authors out there have backgrounds in business, marketing, or journalism. They haven’t studied creative writing. Why? Because creative writing courses seldom teach you the skills you need to survive in the industry.
You need to treat your writing like a business just like you would anything else. That means it takes time, patience, and perseverance.