How (Not) to Sell Your Book

The sales of my first book, Kilimanjaro Diaries, have been trickling in, one at a time, but nothing overwhelming.

Once you’ve exhausted the group of your friends and acquaintances who are most willing to pay real money for your writing – even if it’s only $3.99 – it becomes somewhat harder to reach new readers.

You might score the occasional coup that gives you a few days worth of giddiness. Like the arrival of your first genuine fan mail. Or the kid in Germany who thinks your book is an international bestseller because both Mom AND Grandpa are currently reading it (except, both Mom and Grandpa are related to the author). Or the friend who just told you her mother laughed until she cried while reading your book. Or the actual bookstore with a renowned name (Parnassus Books) which agreed to host a book signing for you on September 23, 2014 (mark the date!).

And you might have some other marketing schemes up your sleeve, like participating in Amazon’s KDP Select program, which most fellow writers seem at best lukewarm about. It allows you to give away your book for free on Amazon for a few days of your choosing so that you can reach a wider audience, but unless you have a second book for sale at the same time, so as to profit from those new readers you might have gained by giving away your book for free, you won’t really increase your sales numbers (at least not in dollar terms).

In short, I am learning what every self-published author learns: Selling books is HARD!

My all-time favorite description of how hard it is comes from Catherine Ryan Howard, whose book Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing I’m now reading for approximately the eighth time and who never ceases to give a good chuckle. Here goes:

There are a number of guides on the market right now with enticing titles like How I Became a Trillionaire in Only 7 Minutes a Day: A Guide to E-books, Message Boards and Jedi Mind Tricks that all promise to contain some hitherto unknown, sure-fire way to sell thousands upon thousands of self-published books[…]

It’s like me and dieting. I know, intellectually, that in order to lose weight you have to spend more energy than you consume. In other words, eat less and move more. I know this. I know that it’s a scientific fact. And yet instead of doing that, I read countless diet books and blogs, watch TV shows, pay for weight management programmes, buy all manner of shakes, bars and Chemical Stuff Masquerading as Food and tell myself that I’m going to start using the treadmill in the garage every single day, come Monday[…]

Why do I do this? Because I want to believe that there’s some magic secret to weight loss that’s just waiting for me to discover it, and I want to believe it because I don’t want to do the hard work. So instead of starting the hard work, I keep searching for the secret while, in the meantime, the circumference of my thighs continues to be in direct proportion to my love of Toblerone cheesecake.

This is exactly what happens to self-published authors, minus the cheesecake. Instead of considering the time, hard work and common sense that has led to hundreds of self-published authors making money but not necessarily headlines, they dream of emulating the handful who did little other than upload to KDP before they found themselves sleeping on mattresses stuffed with cash.

We’re not going to do that. We’re going to get our arses on the treadmill right now.

I suppose you’ll now want to know the How. How DO you sell books as self-publishing authors? Well, you’ll just have to get Self-Printed and continue reading for yourself. I promise you won’t only get a lot of detailed information, you’ll also be very entertained by Howard’s engaging and humorous prose.

As for me, I suppose I’ll just slug away and hope that the start of school next week and the measure of sanity that brings back to my house will let me resume the bookselling schemes I carried around with me all summer while operating a round-the-clock kitchen and taxi service for four children who had nothing much to do at all, other than asking the all-important question: “Mom, what’s for dinner?”

I can’t wait to have seven hours each day to myself again.  And I can’t wait to sleep on mattresses full of cash.

A carton full of books to sell
A carton full of books to sell


  1. I think all writers are eager to slap something up on Amazon and hope to wake up in the morning a millionaire. Then they must accept the fact that it will take years to cultivate an audience of enthusiastic readers. It might even take decades. But if you love writing then it’s no problem, right? You would do with or without money, although money is nice…

    Mmm… The smell of cash has a soothing aromatherapy effect.

    • Ha, cash as aromatherapy, I like it!

      I agree that if you have a passion for writing you will do it anyway. You don’t do it for the money. Because there are probably a thousand better ways to make money than to sell your writing. As you say, it takes years. But on the flipside, if you don’t eventually make money, it is hard to keep up with writing. We all only have a limited amount of time available, and unless we’re independently wealthy, we have to put our time where it produces the best outcome. If I sold a ton more books all of a sudden, I could justify putting a whole lot more time into my writing. It’s almost a chicken and an egg thing. Except, in my case, I still have to cook for those hungry kids either way:-)

  2. Yes, that’s the conundrum. In order to justify to our family and friends (and even ourselves) that it’s important for us to spend time and energy on writing, we must be able to earn money from it, but we can’t make money from it unless we hoard some time and energy to write. In the meantime, everyone thinks we’re crazy. Ah, the writer’s life!

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