Monday, May 21, 2012

The art and science of bookselling.What exactly sells a book?

If you went up to someone on a street corner and asked them, 'Hey, Buddy, would you like to buy my book?' and they did, you would probably go up to a lot of people on streetcorners and ask them, wouldn't you?

Since getting on the internet a little over three years ago, I’ve learned so much that my head bulges at the seams.

While I go off on a virtual journey for my own pleasure once in a while, for the most part my reading is about writing, editing, publishing, great authors, and other industry-related material. In three years of self-directed cruising the internet, you can sure get a lot of education.

Yet, even now, I still can’t say for sure what sells a book.

Somebody just wanted it, for all I can figure. Today was a case in point. I sold a copy of ‘Redemption: an Inspector Gilles Maintenon mystery,’ on Amazon. This earns a couple of bucks in royalties.

Today I was editing ‘Time-Storm on A-4,’ my new science fiction novel. That seems unlikely to have sold a book. I took an older poem from my poetry blog, and posted it on Digg, Reddit, and on Twitter. This post received exactly five page hits. This seems unlikely to have sold a book.

I spent some time in my e-mail inbox, following back new Twitter followers. Did one of them buy my book? And if so, why? I’m a perfect stranger, although better-looking than most.

I spent a few minutes on Createspace. I checked ‘The Shape-Shifters’ using the digital previewer, and then ordered a proof copy. What in the heck did this have to do with selling a book?

Commenting on blogs and websites is always good for generating some traffic, especially if your comment is one of the first ones. I commented on ‘The Beginning Writer,’ and on a ‘Stadia Studio’ post about intuitive marketing. Did this sell a book? It’s as likely as any other possibility.

I went into Kindle Boards, to the Writers CafĂ©, and answered questions. Shameless self-promotion is frowned upon. Such posts will be deleted, although you can have a ‘signature,’ which consists of product images and embedded links. Did this sell a book? Do other writers buy books, or do readers really care to read posts on Kindle Boards? Would that sell a book? No one knows.

I posted a link to the book on Twitter today, did that sell the book? It’s a Sunday, lots of people are home. It’s also gardening season. The weather was beautiful. I posted other things on Twitter today, links which I thought my audience or followers, who are not all writers, would find interesting, valuable, or relevant. Did that sell the book?

Today I uninstalled some add-ons from my computer. It seems highly unlikely that this would sell a book. I made hamburgers for lunch. I went for a bike ride. This did not sell any books. Right? It kept me alive, and I got some fresh air and exercise. Fresh air and exercise do not sell many books. They would appear to be completely unconnected.

The real answer, although there is no ‘of course’ about it, is that it all goes towards the selling of a book. That’s because I do similar things every day. I enjoy what I am doing, and that shows. Over time, I have gotten better at it and more comfortable in the promoting of it. My audience has grown. And I guess they are not all writers. But a writer is first and foremost a reader, and not just any reader.

They are analytic readers. They listen well, Some of them know more about my personal circumstances. Some of them like to give something back once in a while, and why not? To write well, to have the opportunity in a free society to express our thoughts, is a privilege. Did one of them buy my book? It’s not the most likely scenario, but it is barely possible. Such thoughtful acts are rare in this world.

I still have no idea exactly which factor sold that book. It is a whole cloth, woven of fine threads. It is cumulative over time—just like my learning curve as a writer, an editor, a publisher, and quite frankly a human being.

A professional is someone who has mastered his craft. He has also mastered himself. While I may have some way to go on both aspects of that concept, is this what sells a book?

Harping on sales all the time is not what sells a book. Blogging about making POD paperbacks, or editing for style, or an industry in transition probably doesn’t sell too many books.

It is all part of a larger picture. Ultimately someone bought that book, like Sir Edmund Hillary climbing Mt. Everest, ‘Because it is there.’

That’s what sold that book—it was there. And that book is there because I put it there.

It may be as simple as that.


  1. Louis, the world of books is a minefield with no obvious answers. Who knew that my sci-fi adventure "The Seventh Age" would sell the way it has? Certainly not me!

    Personally when I have my readers hat on, I buy what appeals to me. When I have my writers hat on, I write what I want to read. :)

  2. Great post Louis. I agree wholeheartedly with your last sentence of your post. You can only 'put it there'.

    And to hook on to Jack's comment, I just have to say I prefer his book Turning Point to The Sventh Age. But we are mates, so he'll understand when I say it's the wrong book that's selling so well.

    So yes, what sells books?

  3. I am amazed every time one of my books sell; but then I am not really a writer, only a dabbler. Kind of like the difference between a piano player and someone who can plunk out a tune with one finger. I have been told my stories read like stand-up comedy (only clean), but I do enjoy writing them so if a few people laugh and tell their friends (and just maybe they buy a book or two)- YAY!

  4. This is a very timely post...I just remarked yesterday that it seems the less I promote my books the more they sell. I wondered too if it was the book business card I pinned somewhere finally falling into the "right" person's hand or perhaps a recommendation from someone else? In the end I decided I didn't long as they don't return it :)

  5. You’re right, the book has to be there to be bought but, I think if you write interesting posts on your blog (like this one) or FB, or anywhere you have a presence online.

    People will always click the book links. If you are interesting, they want to know more about you and what you do.

    Carol x

  6. It really is one of the great mysteries of life. The best advice given to new authors is 'write a great book.' I still have some insecurities about that, and I'm not making any claims. Thank you ever so much for your comments.

  7. People buy books because they are there but on Amazon there are millions of books there. So one must try in some why to make their book stand out from the rest. Clearly all the things we do make our books stand out in some way. These things work for some readers and not for others. I know for a fact that no sales with be generated by interacting with the trolls on the Amazon forums. For what any one of them perceive as the least little slight or attempt to mention your own work they will go at you like a pack a maggots on a piece of rotten liver.


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