What makes a book sell?

best-seller-158885_1280In mid-December this year ‘Reconquista‘ overtook ‘The Village‘ as The Story Bazaar’s best-selling book. From my point of view this is good news and, one hopes, it bodes well for the future. ‘Reconquista‘ was published only nine months ago, whereas ‘The Village‘ has been available for twenty-one months.

Why is this?  Is it just a matter of relative quality – is ‘Reconquista‘ simply a better and more appealing book? Or are there other factors at work?  I have been doing some analysis, looking at my sales figures and what activity has prompted sales spikes, so as to learn from this. I’ve also done a few straw polls. Now, my books aren’t exactly New York Times Bestsellers in terms of numbers, but the analysis may still yield wider lessons, so these are my conclusions.

  • How a book looks really matters.

This is received wisdom, but my comparison bears it out. ‘The Village; A The Villagee-bookYear in Twelve Tales‘ is a long and clumsy title. It’s accurate, but it doesn’t grab the attention like ‘Reconquista‘. The cover image is pleasant to the eye, but undramatic and the blurb is the same – just because the subject of the book is everyday life doesn’t mean that it isn’t gripping or immersive, but the blurb isn’t suggestive of drama. Reconquista_Cover_for_KindleThere is no seductive tag-line, like ‘Not all of them will make it home‘.

As time goes on, I see sales of ‘The Village‘ arising from promotional activity, but there are few, if any, ongoing underlying sales, to people who just come across the book on-line or elsewhere and are attracted enough to buy it. Whereas ‘Reconquista‘ maintains a steady underlying sales profile.

  • ‘Live’ and in person works

Not only does one sell books at the live events themselves, they have an after-life in regard to sales, one can see the sales spikes.  People may not buy the IMG_4114book there and then (though signing encourages them to do so), but there is usually a little sales spike afterwards. I will be promoting both ‘Reconquista‘ and ‘The Village‘ in 2017 at Festivals, book clubs, book-shop signings and other events.

Being a writer is a full-time occupation and you’re never off duty.  This is, of course, especially the case in regard to having ideas and garnering examples for one’s writing – a snatch of dialogue overheard, an eloquent gesture captured – but it is also true of promoting books. People are interested in writers and books. Talking about your book, even when at a party, on a plane, in any situation when you’re talking with new acquaintances, promotes it.

man-272675_1280Of course, I am careful to watch for signs that a superficial ‘polite interest’ is fading and not to pursue such a discussion further, but I have been surprised by the number of people who are genuinely interested in talking about writing and especially the subject matter and history behind ‘Reconquista‘.

I’m lucky in that the period and the history of that time is relatively unknown and is a seemingly romantic one. People then talk with others, about ‘that writer’ they were talking to only the other day and her book.  I can’t track this interest into sales (spotting a single sale because of a conversation is hard to do) but my instinct tells me that this does translate.

  • On-line book forums may not help that much

I know fellow authors, especially those who concentrate solely on on-line sales,  who sing the praises of online book clubs and sites and I am not about to gainsay them. But, I suspect they require a lot of, ongoing, work.  Maybe one needs to prioritize on-line promotional activity, possibly to the exclusion of other types of promotion, to be successful at it. But I’ve not devoted that much time and resource to doing so (having other types of promotion to do). This may, I acknowledge, be my fault.goodreads_screenshot

So, for example, Goodreads has been only partially successful for me.  One must be on it and the occasional promotion generates some interest (mainly because people want free books). But I put much more effort into Goodreads for ‘The Village‘ than I did for ‘Reconquista‘ yet the latter outsells the former.

  • Social media doesn’t sell books

twitter_bird_logo_2012-svgI knew this before I acquired Facebook and Twitter accounts, which is why I haven’t spent too much time and put too much effort into either of them.  I have used a number of free book advertising sites ( see Promoting a Book ) which utilise Twitter and, at one point last year I calculated that a single campaign for ‘The Village‘ reached about a quarter of a million Twitter users. But this didn’t produce much of a spike in sales. To test this theory I really should use exactly the same campaign for ‘Reconquista‘ and see if results differ.

I acknowledge, however, that social media does bring traffic to this web-site, which is why I will continue to post blog articles on both, with the occasional other comment.

So, apart from learning the lessons about producing books, what am I going to do about promoting ‘Reconquista‘ further? I don’t have much of a marketing budget and I want to maximise the impact of any spending which I may undertake (and support some good causes along the way). So, what’s cheap and effective? Well, that’ll be the subject of another post.

If you enjoyed reading this article you might also enjoy         How NOT to promote a book            Maximise your book sales        Promotion and self-promotion     How NOT to write               How NOT to write again

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