6 Reasons Your Indie Books Aren’t Selling

So you’re a self-published author and you want to know why your indie books aren’t selling. Disclaimer: This isn’t an article about how I sold 1,000,000 copies as a self-published author and how you can do it, too. This is just me, an average guy, sharing my opinion about why I didn’t buy your book.

Why Your Indie Books Aren’t Selling

1. Poorly designed covers

The number one reason your indie books aren’t selling is because your cover sucks. I’m sorry, you may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but people do…all the time. And I do it, too. I went through a list of all the books I’ve ever read and picked out some of the most visually stunning covers (to me anyway).

Good Cover Design, Sarah J Maas, Sara Raasch, Leigh Bardugo, Mary E. Pearson, Christie Golden, Victoria Aveyard, Ally Condie, indie books aren't selling

Aren’t they beautiful? They just make me want to pick up the book and read it. These covers sell books. Now, I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by posting real covers that I think suck, so I created my own version of the above books that look exactly like many self-published book covers I have seen lately. For the sake of avoiding copyright issues, I changed the names of the books and the authors.

indie books aren't selling, Terrible Book Covers

Okay, so maybe your book cover doesn’t look that bad (or maybe it does). Point is, these covers make me run very far away. Even if the story were the same (and I loved each and every one of those books), I doubt I would have picked it up if the cover looked awful. There’s a reason traditionally published books have beautiful covers. Covers sell books.

“But I don’t have that kind of money” you say. You’re right. I got a quote from one of the cover designers of a book listed above and he quoted me $5,000+. Yikes! But there are affordable designers. In my opinion, this is not optional. Here are just a few I found:

Damonza | Price: $495+
Damonza, Covers
A few of Damonza’s recent works. This is my personal choice from the list of designers.
AuthorPackages | Price: $310+
99designs | Price $300+
• JD&J | Price: $250+

Whatever you do, please do not use a free service. As they say, you get what you pay for. Unless your brother works for Damonza, don’t ask him to do your cover design. Oh, and don’t try doing it yourself, even if you’re a designer. Just don’t do it. These guys know the book market and they know what style attracts buyers in your genre.

2. Lack of editing

This might not be a reason I didn’t buy your book, but it’s certainly a reason I didn’t finish it, and why I won’t recommend it to anyone else. If you’re book is fitted with typ0s and dropped, then I wont reed it (yes, people, that was all intentional).

At the very least, you, yourself, should be reading and fixing your books a minimum of 5 times. Please do not finish your first draft and post it on Amazon for all to read 5 minutes later.

A small caveat. If your story is amazing. I mean, can’t put the book down, reading-until-2-AM amazing, then I will ignore the typos and keep reading. However, that does not mean you should skimp on editing because it’s expensive.

An author friend told me he didn’t have the money for editing. What do you do when you don’t have money for the things you want? You save for it, right? I suggested this, and he said that was too much work. Sounds to me like he doesn’t want to sell books.

The best editing is not just spelling and grammar, but developmental edits. These are the edits that make suggestions on structure, plot, and characters. Sure, some of this can be accomplished with beta readers, but they aren’t professionals. Not to mention they’re highly opinionated.

Here are some professional editing services: (pricing is for the developmental edit, just grammar is cheaper)

NY Book Editors | Price: Contact for Quote
The Book Butchers | Price $.04+ per word ($3,200 for 80,000 words)
• The Book Editor Show | Price: $.05+ per word ($4,000 for 80,000 words)
Reedsy | Price: Freelance, but average is $.021 per word ($1,680 for 80,000 words)
3. Little to no digital presence

You want to know why your indie books aren’t selling? I don’t know who you are. No one is talking about you. You have 0 following. Your Amazon book has been published for 2 years and doesn’t have a single review. Your Goodreads page registers 5 ratings and 2 reviews. Upon closer inspection, one of the reviews is you, and the other claims to be your best friend.

Shameless plug here. You have probably never heard of me. This website is less than 2 weeks old at time of publishing. Yet here you are, reading my post. My book, Soul Render, is still in the drafting phase. It probably won’t publish for at least another 6 months to a year. But here I am, working on my digital presence. Not after the book is published. Now.

Want a free copy of Soul Render when it’s published? Sign-up for my spam-free email newsletter.

So get out there, make a Facebook page. Ask your friends to like your page. Make a website, build your online presence. YouTube is not my thing, but it worked for Vivien Reis. She’s a soon to be self-published author who began working on her digital presence over a year ago. Her videos have 20,000-70,000 views. Talk about inspiring.

4. Marketing to the wrong people

Notice I didn’t say you weren’t marketing at all. The reason your indie books aren’t selling is that you’re marketing to the wrong people.

Your grandma probably (I said probably) doesn’t like fantasy. Your neighbor’s 10-year-old probably won’t read your auto-biography. It’s all about finding your target audience and hitting it.

Did you know that all the big brand-name companies do extensive research to find their target market? Why?

Because it’s a waste of time, money, and effort to market to someone who will never buy your book, no matter how convincing your pitch. My favorite quote of all time is “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.”

Some people think that placing a few Facebook ads and tweeting once a week is enough. It’s not. You need to be intentional about your marketing and who you’re marketing to. Here are a few tips to maximize your marketing efforts:

• Build an Author Website
• Post frequent, high-quality content
• Read about SEO and keywords and use them
• Comment on other bloggers’ posts for your genre, write guest posts on other blogs, and ask bloggers for reviews of your books
• Join communities for your genre on Facebook and other websites, and build relationships. Like YA Fantasy? There’s a group for that.
• Give something away for FREE to attract new followers.
• Target your Facebook ads to readers who care about your genre.

If you don’t know how to do any of this stuff, I’ll be posting detailed instructions on each suggestion in the coming weeks. Want to get started now? Check out this helpful article.

5. You gave up too soon

Maybe your indie books aren’t selling because you just gave up too soon. Discouragement is a very real and powerful emotion. Your book launched yesterday and you only sold two copies. One was your mother, and the other, your best friend.

Now you feel like the last 6 months to x years were wasted. Don’t give up. Never ever give up. Read everything you can find about marketing. Hone your writing skills and continue to write books. Don’t stop. Work on your online presence.

Achieving anything in life requires work. You worked like crazy to write your book. Why stop now? Work doesn’t end when the book is finished. Many have said writing the book is the easy part.

Consider pulling your book from Amazon, having professionals redesign the cover and edit the book. Make adjustments, retitle it, and republish it better than before. All the while doing everything listed above.

6. No one’s telling you the hard truths

It’s possible that no one is being upfront with you. It’s possible your book just sucks. A nice cover and perfect grammar does nothing if there’s no plot and your characters are boring.

“But my wife said it’s the best book she’s ever read.” Do you hear yourself? Even online critique groups, that are supposed to be unbiased and give you an honest opinion don’t work that way. I have found that people in these groups are fearful of author backlash. If they tell you their honest opinion, you’ll get mad at them. I’ve heard the horror stories. They’re afraid to tell you the truth.

Don’t get me wrong, critique groups are beneficial. I belong to Critique Circle and it has helped me develop as a writer. Just be aware, that sometimes, despite the positive comments, your book may still need a lot of work.

Let’s put it this way:

I believe that if you do everything you possibly can to become a better writer, make the best book that you can, and promote your work like the world’s going to end if they don’t read it, then you’ll sell more books.

10 thoughts on “6 Reasons Your Indie Books Aren’t Selling

  1. Good to know. My first children’s ebook is with Balboa Press. Their customer service is spot on, and have provided immediate, helpful assistance when I needed it, and prompt me when new components need to be submitted.

    For post-production marketing, I will follow your advice.

    1. Hi Linda,
      Thanks for leaving a comment! I’m glad that I could be a help to you. Hopefully the articles to come will be equally as helpful. I hope you’ll check them out in the weeks to come.

  2. Thank you for this excellent article. My self-published book “Of Demon Kind” has been out for 6 months or so it is slow going and I have learned a lot. Your article resonates with me greatly!

    I think I fall under the category of marketing to the wrong people or only half the right people. Any suggestions on marketing to two genres? For example my book is fantasy and could be considered romance, but clearly my cover doesn’t reflect that. Not sure where to go from here

    1. Hi Wendy,
      Thanks for reading. I’m no expert marketer (yet), but I can offer my opinion from what I do understand. The first thing to note is that a well-known author, Cinda Williams Chima, wrote a book called The Demon King. When I searched for your book, Of Demon Kind, it is so similar in name that Google flooded my search results with The Demon King. I was looking for your book and had a very difficult time finding it. What’s that mean if people aren’t looking for it? See what I mean?

      I definitely don’t get the romance aspect from your cover. So I am not sure how well marketing to that group would work. A cover of two people, even if dressed in armor, would do more to project the romance than the demon.

      The key with marketing to any audience is going where the people are. Find where your readers are. What sites do they frequent? Is there a popular blog a lot of fantasy readers check. Can you get that blog to write a review for you? Or let you guest blog? If you guest blog, they’ll often put a blurb in the post, “Wendy L. Anderson is the author of the fantasy romance “Of Demon Kind,” etc. You can also reach out to other authors in your genre who are more successful, yet not so prolific that they won’t give you the time of day (contacting J.K. Rowling probably won’t get you a response). See if these authors will read your book then ask them for a quote to use in promoting it. Or, once they read it and if they liked it, ask them to share it with their followers on social media.

      If you want to reach out to the romance side, you may need to consider changing the cover and title to be more appealing to both genres. This would require you to republish the book and I don’t know if that’s something you’d want to do. That’s up to you.

      I’m in the process of putting together a series of articles to help out with some basic steps for marketing that anyone can do. There’s a lot of good articles out there that cover the topic already, but I find them to be too technical. My goal is to write step by step advice that helps people sift through the jargon.

  3. Yes, good covers sell, and it’s highly advisable to get an editor to go over your book. But investing $300 on a cover, and $3200 on editing? This is where many self-publishers will balk. And not without reason. Few self-published books will make back this kind of money (and some traditionally published books don’t earn the author this much money either). A bit of research suggests that a very small percentage of self-published books earn on this scale, and the majority have negligible sales. And if you are confident your book is good enough to earn well, then might not an agent and traditional publisher take it on?

    1. Certainly there are cheaper options. If you know your book is good, skipping the developmental edit is an option. I think a grammar edit is necessary, though. I cannot speak for their value, but freelance websites seem to have cheap pricing. I see some people offering to edit a book for $20/100 pages. This just seems a little too cheap to me. Less than $100 for the whole book when the pros are charging at least $1,500 for only spelling and grammar?

      Regardless, ANY edit is better than NO edit. So I would be all for someone using a freelance editor over not doing it at all. As far as covers, this is a non-negotiable for me. I’m planning to spend that $300 and won’t think twice about it.

      I get that most self-published novels won’t bring back the revenue required to do all of this. But I also believe that even a poorly written book can sell if it has a compelling story and it’s marketed right. Editing is not part of the marketing, but a cover is. So if you have to pick one or the other, cover is the way to go, and it’s the far cheaper of the two to have done by a professional.

    2. $3200 for editing???? I find that excessive if the book is under 200 pages. Caveat emptor! Check out the editor’s alleged qualifications, and ask for references.

      1. Kim was just commenting on the prices for The Book Butchers above. I agree they are rather pricey. Though, out of all the websites I visited to research editors, many had awful looking websites. I am a very visual person. If a website doesn’t look nice, it does not speak highly of their work. That’s my opinion, anyway.

        So I did not list all of the options. Certainly there are cheaper editors than the ones I have listed, however, I felt that these options could be trusted to do a good job based on reviews and overall presentation.

        As I mentioned, I have not personally reached this point in my writing yet. I will need to cross this bridge when I get there.

  4. I used several editors before submitting my manuscript. However, the first one was an emotional wreck and the second did not understand the culture of the indigenous area where the book was set. The third was experienced, and works as a freelance editor for many departments at the University of Missouri. She did an outstanding job and made excellent recommendations. Bottom line, research your editors and know something about their qualifications and experience before wasting editing dollars.

    1. Excellent advice, Linda. This is why I’m slightly hesitant of the freelance field, but no doubt there are good ones out there. You just have to do the proper research to find the right one for you.

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