June 17, 2024



Would You Rather Write a Book or Sell It?

“All this seems to say that success is a matter of luck and is outside of the author’s control. That’s an attractive hypothesis because it takes the onus completely off the author, but it’s not completely true. What does make a difference to sales, especially for first-timers, is getting good reviews in online bookstores, such as Amazon. Your acim won’t appear high in search or top 100 lists, and nor will it be picked up by recommendations algorithms without them. Instead, you’ll be stuck in a vicious circle wherein no one sees your book so no one takes a chance on it, which means it gets no reviews and doesn’t rise up in the search results or appear in the recommendations.

“The only way to break this cycle is to get reviews, and that means promoting your book. You have to get it in front of friends and family, book bloggers and reviewers, and even random strangers on the internet. Whether you do that via social networks like Twitter or Facebook, or emails to your friends, or giveaways on Goodreads and LibraryThing, you have to do something. There’s just no way round it. Even publishing a second or third book won’t break the cycle, it will just mean you have two or three unknown books that aren’t selling.”

Ms. Charman-Anderson makes a very succinct and accurate observation. Four years after this article was published, I think it’s fair to say that most authors are aware of the importance of book marketing, exposure, reviews and rankings. One need only visit a book promotion Facebook group or Twitter page to recognize how many authors are competing to gain visibility through social media, book bloggers and reviewers.

But is any of this actually working? Perhaps, but I imagine the actual number of books that are reaching mainstream readers is very small. To demonstrate this point, I recently visited one of the most prominent book promotion groups on Facebook. At a random date and time, I looked at the first five book listings when I opened the discussion page. Five days later, I checked the rankings for each book on Amazon. I purposely did not include the actual names of the books or authors to avoid embarrassing anyone.

Book number one and number five are clearly struggling to gain visibility. While the rankings of book number two and number four have some traction, it’s important to keep this in context. In fact, while insight into Amazon’s ranking system is difficult to ascertain, some sources estimate that an Amazon Bestseller ranking above 100,000 indicates that a book is selling less than one copy per day. I imagine these authors are exerting a lot of effort to sell very few books.