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Enough of the Nonsense: Why Your eBook Is Not Selling

Updated on August 4, 2015

For as much as we want to turn eBook writing and sales into some sort of sacred science, there remain four basic reasons why your eBook won’t sell. You can boil it down to specifics or try to decide on which heinous excuse is holding you back . . . but there are grounds for your shortcomings. I guarantee your problem resides with one of the following.

A megaphone has very little benefit in an empty gymnasium.
A megaphone has very little benefit in an empty gymnasium.

1) Networking

The best advertisement is word of mouth, but if you have no mouths to pass along the word, you’re left to gambling on dumb luck or your marketing expertise.

Twitter is great . . . if you have followers. Otherwise it is near-useless as millions of users toss out tens of millions of tweets, links, pictures, and videos. Posting links without followers is like tossing a bottle into the ocean, hoping it will end up in the hands of somebody important. Better yet, that it will end up in the hands of somebody, in general. I’ve seen so many people on Twitter who, having read the “How To Use Twitter” articles like good students, have links to their eBook sent out automatically throughout the day. That’s great and all but for starters, if the followers are not there, it is a waste of time. Secondly, nobody – and I mean absolutely NOBODY – enjoys seeing the same link three times a day for six months straight. There is no better way to alienate people than by bombarding them with something that, if they didn’t click on it the first time, they never will. Think of it this way: if you want to promote your book and all you have is a stack of fliers, would you only post one on the telephone pole in front of your next door neighbor’s house? Would you then continue to post it on the same telephone pole for half a year, expecting amazing results?

Facebook is great . . . if you create a page for your book and drum up interest in it. However, sending links to your friends and family is likely to only have them question why they are inviting you over for the holidays. Most of your ‘friends’ will tolerate the first appeal to support your work. Anything beyond that is unnecessary, rude, and counterproductive. The same rule applies: if I don’t click on your link the first time, or I refuse to share it, I will likely not do so. Ever. Can you go after these persons on an individual and/or case-by-case basis? Sure you can – but do it through private messaging. Don’t blitzkrieg your entire list in order to get Aunt Gwen to buy your book.

. . . and ‘likes’ are nice but ‘shares’ are where its at. On your one and only plea to your friends, implore them to share the link so that the virus spreads quickly but with limited irritation.

Reddit is great . . . if you have credentials. You have to build your reputation and distance yourself from being a spambot. In general, this concept is true for all networking. People want something that is personalized. I don’t want a bunch of tiny URL links from you without any rhyme or reason. If you contact me directly, I am FAR more likely to listen to you, look into your work, write a review, or even spread the word. Remember that you are being a salesperson, here. If that means pretending to be interested in things that you otherwise would never care about to get the sale (i.e. the NHL playoffs, “Duck Dynasty,” or even conspiracy theories) then do it!

They call it 'target market' for a reason. You can't aim for every part of the board and still win.
They call it 'target market' for a reason. You can't aim for every part of the board and still win.

2) Marketing

I get it – you view your book as a political horror thriller with enough humor tossed throughout to make it a comedy. As much as I agree that your work is likely more than some cookie cutter, pigeon-holed piece of literature, you have to be precise with marketing. Going for broke and labeling your work all of the above will leave you with no sales, no interest, and no place to go.

Go with what your book mostly embodies. Don’t assume that you need to break down all genres that your title encompasses. Sci-Fi fans enjoy humor, suspense, and drama as much as readers of “Jane Eyre.” The only difference is the variety of the story. Don’t think that you need to pull in readers from every lot – you’ll only exhaust your time and energy in places that they need not be. Determine what your book is and go that route with full force. Otherwise, you’ll be attempting to pass off your fantasy tale to erotica enthusiasts just because the hero kisses the princess after slaying the dragon.

All of which brings me to a major point: Don’t write and market your book as if it is going to be the next “Harry Potter” or “Hunger Games.” Those books were likely never intended to pull in the entire public and generate millions in revenue through movie deals. Because they did is a testament to their quality, content, and a word-of-mouth reaction that always trumps advertising. If you’ve written a book with the guiding thought being that you’re going to be the next big thing, you are seriously setting yourself up for disappointment. You are focusing on a broad spectrum that mostly doesn’t care about what you’ve written because it isn’t regarded highly in public opinion yet. Worse yet, you’re losing thousands in potential sales in hopes of gaining millions.

Use humility and absolve yourself of the million dollar fantasy. If it happens, great. It will be because you created something so good that people want to read it (or because somebody convinced them that it is great, even if it is not.) In the meantime, shoot to chop down the tree in front of you before razing the entire forest.

Without quality work, you'll be lucky if your eBook even makes it as far as the 'recycle bin.'
Without quality work, you'll be lucky if your eBook even makes it as far as the 'recycle bin.'

3) Quality

The hard truth. If the book is garbage, people won’t want to read it. If your only positive feedback has come from your mother or your liberally supportive friend, perhaps your book isn’t so ‘uniquely great’ as first thought.

With the best marketing and social connections in the world, if the book is terribly written, poorly edited, or flat-out boring, it will never make it past your sphere of influence. Again, book promotions and sales require organic growth. I am not going to put my name and my tastes on the line to share your book if it is terrible, even if you are my friend (or if I do, it will be a half-hearted attempt because I don’t truly care about it.) This is how most people operate, even the kind ones . . . and there’s nothing wrong with that. If humans didn’t respond in a self-preserving manner like this, the world would be inundated with terrible books from every angle.

But what’s that? The world IS inundated with terrible books? It is true that the great benefit of eBook publishing online – that is, its ease of use – is also its downfall. For as much as we might disregard big time publishers, they helped protect us from an onslaught of awful, horrendous material. That security blanket has been lifted and with it comes the good and the bad of this double-edged sword. Quality should have more meaning now than ever. Quality should be required to separate your work from the rest of the pack. Quality should be required to prove your worth without the backing of a corporate entity. Quality cannot be overlooked just because the book exists.

There is a greater weight to quality, despite an endless sea of trash that exists in the world of eBooks. Unoriginality, poor humor, smut, and unintelligible stories are saturating what should be a genuine writer’s platform for having their work recognized. Aside from networking and marketing, it will take quality to separate the dominant work from the sheepish pack.

Even though the world is filled with terrible books, people will not share them. They will not retweet them, repost them, or even e-mails links for them. Only if the work is quality, will they offer any assistance . . . and sometimes all you need is that one person who sets off a chain reaction.

Your eBook is published. Sitting down is NOT the next step.
Your eBook is published. Sitting down is NOT the next step.

4) Commitment

People hate reading this sort of thing in articles because it is so vague, yet such ‘common sense.’ Still, we ignore it, tossing our book up on Amazon and walking away. I’ll call this the ‘small change’ strategy because if this is your approach to selling your novel, it’s obvious you’re only looking for supplemental income. Maybe enough to buy a pizza. After a few months.

Everything else that you do with your eBook is spawned from either creativity or an unrelenting passion to push your work out there. Without this drive, you will never create the organic networking necessary to move the eBook. With no determination, you will care less about marketing and pay off some third-rate advertiser, essentially wasting $25.00 to promote your book on banners to which nobody will pay attention. Your half-hearted attempts at trying to create a spark will be just that – weak strikes with a wet match. By that point, why waste your time? It makes no sense that you would spend months writing an eBook simply to take whatever effort you had put forth, already, and toss it in the trash.

Commitment is not something that you can necessarily learn or even worse, check off a ‘to-do’ list. There is no online tutorial to teach you on how to become more committed to your work (and if there is, its garbage because an online article cannot teach dedication.) Most importantly, it doesn’t end once the eBook has been finished. In fact, that is where the commitment truly starts. Just about anybody can create a story. A percentage of those people can actually put pen to paper and make it into readable material. But it takes somebody with firm determination to take that work and present it to the world. To spread it like fire and see the flames rise as opposed to being content with a trickling of smoke.

So when writers tell you that there is no magic bullet for publishing an eBook, they are somewhat lying because there is – commitment. It just so happens that this particular bullet takes the greatest time, effort, and – ironically – is not magical, at all.


I’m writing this article to save you the time from going any further. Do not waste your time or money in learning ‘tricks’ or ‘tips’ on how to sell your book because they are mostly nonsense. There is no mystical key to unlocking your book’s potential. You can create a page for your book or shoot out tweets but there is nothing natural about that. Even advertising acts as a blanketed shotgun blast when what you really need is a rifle. There is nothing real with these methods – there are no connections! Life is organic and people want something natural – not some artificial and apathetic link to a book.

The simplest command prompt before any act should always be “would I care about this?” The answer should you guide you on your path. Would you click on that link? Would you buy that book? Then why would you expect it of anybody else?

Treat those potential sales – those potential readers of your masterpiece – as something more than a retail statistic. View them as opinionated human beings and reach out to them. Connect with them. It is time-consuming and takes a great deal of effort but if you want success, you must build an authentic base. There is no way around this, short of paying others to act genuinely interested (which, itself, would likely die out quickly.) If there were an easy way of selling eBooks that didn’t require such effort, millions of people would have done it already. The answer on how to sell eBooks is simple but it is not the answer people want to hear.


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    • charm_baker profile image

      Charm Baker 2 years ago from Los Angeles, California

      I can do nothing but applaud this article, even if I AM reading it several years too late! The funny thing is, I just created a YouTube video series about eBook Marketing Strategies and I'm currently conducting a kind of 60 day experiment to discuss my activities and results. I was determined not to make the same mistakes in marketing with my newest title, only I wasn't exactly sure what those mistakes was, so I knew I needed to monitor myself.

      And low and behold, after 5 days of videos so far, I've begun to take a look at all my previously published - less than successful titles. I'm guilty of #2 above, among other things. I also discovered issues with too much "front matter" and as a result, a lack of proper "sampling". You couldn't have been more right when you said that "the answer to selling ebooks is simple, but not the one we want to hear." Thanks for the insight.

    • FatBoyThin profile image

      Colin Garrow 2 years ago from Kinneff, Scotland

      Good to read something about e-books that doesn't sound like it's all plain sailing. I've been thinking about that whole area for quite a while (still haven't made up my mind), but it's probably something I'll try at some point. Great Hub - funny AND interesting.