How to Write a Book That Will Actually Sell

By Patricia Fry
Is it possible to predetermine the success of your book before you start writing it? To a degree, yes. Some of your choices during the planning and writing phases of your book can definitely influence eventual sales. There’s no sense in leaving the future of your book to chance, when you can help to create a greater potential for its success.

As the president of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network) and an international speaker, I meet many authors every year who are disappointed in their book sales. I think it’s fair to say that 100 percent of the time the fault lies with the author. Here are eight common mistakes first-time authors make and tips for how to avoid them:

1. The author writes the wrong book for the wrong audience.

This author hasn’t discovered the true audience for his book. He may have written a bulldozer book– one designed to change minds. It may be a valid book subject, but he plans to promote it to an audience who isn’t interested.

Many of us enter into the world of publishing with hopes and dreams. We want to make a difference, change wrong thinking, offer positive alternatives, teach better methods of being, for example. More often than not, however, our perceived target audiences don’t really give a darn. They aren’t interested in a new perspective, a different way of living and they certainly don’t want to be told that their thinking is wrong.

Examples of bulldozer book topics might include, smoking, religion, politics, parenting techniques, and pregnancy issues.

Remedy: Early on, study your chosen genre/topic and identify your audience—those people who would want to read this book—not those who should. Write the book for an audience who cares.

2. The author doesn’t know that he is responsible for promotion.

Obviously, this author didn’t take the time and initiative to study the publishing industry or he would know that his job isn’t over once the book is published.

Remedy: Study the publishing industry. Discover all of your publishing options, consider the possible consequences of your choices, and learn about your responsibilities as a published author. Read my book, The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book by Patricia Fry. Also read books by Marilyn Ross, Brian Judd, Dan Poynter, and John Kremer.

3. The author doesn’t take the opportunity to build promotion into his book while he’s writing it.

Savvy authors think about their target audiences while they are writing and designing their books.

Remedy: If yours would make a good reference book, for example, you’ll want to include a complete index. For a novel, choose a setting that is conducive to promotion. Give a character a popular ailment and present it in a positive light. Build promotion into your how-to book by involving a lot of experts and/or organizations through interviews and by including them in your resource list, for example. Solicit testimonials for your back cover from high profile people in your field or genre. Find ways to make your book more appealing to a larger audience.

4. The author neglects to establish a platform.

An author’s platform is his following, his reach, his way of attracting his target audience. Most successful authors today have a platform in place before they produce a book.

Remedy: Begin establishing or building on your platform even before you start writing the book. Your platform for your book on phobias might be the fact that you’re a psychologist in this area of study, that you suffered a severe phobia for years, that you work with women with phobias and/or that you’ve written articles and papers about this for years. Establish a platform for your cookbook by entering and judging cooking contests, writing articles for magazines, teaching online cooking classes, for example. Create a platform for your novel by becoming known as a short story writer (submit stories to appropriate magazines– lots and lots of them), building and maintaining a large mailing list, getting involved in sites related to your genre.

5. The author has unrealistic expectations.

Many first-time authors (we’ve all been there) expect to sell their books by the truckloads through mega bookstores. They believe that any good book will be eagerly welcomed by bookstore owners and managers. The reality is that few people outside of traditional royalty publishers with track records can get new books into bookstores. And space on bookstore shelves does not guarantee sales. In fact, books that are not selling will be returned– sometimes within the first few months.

Remedy: Have a promotions plan in place before deciding to produce a book. Don’t expect that your book will sell well just because it exists. Understand that it is going to take work and time to get your book noticed among the thousands of others. Having your book accepted for sale in bookstores is not necessarily your key to sales and riches. It’s still up to you to promote it– to spread the word about your wonderful, useful, exciting book.

6. The author plans to give promotion just a lick and a promise.

I’ve seen it often: An author brings out a book, notifies her local newspaper, sets up a website, visits a few independent bookstores, attends a book festival and then goes back to her previous lifestyle. She realizes a brief flurry of book sales and then they stop. She doesn’t know why.

Remedy: Authors need to understand that book promotion is ongoing. It should start before you write the book and continue for as long as you want to sell books. Your book will sell only for as long as you are willing to promote it.

7. The author gives up.

I can’t tell you how often I hear this, “I can’t sell my book, so what’s the use?” You won’t achieve the level of success you desire if you quit.

Remedy: Adopt a never-give-up attitude. Adapt the same measure of persistence, stick-to-itiveness and patience it took to complete your book project and get it published.

8. The author grows weary of the book promotion process.

Sure you’re going to suffer burnout. Promoting a book is a long, hard process.

Remedy: Tap into your sense of creativity in order to spark book sales. Try new, interesting and even exciting ways to boost sales. Plan a trip and take your book along. Visit bookstores and negotiate consignment deals. Rent a booth at a book festival locally. Give a performance featuring your book and invite the entire community. With the help of a publicist or marketing genius, launch a mail order campaign.

There’s a lot to consider when entering the huge and competitive publishing business. And promotion is a major consideration. Whether you land a traditional royalty publisher, self-publish (establish your own publishing company), or go with a fee-based POD publishing service, it is up to the author to promote his or her book. And the time to start thinking about promotion is before you ever sit down and put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard.

Patricia Fry is the president of SPAWN. She is also a full-time freelance writer and the author or 28 books. Ten of her books relate to writing and publishing. She blogs at Matilja Press