It’s a fear that I think every author-to-be has at one point: you work your tail off to write and publish a book…and no one buys it. It’s terrifying to think that you could put so much effort into creating a book that readers don’t want to read. And, if you’re hiring editors, designers, or other professionals to help with the production of your book, zero book sales could result in a big financial loss for you.
So, how do you tell if readers will buy your book? How can you help relieve your fears and prove to yourself that yes, people will want to read your book? In this episode, I’ll walk you through four important steps that you should take to figure out whether people will want to buy your book. These steps will help you think through some very important questions you should be asking yourself if you want to estimate how successful your book will be. At the end, I think you’ll have the answer you’re looking for.
One of the biggest mistakes entrepreneurs make is assuming that they know what their audience needs. Or, they know what their audience needs, but they assume that people will pay for it. This is true for books, even though it’s often easier to persuade someone to buy a $15 book than a $500 course or program. If you’re really concerned about having decent book sales numbers, you really need to make sure that your audience 1) wants a book on your topic, and 2) that they’re willing to pay for it.
I know I’ve done this before. Years ago, a business coach encouraged me to create a new online fitness program that was aimed at people new to yoga. I called it a yoga bootcamp, and my goal was to help give clients the knowledge that they needed to feel confident going to a yoga studio, and to help them start to build the strength they’d need to do more intermediate yoga poses. But, I overestimated my audience’s desire for the bootcamp, and I definitely underestimated their willingness to pay for it. I had five people enroll in the first round of the program, and no interest when I tried to run a second round a month later. The truth was that there was so much free information on yoga for beginners out there that my audience didn’t feel the need to pay for what I was offering.
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Are other people doing what you’re doing? Do you see other people in your space selling books or even programs on your topic, and doing it successfully? That shows that there’s a market for your idea. In rare cases, no one’s doing what you’re doing because no one’s thought of it yet. But, it’s usually more likely that someone has tried it and it didn’t work.
Is this worrisome when it comes to books? Do you have to worry that a bunch of people have already written your book? In some cases, yes, in some cases, no. Are you just going to repeat what’s been said? Or, will you be adding your own experience and knowledge to your book and making it stand out from what’s already been written? If you know how your book is different (and, bonus, that people will pay for that difference), you’re golden.
As I just alluded to, I also think it’s really important to spend some time looking at what books are already out there. What are they about? What are their selling points? How successful have they been? How are they rated? What do the reviews say? (Amazon is a great place to do this type of research.)
Knowing what’s out there will help you figure out how your book is different. It can help you figure out how to make your book different. What are those other books lacking? If you can make your book better than the other books on the market, you’re more likely to build good momentum and sell more books.
How many copies are other comparable books selling? You can get approximate Amazon sales numbers by using software like Publisher Rocket (formerly KDP Rocket) or Kindle Spy (affiliate links). I purchased both pieces of software a while ago for my own books and love having the extra insight they provide. Kindle Spy is a little more budget-friendly at $47, but I use Publisher Rocket ($97) more frequently because it gives a little more information and details.
How do you use these pieces of software to look at book sales? Within an Amazon category, you can get estimates of how many copies each of the bestselling book is moving. (With Publisher Rocket, you can also get total estimated sales for different keywords, which offers some nice additional insight. And, it also has a Competition Analyzer feature that lets you search for a particular phrase and see the approximate monthly sales for books that rank for that search term.) This data will help you see whether your book topic is lucrative, or if popular authors are just selling a few copies here and there.
The majority of your book sales, at least at first, will come from your warm audience. These are your true fans—people who want to support you and who trust you to help them out. These include the people who frequently comment on your blog or social media posts, and it includes your family and close friends, too. On launch day, the people who are most excited about your book will be the ones to hit the buy button, and those are the people who are in your warm audience.
If you have more people who love you and what you do, you’ll naturally sell more books. These are the people who are your biggest supporters. They make your recipes or test out your DIY projects or follow what you teach in your videos. They’re drinking the Kool Aid you’re selling…and they want more. When you have those warm audience members, you’re much more likely to have a successful book. They’ll buy it…and then they’ll talk about it.
When you have an audience full of superfans, or a big audience of regular fans, word will start to spread about your book. If your book is on Amazon, your superfans are going to be the first people to take the time to write a review for you. (More and better reviews help you sell more books to other Amazon shoppers.) Likewise, if you have a LOT of fans, you’ve got a leg up in the numbers game and even if just a small percentage of people who buy your book review it, you’re still going to get decent numbers of reviews.
Questions to ask yourself: have your audience members purchased from you before? (That shows they’re already willing to spend money to get your advice and content.) Do they regularly ask for or take your advice? Are they actively implementing what you’re teaching them for free on your blog or on social media? Are they thanking you for what they’ve learned?
What’s your engagement rate on social media? Are your followers excited to hear from you? Are you receiving genuine comments from your followers? Do you get a lot of DMs in response to your posts? Do audience members tag you in their own posts (bonus if it’s because they’re sharing something you taught them to do)?
If your readers are into what you’re doing, if you have a warm audience, chances are good that you’re going to have decent book sales.
I don’t want to focus on book promotion too much in this episode, but I do think that we do need to briefly discuss the importance of marketing, especially if you want to sell books beyond your launch. People’s attention spans are short. It’s easy for them to forget your book is out there. And, if you launch your book in January but never talk about it again, how is someone who started following you in July going to learn about it?
The success of your book launch and ongoing sales of your book really does depend on how much time and effort you put into book marketing. (Or, similarly, it also depends on how much money you can afford to spend paying someone else to market your book for you.) If you don’t have the time (or money) to put into marketing your book month after month, year after year, people will forget about it and sales will drop.
So, if you want to know how many copies of your book you’ll sell, you also need to be honest with yourself and figure out how much time you can put into promoting it. Books aren’t a “if you build it, they will come” sort of a deal. Only consistent effort will make your book truly successful over the long term.
Business owners, I want to leave you with one final thought: your book is going to do so much more for your business than bring in royalties from book sales. I talk about this idea at length in Blogger to Author Podcast Episode 67 – Why You Need to Think Beyond Royalties. But, I think it’s worth mentioning again here.
Your outlook will be different if your main goal is to make a living being an author. Your income will depend more on book sales. But, if this is you, I would encourage you to think about ways to diversify your income. Can you give paid lectures and talks? Can you sell products that are related to your book that your superfans can buy? For example, Angela J. Ford, who I interviewed in Episode 6 of the podcast (all about book launches), sells candles with scents inspired by her fantasy novels. And, she has an entire shop with swag related to her books.
But, let’s get back to those of you who are entrepreneurs and business owners and you’re publishing your book as part of a larger business. Remember that your book is going to give you authority and credibility that will lead to new opportunities and new clients. And, you can leverage your book in so many ways to get more visibility—you can team up with influencers and give away your book, you can use your book to get more publicity, and you can create events around your book like book signings and lectures that will bring you face-to-face with ideal clients.
So, I encourage you to try to move beyond that “I have to sell a ton of books to be successful” mindset. Your book can help your business massively even if you only sell a handful of books. Yes, I think it’s important that you write a book that solves real problems and actually helps people, but it can still be a big success even if you don’t sell thousands or tens of thousands of copies. Don’t judge the success of your book solely on the number of books you sell.
There you have it. I hope that this has helped you figure out whether readers will buy your book, and that if you don’t like the answers you found, that you also have some new insight into how to improve your book so readers will want it. Questions? Hit me up on Instagram.
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