Most writers, due to their creative nature and a career path requiring them to dream up stuff, don’t have the most realistic goals. And yes, I’m among those writers.
I wrote my Oscar speech (for Best Original Screenplay, thank you very much) and visualized the whole thing. I was in middle school. I even know what kind of dress I’m wearing and what my hair will look like for crying out loud.
And while I pivoted more toward writing novels in recent years, most of those novels started off as screenplays, and the Hollywood dream is strong within me.
But a dream doesn’t have to involve a designer gown, gorgeous hair, and a lovely statue to be unrealistic.
Raise your hand if you thought most of your list on FB, Twitter, and Instagram would rush to buy your books when you launched. (Yes, my hand is up.)
But they didn’t.
Sure, some of us are lucky to have awesome family members who will shout out about our books from rooftops. I’ve got such family and friends. (But not every friend bought it, obviously.)
Some friends are amazing supporters. They will buy, read, promote and review. And they do it happily and proudly.
Many other friends are fellow writers and you’ve sworn a blood oath (or you know, a promise) to have each other’s backs through thick and thin. Because people who get writers the most are other writers. Being equally (slightly) crazy and weird and fantasy-loving and all…
But…that huge list of thousands of followers/friends…they didn’t buy.
I mean, if your friends wrote a book, you’d surely buy it and promote it to the best of your ability…
Except, not really, because you can’t buy every book your friends wrote because they are also writers and they write many books.
If I shelved a portion of the books written by my friends…
So…even you failed yourself about your own expectations of other people.
By the way, I’m making a confession, not putting on blame.
I’ve been there. I’m that writer with tons of writer friends who can’t keep up with the speed they are all writing.
I’m helping out in other ways when I can’t buy or read just yet, but that’s another blog post.
So now that we’ve established friends and family and other people you’ve expected to buy can’t and won’t all buy, let’s go over why.
Then we’ll talk about what to do about it.
Why Friends, Family, and Others Aren’t Buying Your Books
There are several different reasons, and we’ll go over them each. Then I will continue with what you can do about it.
– They actually don’t know you’ve got books out.
Not everyone is on social media.
Not everyone is on the same social media channel.
Or you are not following each other on social media. Following family can be very awkward, indeed.
Even if you are following each other on the same channels, you are a slave to that social network’s ever-changing algorithms and rules.
Most social networks are leaning more and more toward paid advertising so your organic (aka free) reach is plummeting every day.
Maybe 200 of your friends would have seen that launch announcement or news about your discount 5 years ago. Now you are lucky if that status update of yours reaches 20.
As for readers who are strangers to you, this is indeed the biggest problem. They don’t know you exist.
What to do about it:
Either pay for boosted posts via ads or let it go. Ads aren’t the worst idea if you know what you are doing and have money to throw away.
But chances are, they won’t buy it even if they (friends/family/strangers) knew because they’re not your target audience, aka fans of your genre/sub-genre, the tropes you are using, and your writing style.
If you know FB ads or can afford to learn/test/delegate, advertising is a way to reach strangers who are target readers.
Obviously, effective marketing methods such as doing email marketing and Amazon ads well and having many positive reviews will also do a better job of reaching new readers.
Most effective marketing techniques for authors are beyond the scope of this post but I’ll name some authors I follow that are doing it well. These people offer a lot of amazing free and paid resources.
– Alessandra Torre. Her website is great, and you should definitely catch her webinars on Goodreads.
– Dave Chesson. Chesson runs the Kindlepreneur blog. I also own his keyword tool Publisher rocket.
– Nick Stephenson: I own Stephenson’s Your First 10K Readers course. I also subscribe to his email and read whatever he posts about marketing. This is a free guide on writing, publishing, and marketing your book.
– Mark Dawson. I’m an email subscriber.
– Ian Chandler. He runs Self-Publishing School. I’m an email subscriber and I watch webinars.
– David Gaughran. I have several of his books and I think his wonderful Starting from Zero course is free.
– Joanna Penn: I subscribe to her blog The Creative Penn, and I own several of her books.
– Sandra Beckwith. She runs the Build Your Bookbuzz blog has great advice on marketing. Period.
– Derek Doepker. I watch whenever he is on webinars and I own his course on getting more reviews. (Not an affiliate link. If you scroll down this page, you can see the description of the review training I did.)
– They don’t know how to buy it.
Buying stuff online can be tricky or at least annoying and time-consuming. You might need to walk them through it.
What to about it:
Sending a direct link to your book’s purchase page is a good idea.
– They don’t want to buy it where you are selling it.
Maybe your book is only available on Amazon, and your readers don’t shop there.
What to do:
You can choose to go for wide distribution. The advantage is, your book will be available on more platforms. The disadvantage is you can’t put your book on Kindle Unlimited if you go wide. You will be paid for the books purchased via Amazon, but you will be giving up getting paid via pages read. This is a decision you need to make for yourself.
(Every time you put your book on KU, it is there for three months. So this is never an absolute decision. You can experiment, compare profits between wide vs. Amazon only and then make an informed decision.)
Currently, I prefer being on KU as an author, and I prefer reading authors who are on KU as well.
– They can’t buy where you are selling it.
This mostly goes for Kindle Unlimited Authors like myself. KU is not available in all countries.
Per Amazon.com: “Kindle Unlimited is currently available only to US customers on Amazon.com. Customers in the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, China, Japan, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, and Australia can sign-up for Kindle Unlimited in their local Amazon marketplace…”
Maybe they don’t use KU, or they don’t reside in a country that offers KU.
KU readers pay a monthly membership and this gives them a certain number of books to keep in their library. If they want other books, they can return one and borrow another. So they can read as much as they want for a fixed monthly fee, which is amazing for voracious readers.
What to do:
They can of course always opt for buying your book as opposed to renting it via KU. But then you need to give them the correct link of Amazon for their country of residence. Their shipping addresses are recorded, and with another country’s link, the book will show up with this message: “Not available for purchase in your own country.”
And sometimes, they just won’t be able to purchase via Amazon.
Now, if you’re not on any other platform, you’ve got to let this go. Or, if you decide to publish wide later, you can send them links of your other options when you do.
– The book doesn’t exist in the format they prefer.
Some people prefer audiobooks or paperbacks. This is a choice that costs money, so …
What to do:
If you are on a tight budget, these readers can be let go for now and you can cater to them when you can afford it. Because producing other formats usually costs money.
– They are not in your target audience
Remember how I defined target audience earlier?
If someone only reads horror or political thrillers, they won’t likely enjoy any type of romance, regardless of how well they are written or how much they personally like you.
Maybe they aren’t big readers. If someone only picks the occasional mass paperback recommended by millions of people, they might not read your book. They read once in a while, and you don’t come that heavily advertised yet.
Even just because someone likes your genre, doesn’t mean they like your sub-genres or tropes.
I’m big on thrillers, but I’m super weirded out by ones where therapists are bad guys who prey on their patients.
I read romance like I drink water, but there are so many tropes and endings that I don’t like I wrote a book about it. The book is called How to Write the Ultimate Non-Tragic Romance (aff. link). You can guess how much I hate tragedies.
If your protagonist has a terminal illness, I’m out of there. I had my quota filled a long time ago. Even if your writing flows and you are uber-talented.
You get the idea.
What to do:
You stop talking about your books to these people or at least stop expecting to buy them. Go after your actual target readers instead.
– They are way behind their to-read list
They can be avid readers and among your target audience, but this poses another problem. They already have a million books to read.
What to do:
Be patient. Take a number and get behind in line.
Speaking from experience. I’m so behind my to-read list, I can’t even. And I keep adding more books every day.
– They don’t have the time
Life is too short. Days are even shorter.
Work, kids, friends, family, romance, surviving a pandemic, errands, housework, health issues, transportation, and traffic…
Argh…Even writing this down makes me want to pull my hair out, and I don’t even have kids or pets. (I do have health problems, which does in fact cut my quality time short.)
Whether they are avid readers or not, quality time for reading is often interrupted by life.
What to do:
Leave it. Let go. Move on.
Unless they tell you they want reminders, you need to cut your losses. It sucks, but what are you going to do…
But if they ask, you can always tell them a short blurb in person. Hell, if they ask, tell them the entire plot.
Some people love spoilers and knowing they will like the story might make them more inclined to take a chance.
But don’t dump an entire story on unwilling people, no matter the urge. (I always have the urge to talk about my books. They are my babies. You’re not alone!)
– They can’t afford it right now
Books are expensive. Especially paperbacks and hardcovers. They are even more expensive if the book is from another country, and lousy exchange rates get into play.
What to do:
If people are genuinely only staying away due to prices, you can send them a notification when your books are on sale or ask them if they want a free copy.
Sometimes, all you really want (and/or need) is more eyes on the book.
Don’t pressure anyone, though.
There you go. These are the main reasons why despite having thousands of friends, fans, and other followers on social media, you didn’t sell thousands of copies.
Chances are when you first started to write, you didn’t know just how much you needed to market – whether you’re self-published or traditionally published.
But it is okay. It takes a while to come to terms with it. And even when you accept it is on you to work consistently to get the word out about your work, there are times when you just want to give up.
You don’t, of course.
You adapt. You learn, and you implement.
May great marketing skills be with you, and may more friends, family, fans, and strangers rush to buy your books and gush about them everywhere.