Publishing University 2015: How Do Books Sell?

By: Ebonye Gussine Wilkins

Hello Readers! This blog post is coming to you from IBPA’s Publishing University 2015 in Austin, Texas! I’ve got lots of great news, tips, and ideas to share with you from some of the most influential folks in indie publishing.

One of the sessions that I’ve attended so far asked the question: How do Books Sell? Well, let’s just say that it’s complicated. Peter Hildick-Smith (of Codex Group) mentioned that there are three points that need to be met before books begin selling well: discoverability, conversion, and availability. They are really simple ideas really:

  • discoverability: people have to know that the book exists before they can even think of buying it.
  • conversion: people have to be interested in the book before they will even consider buying it.
  • availability: people need to have access to the book before they will buy it.

Unfortunately, that is where the simplicity of it all ends. Discoverability can have multiple channels (there are at least thirty-eight major ones, and likely hundreds more smaller ones) and depending on the genre, content, targeted audience, and more of the group, you will have to use different channels to make your book discoverable.

Conversion is even trickier. People have to be interested in your book’s content before they can decide if they want to buy it or not. Someone might judge your book by it’s cover (trust me, people actually do that), the back of the book blurb, the elevator pitch you give your potential buyers, and even your name recognition (or lack thereof). These are only a few of the factors that affect conversion, so you have to be prepared for it. How to prepare for it is another thing that isn’t easy to do.

Availability is the easiest of the three, but depending on your target audience, they make look for a book in different places. Some people do like to buy books online, but many people still discover books through bookstores. However, getting you book into a bookstore (or Costco, or Target) is extremely difficult if you are an indie publisher. Most indie publishers do not have the strength, capacity, or financial power of the Big Five, so there are more obstacles to getting books recognized and available through certain avenues.

The good news is, that some indie publishers get all of these things to converge at the same time and book-selling magic happens. I’ve left off a lot of details and nuances, but these are the main points of how books actually get sold.

Tell us in the comments how you’ve gotten books to sell. How has email marketing, word of mouth, traditional venues, print media, advertisements, and book tours worked out for you?

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