8 Myths about Book Sales That Authors Need To Ditch Now

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

If you’re an author thinking about your book marketing plans, It’s important to be aware of your underlying assumptions. Publishing is an industry in transition, so many tenets that seemed solid a few years ago have shifted over into the realm of myth. As an author and book marketing consultant, I’m constantly encountering thoughts, attitudes, and statements about bookselling that have changed along with the technologies and bookselling techniques in today’s market. In this article, I’ve identified eight myths. Do you tell yourself any of them? If so, ask yourself, as I have done, how does your personal experience measure up to the myth?

Myth 1: To succeed, a book needs advance quotes from prominent authors.

A book cover looks great when it’s adorned with a snappy quote by famous author. Celebrity quotes can give a book prestige. And the wording of the quote can help a potential reader get a better sense of the tone and content of a book. However, I have never seen a direct correlation between the books that become bestsellers and the books have quotes from famous people on their covers. So if you know  famous authors or people with expertise in the subject of your book, then by all means, ask them for a blurb. Otherwise, ask a not-so-well known author for their opinions. But don’t feel you’re missing out on a huge opportunity if known authors are not accessible to you. Just leave the quote off altogether and work on a great blurb for the back of the book and of course, a fantastic narrative inside the covers.

Myth 2: To succeed, a book needs reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and Booklist.

Established book review publications such as Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and Booklist are great. I support them and appreciate the work of organizations. Their reviews are helpful and can be valuable to both readers and authors. However, the success of a book does not rely on being reviewed in those venues. My book, I Hate Reading has not been reviewed by any of those publications. Still, families of struggling readers have found my book. Almost 100 of them have taken the time to add their own reviews to my Amazon sales page. So don’t forget that reader reviews count for a lot, too. They can be just as valuable as a review on a professional site.

Customer reviews count as much as reviews from established publications.
A spread from I Hate Reading by Beth Bacon.

Myth 3: The rise of online publishing has supposedly made it easier than ever for first-time authors to sell their books

Sadly I have to put this statement in the category of “myth.” Online publishing makes it easier for first time authors to make a book, but it is not easier to sell a book. Selling a book is hard work. It may even be harder for first-time, self-published authors than any other type of author out there because they have to create an audience from scratch. Yes, it’s now possible to produce a book. But marketing and selling a book is anything but easy.

Myth 4: A publishing contract is a guarantee of critical or commercial success.

A lot of writers covet that first-time publishing contract. But a contract is simply a contract:  a piece of paper that guarantees a certain royalty scale, a certain advance payment, and other specifics about right and production. I’ve never heard of a publishing contract that guarantees any sales numbers or critical praise.

Myth 5: If a book doesn’t take off after 6 weeks of marketing, it will never take off.

Some books are slow to find an audience. That’s okay. If your book has been out there for a while and it isn’t selling well, it may indicate that awareness of your book hasn’t reached critical mass. It may indicate that your book takes a long time to read, so word of mouth is slow. It may indicate a number of things about your marketing program: it may not be reaching the “right” people, or it may not saying the right things, or it may be echoing in empty chambers. So revise your marketing plan before you pull your book off the shelves or give up hope. Low sales may indicate many things, but they don’t prove your book will never take off. Keep trying to get the word out.

Myth 6: You need a series to get your book into a chain bookstore.

To this myth, I would like to point out To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. This is not a series and it’s in every chain bookstore in the United States. To get into a chain bookstore, what you need is a distributor who will promote your book to the chains. And even with a distributor, you need a book that has national presence. Many (actually most) single books—as well as most series—don’t have national presence. So if your book is a single, or a series, that doesn’t have national presence, don’t worry about the chains. A lot of bookstores that are not chains that would be happy to carry your book if you have a quality product that meets their audience’s needs. So get to know your local booksellers. If they know the benefits of your book then they’ll be able to recommend it to appropriate readers.

To Kill A Mockingbird is not a series.
Still it has national presence so it’s in chain bookstores.

Myth 7: You need lots of promotion money to get your book into the front of bookstores.

It takes promotion money to buy “end caps” and cardboard shelves at checkout stands in national chain bookstores. However, you don’t necessarily need big bucks to get your book in a prominent location in your local bookstore. Why? Because local booksellers love supporting local authors! To make this happen, you don’t need money but you do need a relationship with your bookseller. So get down there and spend your time and book-buying budget in your neighborhood store. They’ll appreciate your shared interest and when you launch your book, they may be happy to give your book some visibility, at least for a little while.

Myth 8: A book’s fate is ultimately in the hands of the “Book Gods.”

Some books sell like gangbusters and some books seem to be ignored. I’ve heard authors throw their hands in the air and blame it all on the “Book Gods,” as if some otherworldly presence has made a predetermination about the fate of their title. Well, let’s face it, there are no Book Gods. Sure, there is some randomness in the way that books capture the public imagination. But none of today’s blockbusters took off without a lot of hard work and grassroots support during the ramp-up period. You simply may not be aware of all that work. The reality is,  no successful book is the result of something completely random and inhuman. Successful authors, publicists, distributors and publishers work really hard at getting their books in front of the right audience. And if you’re a self-published author, you can do it, too.

What are your bookselling myths?

In any field of work, there are truths and there are myths. Many of the myths are rarely spoken about because they are simply assumed to be true. The problem with silent myths is that when the industry changes, the myths don’t always change to match.

Ask yourself what myths you are telling yourself about book sales. Comparing your assumptions with the reality of today’s publishing market can go a long way toward helping you grow healthy book sales—and developing a healthy attitude about the difficult work of marketing and selling books today.

Expert Publishing Blog, Industry News
Beth Bacon

About Beth Bacon

Beth Bacon has an MFA in Writing For Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She helps organizations large and small define their brands and has a special expertise in helping authors market their books. Beth has won the The Candlewick Award for Picture Book Writing, the Marion Dane Bauer Award for Middle Grade Writing, and is a PSAMA PULSE Award Finalist for marketing.