How to Sell Books… It Depends on What Kind of Book You’re Selling

Obviously the top question I get from visitors to the How to Sell Books website is “how do I sell my self-publishing book??”

Well the first two questions that I have are: “what kind of book are you trying to sell in the first place? And to whom?” Many new self-publishers don’t really know the answer to those questions.

Not only do many writers fail to explore the basics of the 4 Ps of marketing (product, price, placement and promotion) they also don’t really know their target reader.

  • Is your target reader a housewife looking to make an extra income to support her household?
  • Is she a bored college student who wants something interesting to read in between classes?
  • Is he a social studies teacher who is looking for a way to interest his students?

What is the target reader’s age? Occupation? Interests? How does she buy her books (electronic or print)?

Simply put, the target reader is the person who is most likely to purchase a copy of your book. As I write in my eBook series, “A book buyer is only motivated to purchase a book if it will make him money, make his life easier, educate him on something he was curious about, or make his life more fun and enjoyable.”

Know Your Audience

I have been fairly successful selling my tightly niched novels because I have a very strong idea of who my target reader is for each one. For three years I hit the streets of NYC and sold my novels hand-to-hand.

I got to meet thousands of people who fell right into my target audience back then, so now I know who they are whether I’m tweeting them on Twitter, reading their posts on Amazon or talking to them at book signings. I understand their motivations, interests and how they go about buying books.

eBook or Printed Book?

Another important issue I think is crucial to consider right now (circa 2012 and beyond) is the book format that your target reader will prefer to purchase. I recently read an article that revealed that most people who read novels prefer eBooks (electronic books, mostly on Kindle or iPad devices) while people who read non-fiction titles prefer printed books that they can carry around and mark up for future reference. That is extremely important information for you to keep in mind if you’re trying to sell books.

Do People Really Want Your Book?

I’m quite possibly the last person on earth to discourage someone from writing and selling their own book, but you have to ask yourself: who, if anyone, wants your book?

Some writers make the mistake of writing and publishing books that have virtually no market —no one desires or needs the book. I learned that lesson first-hand when I published a book of photography (my very first self-publishing venture). Talk about bombing.

So if you are serious about succeeding as a self-publisher and selling copies I suggest that you do some personal reflection about your book before you proceed. If you’re having a hard time identifying a target reader, does the book have one? If the answer is “well no, not really” just start a new writing project but this time make sure that you have a clear-cut idea of who is actually going to buy it when it’s finished. Selling books is as much about strategy as it is about the writing or spending money on advertising.

Time to get to work!

Quick Book Cover Design Tutorial

The design of your book cover is key to the book’s success. When a customer picks up a book, she will immediately start thinking about your title. If the title is interesting and easy to read, the next thing she will do is get more detail about the book on your back cover. Something as small as the size or font of the text could be the difference between a sale or a pass. This is why it is so key to have a professional designed cover that will grab and keep the attention of potential readers.

Preliminary Steps

Before you start to design your cover, first sit down and brainstorm a few details. For one, you must know and understand the target reader before you start creating book cover. If you are not the writer, you should read or at least skim the book to gain a better understanding of who would most enjoy the book.

Front Cover

For your front cover, keep everything as simple as possible. Avoid inserting multiple photos and many different fonts and colors on your front cover as this will distract your reader and your title could get lost in the confusion.

Instead, just add a simple (preferably neutral) background color, one photo (no more than two), your title, and a small line of text for your byline (author name). The title should be either centered on the book or located towards the top of the book to draw attention to it first. The photo can be a backdrop image or a photo placed to the side or bottom of the text.

The main element that you will be working with on your front cover will be your title text. Play with fonts and font sizes until you find the perfect selection that stands out and matches the tone and theme of your book.

Back Cover

Your back cover should be even more simple than your front cover. This is purely for reading—think of it as the very last page of your book. Choose a white or very light background for the back cover and use black text on top. Avoid dark background colors as this makes it more difficult to read. Use the same or a similar font as what you used for your inside book text.

Programs to Use to Design the Cover

Use Adobe Photoshop and InDesign or a similar program to design your book cover. Generally, you will create your background images in Photoshop and then layout the cover in InDesign. This is because Adobe Photoshop allows you to make extensive edits to photos, colors, and other elements that will be inserted into your final cover file. InDesign gives you more flexibility for inserting and editing text on top of your background images. It is also possible to create your book cover design using Photoshop alone, though it will be more difficult to make text edits.


Fred Showker “Book Cover Design Tips & Tricks” DT&G Design

Archive of Book Cover Designs

Resource on How to Design Book Covers That Sell

A Design Resource for Novices


Raise Money to Get Your Book Printed as a New Self-Publisher

Looking for a way to help pay for your first run of book? Sell advertising at the back of your book.

If you’re a new and fairly broke self-publisher who’s trying to raise some money to get your book printed, you may have to get a little creative. If the bank isn’t biting, low on cash, and your cards are maxed out, why not try to sell some advertising space at the back of your pre-published books as a way to get your book printed?

Think about it—you’re going to be printing multiple hundreds of books and pushing them to a highly targeted group of consumers. For instance, if you have a book printed about starting your own small business, you know that there are a whole crop of advertisers out there hoping to reach new small business owners.

How this Idea to Get your Book Printed Can Work

This idea for getting your book printed will work best for a non-fiction or self-help book that provides valuable information. For instance, if your book is about relationships, tap local matchmakers and the countless dating services (both off and online) that are trying to get off the ground. A real estate agent might also pay to advertise in the back of your printed book offering advice on buying a new house.

As you can imagine, this plan to raise funds to get your book printed will work best if the advertiser has a website and ships products or provides a service to people all over the country. But if you plan to push your book heavily in your own town or city, a local brick and mortar business can benefit from this type of advertising.

Ask Your Buddies

What about other authors? Many self-published and even traditionally published authors have an advertising budget (don’t you?). Ask your author buddies if they’d like to advertise their books in the back of your printed book.

And what about your other buddies? Surely you have a friend or family member who is trying to get a new business idea off the ground or works for a company that places local advertisements. Instead of asking him for a cash investment to help get your book printed, sell him ad space in your printed book instead.

Be reasonable with your advertising rates, especially if this is the first time you’re trying this method of gathering funds to get your book printed. About $100 per half page ad sounds reasonable. Once you start to see a positive result from these book ads, then you can raise your rates and make it a more exclusive situation for possible advertisers.

Additionally, offer to include the ads on your book website as well. Even if your printed book doesn’t sell well off the bat, this will at least assure that the advertiser gets some online exposure from your book project.

Cross Promotion Opportunities After You Get Your Book Printed

Now before you say, “I don’t know if that will work,” think about the cross-promotion opportunity as well. If an advertiser knows you’re pushing his company name and maybe even his picture in the back of a published book, he’s going to be even more fired up about getting his own friends, family, and contacts to buy it—maybe even in bulk. Always off two free copies of the book for the advertiser to keep.

One last thing before you get the book printed—make plans with the advertiser to offer a discount to the customer if he mentions that he saw your ad in the back of your book. If the advertiser’s product or service is on a website, arrange to have the advertiser set up a special landing page or discount code so that he can tell where the traffic came from. This way the advertiser will see the value of promoting in your book, and possibly pay for more ads in future book printings or releases. Always think ahead.

Can’t Hurt to Give This a Shot!

So if you’re struggling with how to get the cash you need to get your book printed, consider taking a galley of your pre-published book and the cover around to your local businesses to try to sell ad space. If you’ve got positive reviews in already, bring that along with you as well.

Good luck to you on your self-published book. When you finally do get your book printed, then comes the really hard part — selling them!