Why Your Book Might Not Sell Well (in the Kindle Store)

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I just had an exchange with a PressBooks user, who wondered why their book is not selling well in the Kindle store, which, I imagine, is a common question for authors. I answered:

  • imagine that your book is in a bookstore
  • imagine that bookstore makes it very easy for readers to find a book if they know the title or author
  • now  imagine that that bookstore has 1.7 million books in it
  • what will inspire people to look for (and buy) your book, rather than another one?

To put that in context: imagine you live in Kansas  City (population 1.7 million), and that a tourist is visiting your city. What are the chances that that one tourist will buy you a coffee tomorrow? About the same chance that they will buy your book, if it just happens to be in the Kindle store. (Statistician’s caveat: there are far more visitors to the Kindle store in a day than there are tourists visiting Kansas City).

That is: getting books into Kindle is easy; finding ways to get people to read those books is another story altogether, and is the hard part. And this is the difference between “writing a book” and “publishing a book” … writing a book is an easy or hard exercise in creativity. Publishing (self- or otherwise) is the business of connecting readers to writing.

I don’t think we know yet what really good publishing looks like in this new world, except that if you crack into a good slot in Amazon’s recommendation algorithm you are in good shape.

So to some degree, then, the publisher’s (self- or otherwise) “job” is to figure out how to do well for their books in Amazon’s search and recommendation algorithms.

If you publish books, perhaps you are already spending significant resources on testing and analyzing how best to succeed in Amazon’s search engine?