If you want to take your passion for writing and turn it into a career that will actually support you and your family, or maybe just give you a little extra income to invest on your financial future, then you are in the right place!
For you to earn a full-time income as an author, you’ll need to know why and how readers buy books because your readers will be the only people to support you financially—or not.
Even if you work with a publisher, the money they earn and pay you in royalties ultimately comes from readers.
So, if you want to increase your book sales and royalties, you have to find out what factors actually influence your readers to buy your books.
Luckily for you, I’ve been studying this for over 5 years now, and I’ve found there are 16 key factors that directly influence whether or not readers will buy your books.
Mastering these 16 factors will significantly increase your book sales and profits.
1. Book Title
One of the reasons why readers buy books is because they want a solution to their problem (nonfiction readers are looking for solutions to many kinds of problems whereas fiction readers are usually looking for entertainment, which is a solution to the problem of boredom).
For instance, if a reader is depressed and he acknowledges that this is a real problem, he might go to Amazon to look for books about depression.
When he types “depression fix” or a similar keyword on Amazon he will see the book titles available and from there he will decide if your book offers the solution he is looking for.
If your book title clearly communicates that it solves the problem your reader has you will get more sales because readers need to feel certain that your book will provide them with what they’re looking for before they buy.
For example, here are two books about depression:
Although both books are about depression, you can tell immediately from the titles that each book is solving a very different problem. One book promises to help you get rid of depression while the other promises to help you connect better with someone who is depressed.
One of these books is selling several hundred copies each month on Amazon while the other is only selling a handful of copies each month. Can you tell by the book titles which one is selling more copies?
Your book title also has to be memorable, repeatable and searchable so that people can share your book through word of mouth.
If people can’t remember it, then they cannot share it.
If your book title contains ambiguous words, homophones or puns, it will be difficult for folks to understand it in a conversation and recall it later. So your book title has to be repeatable.
Finally, if people go into Amazon or Google and they type in the title of your book (or what they think it is based on what they heard or remember), it has to appear at the top of the results page.
If it’s not searchable then they may give up looking for your book, and that means you are going to lose that word of mouth sale.
So make sure your book covers are memorable, repeatable and searchable.
And if you write nonfiction, make sure your book title clearly communicates the problem you are solving for your reader—and that you’re solving the big problems so that many people are willing to pay for your solution.
If you write fiction, you should focus on crafting a book title that is highly memorable, repeatable and searchable. If your book title sounds entertaining, that’s a great bonus because it will help attract more readers.
2. Book Cover
When you ask people why they buy books, most will say for entertainment, education, or because they can relate to the characters and like the setting.
While all that may be true, it’s not the truth. All the reasons they stated are logical reasons, but studies show that people make purchase decisions based on emotions, not logic.
Our minds decide if we are going to click on a link, look inside the book, or if we are going to click buy based on emotions. This makes buying an unconscious decision and we can conclude that readers don’t know the real motivations behind their purchase decisions (the reasons they give for buying are often rationalizations, not reality).
So, how can you persuade more readers to buy your books?
Book covers are one of the first things people look at when browsing books. You to make a solid first impression with your book cover because it’s that first impression that will either keep them interested in learning more about your book or give them an impulse to click away and find something more interesting.
So it’s important that your book cover conveys emotions that the readers in your market yearn for to keep them interested. If you design a book cover for a thriller novel and use pastel colors with flowers, it’s going to create an emotional disconnect with your readers. That kind of cover makes your book look and feel like a romance novel or a new age self help book, not a thriller.
If a reader is looking for a hard-boiled thriller and the cover is too sappy for his taste, he may get an unconscious feeling that this book is not what he wants, and he will click on another book that looks and feels more like the kind of thriller he’s looking for. This will ultimately hurt your sales.
That’s why it’s important to understand what a good book cover looks like in your market and hire a professional book cover designer.
3. Book Description
If your book title and book cover are attractive enough to get a browser on Amazon to click on your book and visit the book page, congratulations! That reader is now only one click away from purchasing your book.
But your job isn’t done yet!
You now have to convince the reader that your book is the one they should buy. At this point, your best bet is to write a great book description that immediately catches your reader’s attention and makes them want to buy your book right now.
If you’ve ever purchased a book or product online before, you know how important product descriptions are for online shopping. If you’re looking for a sexy romance novel and the book description says it’s a dark fantasy story, you’re probably not going to buy that book.
But the worst thing you can do is make the reader guess! If your book description doesn’t even tell the reader what kind of book they’re about to buy, they will probably click away because uncertainty kills sales.
A great quote to remember is “the confused mind always says no.” If you confuse your readers by not providing the key information they need to make an informed decision about purchasing your book, you’re going to miss out on a lot of sales, and it will be nearly impossible to keep your book on top of the bestseller lists on Amazon because you will suffer from low conversions.
The book description is basically all the information that your readers are going to get about your book before they buy it. One of the things you want to do is for your book description to explain right away what your book is all about, who it’s for and why they should read it. For example, if you wrote a book about a love story set in France in the 1940s, you would want to include that in the book description so you may attract readers that like historical romances and books set in France.
If you aren’t sure what your book description should look like, just go to the Amazons Best Sellers page for your category, niche or genre, and read the book descriptions. (Here’s a step-by-step guide on doing market research for your book on Amazon which will help immensely when it comes to writing a book description that will attract your ideal readers).
Study how the bestselling authors in your market are telling their story and convincing readers to buy their books. Model the book descriptions that stand out and make you want to buy the book.
If you implement this, your book description will become a powerful tool to help your readers decide to purchase your book instead of a confusing blob of text that shoos readers away.
4. Market Research
You can sell more books if you know who your target readers are and what they want. Many readers who buy and read Malcolm Gladwell’s books do so because they like his writing style, not necessarily because they like the content of his books. For many avid readers, reading good writing is enjoyable. A great writer can interest almost any curious reader if your writing style appeals to them.
How do we know this? Because we did our market research.
The easiest way to do market research is to go to Amazon and read the reviews for the bestselling books in your market or genre.
While reading the reviews, jot down the negative comments that keep popping up and the positive comments that are repeated by readers.
Put it all together and you’ll have a list of things that the readers want and don’t want from a book like yours.
You now have a list of the most important key insights into what your ideal readers are looking for, and the crucial mistakes you must avoid if you don’t want to get a flurry of bad reviews.
Using this information you can now change elements of your book based on the lessons and insights you learned from your readers.
How this impacts your sales will depend on what you decide to do with this information. Ignore the advice and warnings of your ideal readers at your own peril.
Another factor that is crucial to getting a full-time income as an author is distribution.
If we look at the data, Amazon accounts for more than 70% of all ebook sales in the US from amazon.com and 80% of ebook sales in the UK from Amazon.co.uk. Over 51% of all physical books sold in the US are purchased online, with the vast majority purchased from Amazon.com.
Because the vast majority of book sales today are sold online, I humbly suggest you focus on online distribution. It’s the simple rule of 80/20 that states that 80% of the results you will get in life come from 20% of your activity. In our case as self published authors and publishers, about 80% of our sales will come from Amazon. Therefore, it behooves us to study how we can maximize our distribution and promotion opportunities online and on Amazon.com especially.
There are other distribution options outside of Amazon with retailers like bookstores, big box retailers, libraries, other online stores, or foreign publishers. You can grow your income by expanding your distribution but remember that each additional distribution channel you add to your mix requires more time, energy, effort and money to manage. Make sure to do your best to calculate the additional ongoing costs you will incur if you seek additional distribution channels.
Also realize that distribution only helps if there is existing demand for your book. For example, if you are only selling 10 books per month on Amazon, you don’t need more distribution; what you need is better marketing and more demand for your book.
Once you’ve reached sales of 500 books per month on Amazon, then you would probably want to look at your current distribution options so that you can consider expanding your distribution options profitably.
Remember that your goal should not be to simply get more distribution—your goal should be to expand your distribution profitably. Many self published authors and small publishers ignored the profitability of additional distribution channels and suffered the consequences of major financial losses, debt and even bankruptcy.
6. Quality of Writing
Some readers buy books because they are looking for a good story. They may buy adventure books because they want adventure. Other readers buy books for education. They may want to learn about quantum physics, gardening or history.
Whatever the reason is, just about every reader will appreciate books with better quality writing.
The content of the book is a factor that only you, the author, can control. If your content and writing doesn’t meet your reader’s needs, you will get bad reviews, and your sales will suffer.
At TCK Publishing, we help you with editing and proof reading so that you can become a better writer. But at the end of the day, the quality of the content of the book is up to you.
No one else will ever care about your book as much as you do.
If you are not willing to put in the extra time, effort and energy required to turn your book into something great that readers will love, no one else will do it for you. A great editor can turn a good book into a better book, but turning a poor book into a great book is beyond the capabilities of just about any editor.
That’s why you need to keep improving your writing skills and knowledge. Here are some of our favorite resources for improving your writing skills.
There are a myriad of ways to become a better writer.
Your job is to study and practice writing so you can constantly improve your skills.
We all know that editing is important but, how many of us actually invest the time required to properly edit our work?
The most common criticism of self-published books is that they are poorly edited.
Of course, there are poorly edited traditionally published books as well, and there are some self published books that are nearly flawless.
But if you think you can create a runaway bestseller without investing in editing you are sorely mistaken.
You need to hire an editor to help you fix grammatical errors, typos and usage errors that make your writing difficult to understand for readers. You must make sure that what you think you’re communicating in your writing is actually being communicated.
If at any point in your book a reader gets confused or stops and thinks, “what does that mean?” you have made a mistake, and those little mistakes will cost you. Your readers will lose interest, your book will get bad reviews, and your sales will suffer.
Even if you have great content and a great narrative, a few typos or mistakes will make for a bad reading experience.
A lot of authors think marketing is the publisher’s job. This is not the case at all.
In fact, if you go to a traditional publisher, they will require you to have a marketing plan prepared for your book before they will even consider offering you a publishing contract.
Traditional publishers are looking for authors that understand marketing and are willing to create and implement a solid marketing plan.
If this is your first time launching a book and has little idea about marketing, the best advice I can give you is to focus on where your strengths are.
You may have heard that social media are good marketing platform but if you don’t like Tweeting or posting on Facebook, then this is not where you want to focus your energy and time because you are unlikely to get good results and stay consistent if you’re doing work you can’t stand.
Select a platform you are passionate about, and find a way to market yourself and your books that you don’t have to force. For example, if you love speaking and interviews, then you should probably focus on getting on a lot of podcast shows, radio and TV interviews, or public speaking gigs.
Because this is something you love, you will have the energy to do it day-in and day-out for the next five to ten years. It’s that daily marketing consistency over years that will create huge results over time.
Coca-Cola has been running advertisements for more than 100 years. Why? Because it works! They keep doing what works. And that’s the same recipe for success that you can follow as an author. Find a way to create marketing campaigns that you are good at and enjoy doing, and keep doing it year after year after year if you want to be successful.
That’s how you earn long-term income and become financially free as an author.
And no publisher can do that for you. Your publisher can’t create your website, write blog posts, do interviews, or manage your entire online brand and social media. That’s what marketing is about. And making that happen is up to you.
At TCK Publishing, we have courses and programs to help you every step of the way, but it’s your responsibility to study, learn and take action to achieve your dreams.
If someone else cares more about your dreams than you do, chances are your dreams will never come true because your dreams will change and circumstances will change and it’s up to you to make sure you stay on track.
Most folks confuse marketing and promotion, thinking they are the same thing. They’re not.
Promotions create a short-term boost in sales.
Marketing (done well) provides a long-term boost in sales.
But the difference goes beyond your time horizon. Marketing involves a wide array of factors internal and external to the book itself.
Internal marketing features include what your book is about, how it is written, and how you guide your readers through your book and into other opportunities to connect with you and your brand. Internal marketing features can also include things like packaging, book cover design, distribution channels, pricing, and what formats you choose to make your book available in.
External marketing features include things you do outside of the book to drive sales, such as reader engagement, advertising, interviews, blogging, building your author website, building your email list, social media, influencer marketing, seeking book reviews and more.
Promotion, on the other hand, is fairly simple. When you are promoting your book, your basic concern is how to sell more books during a short time frame.
When you launch your book or run a Kindle Countdown Deal or free book promotion or Bookbub promotion, that is the essence of book promotion. You are simply offering your book at a discounted price or promoting your book to a specific audience in order to get (hopefully) a lot more sales in a short period of time.
Book promotions are important, but without good marketing to back it up, you’re basically just pitching a product that people will forget about in a few weeks. Then you’ll either have to keep running promotions to get folks interested in your book, or publish something new and promote it.
Instead of staying on this hamster wheel of book promotion, focus on marketing first and foremost. Write the highest quality books you possibly can in markets that are in high demand. Understand exactly who your readers are and what they want. Then communicate what your book offers to your readers with great branding and packaging. That is the essence of good marketing.
Do a big promotional campaigns when you launch new books, but make sure your marketing is designed for long-term success so your book sales don’t fizzle out and dry up.
Here are some ways you can promote your book:
- Set up a book signing event or interviews and that will be great for your first week of sales
- Schedule a Kindle Countdown Deal to get Amazon to promote your book to more readers
- Study up on Amazon’s 9 best book promotion programs to boost your book sales
- Schedule a BookBub promotion
- Schedule a BuckBooks book promotion
10. Book Series
If you are a fiction author, you should focus on writing series instead of standalone novels to maximize your income.
Data has shown that authors who write book series rather than standalone novels earn twice as much per book published on Amazon.
If you’re looking for a quick and easy way to double your earnings as an author, switch from writing standalone books to writing trilogies or even longer series.
11. How Many Books You Publish
Writing and publishing one book is great, but what will all your readers do after they finish your book?
They’re going to buy books from other authors because you have nothing else to offer them.
What really took me from a few hundred dollars a month in royalties on Amazon to over $12,000 per month was writing multiple books. If you only have one book for sale, you’re missing out on the biggest leverage you can ever get in business—repeat customers.
Building a fan base of repeat customers who continue to buy book after book from you is the fastest path to earning a full-time income or more as an author.
Imagine, if you will, that you need to sell 10,000 books per year to reach your financial goals…
If you have one book published, then you have to continue selling 10,000 copies of that book every single year, year after year after year, without fail, in order to meet your financial needs. That means every single year you have to find 10,000 new readers.
But if you publish 10 books, you only have to sell 1,000 copies of each book each year on average to meet your goals. That means you only need to find around 1,000 new readers each year.
When you realize that selling 10 books to 1,000 readers is more than 10 times easier than selling 10,000 copies of a single book, you will start to see the huge potential that comes from writing multiple books and building a loyal fan base of readers for your work.
You can dramatically increase your earnings by selling more books to the same readers, rather than constantly chasing new readers hoping they will buy from you.
There are a few exceptions where authors do very well financially with just a single book. One of our clients at TCK Publishing, Dr. Veronique Desaulniers, wrote only one book. It’s called Heal Breast Cancer Naturally.
She has done very well with the book because she is an expert on one specific area and her book is unlike anything else on the market. She has worked hard to constantly market the book and it ties in perfectly with her business goals and plans. She does public speaking, workshops, interviews and consistent online marketing to promote her book and her brand, and she has other ways of earning additional income in her business beyond royalties from the book.
So if you only have one book inside of you, don’t lose hope. If you can build a business around that book like providing services or products to your audience, then you may have an opportunity to build a sizable and sustainable income from a single book.
If you’re a fiction author, you don’t have the luxury of publishing just one book. Unless you are E.L. James, author of Fifty Shades of Grey, you have a really small chance of earning a sustainable full-time income from one novel.
12. Market Size
Romance is the biggest market on Amazon. In fact, 47% of ebooks bought on Amazon are romance novels.
Since romance is an enormous market, it will be much easier to earn a full-time income in this genre, especially when compared to writing books in a tiny market like poetry.
You don’t have to write romance novels to earn a full-time income, but you do have to make sure you are writing in a market in which you can reasonably expect to meet your financial goals if you work hard, write good books and market them intelligently.
Make sure you understand how big your market is and how much potential there is before you commit years of work and effort into a market where meeting your financial goals is almost impossible.
In this free webinar training I walk you through the process we use to determine how big the market is for a particular genre or niche on Amazon.
13. Word Count/Page Count
It turns out that the length of your books has a huge impact on how much you’ll earn as an author, especially if your book is enrolled in KDP Select (because you will earn more from KU/KOLL when folks read more of your pages through Amazon’s book lending programs).
If you go to traditional publishing company, you will discover that their submission page has a very specific word count or page count they require for all submissions. The same is true if for all experienced literary agents. They require your book to be of a certain length, no more and no less, before they will even consider working with you.
At TCK Publishing, we have had several authors reach out to us wanting to publish their 1,000- or 2,000-page novel. They wanted to know how much it would cost to publish their book…
The answer is that we simply don’t print 2,000-page novels!
Printing books with over 1,000 pages is very expensive and you need a special kind of printer. The cost of printing and distributing such big books is much higher than what readers are willing to pay. Earning a profit from printing and shipping a book over 1,000 pages in length is almost impossible.
In other words, publishing such big books is not a winning strategy.
Of course you can publish it as an ebook, but a lot of readers will not sit through a 1,000-page novel. In my experience, authors who write such long novels do not write the kinds of books readers actually want to read. Attempting to publish such a huge book is a heuristic that lets publishers know the author is out of touch with their readers and with reality.
Generally speaking, if your book is more than 500 pages long, it is too long. So if you wrote a 700-page book, you might want to consider breaking it up into two book in a series.
Not only will this allow you to publish a book that more of your readers will be willing to purchase, but it will also allow you to publish twice as many books and potentially double your sales.
I recommend you study the word count and page count numbers of the bestselling books in your market, and see what traditional publishers and agents require for submissions in your market. If you want to break the rules, feel free, but make sure you understand the rules first.
14. Kindle Unlimited
A lot of authors don’t like Kindle Unlimited because it prevents you from distributing your books with other online retailers like Nook, iBook or Google Play. You may think that this is counterproductive. By limiting your distribution, you’re limited your sales and earnings, right?
If you look at the numbers, especially for novelists and romance authors, you will earn significantly more money publishing your eBooks with Kindle Unlimited than similar authors earn publishing with wide distribution to all the other eBook retailers.
If you compare romance novel authors that are enrolled in Kindle Unlimited to those who are not, you will find that they are earning 2.5 times more per title. Remember that Amazon currently dominates about 70% of the US eBook market. If you multiply 70% by 2.5 you get 1.75.
That means you can earn 75% more income by enrolling your novels in KDP Select than you would get if you distribute your eBook wide.
Kindle Unlimited (KU) is not right for every book or every author, but if you write novels or books over 200 pages, I highly recommend you look at the data and consider enrolling in Kindle Unlimited.
Optimal book pricing strategies vary from market to market. If you have a short story that is 50 pages long and you decide to sell it at $9.99, your book is not going to sell well because you priced it out of that market. You will need to research your market to determine the price range that is acceptable for books like yours.
If you have published multiple booksthen you have the advantage of expanding your pricing options.
For example, you can set your first book in a series as a free download to draw in more readers to read your book, buy the following books in that series, and have them sign up to your email list or newsletter.
This way you can update readerswhen you release your new books. This kind of pricing strategy creates a win-win. Readers win because they get to try out your first book for free. You win because you get more reviews and readers reading the free book, and, if readers like your book, you win by attracting more fans who will buy the other books in your series.
If you’re going to pursue this “first book free” pricing strategy, I recommend you set the price for the other books in your series between $2.99 to $4.99.If your book is enrolled in KDP Select, realize that many of the folks who download book 1 for free may do so using Kindle Unlimited, and those pages will count towards the Kindle Estimated Number of Pages read (KENP) so you will be paid for those page reads as well as earning royalties from sales of the other books in your series. If you only have one book, you probably won’t want to implement this “free book first” pricing strategy unless you plan to quickly release more books in the future.
The best way to understand which pricing strategies work best in your particular niche or genre is to study the bodies of work of the bestselling authors in your market (especially the self published authors) to see what pricing strategies they are using.
If you model the pricing strategies of successful authors and publishers in your market, you will be more likely to achieve success.
You should not price your books based on a “set it and forget it” mindset. Realize that markets and readers are changing constantly, so you will want to update and change your pricing strategies as the industry continues to change.
16. Book Reviews
When we shop online and see a five star rating of a product, our first thought is that it’s a good product and we lean towards buying it. This is also true for books. To increase the sales of your books, you need to earn more review stars on Amazon. The challenge with this is that it’s beyond your control.
You can’t control if a particular reader likes your book or leaves a review for your book, but you can control the quality of your writing and the quality of your marketing, both of which will greatly influence your book reviews.
The average book on Amazon right now has a 4.3 star review average. If you get lower than this, then readers are telling you that your book is below average. However, make sure that you’re looking at data that is statistically significant. If you have less than 50 reviews for your book, you don’t really have enough data to tell what your true average stars will be on Amazon when your book has more reviews. You should be able to tell, though, if there are early warning signs from any critical reviews.
If you have ten reviews and five of them have three stars or less, your readers are clearlytelling you that there are some problems with your book. Read those reviews and try not to take any criticism personally. A bad review that helps you understand how to improve your book and your writing is a great gift, and you should be grateful for the opportunity to learn and make changes from the first bad review instead of waiting until you have hundreds of bad reviews all citing the same issues.
Stay up to date with the reviews you’re getting on Amazon. Don’t let bad reviews pile up because you weren’t paying attention or listening to your readers.
Even if you have a 4.5 star average book on Amazon, you will still get negative comments. Since a segment of your readers are not satisfied, you should still investigate the causes of dissatisfaction and maybe make a few tweaks here and there if you think it will help improve the quality of your book and the reading experience for your audience.
You should also consider contacting book reviewers who are interested in reviewing books like yours. Debbie Drum talks about how to get more book reviews from quality reviewers in this interview.
How to Sell More Books
In closing, there is no magic formula or silver bullet that will increase your sales to levels of fortune and fame overnight.
If you are series about earning a full-time income as an author, you will have to put in the hours to study these factors and find the right combination for your books, your market, and your skillset to createa stable full-time income.
Realize that success requires mastering a variety of skills and tasks. You cannot rely on good writing or a good book cover (or any other individual factor) to make you successful. You have to take every tool, resource and idea at your disposal and make the most of it.
Do not neglect these 16 income-boosting factors that will determine your book sales and success.
How to Earn More Royalties
What do you think? Are there any other key factors you have found to help you earn a full-time income as an author?
Post your ideas and comments below!
This blog post is based on our free video training course all about how to earn a full-time income as an author.
Tom Corson-Knowles is the founder of TCK Publishing, and the bestselling author of 27 books including Secrets of the Six-Figure author. He is also the host of the Publishing Profits Podcast show where we interview successful authors and publishing industry experts to share their tips for creating a successful writing career.