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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Why Aren’t More Book Sales Predictable?

It’s no secret that to make some best seller lists you only have to sell a few thousand copies of a book. In the case of Amazon, you can top a list just by selling a few hundred books in a short period of time. But once a book breaks through to the best-seller list, why don’t they remain on the list? And for those that do live longer on the list, why don’t they cross a threshold of say 500,000 copies in a literate nation of 310 million and a world of seven billion?

Things just don’t seem to add up. If something can be good enough- or interesting enough to inspire a purchase from hundreds of thousands of people, why can’t the book sell beyond that? Why are so few like 50 Shades of Grey, selling tens of millions of copies?

As a book marketer and literary publicist, I always believe that books need to be introduced to a pool of readers – just a few hundred or a few thousand. If the book is really good, word of mouth will increase its readership tenfold and then publicity can help grow it. But why does it stop after 10,000 or 50,000 or 100,000 books are sold? Does this mean the books that sell into the six digits but die once they do were really not that good but more the products of savvy and timely marketing? Once marketing budgets dried up to promote, so did the sales.

The science of bookselling, marketing and promoting is not much of a science at all. For every rule, there are many exceptions. For every formula, there’s a counter formula. The truth is book sales are unpredictable and are caused by so many uncontrolled factors. Of the points of influence available to authors and publishers, many of the options are time-consuming, expensive, and sometimes risky. Don’t get me wrong, it is worth the investment, but it does take an investment.

Nothing guarantees sales -- not great reviews, great testimonials, a great price, great cover, great story, great ads…but they all contribute in your efforts to sell.

There’s no alternative to this –every author seeks to break through. And some do –but it always surprises me that so many don’t.

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This blog is copyrighted material by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2013 ©


  1. I'm very glad to have found you! I am a writer of non-fiction regarding the topic of keyboards and music itself. I have often wondered why my books don't sell more copies.

  2. From everything I read, it can take a number of years to gain recognition. During that time, authors have to be hands-on marketers whatever the route they choose to promote their books. And a willingness to change course, try new angles is necessary. I've been at this marketing thing for quite a while. Some days are tremendously discouraging, but keeping that original goal(recognition/sales)in mind helps.

  3. I was told recently by one of my authors, who has a contract for a series with one of the Big Five publishers, that she was told that publishers determine whether to renew a series based on the first week of sales! Yikes! So even having a contract with one of the commercial Big Guys is tenuous at best. Which is why she spends so much time and effort promoting--something many writers don't fully grasp, thinking a contract alone will put the burden of promotion on the backs of the publishers. That simply isn't the case.

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