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124 - How Do I Sell My Self-Published Book?



Hey Guys! Nicole Gabriel here! I’m the host of the Let’s Get Your Book Published podcast. I’m also the author multiple books, a Book Designer, and a Publishing Coach as well as an intuitive Business Coach.

I’ve been in the book business for awhile now and I’ve helped many clients get their book published over the years. On this podcast I share personal stories, client stories, and the truths about the publishing industry….


Today’s Topic: How Do I Sell My Self-Published Book?

This is the question every single author has and let me start by telling you that every approach is as different as every result.

We’re gonna jump right in today…If you tuned in to my last podcast, I talked about a client that printed 300 copies of her children’s book and still has many of them sitting in boxes unsold. Well…she is now producing a novel and decided to go to a different Designer, not me, to produce her book. I’m not gonna lie - it was a bit of a gut punch to be honest, as I spent a lot of time with her giving her a pretty honest perspective on what she needs to do for a successful book and part of that honesty was making her aware that if she plans to move her book she needs to motivate to get herself out there to create awareness. But, I realized after all of our talks she was simply shopping for the lowest price. She wasn’t planning to put herself out there and she just wanted to produce her book for minimal cost. She wasn’t placing value in my expertise and experience. She wanted high quality but didn’t want a high price, but don’t we all, right?

Some in my industry call me a “boutique shop" because, honestly, I’m not for everyone. I’ve been doing what I do as a designer for a decade now and because of that, it’s my specialty. I’m one of the few designers that can claim this. Many other designers are general graphic designers and they do all kinds of other design work, like websites and business cards. I tried to be a general designer when I began, but the fact was that I just had far too many book covers going to take a break for a small project like business cards. Every now and again a client tells me they don’t have another source and they love what I do so they hire me for marketing pieces. I do offer a small marketing package for my clients that simply have no place else to go and are willing to pay a bit more for professional advice and design. I love taking a break to do this extra work for my clients, but to be quite honest, it’s time consuming and not very profitable, but it fills holes between book clients. It also adds some fun work to my portfolio. I used to do websites for my clients as well, but the maintenance just became too much. I didn’t want to hire staff and prefer to work alone one project at a time.

Why do I mention any of this? Well… it’s because I’ve made a conscious choice to pick a thing I’m good at and focus on that. And, to be a book designer means keeping up with traditional book printers and standards and what’s trending and popular in the marketplace. It’s kind of a niche and it’s one I love. But, on occasion, I get clients that challenge me by asking for something a bit outside of my wheelhouse. I actually like this because it keeps me on my toes and I’m always up for a good challenge that grows my ability or knowledge. But, where it becomes a bit more challenging for me is on people price shopping like I’m a job shop.

I know that we are in a unique time right now and money is a bit tight for some new authors, but it honestly doesn’t mean I’m any less as a designer. Over the years I’ve had to make a conscious decision to set boundaries on my value and define and understand my worth and stick to it. Most designers put in far more time than they bill for but I’ve learned that my pricing is fair despite the fact that I know I will put in far more time than I actually tell my clients I do. But, sometimes when you honor yourself it may cost you the clients that either don’t respect your time or really just don’t care because they have a tight or defined budget. I know my competition and I know what else is out there and I know my industry. But, this doesn’t mean that those coming to me for business are always the right fit or value my experience and talent.

I tend to work with more business clients than novel or creative writers. So, this client, who’s sitting on the remainder of her 300 printed books was a bit apprehensive to pay for top quality with the idea her book would not sell. Now, of course, if you know the law of attraction you also understand that, because she made this choice, she’s already preparing herself for failure. She would invest in the best if she had a positive mindset and passionate devotion to her material. But, since she was never aware of what it takes to sell children’s books, and she also told me she’s not comfortable putting herself out there to sell them, she’s still sitting on them a year later. This is a very common dilemma that many authors face, so I’m certainly not picking on her, but her story is the story of many authors of novels and children’s books. Many authors think that writing the book is the hard part, but in fact it’s what comes after writing it that will challenge most authors.

You see, you might have all kinds of creative ability but if you are unwilling to put yourself out there to sell your books you are likely going to be sitting on them. I mentioned in my last podcast that drive is the number one factor to success for any author. I can design you a book that is ready for top exposure but you have to give it legs to get that exposure. Having a top quality layout and design says I’m ready to play with the big guys and gives an author the confidence to promote their work.

There really isn’t any real secret to selling books other than getting yourself out there. The best person or service that is going to sell your book is you! So what does this actually mean? It means showing up! In today’s world it’s become a bit more challenging on how we show up. With the digital world and all things covid we have all realized that showing up looks a little different these days. It’s almost as if we have to play reality TV host anymore to create a following. When you can’t show up in person, well this is just how you have to show up - online! For the last few years large crowds were not allowed. But, things are changing and people are leaving their homes a bit more now. But, during this time we’ve perhaps established new people to follow or new ways to follow them. Some people have been kicked off social media platforms or banned for periods of time. I know many that had huge audiences that got kicked off YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook. They aren’t gone, but where did they go? And how do we reach people in unique ways that creates interest anyhow? The fact is that if you create material others want to know, they will jump through loopholes to find you. The value proposition you offer your audience is enough for someone to go the extra mile to figure out what platform you are on. I’ve watched some people and shows get kicked off YouTube some 20 times and keep setting up new channels. And they keep getting large audiences on every channel. They are offering enough information and value that the inconvenience isn’t slowing them down.

I have a client that recently hired a literary consultant. Honestly, I’ve been doing this work for more than a decade now and this is the first time I’ve had a client do this. This client has been sold on the portfolio of clients this agency has, but since he has never authored a book before he doesn’t understand that this approach is short-lived. He doesn’t have a platform to support himself outside of the book. When you hire someone to help you sell books you are always selling a $29.95 item. In his case, he will need to sell half a pallet (almost 500 books) to break even from the initial cost to produce his book. I’ve explained this to him in every way I can contemplate, but, like many new authors, they have stars in their eyes and somehow think there is going to be some additional income appearing by just writing or selling books. There is nothing magic that happens here.

A literary consultant helps you sell books, but they take a cut of sales just like every other distribution channel. There are countless ways authors get taken advantage of and most think they just didn’t have what it takes to make it when they get dismal results. I try my damnedest to explain to new authors there just isn’t a profit in book sales. You have the cost to produce - editing, design, and coaching. Then you have the cost of printing and shipping. Then you have the cost of marketing, distribution, and sales. If editing, design, and coaching were say… $8,000 and printing was $4000 then you have to sell $12,000 worth of books to break even. This means you’d have to sell 400 books at $29.95. But, this doesn’t take into account the fees required to set up marketing and sales like a website, buying packaging materials, and distribution fees. Theres a magic number in the quantity printed to bring these figures more inline with a break even point. The other fees are not always so negotiable. But most of the time an author will print about 300 books to get started. The more books you print, generally the less you pay per book with your printer. But, the fact of the matter is there is very little profit in the sales of the book alone. I’ve said this over and over and over on my podcasts. I state it daily to my clients. I encourage you to sit with the financials and think through your book publishing approach. Not many authors do this and then sit surprised at the costs upon production when sales don’t start streaming through. But, most new authors think there is something they’re missing because otherwise it makes no sense to write a book, right?

Since my client that hired a literary agent is retired he isn’t promoting a career. He’s just kinda using a book to leave some kind of legacy behind. He does sit on a few boards and does still have arms into his industry but he’s not real keen on promoting anything more than his book. Therefore, his book will just become an expense, unless of course he gets asked to speak at a meeting and gets paid for his time. He’s spinning his wheels to create awareness of his book but if he were paid for one or two speaking gigs he could pay off his initial investment immediately. Then, he’s selling books for the joy of the message rather than breaking even. For some, breaking even isn’t a concern. Sharing a message or a story is the ultimate goal.

I think many write because they’re story hasn’t been heard and it’s a way to come to peace with oneself. I’ve been doing this for a long time and most of my authors just haven’t been heard in life and have been waiting a lifetime for someone to pat them on the back and say “good job” or “congratulations on navigating that hurdle” and many outweigh the costs to making their story heard. I literally can count on one hand the number of authors that have written something to truly be inspirational or to teach. 95% of my clients write from a broken heart, an untold story, to make amends, to clear their mind, or re-hash their life. And, ironically, the face of the book is oftentimes used to position themselves as an expert in their subject. I’m here to simply tell you the truth, so please don’t read this as judgement. It’s not for me to say what topic is right or wrong or to make one author more worthy of a book over another.

Being profitable isn’t every authors goal. But, it is a good idea to define your success measurables. Is it number of books sold, income earned, or is leaving a legacy all that you care to do?

I know you came to this podcast thinking I’m going to give you the success secrets to sell your self-published book, but I always like to take the emphasis off of selling books because is that really a proper measurement for success? Perhaps for some it is. But, I want you to be really honest with yourself when it comes to writing a book. What are your ultimate goals? If you have a message that you want to share, is sharing that message with masses going to bring you peace or prosperity? Why do you really want everyone to hear what you have to say? Is there a vendetta you’re looking to get even on? Or, are you hopeful to bring something to a readers life? When you can really narrow down what your goals are and how they are measurable you may have a whole new reason to write. If you are looking to motivate a reader into an action, should you have a coaching practice to accompany the launch of a book? If you want to share a moment in history that is a learning point for readers, how can you support more people with a class or methodology or approach for your teaching? These extra things you do outside of the book will be the quickest way to reimburse yourself for the costs associated with your book project. And giving your book legs and stepping out from behind the book will always give it more exposure than any selling mechanism will for creating awareness. When you show up your creating more connected experiences with your reader.

There are many ways a book can indirectly give you prominence in life, and not all of this is directly measurable. But, you do want to have some clarity on why selling books is important to you…then once you sell them, what else can you offer once people have become attracted to your book’s message and material? It’s a strange reality that many new authors don’t have the ability to see a book for what it really is. I’m not sure if it’s the emotional connection, ego, or the illusion of fortune and fame that drives an author to make poor choices about the positioning of a book in their lives.

Honestly, I’m like a broken record with authors day in and day out. I always struggle with how to convey to a new author that it’s not about sales alone. Yes, I understand that making more sales means possibly more exposure, but what are you driving readers into? The sale of more books? Is arming them with ideas and thoughts or a good story enough for you? You see, so many people are out there praying on new authors because they have a deep emotional attachment to their book or somewhere along the way they have been mis-lead. And, many of these book sales tactics are for moving books but not for aligning purpose-driven messages. So many sales tactics are also for moving creative works of fiction where there is nothing else that can be offered outside of the book… there is no author platform. If you are writing one of these fictional novels or memories then it really is about selling books.

I’m sitting here right now with an email in my inbox from a publishing coach that claims to make million dollar authors. There are a few others sitting in my inbox from others claiming much the same. Many of these systems also promote writing a book fast and how to profit from it’s sales. There are a couple different mindsets on a book - the creative work or the authorpreneur. I mean, when it really comes right down to it there really are just these two functional categories. And, I’m going to tell you that not everyone that buys your book is even going to read it.

I have 4 books out and I can tell you that it was a sobering reality when the people that were supposed to mean the most to me in my life never even bothered to open them. I poured my heart and soul into these books and quite honestly took it as the greatest offense when people in my life had no idea what their content offered and how they defined my character or identified my beliefs. I mean, if someone really wanted to know me, wouldn’t you think they’d read them? My most intimate and personal relationships were completely mis-understood and all they needed to do to understand me was make an effort to open them. The fact is that even your closest friends, partners, and family members don’t really care to know your inner most thoughts. So, why would a complete stranger? The answer always comes down to value! But that begins first with alignment. You see, the way publishing houses sell books is based on manufactured themes in society. Pop culture or geo political situations can play a role as well. But it’s also seasonal. I mean you aren’t going to attract a large audience to a book on ice fishing in the middle of the summer… or one to golf in ski season. But, these publishing houses align with all industries and decide who is up next for promotion based on particular agendas they wish to feed. You can learn by watching what the big houses do but unless you fit these categories that are trending and have a big platform and following they wouldn’t take you up as a client anyhow.

Understanding how the model works in the big publishing houses will teach you that the self-publishing world is not generally going to be about fitting in. I mean, certainly, you might get lucky that whatever you’re interested in is trending and you might even get luckier knowing how to position your book for exposure, but in general, the self published book should never be competing for sales. Ideally, an author will learn all of this because they have an entrepreneurial spirit and have eyes in the back of their head about proper positioning and timing coupled with knowing what is trending and how it relates to their topic. But, most authors simply don’t care about any of this and allow emotions to drive their book project.

Let me take a theme happening in our world today - product shortages and supply and demand. If your book topic showcased real strategies on how to fix these problems with practical and measurable solutions, well then you are on trend. But, reading a book isn’t going to solve the problem alone. First, people have to recognize the problems exists, then you have to get in front of people wanting to ban together to create a movement or solution… this means exposure. And, of course, all of this has to happen with the premise that you have a viable solution. I mean this is kind of like campaigning, right? I mean, how do you get exposure? It means repeating your message long enough to be seen. It means proving your ideas make sense and have the support of your community… or country. And this is kind of a grassroots sort of way of thinking as a self-published author. And all of this comes down to living a purpose-driven life and having a sincere passion for your topic. No sales model for selling books is even going to matter in the perspective of the whole thing, right? I mean, you have to have a solid platform and things in motion in many directions for a movement.

So, with all this being said, I try to always remove my clients thinking from book sales into purpose-driven passion alignment and focusing on building a platform - using a book as a tool to bring additional awareness. Don’t ever get yourself caught up in book sales because the profit is just not worth the effort.

I have one more client to mention… I have this young gal writing a book and about to go to print. She has an interesting story but her coach (not me) has her misaligned with a proper platform, in my humble opinion. The title of her book talks to the fact that she is always learning rather than sets her up as an expert of experience. If your goal is to showcase mastery then you will always want to ask yourself what you have learned and what you have mastered. But, if this client wishes to speak as someone that has learned a lot it’s perhaps a more humble approach to also suggest that through learning she has sought mastery. But, a reader might prefer to know they were reading a book from someone that went through something and became a master as a result of that experience. This would be a particularly valuable shift in title and topic if she intends to coach, speak. teach, or train in any of the the experiences she has learned and sought mastery in. Someone that is a master of learning holds a bit less weight than choosing to showcase a particular area where one can speak up as a subject matter expert. Simple shifts like this would also shift the focus of the content to say here is my lesson and here is how I persevered through and how this might help you. These kinds of shifts with your book ultimately enhance sales because more people will pick up a book and invest time if it’s entertaining or informative. But, any author will always attract a like-minded person as a reader. It just may be a bit more effort to showcase oneself as an expert in a particular topic once you’ve showcased a more junior level of yourself. Make sense? Her book is basically a memoire that will be sold as a self-help book. I made that mistake when I wrote my first book for sure. My coach didn’t find the value in me just telling my authentic story and I honestly just didn’t know any better. With each book I wrote I learned better tactics for positing myself, my topic, and engaging a reader. We all have to start somewhere and some of us are pretty emotionally connected to our story and how it must be told.

It’s my job to share with you what I have learned to help guide you into a more profitable book because I was once that girl that was learning, but over the years I have grown far more confidence in my value and how I position myself. And, for the record, I do have another book or two in me that I know needs to be birthed. I don’t expect those closest to me to read it and I have no particular attachment or emotional expectation from them after writing a few now. I know that I’m not for everyone, neither are you. But, I can tell you that book sales is not going to be my focus for any of the books I have coming in the future. Sure, I’ll hope to break even or make a profit somewhere along the way, but it would be my intention to coach or teach or train with what I produce next. The trick for me is that I’m a very multi-dimensional person and even though I do help authors write books and that’s my primary income I also have so many other interests I’d like to do on the side and I’m not really one to passively do things, so I know I will have to write the book and jump in at a level I haven’t wanted to as it would distract from what I love most - books! You have to consider your level of involvement in the platform you choose - and choose wisely as it’s always so much broader than a book if you’re doing it right.

Alright guys… on that note… I’m here in Michigan still with family and wouldn’t you know it that the spring that had sprung is now being hit with a snow storm! This Hawaii girl is dreaming of palm trees, sun dresses, and flip flops for sure! I hope wherever you are in the world you are enjoying a more graceful spring and you had a wonderful Easter holiday!

As always, wishing you peace, love, and light!

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