10 Reasons Why Self-Published Books Don’t Sell – and What You Can Do to Ensure Yours DOES


Screen Shot 2013-05-12 at 10.10.09 PMOne of the biggest complaints I hear from self-published authors who found The Ultimate Book Coach after they published their books is, “My book isn’t selling. Can you help me?”

And 99.9% of the time when I look at their book on Amazon or their website, I can name several reasons why they’re having problems selling their books.

Here are 10 reasons why their self-published books don’t sell, and what you can do to make sure yours does.

1. Obscure subject—Books that do well are those in a popular niche. If you do an Amazon search and find hundreds of books in your niche, that’s a good sign. It doesn’t mean that niche is over-populated, it means that niche is hopping. Think of the diet and food industry. More diet books are being published every day, and they still continue to sell.

If you want to tell your personal story, ensure its success by tying your story into how-to steps your reader can take to change his or her life.For example, if you’re writing your story about surviving cancer, focus on a specific type of cancer (narrow your niche) and specifically tell readers how they can get the same results you did and how you got through it.

2. Poorly edited—Sure your close friends and family will buy your book to support you, but all it takes is one nasty Amazon review from a reader outside your circle to dampen your overall sales. If you have a list of devout followers who hang on your every word, you can get them to give your book five stars on Amazon. However, be careful as too many five-star reviews paired with a lot of bad one- and two-star reviews will tell the truth that your book is poorly edited.

Ensure your book’s content is clean and professionally edited by a book industry expert, and you’ll go a long way toward satisfying your readers and getting complete strangers to sell your book for you by recommending it to their friends.

3. Poorly written—Let’s face it, some books are badly written to begin with. Hiring a professional editor can help, but I’ve read some books that are nothing short of one sales letter after another trying to get me to purchase the author’s or the authors’ friends’ stuff. Affiliate links and recommending programs is fine in a book, it’s even a good tactic for increasing residual income.

But you can really tick off your readers if your advertising copy outweighs your knowledgeable step-by-steps. Ticked off readers leave nasty reviews. Do yourself a favor, and make your book more saleable by delivering solid benefits to the reader, not just trying to sell them more crap. Think of your recommendations for products and services as the icing on your content’s cake.

4. Unprofessional cover design—It’s been proven that a clean, professional, easy-to-read cover sells more books. Initially when self-publishing through vanity publishers started becoming popular in the early 2000s, these books had a bad reputation due to the other reasons in this article, but primarily due to poor cover design. Having studied cover design for over 10 years, I can spot a horrible template cover vs. one done by a graphic designer vs. a professionally designed cover by someone who specializes in book cover design.

And believe me when I tell you, your readers will know the difference as well. A good cover has a lot of elements that draw the reader in to click, learn more about your book and buy it. If you can only outsource one step of your book’s production, hire a professional book cover designer. You won’t regret it!

5. Bad interior design—Microsoft Word or Adobe InDesign? There’s a reason book layout software exists. And there’s a big reason why traditional publishers use this software. MS Word is not a page layout program. This is one of the primary reasons self-published books get poor reviews or fail to sell, because books formatted in MS Word scream, “Look at me! I’m self-published!”

A professional book layout designer understands the need for different spacing in the margins, paragraph styles, bulleted lists and the importance of other styles staying consistent.

A huge indication a book is self-published using MS Word is if blank pages still have the header and footer printed on them. Especially if you want your book to bring you new clients, this screams, “I did this cheap to save money.” And your client will read, “I cut corners when I coach you or work on your projects.” With money harder to come by, people are more willing to pay more for a higher quality than waste money cutting corners that should never be cut.

6. Yucky formatting—In the world of eBooks, formatting is key. Bad spacing, words appearing at random, graphics overlaying text, whole chapters bolded and italicized… You name it, it could go wrong in eBook formatting.

The more complex your layout is, especially if you created a pretty print book with a professional designer first, the more you should invest in a good eBook programmer. These programmers specialize in eBook XHTML language (which can be different than your standard website code) and know what it takes to avoid most of these issues.

7. Rush the process—Producing a high quality book that sells takes time. The more corners you cut and the more you rush the process, the more it will show in your finished product.

There’s a reason traditional book publishers take an average of two to three years to take a book from rough manuscript to hard copy. They take the time to do it right. If you want to compete in the market, take time to create a high quality work, both in polishing your writing and producing your final book.

8. Bookstore Requirements—Having a book signing at a brick-and-mortar store can be a huge deal for an author. Not only does it feel great, but many Barnes and Noble stores get their guest authors to appear on local news stations and listed in newspapers.

This is free publicity! By meeting these rigid requirements, other marketing doors will open for your book. If your book doesn’t meet their requirements, you must focus on online sales and any you can sell out of the trunk of your car.

9. Expectations—Many authors set their expectations so high they’re sorely disappointed. You may sell one book or thousands, and what you need to ask yourself is, “If my message changes just one life, is it worth it?” If the answer is, “Yes,” you’ll be surprised once you touch that one life and sales begin to flow. If you expect everyone to come knocking down your door because you just hit the “publish” button on your book, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

If you’re not careful, this disappointment can quickly lead to depression and a sense of failure, and those are emotions hard to keep to yourself. Spread those feelings and no one will want to buy your book, no matter how good it is. Be realistic in your expectations, and surprised and excited at your success!

10. Marketing—If your book meets everything in the list above, it still won’t sell if you don’t market it. Even traditional publishers are reneging on their contractual obligations to market well-established authors’ books. It doesn’t matter how your book gets published, you must market it. You can do everything right, but if you don’t tell people about your book, they won’t buy it.

If you’re afraid of the big, bad “M” word, invest in some book marketing courses and teach yourself out of your fear. It’s the only way you’ll succeed as a self-published author.

Do these simple 10 things and watch your book sales soar! Do you have another tip? Share it in the comments below!

Kristen Eckstein
Kristen Eckstein is a highly sought-after publishing authority, multi best-selling author and award winning international speaker who has started over 50 publishing companies and published over 170 books and e-books. In Fall 2013 she challenged herself to write and published a new Kindle book every week for 18 weeks straight.
Kristen Eckstein
Kristen Eckstein


  1. My big problem is that I don`t understand all the different items you are talking about. I need an agency affiliated with Amazon to help me out, even if I have to pay for it. I need to advertise my book, but I don`t know how & I don`t know the computer very well. I really need some company to handle it all for me….

  2. Fantastic points! Thanks for sharing. I think marketing is especially important when it comes to selling books and it’s something that a lot of writers like to skip!

  3. Charles Sargent says

    I need help. I self-published through Amazon in the Spring of 12. My sales to date is only 2600 but that is in my local area. I get orders for 200 to 300 at a time from local stores. I feel the story I chose to write about deserved a New York writer but I was the one who re-investigated a 35-year-old murder case to clear a young black man’s name and solved the crime. I tried for years to get others to take on this task but there were no takers. Is it possible to sell me book to a “Publishing Company?”

  4. Thanks for the excellent advice. I especially liked the reminder about expectations, and that it’s really something when you make a positive impact even if it’s only in the life of one person.

  5. You should have a professional looking author website. Readers and fans will want to know more about your writing and you. Give them a place to find the information.

  6. Hi Kristen – as a new reader to your blog I though I’d just jump in and leave a quick comment here to say I’ve been reading a few posts and enjoying them very much. Thanks! Shaun

  7. Great article! While I’m happy to say my self-published books DO sell, I learn more with each release. One thing I’ve learned is that even the major houses expect the author to have his or own “platform,” a fan base for whom the author is already a reliable, trusted or or simply well-like source of information. I’m constantly expanding my my platform in the niches I publish. This interaction helps greatly in developing realistic expectations of my target markets.
    Thanks again!

  8. Another affirmation that an editor is worth their weight in gold. Thanks!

  9. Karen Bain says

    Great post. Tell me, please, what layout software do you recommend? Many thanks, Karen Bain

    • Hi Karen,

      We use Adobe InDesign. While there’s no formal training for actual book layout using the software, it was created for professionally laid out books. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the best out there. It does have a learning curve, however.

      Thanks for the question!

      • On that point are there agencies that will do the interior design for authors too lazy or who don’t have time to learn new software such as Adobe InDesign? Thanks

        • Hi Ken – sorry I’m just now seeing your reply. Yes, our team does offer that service. You can contact us through our website by clicking on my name. 🙂


  10. Thanks for printing in article form what I end up explaining to way too many writing clients. Every point is spot-on, though way too many self-publishing authors don’t want to hear it, let alone believe it about themselves and their works.

  11. Pretty easy to comment on this one Kristen- Amen! You have definitely touched on probably the biggest misconceptions/unrealistic expectations that plague the industry right now.

    Wanting to write a book is a great thing. If you have something to share that will help someone, many will say not only should you share it, but you are obligated to.

    However, wanting to get a book or message out there isn’t enough if you want to be taken seriously. No matter what the inspiration, inspiration and dreaming will only take you so far. The rest is a professional process from writing to publishing to promotion. Treat it that way, educate yourself, be realistic and you greatly increase the chances of having a good experience with your book project.

  12. “Having a book signing at a brick-and-mortar store can be a huge deal for an author.” Selling to bricks-and-mortar stores also means giving up a big piece of profit and allowing returns of tattered books. That’s a huge BAD deal. No thanks.

    “traditional book publishers take an average of two to three years to take a book from rough manuscript to hard copy. They take the time to do it right.” Many traditionally pubbed books have stupid errors.

    • Thanks for your comment, Michael!

      Yes, brick & mortar stores do take a huge chunk of profits. 55% off retail to be exact. BUT the credibility they give an author as well as leading to MAJOR media appearances down the line can make books sell exponentially faster than an author focusing on online sales alone. Plus, if books meet bookstore requirements, they meet requirements to be sold anywhere.

      And yes, many traditionally published books do have stupid errors. But self-pubbed books typically have even more errors. My point is that self-pubbed authors should take the time to do their books right. The worse in quality traditionally-pubbed books get, the more high quality self-pubbed books will stand out and the better chance they have to beat out traditionally pubbed books on best seller lists.

      Obviously I didn’t have room in one article to go in-depth on any of these sub-reasons self-published books don’t sell. The bottom line is the better quality a self-pub book is, and the more marketing doors are open to it, the better it will sell. It all depends on the author’s goals and how many books they want to sell – how many lives they want to touch with their message.

      • I authored a true story with the help by a professional writer and same with cover . Had the book published by a professional publisher. I went to Amazon KDP, hired a professional Marketing co. to help with a free e book marketing promo. had 264 hits for the free book , but not one review nor one sale. I have only sold about 20 books off my web site . but every one that has read the book has come back and has given to me very positive comments. , and reviews as stayed on my web site and amazon page. but I just can not get this book to bit in sales, or lead people on the amazon to the book. I just do not know what I am doing wrong. I did not cut any corners I spent I hat to say over $ 80,000, in the total cost and thought I would at least do must better than I am not setting the world on fire but better than this . Just reaching out. maybe their is just one little thing I could be told to do to change things around by a pro. Thank you for your time. . Amazon : Betrayed :David j. Bernard, as above my web site as stayed.