Top 7 Mistakes Authors Make When Selling Their Books Online

BY HANNAH GUY • April 14, 2019

Top 7 Mistakes Authors Make When Selling Their Books Online

After the labor of researching, writing, revising, editing, and formatting, it’s tempting to think that your work as an author is done. All that’s left is to upload your blood, sweat, and tears to an online retailer and finally reap the glorious financial rewards, right?

Well, not quite.

Once booksellers report the first numbers, many authors are upset to see that their book didn’t sell quite as well as they thought it would. Suddenly, dreams of being a bestselling author disappear into a thin cloud of disappointment. So what happened?

We had a chance to chat with book publishing guru Mark Leslie Lefebvre—self-publishing veteran, author, speaker, creator of Kobo Writing Life, and the current director of business development for Draft2Digital—about some of the mistakes authors make when selling their books online.

MISTAKE #1: Releasing your book before it’s ready

According to Lefebvre, this could be the mostly costly error an author can make. Take the time and effort to ensure your book is as polished as it can be—both in terms of editing and formatting—and avoid the temptation to rush your book through the publishing process. Don’t focus on a quick launch, quick returns, and short-term gains over your long-term sales strategy and your authorial reputation.

“You might only ever get one chance with each reader,” says Lefebvre. “And if it’s a terrible experience, they will tell everyone. If it’s OK, they’ll never mention it again. It’s only if the book is truly spectacular that they’ll shout about it from the rooftops.”

MISTAKE #2: Pricing your book too low

Everyone loves a good bargain, so many authors think that pricing their book (especially their e-book) as low as possible is the greatest incentive for online sales. But your book-buying public wants value, not low cost. Pricing your book too low decreases its perceived worth to readers. This must be terrible, they’ll think. They’re practically giving it away because no one would pay for it.

Be cautious about offering steep discounts, too, lest you risk your regularly priced sales taking a nosedive. Spend some time researching what popular books in your genre are selling for. Also investigate how their authors are managing limited-time discount promotions.

And while you’re researching the price points of comparable titles, don’t forget to consider global differences when setting your prices, warns Lefebvre. Be sure to investigate exchange rates, and find out what books sell for in other countries. This due diligence will ensure that your prices are both accurate and competitive for other markets and that you still get a decent royalty rate on overseas sales.

MISTAKE #3: Not thinking outside of the US (or the English language)

It’s easy for those of us in North America to think that the biggest book market is the United States. The truth is, many authors have found that though their book had lackluster sales in America, it became a bestseller in Europe or Asia. For optimal sales and exposure, focus your efforts on a global market, not just the American one. That means exploring different formats and different booksellers and even having your books and marketing materials translated into another language.

MISTAKE #4: Limiting your sales channels

Navigating the requirements and processes of a single online retailer can feel like a full-time job, so we completely understand the impulse to just pick one and call it a day. But think about your favorite household brands, which you expect to find not just at big department stores but also at your local grocery, pharmacy, and wholesaler. How many potential buyers would that brand miss if they were only available at the grocery? Or only at one department store? The same is true for your book. The internet is a big place, with lots of sales opportunities, and using only one channel just limits your potential audience. For more on this, check out A Beginner’s Guide to Selling Your Books Online.

MISTAKE #5: Waiting until the last minute to promote your book

Your marketing and promotional plan should start as early as possible. One of the best ways to ensure books sales is to use your website, blog, and professional social media profiles to generate excitement about your new book and to keep the public informed about its progress, its release date, and its distribution through online retailers. The hard truth is that no one will buy your book if they don’t know about it, and it takes time to create an audience.

You may also want to send an advance copy of your book to publications for review, and most have submission requirements well before a book’s publication date.

MISTAKE #6: Misbehaving online

Spammy behavior, false advertisement, cheesy gimmicks, ranting at booksellers, snarking at other authors, firing back at negative reviews—all these things are guaranteed to encourage people not to buy your book. Even before you’ve published, consider every interaction you have online and evaluate how it might impact your professional brand as an author. (Yes, you have a brand.) The publishing industry is small and, as Lefebvre points out, what you do and say has the potential to either help or hurt you (and, therefore, your sales).

“Don’t forget that people working in the industry on the other side of things are always watching, always listening,” Lefebvre says. “The things you share, the things you post, the complaints you post to public forums. They aren’t going unseen. People inside the companies you are talking about are paying attention. And you’d better believe in the karmic power of the universe.… I remembered interacting with and watching authors in action. Those who treated others (other writers, booksellers, etc.) poorly were remembered. Those who treated others with respect were also remembered.… If you don’t think that hand-selling happens in a digital world, you’re really leaving opportunity on the table.”

MISTAKE #7: Quitting when things don’t go well

“I’ve made all the mistakes,” admits Lefebvre. “I have released poorly edited versions of books; I have published too quickly—both signs of impatience. I have published books with crappy covers or ones that target the wrong readers.” The trick, he says, is not beating yourself up over mistakes. They’re bound to happen and can even be a valuable (albeit painful) lesson in appreciating different aspects of the publishing industry.

“There are two factors in responding to mistakes that I think make the most sense for long-term success as an author: 1) learn from that mistake and 2) keep trying. Never stop learning. Never give up.”


Mark Leslie Lefebvre shares his book and publishing insights in a free weekly podcast called Stark Reflections. Download it and get more info about his books and his adventures in publishing at

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