How Much Can an Author Influence Their Sales?

I’m hardly an old pro at publishing, but I do have four novels under my belt now, and that’s given me some more time and experience to see what goes on behind the scenes. When I was first published, I tried to do everything I could to increase the visibility of my book. I blogged all about it, I pestered family members and friends, I made promo items. Anything I could think of that would move the needle. What did it all amount to?

Not a whole lot of anything, unfortunately. I had no idea how to gauge success, but it definitely didn’t feel like I was anywhere close to it.

Memory Thief came along, and once again, I tried to do whatever I could to make it successful. Book signings. Blog posts. Meeting with booksellers. The book did better, but it was hard to tell exactly how it was doing, due to the deal my publisher had negotiated with Barnes & Noble. (They sold them around 30,000 copies directly, with no returns allowed. None of those sales counted toward any of my Bookscan figures, and I had no way of knowing how may actually sold.) I watched my reviews like a hawk, and I tried to promote good ones. Did it influence anything? Again, hard to say. The book sold well enough that I got a contract for a sequel, but then the publisher sold itself to a company that didn’t publish books, so . . . there went the sequel and the book being in print.

With The Perfect Place to Die and Don’t Go to Sleep, I haven’t been as aggressive as I was with the earlier books. I’ve still gone to conferences and presented, and I’ve continued blogging, but for the most part, I’ve just focused on the things I really have control over: writing more books. I kept an eye on my Goodreads reviews, thinking that good reviews would mean more books being sold. They haven’t been as positive for these two books as for my previous ones, and I worried that would really impact sales.

Having done all of this for four books, I’ve come to the conclusion that by and large, there’s not a whole ton an author can do to really make an impact in their sales. (Well, scratch that. An author can definitely do stupid things to mess up their sales. Being a jerk online or in person can have far reaching effects.) Why do I say this? Because my books just had their best non-premier month ever. If you quantify my sales by how many copies my first book sold from first publication to now, then these books have been selling 2.5 times that.

Each week.

And what did I do to garner all of these sales? Not a blessed thing. The books were picked up by Walmart for a summer reading promotion, and so they’re in front of a whole ton of eyeballs every day. Those eyeballs mean sales, plain and simple.

In many ways, it feels to me like trying to influence your sales is similar to trying to get rich by buying more lottery tickets. It takes a ton of time and attention, and that’s all better spent elsewhere. This isn’t to say I’m not going to do what I can to help my books and my career. I still believe in serendipity, after all, but I’m not nearly as hung up on it as I was. All of the efforts I’ve made personally have maybe ended up in . . . 500 sales? And that’s if I’m being very (very) optimistic. A single week of Walmart sales blows that all out of the water.

So when people ask how they can best support me as an author, I say “read my books if you like them, and tell other people about them if you did.” But I’m not out there pestering people for reviews anymore. The books will do what the books will do. Professional sales people will do a much better job of selling them than I ever will.

And that’s fine by me. I like writing books, and that’s where I’ll keep my focus.


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