How NOT to Sell a Book: Learn the Seven Deadly Sins of Book Marketing

How NOT to Sell a Book: Learn the Seven Deadly Sins of Book Marketing

Not a day goes by that I don’t hear this same question from people who contact me to help them market their books: If I do PR, how many books will I sell?

This seems like a straightforward question at first, until I start asking some questions myself: Do you have a Web site? What’s your marketing plan? Is your book available online? What’s your message?

At the risk of demystifying what I do for my clients, let me make it abundantly clear, there is NO magic wand that will help you sell your book. PR, advertising, promotions, Web sites, social networking, none of it will guarantee you a bestseller. However, I think it’s imperative that I point out a few things which, if absent, will practically guarantee barely any sales beyond family and friends.

It’s important to understand that leaving out key elements of book marketing will make any of the tactics you use ineffective.

  1. No Web Site: If you don’t have a Web site for your book, you’re missing one of the most basic elements of book marketing. According to recent stats on, about 48 percent of ALL books sold in North America are sold online. So, if nearly half your potential customers are buying online and you don’t have a Web site, how do you expect to attract potential buyers and make sales?
  2. Poor Web Site: Having a Web site is a step in the right direction, but if it doesn’t effectively market your book, it’s almost worthless. The good news is that researching effective book Web sites isn’t difficult. For starters, look at the Web sites of your favorite recent book purchases. Also, look at the Web sites of a few bestsellers and see how they do it. I’ll bet you find the same basic elements (synopsis, about the author, excerpts, testimonials), but more than that, you may gain valuable insight about marketing tactics to implement on your Web site that can also work for you. The bottom line is in order to be effective, your visitor has to have a reason to want to buy your book, and your Web site has to give it to them or you lose the sale.
  3. No Book Marketing Plan: Marketing plans don’t cost anything to create. Even if it’s your first attempt at marketing, having a marketing plan in place is essential. Even an elementary one is far better than having no marketing plan at all. And, to take it one step further, even if you’ve developed marketing plans in other industries, it’s important to realize that marketing your book is like nothing you’ve done before. So, while researching the topic of book marketing, look for ideas you can apply to your own book marketing that have been successful for other authors and publishers.
  4. No Publicity Plan: Books are not magnets. They’re made of paper, for the most part, and as a result they won’t inherently attract anyone to buy them if the public isn’t aware they exist first. Being interviewed as a guest on radio and/or TV or having the book mentioned in newspapers and magazines is the first measure of awareness your book will receive. Will it sell 100,000 of your books? Not by itself. Will you sell any books without it? Not likely.
  5. No Amazon or E-Book Availability: We’ve already mentioned that about half of all books sold in North America are sold online. Moreover, the e-book is a growing category that is beginning to chart some serious numbers. If you aren’t listed on Amazon and you don’t have an e-book, you are literally telling more than half of your potential customers that you don’t really want them to buy your book.
  6. No Message: Every book has a key message intended for the reader to walk away with. That key message is undoubtedly the passion that drove you to write the book in the first place. That’s why your ability to communicate the essence of that message is an important element to selling your book. I’ve seen it happen all too often where the author thinks his message to the consumer is “buy my book.” That doesn’t work. You’ve got to give them a reason. You need to answer the question, “What’s in it for me?” What will the reader know after reading your book that they don’t know now? What problem might it solve? What will they learn? Without identifying the answers to these questions, your marketing and publicity plans will go nowhere like engines without fuel.
  7. No Budget: The old axiom of “you get what you pay for” is 100 percent true for marketing a book. At the very least you will need a small budget for things like hiring someone to build your Web site (ideally you hire a pro who can program AND understands marketing), buying books from your publisher to send out to the media, support material for book signings, travel expenses, postage, and working with a PR pro. Even if you don’t hire a PR firm, you still need a budget for purchasing the media lists in order to perform your media outreach. Whether you are published by a traditional publisher or self-published, these are real expenses that will need to be accounted for. So plan in advance, because getting that first shipment of books from the publisher is not the end of the race. It’s just the first milestone.

Writing a book is an arduous task, to be sure. And, I don’t want to mislead you into thinking this is ALL there is to do. There are other components that will determine the total effectiveness of your book promotion efforts, but these are the crucial ones that ALL authors must have as a bare minimum. Honestly, without these, it’s naive to think you can reap the wonderful rewards from having written your book.


  1. Marsha. This is my first visit. Found you thru LinkedInGroup.

    Thanks for your insight. As an author/illustrator of 3 self-published books I appreciate all that I can learn. Your list is quite helpful.

    I spoke at a 58 year old book club today at the request of the 80 year old hostess. My picture books were a wild success. Now to continue to replicate this afternoon.


  2. My host for my WEB site just went out of business. My blog has some of my short stories. I am really just a starter in the writing world. I have aspirations of writing a book but I am cautiously entering that world. I am very experienced in the business world and concur with your article and enjoyed the capsulation of how to promote your book. It would also apply to many small business entrepeneurs interest in development. A book is a small business and must have that psychological approach. You just confirmed that to me. I am doing the ground work first. The best thing I ever did was join a critical professional literary group. They have set me strait. I am in the process of getting short stories published first. I need the third party sponsorship and/or referral to help this foundation grow. Please keep writing for folks like myself who are still on our knees trying to get up and walk. I appreciate your out reach to help others walk in this industry let alone run!

  3. Don’t think writing a book is anything as arduous as selling it, Marsha, but you’ve given some tips to ease the pain. Thanks.

    • Hi J.P.,

      You’re right! That’s the mistake many authors make. They don’t think about marketing it during the writing process. It has to be part of the overall plan. I hope the article helped you! 🙂


  4. It was a huge help, Marsha. And you’re right. While I was writing my novel, the last thing on my mind was marketing. Ironic considering I was in advertising for more than twenty years. What’s the saying? “A shoemaker’s children never have shoes”?

  5. Last week I didn’t even know you. Now I’ve read my first post, and already I’ve learned a ton! I’m currently ghost-writing a business book, and my wife has a first draft of her novel done. What a great place for us to start developing the other half of the equation! Thank you!



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