7 Reasons Self-Published Ebooks Fail

 by April Hamilton

Stories of indie authors finding success (and more than a little money) by releasing their works in ebook formats are all over the 'net, and may have you wondering if ebook publication will work for you as well. Ebooks can definitely be an important piece in an indie author's overall strategy to reach an audience and build readership, and publishing in ebook formats is generally less demanding and expensive than releasing your work in print or "app" formats. However, ebook publication, like any form of publication, is not a slam dunk. Here are the most common reasons ebooks fail.

  1. Same Reasons Other Books Fail: A badly-written or poorly-edited ebook won't fare any better than a bad print book. Don't rush to publication; as an indie author, you'll already be facing a bias that assumes your work isn't as good as mainstream-published work. If you want to compete toe-to-toe with mainstream authors, it's your responsibility to ensure your book is the best it can possibly be.
  2. Poor Discoverability – "Discoverability" means how readers can find your book, and you want to make it as easy as possible for them. Some authors categorize their books incorrectly, labeling a science fiction book as fantasy, or simply as a "novel", for example. This error will prevent readers who are specifically seeking sci fi from finding the book. Another discoverability issue is failure to offer the book through enough retail sales outlets and in enough formats. If you only publish in Nook format and only offer your book for sale on the Barnes & Noble website for example, you're making it impossible for the millions of Kindle users to find and buy your book. Tags, or the lack of them, are another problem area here. If you are allowed to "tag" your book's listing with keywords, take full advantage of the opportunity and try to think in terms of what kinds of keywords your target audience is likely to use when searching for books like yours. Whatever figures prominently in your book, whether it's dragons, murder, the Ottoman Empire, or medicine, be sure your book is tagged with those keywords.
  3. Bad Cover Design – With an ebook cover, simplicity, high impact imagery and font legibility are even more crucial than they are for a print book. This is because most consumers' first exposure to your book will come in the form of a tiny thumbnail image of its cover on a website, and they may never see a version of it that's any larger than the size of their e-reader device screen. In online sales listings, that cover image must be compelling and clear enough to inspire anyone who views it to click through and read the full sales listing for your book. Be sure to view any proposed cover design in a thumbnail size (approximately 1x2") before finalizing it. If the imagery is difficult to make out or the title is illegible at that size, it's a bad cover for your ebook.
  4. Wrong Price – Ebook consumers can be very sensitive where price point is concerned. They regularly balk at buying mainstream titles from bestselling authors when those ebooks are priced any higher than $9.99, so imagine how reluctant such consumers will be to pay the same for a book from an unknown, indie author. Conversely, consumers may find an ebook priced at 99 cents or less suspect, and may question the quality of its content sight unseen. Author JA Konrath has long postulated the pricing 'sweet spot' for a self-published ebook is $2.99, and this article by Jason Davis brings some statistical evidence to bear on the subject, ultimately concluding $2.99 - $3.99 is the ideal price range for optimizing sales while still capturing a respectable profit on those sales.
  5. Bad/Nonexistent Formatting – I can hardly stress this enough. A badly-formatted ebook is difficult to read, and if the formatting is really horrible, it may not be readable at all. It's very important to tailor the ebook's formatting to the target device and publication format (e.g., Kindle vs. Nook). It's possible to study up on the various formats and learn how to do the proper formatting yourself, since all the major ebook publication outlets provide style guides and basic how-tos. I offer a free guide to Kindle publishing on the companion site for my book, The Indie Author Guide, as well. But if there's any doubt in your mind as to your ability with doing your own formatting, you should have the job done professionally. It need not cost more than a few hundred dollars or less for most books.
  6. Poor/Lack of Author Platform/Promo – This goes back to discoverability, but it's more than that. In today's world, authors really need to engage with their target audiences in a meaningful way if they hope to attract and retain a loyal following. It's not enough to simply get your book listed on Amazon and then wait for the sales to start rolling in. Platform can be challenging, as there's no one-size-fits-all platform solution, but the underlying principle of platform is the same regardless of the specific strategies or window dressings employed: platform is about building community. A successful author platform facilitates connections between like-minded individuals who happen to share common interests related to the content of your book. Whether through blogging, tweeting, making public appearances, being active on Facebook or other means, engagement and interaction are key.
  7. The Hard Sell – Many authors make the mistake of approaching platform as a sales tool only, they very obviously try to make a sale with every tweet, post or update, and otherwise spend little time interacting with their target audiences. There's no faster or more effective way to turn prospective readers off to your book (and you) than spamming them. Yes, of course it's necessary to raise awareness of your book and its availability, but this should be very low-key and should comprise only a very small part of your overall platform efforts. Ideally, the audience that congregates around your platform will be interested in buying your book once they learn of it simply because they feel a connection with you and what you're trying to say, your writing style, or the fact that they have shared interests with you.

April L. Hamilton is an author, author services provider, blogger, Technorati BlogCritic, leading advocate and speaker for the indie author movement, and founder and Editor in Chief of Publetariat, the premier online news hub and community for indie authors and small imprints. April is also on the Board of Directors for the Association of Independent Authors.

Next month April discusses the difference between formatting and conversion.

Posted by Dara Girard

Filed as: Industry Guests, april hamilton, books, eBooks, self publishing