Avoiding Bad Sales

I want to talk about bad sales–not meaning sales which are few, but sales that are bad.

Is there such a thing, you ask?  I mean, every time that someone pays money for my book that’s money that goes into my pocket, right? Yes, but…

Recently I came across two different comments from writers that illustrate what I mean.

The first one was asking about returns, and asking if other people were experiencing an approximate 5% return rate, which some article had quoted as being average.  Most of the authors who replied said that their return rate was 5% or higher. (Some were a lot higher.)

My return rate is zero.  I have never had anyone return one of my books, not in e-book, not in paperback, not in audiobook.  None.

The other comment was regarding negative reviews based on subject matter.  An author was complaining that books that involve intersex romance were likely to garner negative reviews from reviewers who had a marked distaste for such relationships.

Again, that’s not something that I have experienced.  A few of my reviews have said that they found the sexuality of some of my characters strange, but I wouldn’t say that anyone expressed a strong dislike of my books because of it. The reviews that I have gotten are more likely to complain about my somewhat cavalier approach to tying up loose ends than my character’s sex lives.

In fact, my reviews are very positive.  On Amazon Catskinner’s Book is rated at about 4.5 out of 5, Cannibal Hearts is 5 out of 5.

This isn’t because I am the best writer in the world, or because my books are the best books in the world.  I think that I’m pretty good, but there is a lot of “pretty good” out there.  There are books that I honestly believe that are better than mine that have some really nasty reviews, and authors who are better than me who are getting a lot of returns.

Bad sales are sales to people who shouldn’t have bought a particular product, and I believe that they can be a silent killer of a product’s reputation.

For example, I used to be a service tech for a postage meter company. (I can fix anything–machines fear and obey me.)  At this particular company I ran across a lot of dissatisfied customers.  Some customers I would see on a regular basis, because their machines were constantly breaking down.

However, it wasn’t a bad product line.  I feel that I am a pretty good judge of engineering, and by and large the machines that this company leased were well built. The problem wasn’t an engineering problem, it was a sales problem.

We had a salesman who would promise anything to make a sale.  He consistently offered customers machines that simply weren’t designed for their volume in order to be the low bid. So the customer would sign an agreement for a particular machine (postage meters in the US can’t be owned, only leased) that was less than they needed, overload it, and I would get called in to “fix” it.

Sometimes I was able to explain to the customers that what they really needed wasn’t a repair, it was an upgrade, and solve the problem that way. (And the original salesman got the commission on the upgrade–how is that fair?)  More often, though, I had to keep working on the same equipment, trying to jerry-rig solutions to keep the customer up and running.

Selling a customer a product that isn’t what the customer wants is being penny wise and pound foolish.  Unfortunately, though, most marketing advice that I have seen for self-publishers is geared towards making sales, not making good sales rather than bad ones.

I don’t do a lot of mass marketing. I have this blog, I have my Twitter feed, and I have my author Facebook page, and that’s about it.  I have written guest posts for other blogs and been listed on a few promotional sites, but I am very selective about where I promote my books.

I don’t write for everybody.  I don’t think that anybody writes for everybody.  Even very popular authors have people who simply aren’t going to like their work. I want to get my work into the hands of people who are going to like it, and that means that I try to be as honest as possible about what exactly I write.

Some negative reviews are because the work in question is simply bad.  Others are the result of reviewers who have a particular ax to grind.  However, in my opinion many negative reviews are the result of bad salesmanship.

We all want to make sure that people who will enjoy our work can find it, but do you ever considered how to keep people who won’t enjoy your work from buying it by mistake?

Something to think about.

About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008MPNBNS
This entry was posted in Artists That I Admire, On Promotion, On Publishing, On Writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Avoiding Bad Sales

  1. M.Gate says:

    I haven’t thought about this. And I don’t think I would have, if it was not for your insightful post. So, thanks! 🙂

  2. missL says:

    This is really great insight. And I appreciate your humility.

  3. It drives me crazy when I see reviews on books where the reviewer says A) I didn’t read the book but I’m going to review it anyway, B) I didn’t read the product description before buying it and am annoyed with the book’s subject, or C) I hate this genre but I’ve decided to read/review this book anyway. Ahhhhhhhhhh!

  4. sue says:

    My understanding is that returned books (even e books that cost less than $5 (US) are due to readers not reading the blurb. For example, my friends tell me their short stories are returned because the purchaser did not know it was a short. Even though it said so in the blurb. Other reasons include not knowing it’s horror, or fantasy or whatever. And some are due to nasty people. I cannot imagine any legitimate circumstance to return a book, especially an e book.

    I’m in the process now of asking for reviews. I tell people what kind of book it is One reviewer actually replied saying it wasn’t her thing. That’s fine. The person purchasing the book has to read the blurb!!

    (and to Michelle) people who review books they haven’t finished are (fill in your own word)

    • MishaBurnett says:

      I, personally, read both blurbs and reviews before I download a book. However, I am on a number of promotional e-mail lists, and it’s not uncommon for a book to be listed one way in an e-mail from a promo site and described somewhat differently in Amazon listing.

      • sue says:

        Sorry I’m kinda tired. What is your point?

      • MishaBurnett says:

        My point is that I think that some promotional sites and e-mail lists write blurbs to get the maximum number of affiliate sales, and these blurbs often don’t accurately reflect the book. Some use information supplied by the author, but I think that some make up their own. I have seen descriptions on promotional sites that don’t seem to have anything to do with the book’s description on Amazon.

  5. That’s kind of my philosophy: Better than streaking during the Super Bowl halftime show with a poster of your book, try to reach your target audience instead. 🙂

    Returns might be a good indicator of a target audience mismatch. My return rate at Kindle has gotten surprisingly tiny—much less than 1% for the month. It used to be much higher. Over the past two years, editing, formatting, revising blurbs, reviews, and I must give some credit to wiser shopping seem to have made a big difference.

    CreateSpace doesn’t report returns. I wish they did, as it would be nice to know what the return rate is for my paperbacks. Instead, if a copy is returned, Amazon uses it to fulfill a future order.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      I didn’t realize that CreateSpace doesn’t report returns. I may have some there, but honestly I haven’t had many sales that way–most of my paperbacks I bought and then sold on consignment locally.

  6. Dave Higgins says:

    I am struggling with an aspect of this at the moment.

    I am working on a short story collection. I posted a draft cover in a few places for feedback and have been receiving a mix of “great” comments from people who already like the way I think, cogent critique and suggestions about improving the concept, and “it doesn’t look like a cover because it doesn’t look like these best sellers” from a few people.

    While I want to capture the market of people who do rely on covers, I have been loathe to adopt a cover that does not look like the contents to me just because most readers like a particular thing.

    I am glad I am not the only person thinking about not making work out to be something else.

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