“But I Don’t WANT To!” How Authors Self-Sabotage and Hold Themselves Back

I saw this gem go by in a self-publishing Facebook group the other day, and I had to hold myself back from writing the comment that I knew would make the author cry and/ or give up.  Isn’t it so frustrating when the answer is contained in the question?

The question went something like this:

“Regarding advertising on Amazon, my ad has been running for a week and has had 6,000 impressions but zero clicks and zero sales.   What could be the problem?  Should I change the ad copy?

Side note:  DO NOT TELL ME TO CHANGE THE COVER, because I already paid big money to have the covers of the next four books in the series created with this same design.”

Me:  “Change the cover.”


Me:  “Sorry, but that is the answer.”

Actually, I was not 100% correct.   No one KNOWS what the answer is, but as long as he insists on using that same cover, he’s never going to know.  This is the kind of author that hires you, argues with everything you say, does not take your advice, complains about everything, then eventually blames you when they don’t sell enough books.

This is one of the biggest barriers authors face on the road to success— they get stuck on something, then refuse to do the “trial and error” that is absolutely required to make a business endeavor successful.  That is to say, they have fallen in love with their cover (or their words) and will insist on sticking with it, even if that means that book (or, in this case, the whole series) does not connect with its target audience and therefore does not take off in the way they would want.

This divide between creativity and business is the thing I have seen the most with authors, especially self-published authors.  They don’t WANT to set up a website, do social media, build a mailing list, run paid advertising, and then go back and constantly tweak each part of that equation until they find the combination that sells the most books.  What they want is to eke out minimal effort and have their book become a bestseller.  WRITING the book was hard enough.  They don’t want to work anymore!   

God forbid you are the expert that points out the problem. Then you become the mean bully and the author becomes the victim, and it is YOUR fault they aren’t selling any books.

This is why I got out of the business of making author websites.  I will occasionally run a paid advertising campaign for an author, but only if I have met with that author and impressed upon them that a) paid advertising takes some time/ trial and error to set up and get to the right type of ad/ keyword combinations for your book or books, b) advertising results are rarely a “dollar in, dollar out” situation because reporting is skewed/ delayed and because advertising is overall about creating momentum, and c) that advertising can sometimes bring to light disturbing truths about your book or books, such as:   your covers are bad and need to be changed, your writing is bad and needs to be developed, and so on.

No one likes to hear these things, of course.

My point is that authors are often way too emotional to be successful.  Once they have spent all of that time (and sometimes money) writing their masterpiece, they are too emotionally attached to ruthlessly do whatever it takes to get that book to be successful.  Does the cover need to be thrown in the garbage can?  Maybe.  Did you pre-pay $1000 for that cover and a cover just like it for each of the next 4 books in the series?

I don’t care.   Amazon doesn’t care.  Clearly your potential readers don’t care.

Overall, I try to stress to authors again and again that BOOKS ARE BUSINESS.

The successful authors are the ones that listen and change their products accordingly.

Amazon Ads for Authors: Do We Really Have to?

You’ve done all the things– written a book (or books), made your author website, established your social media accounts, chosen your favorite platform, and set up your mailing list so people can hear from you.

So— why isn’t your book selling?  What else can you do?

You’re not going to want to hear the answer, but the answer is:  paid ads.


The fact is, Amazon is going to find a way to get all the money they can out of you, and they’ve made the advertising process easy enough now that there really is no excuse.  My prediction is that you’ll start to find it more and more difficult to get momentum for your book without paid traffic being part of your overall marketing strategy.

Here’s a free course you can take to learn about AMS ads.   You’re going to have to do it eventually!


Should I Hire an Author Marketing Service?


If you have the resources to hire someone or are with a publisher that DOES provide you with a more dedicated individual, awesome! BUT you will still have to do the vast majority of what is in this book (like setting up your website, email list,  and social media), and the more you know about the process of what the publicist is doing, the better.

Why? There are two key reasons.

1  Because no matter how great that person is at marketing , they cannot take the place of you, the person who wrote the book.  Readers want to know what YOU think. They want to know what made YOU write your book, what you’re about, and what makes you enjoy life, and they want to hear YOUR voice.  There is only so much of this another person can communicate on your behalf and still seem real or relatable.  

2  Because even if you are paying someone good money to help you market your book, you must still know what is going on so  you’ll know if they are actually doing what they are supposed to do (or in case you want to fire them and bring your book promotion efforts in-house one day, which should absolutely be your right). Knowledge is power, and you never want to give away all of your power.  Just ask now-broke athletes or people who trusted Bernie Madoff with their entire financial futures.  

Also—and this is something publicists are hesitant to discuss—the services of a publicist are actually only REALLY helpful if your book happens to be newsworthy or related to a current topic/news story. Here’s something they WON’T tell you—if you have your website/social media set up properly, by the time a news story breaks, you will already be known to be an authority in your subject, so you won’t need the publicist to connect the dots.   Reporters will find you, even without a publicist.  


Do I Really Need an Author Website?

YES.  A thousand times yes!!

Here’s the thing– you’re going to write more books, so you’ll need a central place on the internet (ideally yourfirstnamelastname.com) where your fans can find you, see all of your books, sign up for your mailing list, and/ or follow you on the various social media platforms.  You need to start building up your audience as soon as possible, because each fan that you gain gets you one step closer to being able to write full time.


Does the publisher do all the marketing for my book?


In fact, if you are a relatively unknown author, a “traditional” publisher might not even take you on without a significant number of followers (either on one of the social media platforms or in the form of an email list or paper mailing list if you’re old-school).   Usually you will need to identify avenues of potential publicity in your book proposal itself.  This is one of the biggest myths/ misconceptions/ disappointments first-time authors face.

The reality of being an author these days is that you need to be devoting time each and every day to building up your author website and growing your social media/ your mailing list so that when your book comes out, you have enough of your own people buying it to create some momentum.  This is the only guaranteed way to make sure your book gets rolling in Amazon and the other major booksellers, and it is certainly the only way a major publisher is going to ask you back again for another book deal.

Of course, once you’ve been through the whole process of getting a book deal, working with an editor, having your book come out, promoting it, then getting your first (very tiny) royalty check, you are probably going to decide that self-publishing is actually a much better option.

That’s where having built up your audience is going to suddenly be very lucrative.  When you control the audience, you don’t need a gatekeeper to give you a book deal.   When you control the audience and master the basics of self publishing, you can put anything out, anytime you want.