Updated: Sep 17
Does this sound like you? You've written your children's book, found the perfect illustrator, and poured your heart and soul into releasing it. Book sales were decent at first but now they've fallen off a cliff and you have no idea why. Or perhaps the sales were never there to begin with but the people you do get your book in front of love it.
So the question becomes...why isn't the book selling?
As a publishing coach, I see this question all the time and have seen firsthand the same little mistakes preventing an author and their book from reaching their full potential.
In this blog post, I'm going to talk about the top 4 reasons why your book isn't selling. And most importantly, how to fix that!
But before we dive into the nitty gritty, make sure that you've produced a quality book. If you hold your book up beside a traditionally published children's book, does yours look out of place? If the answer is yes then these tips won't get you far - people really do judge a book by its cover. If you've got a well-edited, beautifully illustrated book on your hands and you're still not seeing sales...
...you're in the right place! Let's get started.
Reason #1 - Your book metadata is holding you back
Metadata is the details about your book that help online algorithms understand what type of product you have, who it's for, and what products are similar. With books, this specifically refers to the book title, author name, keywords, categories, product description, age range, and more. Some parts of your metadata don't require much research like your title or author name but other parts of your book's metadata require strategy. Let's break down how:
Not many authors realize that the product description that goes on Amazon in the book blurb that goes on your back cover are two different things with two different purposes. The book/product description on Amazon should be more about your reader and what they are going to get out of the book than the book itself. Instead of summarizing what occurs in your story, opt to intrigue and entice your readers.
This can be tricky to do but with a little practice, it gets easier. For a step-by-step tutorial on how to (re)write your book description, click here or watch the video below before continuing reading.
When your book is uploaded to KDP, IngramSpark, Seller Central, or Vendor Central, there will be a spot for keywords. Lots of new authors will enter something like "children's book" and be on their way but that is detrimental for your success and I'll tell you why...
...a keyword like that is way too vague and competitive.
Think about it. There are millions of children's books sold every year and they all have a wide spectrum of themes, lengths, illustration styles, characters, subjects, lessons, writing styles, and more. When you use keywords that are too broad, you'll get completely drowned out by bigger publishers than you. The last thing you want is to be listed on one of the last Amazon pages after a search instead of the first.
So how do you fix that?
Instead, research keywords that are more specific to your book and less competitive. You still want to be sure they're highly searched phrases though so that you get decent traffic. So instead of "children's book" you would try something like "picture books about empathy" or "board books for toddlers"
This leads me to the next point...
The same concept applies to categories as it does with keywords. If you choose categories that are too broad, you risk showing up low in search results. The more specific you are, the more the algorithm understands your book and the more likely it will be for you to rank on Amazon.
Let's say you sell 100 books on Amazon (yay!!) but you're in a high competition category. Even with that many sales, your rank will stay low because other books sell more. But if you sell 100 books and you're in more specific (but still relevant!) categories, you could potentially be in the top 5 for that category.
So how do you research keywords and categories? Let me tell you about this nifty tool called Publisher Rocket. It's an analytic tool specifically for authors that gives you data about Amazon searches and categories. With it, you'll be able to see how many searches a keyword or phrase has each month, the average monthly earnings for that keyword, and the competitive score. For categories, You'll be able to see approximately how many book sales per day you would need to rank number one or number 10 in that category.
I'm telling you, it's a game changer. Right now, it's a one-time fee but there are rumors that it will become a subscription soon so grab it while you can! Since the stats on keywords and categories change, I find myself using Publisher Rocket every 3-6 months to update my keywords and categories for each of my books.
Want to see a behind-the-scenes peek at how it works? Check out this video:
Reason #2 - Your Amazon page could be more appealing
If your book isn't getting many sales, you'll want to take an objective look at your Amazon listing page. I frequently see authors missing opportunities to make their children's book stand out, simply because they weren't aware of features they could add or they never got honest outside feedback.
Many authors don't even know what this is! A+ content is the "From the Publisher" section of an Amazon listing page that gives the customer insights into the product they are (hopefully) buying. It's a place to feature eye-catching graphics, highlight the best features of the product, and further entice buyers into adding the item to their cart. With children's books specifically, this is the perfect place to showcase your illustrations and give potential buyers more information about the book's message and purpose.
If you want to see some examples of A+ content and learn how to create + add it to your Amazon page, click here for our jam-packed article all about that.
Editorial reviews are different than customer reviews. These are the professional reviews that appear on your Amazon listing page when you enter them in Author Central and they come from experts - either in the publishing industry or in the subject matter of your book. If I've written a children's book about dealing with tough emotions, I could get an editorial review from a well-respected child psychologist or therapist, for example.
The goal of an editorial review is to build credibility. That's why you really only need 2-3 but schools, bookstores, libraries, and even customers will look for them when deciding if your book is a good fit for what they're looking for. If you don't have any editorial reviews yet, go get some as soon as possible!
Most authors know how important customer reviews are. The problem they struggle with is getting them. As tempting as it can be, don't ask your friends and family to leave a review because it's technically against Amazon's review policy, even if that person has purchased your book. This is because a review from friends and family is biased and Amazon does not like that. So if they connect the dots and realize that your mom has left you a review, they'll take the review down anyway.
Instead, you need to focus on getting strangers to review your book. Here are some quick tips to help you get more customer reviews:
Have an ebook version - Ebooks prompt readers to leave a review when they've finished the book so this is a great way to get more reviews and ratings.
Ask! - When you send emails to your subscriber list or make a social media post, remind people that reviews are always appreciated.
Run a free ebook promotion - Take the last two tips and combine them; give away your ebook for free and in your marketing of the free ebook, ask people for an honest review.
Try a book tour - Book bloggers will often leave reviews on the books that they feature.
Send it to a review team - Did you know that At Home Author has a review team made up of parents and teachers? Get in touch for more details on how to get your book submitted.
Take a look at the video below for even more tips on getting reviews for your children's book:
Reason #3 - You cut corners during production
When you choose to self publish a children's book, you are the publisher, which means you have to front the costs associated with that. So many times, I've seen authors cut corners to save money and it truly does have an impact on the quality of your children's book.
❌ I don't need editing. I'll just have a teacher friend look at it.
✅ Editing isn't a one-time thing, it's an entire phase of the publishing process. And it's SO much more than correcting grammar and spelling.
❌ The illustrators on Fiverr are so much cheaper. (Spoiler alert, there's a reason for that...)
✅ In picture books, the art is half the story! So you want it to be good. Cheap "illustrators" use clip art, which not only looks bad, but you don't have the rights to use. Hiring a professional freelancer to illustrate will give you the quality of a traditionally published book.
❌ Formatting is expensive. I'll just put the text on myself.
✅ Book design and formatting is an art. You need to know what fonts can be legally used, proper font heights, distance from the gutter, text treatment, and what looks visually appealing beside the illustrations. If you don't already have this skill (or have the time to learn it) skip straight to hiring a professional.
Why does any of this matter to book sales?
When a customer reads a book and they love it, what do they do? Purchase it. Recommend it to a friend. Buy it as a gift for someone they think will also like it. Leave a review. Look for more books by that author. Or perhaps all of the above.
But when a customer reads a book with lots of plot holes, unnecessary characters, or a wonky story arc? 😬 A book with poor illustrations that feel like they've been cut and pasted from the Internet? 😩 A book that looks like the text was carelessly slapped on in Microsoft Word? 😭
Let me tell you: they aren't going to recommend it to others. They won't add it to their cart or buy it as a gift. They'll either have a good laugh or just put it down - neither of which gets you results.
Reason #4 - You didn't have a large book release
Lots of new authors underestimate the importance of a book release when publishing their first book. I'll admit, I made that mistake as well for my first children's book.
When a new book is released, Amazon watches carefully for about seven days and uses the data gathered in that timeframe to make some decisions about your book. The reason it does this is to determine what type of people buy your book so that Amazon can organically show you to more people like that. The problem is, if you don't get much traffic in the first seven days, Amazon thinks that your book is a dud and stops investing time in showing it organically to customers. 😬
That means that the first seven days that any version of your book is released is the most important timeframe in your publication process. Your goal should be to get as many purchases, reviews, and overall traffic to hear Amazon page within that window as possible. To do that, you won't want to create and implement a detailed marketing plan for several months prior to your release.
When you have a huge release and get lots of sales, reviews, and traffic during that release week, Amazon recognizes an opportunity to make money off of you in your book. 🥳📈 They also have data about what type of people purchase your book and it uses that to show you to more people… Which increases your sales… Which increases your visibility… Which increases your sales… Which increases your visibility…
It's a domino effect!
Now, if you already published your book and you didn't have a huge launch, you can still have success and sales. But it's going to take a lot more work and effort on your end to get it. Basically, it's the difference between sledding down a mountain vs hiking Mount Everest.
Even my own books that I didn't have a big launch for still sell significantly less than my other titles with big releases so GO BIG.
There you have it! I hope this post has inspired you to get out there and make some changes to get your book out there. And if you find yourself still needing help, consider joining our Profitable Picture Books program.