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Four Reasons Readers Don’t Buy Your Books (it’s not your prices)

by Nick Stephenson in Books and Writing

I’m kicking off today’s post with the following question: can you spot the important difference between these two vintage car ads?

Advert #1


Advert #2


I first came across this comparison on a popular sales psychology website [link below], and it got me thinking… how do these kind of (genius) persuasion techniques apply to your career as an author?

As it turns out, they apply big time.

You see, whatever people might say, books – especially ebooks – are cheap. Most self-publishers who sell books on Kindle (or wherever) set the bar at $2.99 – $5.99 per title.

And I just know you break out in nervous sweats at the thought of charging more than that. I know I do. But price isn’t the only thing readers care about. In many cases, it isn’t even their top priority.

Raise your hand – ever dropped your book prices down to 99c in the hopes of picking up some much-needed sales?

I know I have. But the main problem isn’t to do with price. $2.99 or $3.99 or $5.99 isn’t a lot of money. It just isn’t. The problem is all about POSITIONING.

That is, making your prices seem like a good deal. And that’s where your sales message comes in. In the case of the car advertisements above – the sales messages focus on what’s important to the prospective buyer and frame it as a benefit.

What constitutes one model’s chief feature (a quiet engine) is something the other model’s customers don’t care about. It’s not part of the deal.

The Rolls-Royce drivers want opulence and calm. The Land Rover crowd want power and ruggedness (which they associate with a noisy engine).

It’s about giving people what they expect. Instead of selling steak to vegetarians, we need to learn to sell rib-eye to the carnivores.

Think about it like this – millions of people spend $50,000 – $100,000 on a college education. Or $30,000 on a new car. Or $500 on marketing and advertising for their business. Or $200 on a new cover design for their book (you can substitute your own numbers – but you get the idea).

And this doesn’t feel like a bad deal. Because you’re getting what you expect at the price you expect to pay for it. You trust the person or business selling to you. It feels like a good deal, and you’re more than happy to pay.

Because you understand the value.

But when you present your book to the world, chances are 99.99% of your target audience has never heard of you. They have no idea what to expect. Why should they? They don’t understand what value you provide.

So, while $3.99 or $5.99 isn’t a lot of money – you’re actually asking people for something else entirely.

You’re asking them to trust you. You’re asking them to invest their time, their expectations, AND their money. Which is a big ask if you’ve got no relationship with your prospective reader to begin with.

This is why free books work so well. They give you a chance to prove your brand. But there’s more to life than just slinging free books around the place. At some point you need to start earning a living, right?

Which brings me to my main point. There are three types of reader in this world:

– First, those who will buy ANYTHING you publish without even thinking twice.
– Second, those who will NEVER buy from you.
– Third, those who aren’t ready to buy… yet.

It’s our job as authors to convince everybody behind door number three to take the plunge. And when you learn about the reasons why readers aren’t buying from you, you’ll understand how to overcome these problems.

It turns out, these reasons can be boiled down into four main obstacles (see below). When you learn what these are and how they apply to your readers, you can overcome them. This inevitably leads to more sales, more visibility, and more readers.

When I learned how to do this properly, I saw a huge increase in the number of books I sold – both via Amazon, etc, and through my email list. And it turns out, the concept is a simple one:

Figure out your readers’ obstacles – and deal with them before they even become an issue.

And those four obstacles are:

1- Indifference
2- Skepticism
3- Fear
4- Procrastination

[source: Derek Halpern, Social Triggers, 2014]

Let’s go through each of these in turn…



This is a biggy. With countless other things a reader could be doing besides making their way through your book, why should they commit 6-12 hours of their life to reading what you’ve got to say?

This is especially difficult to overcome with fiction. At least with non-fiction, you’re helping people figure out a problem or addressing a concern they have. It’s easier for a non-fiction title to be relevant and, more importantly, to provide a tangible benefit.

The reader has a problem. You can solve the problem. Money changes hands, you deliver the solution. Easy.

With fiction, it’s a little less clear cut. At the end of the day, you’re providing entertainment. Nobody NEEDS fiction. It doesn’t solve any of life’s problems – other than an escape from boredom.

But your readers have other choices. They could be watching TV, playing video games, going to the movies, taking long walks, playing sports… the list goes on.

And this is where indifference can be a killer. Whether you’re priced at 99c or $9.99, it’s not going to make any difference to these readers. They have to care enough to even look at the price tag before this even becomes an issue.

So, your job as an author is to show the indifferent readers why they need your book. What tangible, measurable benefit will it provide?

You ever see a book, or a TV show, or a movie and think: “I’ve got to get that!”? Ever spend $25 on a hardcover book from your favourite author, even though the ebook edition is much cheaper? I know I have.

That’s because I’m not indifferent about these authors. I know they’ll provide a rockin’ story and interesting characters. I understand the value – and I’m happy to spend $25 on a hardcover to keep in my collection. And I’m equally happy to spend $5 on the ebook edition the second the title comes out.

Because I know the book will give me 6-12 hours (or whatever) of quality entertainment.

So, how can you overcome indifference in your readers? There’s no trick to it. You have to communicate the value of your brand and make it clear what you’re delivering, how you’ll deliver it, and to whom. Who is your target audience? What will people “get” from reading your book? If this isn’t clear, readers won’t understand your product.

They just won’t care. And dropping your price to 99c isn’t going to help you.


This reader doesn’t believe you can offer a quality product or experience. Perhaps you don’t have credentials, or perhaps you have some spelling mistakes in your product description. Maybe your covers look like they were drawn by a toddler.

The skeptic is a potential customer – but for some reason he or she doesn’t think you can provide the value you claim you can. So, even if we can overcome the indifferent reader, the skeptic is having issues believing you can deliver.

What are you doing to prove that you’re a credible author? Are your covers, formatting, editing, product description, etc, all up to snuff?

Remember – a professional-grade book is the cost of entry in this business. You’re not going to win any awards for having a book that looks good (well, you might win a cover-design award). But a quality product is the minimum expectation. The days of slapping an MS Paint cover on a badly-formatted title are (thankfully) long gone.

How many reviews do you have? Are reviewers enjoying your work? Do you have any testimonials? Any awards? Hit the top of any charts?

These are what I call “trust indicators”.  Little snippets of evidence that you are indeed a competent author, and that readers are enjoying your work.

To overcome the skeptical reader, you have to prove you’re up to the task. Only then will they even consider buying your work – whatever price it might be.


Where the skeptic is focused on why YOU can’t deliver, the fearful reader looks inwards – at themselves. The fearful reader worries that, while you clearly have a good product, that your book is somehow not for them.

Perhaps they have too many books to read already. Maybe they are worried that your story or your advice is something they won’t enjoy or won’t put into action.

Unlike the indifferent reader, the fearful reader knows the book is for them. But their own personal issues are getting in the way.

This is particularly problematic for non-fiction. Consider dieting books: you’ve got a product that can help people lose fifteen pounds in a month. You’ve got great reviews, testimonials from top nutritionists, and you’ve been featured on some of the biggest fitness blogs.

The fearful reader isn’t swayed by all this. At the end of the day, the fearful reader believes (in their heart) that, no matter how good your advice, he or she won’t be able to put it into action.

So how are you going to overcome this?

NYT Bestselling Author Tim Ferriss is an expert at dealing with this particular issue. Ferriss uses case studies and real-life testimonials from members of the public to PROVE his methods work. For anyone.

Never been able to stick to a diet long enough to see results? Never fear – Tim Ferris has two-dozen case studies from people just like you who have managed to make simple changes to their day-to-day lives… and have lost a ton of weight.

The fearful reader believes your product is good quality. But they won’t buy it because they believe they won’t be able to benefit from its value. It’s your job to prove your book will help these readers, despite their fears – and it’s your job to communicate that clearly and assuage them.


We’ve all been guilty of this. A new book comes out, it looks great, but for some reason we just don’t feel compelled to buy it right now. A few days later, and we’ve forgotten all about it.

This reader knows the book is a good fit for them – but they just don’t take action and buy it. So, how can you help this reader take action NOW, rather than later? Because “later” is a downward spiral towards a lost sale.

Limited-time promotions or bonuses work well. Scarcity is the key. Tell someone they can’t have something if they wait – if you’ve done your job properly, they will take action.

For fiction writers – perhaps you have a book bundle you can offer for a limited time. Instead of dropping your price, perhaps you can have a “sale without a sale” and offer a special bonus for anyone buying your books within a certain time period.

For non-fiction, maybe offer video training. Or a cheat sheet, or resource guide. The possibilities are endless. But the key is to get these procrastinating readers to take action RIGHT NOW rather than waiting.

And we all know this works. This is the reason Black Friday is the biggest shopping day of the year – because everybody knows they’ve only got 24 hours… and then it’s over. So people take action. People who would never normally splurge spend a heap of cash because they know it’s their only chance.

The same is true of buy-one-get-one-free offers. Or three-for-two. You don’t need to lower your prices, not necessarily – you just need to offer something of value for a limited time. Instead of dropping your prices, why not add something on and keep your prices the same?

Here’s an example of an email I sent out to my fiction readers – take a look at the two peaks in the sales graph:

Screen Shot 2014-10-25 at 22.24.07


This is the sales graph for one of my novels. I launched it back in August 2014, and emailed out on the second day. The first email simply told people the book was available and listed out the blurb and cover.

The second email I sent 16 days later was a little different. This time, I offered readers a free copy of one of my backlist titles if they bought a copy within 48 hours. All they had to do was email me with the first word from Chapter 41.

The result? 98 people bought the book from the first email. 215 people bought from the second email. And I didn’t even need to drop the price.

Why? Because I was dealing with these readers’ procrastinatory behaviour. And if it works for me, it can work for you too. Give it a try – run a “sale without a sale” for your readers. See what happens.

What I want you to do Next

Okay, I get it. The burning question is: how am I going to be able to communicate these messages to my readers? There’s only so much information you can put in your Amazon product descriptions.

The answer, as I’ve said before, is to build a direct line of communication with your readers. One that doesn’t rely on Amazon, or Facebook, or Twitter. If you can reach your audience direct, you control the message.

And the best way to do this is via email. If you’re collecting your readers’ email addresses, and building a relationship with them, you can easily overcome the four obstacles I’ve listed out above – before you even offer something for sale.

By which time, you’ve already dealt with every possible issue your potential readers have. The result? Better sales, better visibility, and longer-lasting relationships with your audience.

This is the key to how to sell without being “salesy”. Build your brand, build your relationships. Offer value. Then offer something for sale. And you’ll get results.

If you want a step-by-step guide to getting started on your email list, go download “Reader Magnets”. This free ebook will show you how to put this process in place and start building your email list – click below to grab your copy:



Now, if you enjoyed this free article (and the free book), please take a moment to share this page with 3 of your author friends. Or post a link on a forum, or on social media. And if you’ve got any questions, leave a comment – I’ll be dropping in for the next 24 hours or thereabouts to answer any burning queries.

In fact, let’s get a conversation going: what’s the number one reason readers don’t buy your books? I’m sure you have some theories. Share them in the comments.



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