Thursday, January 23, 2014

Why Books Fail

This blog should have posted yesterday but between jet lag and a case of the flu, my activity has been less than stellar this month. All while DVP author p.m.terrell runs circles around me, completing her next book, editing another author's manuscript, and facilitating and coordinating Book 'Em North Carolina as she battles a massive, recurring sinus infection. Proof positive that women are not the weaker sex.

But I digress. Even while bedridden I cannot escape reading. I've been catching up on queries in particular. About one in every ten warrants a request for sample chapters, and about a third of those result in reading the entire manuscript. This post isn't about how well or badly authors write their queries or manuscripts, but it's rather about why good books fail. The list isn't all-inclusive but these reasons are the ones I have encountered most often:

1. Building a platform too late - or not building one at all.

Half of my decision as Acquisitions Editor at DVP hinges on an author's platform. I can't begin to tell you how many times I've asked an author about their platform only to hear that once their book is accepted, they'll build one. No, no, and no. Platforms are not built overnight. They take time, particularly to build one of followers who will actually purchase your book. Waiting until your book is accepted means you're likely to have slow sales right out of the starting gate, a very bad omen for any book.

2. Building an inappropriate platform.

Given the right tools, it's possible for the average person to amass thousands - or tens of thousands - of followers on Twitter, Pinterest, and/or Facebook, as well as other social mediums. But are they the right followers? I've seen doctors with tons of followers in the medical community, but how many of them are interested in their children's book, romance, or international thriller? Customers, clients, friends and family do not automatically become fans of an author's book. You need to be reaching your target audience.

3. Failure to identify or reach the correct audience.

This ties into #2 above, but reaching the right audience is paramount. If you're marketing your book to the wrong people, of course your sales are going to be slow. The author needs to know who their audience is and how to reach them, whether it's through virtual means or physical signings or both. This is why many small publishers specialize in particular genres, and why larger publishers have divisions that focus on specific genres. Once they have identified a particular target market, other books in that same genre can be marketed to them. I can't begin to tell you how many authors of coffee table books have begged me to publish them. But we don't market coffee table books, and sales are in the marketing.

4. Failure to connect with your audience.

Okay, much of this ties into personality. And quite honestly, the author most likely to be a diva is the one with their first book in print, especially if they are self-published. The ones who get it are the ones who have been in this industry, know what it takes to succeed (a well-written book is only part of the equation) and they work at it just as they'd work at any job. This means when you're in front of your audience, you don't tell them how great you are. You don't make inappropriate demands. You don't expect special favors simply because your book is in print. I've seen fans walk away from authors whose books they were interested in, but they were so rude or self-serving that they turned away their own sales. These are also the authors most likely to blame anyone and everyone else for their books not selling.

Learn the publishing industry. Connect with your readers on a level they appreciate.

5. Giving up too soon.

I've seen authors whose books did not sell well in the first 30/ 60/ 90 days, and they have simply walked away. Sometimes all the author really wanted was to see their name in print so once the book is in their hands, all the promises of promotion and marketing fly out the window. Sometimes a book will start off slow but gain momentum, especially through word of mouth. But the author has to be out there, visible and ready and willing to connect. I've also seen backlisted books get a second life by authors who continued to push them at appropriate times - such as tying them into current events or anniversaries.

6. Not wanting to spend money.

I can't begin to tell you how many times I've had authors whose books were not selling well, ask me to join organizations (at hundreds of thousands of dollars), submit their books to any and every contest (which costs a fee), or pay for travel expenses. Our marketing budget for each book exceeds our out-of-pocket costs for production. The successful authors know they are part of this equation and they use their own money to promote themselves as well. These authors almost always recoup their investments. But others don't want to spend a dime. Drive across town to the book store? Nope, that costs money. Join an organization themselves? Costs too much. Pay for a virtual tour? Too much money.

It is possible to promote your book frugally, or to use a variety of free means in which to market. An author should take advantage of as many of these venues as possible. But to expect the publisher to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a book that the author won't pay a hundred to market does not bode well for the book's success.

These are just a few of the reasons why some well-written books don't sell well. If you can think of any others, feel free to leave a comment.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the shout-out, but this sinus infection really does have me down for the count. I'm not running circles around anybody anymore. :) Thought provoking post today, Don. Very interesting!