Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Myth Of The Good Book

No, we're not debunking the bible here. We're talking about the pervasive idea that if you write a good book, it will sell. The writer doesn't have to have an Internet presence, or make any public appearances, or do any marketing, self-promotion, or publicity. All the writer needs to do it write a good book and it will magically find an audience.

It makes no difference the years of experience or the amount of success a writer has had, many still believe this.

It's baloney, of course.

As I've said many times on many forums, "good" is subjective. There's no universally accepted standard for "good" because everyone has an opinion. Editors and agents, who believe they know what "good" is, still represent and publish books that fail more often than not. We've all read crappy books that are big hits, and we've all read wonderful books that are now out of print.

"Good" is a really poor indicator of sales potential.

But the myth still persists: Write a good book, and it will sell.

Instead of poking holes in this concept (I'm privy to the "You can write the best book in the world but people won;t buy it if they don't know it exists" rebuttal), maybe we should look at why so many writers feel this way.

1. Naivete. If a writer is only responsible for writing a good book, they don't need to know anything about this mysterious business known as publishing. This offers the artist a nice, insulated cushion from real life, where they feels they only needs to worry about writing the best book they can and everything else will be taken care of for them.

2. Stubbornness. It's a publisher's job to sell books. Period. The writer writes, and nothing else. If the writer does their job, the publisher will promote the heck out of it, and the book will find a wide audience.

3. Fear. It's a scary business, and self-promotion is expensive, time-consuming, and difficult. It's much easier for an author to focus on writing than learn the skills needed to become a salesman. Writers get rejected often enough by agents and editors. They shouldn't have to risk getting rejected by readers as well.

4. Envy. We all know a few indefatigable writers who are constantly promoting their brands. We don't like to think that perhaps we should be promoting our books with equal vigor, instead clinging to the belief that the book should sell itself based on its own merits. It's much easier to attack someone else than blame ourselves.

5. Bad results. Perhaps the writer has tried to self-promote, had a bad experience, and now refuses to do anything else. This is a shame, because we all swallowed some water learning how to swim. Practice makes perfect.

Now let me make it clear that writers do need to write the best book they possibly can. That should go without saying. But in a world with so many forms of entertainment competing for our time and money, in a world where 200,000 new books are published every year but only 1 out of 5 makes a profit, in a world where selling a first book is difficult, but selling a second book is impossible if the first one didn't do well...

Obviously, it is in the writer's best interest to make an effort in selling their books.

Here are some things to remember about self-promotion.

1. People are looking for information and entertainment. They aren't looking for ads or commercials.

2. Sales isn't about selling a book to someone who doesn't want it. It's about finding people who are looking for your type of book and offering it to them.

3. Books sell one at a time, and every effort you make has intangible benefits.

4. Think about the last ten books you bought and why you bought them. These are the strategies you should use when selling your books.

5. Set attainable goals. Becoming a bestseller isn't a good goal, because it is largely out of your hands. Going to three writing conferences and introducing yourself to 100 new people is within your power.

6. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Self-promotion is about planting seeds, and these often take a long time to grow. The longer and harder you work at this, the better you'll do.

7. Believe in your book. You have to believe that you did, indeed, write a good book, and that others will enjoy it. If the words ont he page don't speak to you, they won't speak to others, and nothing you do to self-promote is going to change that...