Sunday, July 28, 2013

No One Knows What Will Sell

I am putting the final touches on my new novel (now titled The Girl in the Photo) and am thinking about publishing, promotion, publicity--everything I can do to find readers. I self-published Getting Oriented and plan to do the same with the new book, but I follow the online discussions of the pros and cons of self-publishing versus traditional-publishing.

Recently someone posted the following on a thread I follow: "You've got an amazing, awesome, terrific book. It just needs a little editing and a good cover, and it'll be a hit. So someone says you should self-publish it in hopes of picking up a traditional publisher and getting published. A very common myth, and one many, many debut authors fall for." This provoked a lively and inconclusive debate. As one person wrote, "Today's publishing houses are parasites, not publishing firms. Back in the day,...publishers used to groom and nurture an author. For the past century they have simply latched onto the jugular and sucked the blood out of them to support their friends, family, prostitutes, and drug dealers. The only 'marketing' I've seen them actually do is blowing smoke...."

After more than 200 comments, it was clear that (a) a handful of self-published authors have been picked up by traditional publishers; (b) most of the people who comment on this thread are disgusted with traditional publishers; (c) many people think there is a trick (or a conspiracy) to publishing a best-selling book. I think there is a myth buried in the second sentence of the original post—with a little editing and a good cover your book will be a hit. If it were only that easy.

No one knows what will sell.

Like all generalities, of course, that's overstating the case. There are marquee authors whose books are virtually guaranteed to sell: Stephen King, Mary Higgins Clark, Norah Roberts, Clive Cussler, Janet Evanovich, etc., etc. I'm talking about the unknown writer who has actually written an amazing, awesome, terrific book. Take the recent case of Robert Galbraith, the author ofThe Cuckoo's Calling.

Galbraith, even with a terrific book and an agent's representation, had trouble finding a publisher. Time magazine found one editor who admitted turning it down. The few reviews of The Cuckoo's Calling were positive. Publishers Weekley called it "stellar"; Booklist called it "absorbing"; Library Journal called it "totally engrossing." But in the two months after it had been published here it had sold only 500 copies.

Then the Times of London revealed that "Robert Galbraith" is J.K. Rowling, the book shot to the top of the New York Times best seller list, and the publisher ordered 200,000 more copies printed. 

All this tends to confirm my belief that your book needs a terrific story, excellent writing, careful editing, clean page design, a great cover...and luck to sell well. I am sure that E.L. James never expected her Fifty Shade of Grey to sell as well as it did when she first published it as a print-on-demand book. (One could, I suppose, use that example to show that a terrific story and excellent writing are not always necessary to be a hit.)

My plan is to write the best book I can, self-publish it with a professionally-designed cover, offer it to reviewers and at a cut rate to early buyers, and trust that readers will tell their friends, "You've got to read this."

1 comment:

  1. This is something that I'll be facing in the near future when I finish a book as well. I think social media plays a role as well. In this day and age, I think that it helps, at least some, to have a Facebook page, Twitter feed, or dedicated blog so that people can get to know the author as well. I think it helps to build a relationship with readers so they'll want to access your work or spend time talking about it. This is part of how Baye MacNeil has been handling his book.

    I also think that, if you can do it, getting more conventional PR may help. In your case, possibly going to schools and giving talks on Japan might help or donating to a copy to the school library. I don't know if that would work, but it's another avenue.

    Note: My book will not be about Japan. ;-)

    Good luck!