Posts Tagged how to be a best-selling author

Why Your Book Isn’t Selling

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Original image courtesy of Juhan Sonin via Flickr Creative commons.

The writer’s worst nightmare. You researched, you wrote, you finished, and then published your book. You wait for the sales and……….*crickets*. This is something that can happen to any kind of author, traditional or nontraditional. We think we have a hit on our hands only to later be checking it for a pulse.

What happened? Why is the book just not selling?

The Market

Remaindered Titles

Remaindered Titles

In the not so distant past, there was only one way to get published and that was traditional publishing. Though many authors cheered when they were finally able to cast off the chains of New York, let’s at least respect that agents and editors might have known a thing or three about the book business.

Writers would often get vexed at the stack of rejection letters, believing they couldn’t actually write well. This was not always the case. Agents make their living off books they know will sell, which means they just don’t have the bandwidth left over to take on pro bono work. Yes, the book might be lovely, but they are agents, not charities.

A large part of their expertise is predicting market changes and trends. They look at what is already out, what is to be released, what is selling, what isn’t, what is saturated, etc.

This is where it can get tricky for writers. Yes, write what you love. We shouldn’t write for the market…but we have to write for the market.

*bangs head on wall*

Sometimes a book might not be selling simply because there are too many titles that are too similar. Readers just don’t want yet another sparkly vampire.

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If you are traditionally published, this could still happen. Agents are making an educated guess and sometimes they miss the mark. For the self-published folks? If the book is good, just leave it alone and keep writing. The great part about the digital paradigm is the book can remain there indefinitely and when the trends change? So could the sales.

The Product

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Bad Pun Dog

I hate saying this, but sometimes it’s the book. Obviously this is more the case with indie and self-published books. The problem is that the market has just been inundated with amateur writing. I go into this in more detail in Five Mistakes Killing Self-Published Writers, but here are the Spark Notes.

Bad Writing

No one wants to hear they are not ready. Worse still? No one wants to hear the words, “You just are not a good writer.” Too many newbies want to skip the unfun training and go right to the title, “Author.”

Sadly, the slush pile has been handed off to readers. I can’t count the number of times I have gotten pages for a contest win and absolutely slayed the writing, only to get an e-mail back that the book was already for sale.

Shoot…me…now.

Even more common is that the writing is not per se bad, it just isn’t anything remarkable. Folks these days have a lot of competition for their time and attention and they simply won’t devote 12-15 hours of undivided attention to a blasé book.

Bad (No) Editing

Our story might be the best thing since pumpkin spice lattes, but if it is rife with errors it won’t sell. Additionally, editing is not simply looking for typos. That is line-editing. A good content editor will be able to help you shape the overall flow of the novel.

When I edit I can tell writers if they are starting the book in the correct place. Are there scenes that need to be cut because they are bogging down the momentum? Are there redundant characters? Are there plot holes? Is the ending a knockout or a fizzle?

Great editing can take a book from mundane to magnificent.

Bad Cover

There really is no excuse for a bad cover these days. Technology has come a long way and many experts offer fabulous covers at affordable prices. I would love to say people don’t judge a book by its cover, but that is untrue. Of course we do.

One thing many new writers don’t appreciate is that when you hire an expert, you are gaining a lot more than that one skill. Yes a graphic artist knows how to use Photshop (or whatever) but they also have a knowledge of what sells. 

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For instance, I have seen authors post images of their new book cover and cringed. The cover itself was lovely, but we have to remember how we are selling. That book isn’t going to be on a shelf where a potential reader is seeing a full-sized version. Likely it will be on Amazon and that beautiful full-sized image, when shrunk to thumbnail size looks like a Rorschach ink blob.

Do you see a butterfly?

No, I see Satan eating kale chips.

If a writer tells me they can’t afford to hire an expert, my response is they cannot afford not to.

Boring Title

This goes along with a bad cover. New writers are notorious for titles that we have to read the book to “get” the title. NO. The title is the hook and we will move on to other writers who don’t make us think.

The Platform

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Discoverability is a nightmare. There is a lot of noise and part of our job description now entails branding. This is all writers.

I recently had a distraught writer contact me. The author was recently dropped by a well-known agent because the book simply wasn’t selling. Yet, I could tell with a quick google search what a big part of the problem was.

The author didn’t have platform/brand capable of driving sales. Simply puttering around on Facebook isn’t enough. That isn’t a brand.

My first royalty check would have covered dinner if no one super-sized anything. Why? My book came out before my platform could drive sales. Once my platform improved? My sales skyrocketed.

What does it say in front of every big author’s name? Best Selling Author. Not Best Writing Author.

The writing alone is not enough. Frankly, it never was. Before 2006, writers had a 93% failure rate. Most first books sold less than a thousand copies (even traditionally published books). Only one out of ten published authors ever saw a second book in print. Most were dropped.

In the old days, we just had no control over the brand and the platform. Now, we do. And authors want to complain that it is too hard. Yes, it is hard and there are many reasons this profession is not for everyone.

Less Marketing/More Writing

AHHHHHHH!

AHHHHHHH!

Traditional marketing does not sell books. Never has. For more on why, check out Why Traditional Marketing Doesn’t Sell Books. I have had to unfollow writers on Facebook who do nothing but promote one book over and over and over.

They tweet non-stop about their book.

They even dedicate their blogs to selling books (and that is never the direct objective of a blog).

They deluge us with newsletters we never signed up for and can’t figure out how to escape.

Thing is, we don’t care about you or your book. We didn’t want to see that crap in our feed, we sure aren’t going to subscribe to a blog/newsletter that is nothing but self-promotion.

Writers often become the equivalent of that sales clerk in the department store who ambushes us with perfume.

Here is the blunt truth. The odds of breaking out with our first book are about the same as being hijacked by a terrorist after we’ve been hit by lightning while holding a winning lottery ticket.

Most writers are not going to break out with one book. Or even two. An author might never break out, but the odds certainly improve the more titles we have. This was always true. It’s why you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a James Patterson title.

Marketing and building a platform/brand are two completely different activities. But writers believe they are the same. They aren’t. If you want to promote and market without a platform, I suggest piling money on the floor and setting it on fire. Same end result and you can get to the self-loathing and binge drinking far faster that way.

There are no shortcuts.

Obviously there are many many other factors to why a book might not be selling, but these are the top offenders. Good news is most of this, we can do something about. In fact, I have classes addressing most of these issues (listed below).

What are your thoughts?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of AUGUST, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

Check out the other NEW classes below! Now including a log-line class! Can you tell me what your book is about in ONE sentence? If you can’t SIGN UP.

All W.A.N.A. classes are on-line and all you need is an internet connection. Recordings are included in the class price.

Upcoming Classes

Blogging for Authors  (August 26th)

This class will teach you all you need to know to start an author blog good for going the distance. Additionally I would also recommend the class offered earlier that same week (August 22nd) Branding for Authors to help you with the BIG picture. These classes will benefit you greatly because most blogs will fail because writers waste a lot of time with stuff that won’t work and never will and that wastes a lot of time.

I am here to help with that 😉 .

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist September 2nd–September 2nd

All fiction must have a core antagonist. The antagonist is the reason for the story problem, but the term “antagonist” can be highly confusing. Without a proper grasp of how to use antagonists, the plot can become a wandering nightmare for the author and the reader.

This class will help you understand how to create solid story problems (even those writing literary fiction) and then give you the skills to layer conflict internally and externally.

Bullies & Baddies—Understanding the Antagonist Gold

This is a personal workshop to make sure you have a clear story problem. And, if you don’t? I’ll help you create one and tell the story you want to tell. This is done by phone/virtual classroom and by appointment. Expect to block off at least a couple hours.

Your Story in a Sentence—Crafting Your Log-Line

September 7th

Log-lines are crucial for understanding the most important detail, “WHAT is the story ABOUT?” If we can’t answer this question in a single sentence? Brain surgery with a spork will be easier than writing a synopsis. Pitching? Querying? A nightmare. Revisions will also take far longer and can be grossly ineffective.

As authors, we tend to think that EVERY detail is important or others won’t “get” our story. Not the case.

If we aren’t pitching an agent, the log-line is incredibly beneficial for staying on track with a novel or even diagnosing serious flaws within the story before we’ve written an 80,000 word disaster. Perhaps the protagonist has no goal or a weak goal. Maybe the antagonist needs to be stronger or the story problem clearer.

In this one-hour workshop, I will walk you through how to encapsulate even the most epic of tales into that dreadful “elevator pitch.” We will cover the components of a strong log-line and learn red flags telling us when we need to dig deeper. The last hour of class we will workshop log-lines.

The first ten signups will be used as examples that we will workshop in the second hour of class. So get your log-line fixed for FREE by signing up ASAP.

For those who need help building a platform and keeping it SIMPLE, pick up a copy of my latest social media/branding book Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World on AMAZON, iBooks, or Nook

 

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5 Traits of the Successful Author

The gateway to your destiny lies within.
(Image courtesy of Maddelena on WANA Commons)

I am off to THRILLERFEST in NYC, and I’m sure it will be thrilling….bada bump *snare*. Today, I want to talk about some fundamentals. We can have all the talent in the world, but without these five ingredients, we will be hard-pressed to ever reach our dreams.

Passion

This should be a, “Yeah, no duh,” but, sadly, it isn’t. I meet a lot of people who say they want to be a professional author, but the second they face any opposition or criticism they give up. Here’s the thing:

If we truly LOVE it, we won’t give up.

One of my favorite stories is about a music master who traveled village to village in search of proteges to train. A young boy who played the violin practiced extra hard in anticipation of being chosen. On the given day, he played for the master and, at the end, the master said, “No, you don’t love music enough.” Heartbroken, the boy ran home.

A year later, the same master came to the village and spotted the boy. The master asked if he was going to audition. The boy crossed his arms and replied, “No. Your comment hurt me to the core. I put the violin away and haven’t touched it since.” To which the master replied, “I told you you didn’t love music enough.”

If we love writing, NOTHING can stop us. My motto in regards to writing comes from Hannibal:

Aut viam inveniam aut facial. 

I will either find a way or I will make one.

Self-Discipline

Again, writers write. One of the main reasons I am such a proponent of blogging is that it trains writers for a professional pace. It trains us to meet deadlines. Disciplined people work no matter what, and they finish what they start. Amateurs and the immature flit from thing to thing. Professionals and genuine artists dig in and complete the task.

Will all of us have this self-discipline in the beginning? No. Most of us don’t. Self-discipline is a muscle of character, and it needs to be trained and built just like biceps. Every time we stick to something when the siren’s song of a new shiny tempts us to start something new, we get stronger.

Humility

Great writers know they always have more to learn. Read, find mentors, and learn to admit shortcomings. None of us are perfect. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Those who readily admit flaws and seek help and training? We stand far better chances of succeeding long-term.

I used to have a problem with deadlines and self-discipline. I had the attention span of a crack-addicted fruit bat. That was why I began blogging. I knew that those character flaws would always limit me. Even though it was embarrassing to admit I had some deep flaws, it would have been impossible to ever combat that weakness if I hadn’t mustered the courage and humility to recognize where I fell fatally short.

It is okay to be imperfect. It is okay to be new. It is okay to not know everything. When we are humble enough to admit we need help, that is the first step toward authentic growth and change.

Healthy Relationship with Failure

I have said this many times, If we aren’t failing, then we aren’t doing anything interesting. Expect failure. Better yet, embrace failure.

We will learn far more from failure than success. The trick is to learn. What went wrong? How can we do it better? What ingredient is missing?

Perseverance

One of my favorite quotes is, “Persistence prevails when all else fails.” We must have bulldog tenacity to do anything remarkable. Anyone can start something. We have feelings and other people cheering us on. It’s when the new wears off and the dream looks more like work that most of us fall short. Hey, I’ve been there. This last leg of trying to get out my new book before Thrillerfest (my own self-imposed deadline)? I thought it would kill me. It’s so easy to be just in reach of the finish line and tap out.

DON’T. Keep pressing.

What are some character traits that you might add? What do you struggle with? What area gives you the most trouble? What have you done to make it better? What is some advice you would like to share?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of July, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

NOTE: My prior two books are no longer for sale, but I am updating them and will re-release. My new book, Rise of the Machines–Human Authors in a Digital World is NOW AVAILABLE.

At the end of July I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

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Traits of the Successful Author—Self-Discipline

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Self-discipline can be tricky.

Last week, I talked about the first trait of the successful author, discernment. I deliberately addressed discernment first because discernment keeps us in balance. No amount of “success” is worth our peace, our health or our relationships.

Also, we’ll need discernment to manage the second trait of the successful author—self-discipline. Why? Because even self-discipline needs to be disciplined. Sometimes we need to re-prioritize.

For instance, last week, my mom went in for emergency surgery. She’s fine and home now and THANK YOU for all your love, prayers and well-wishes. I also had a niece graduating from high school. I took off a few days because I was exhausted from edits, anxiety over my mom and racing across town from hospital to graduation. Self-discipline can easily become like a religious legalism, and we need to guard against that to be healthy and successful long-term.

Mom won Miss Congeniality of Harris Southwest Hospital

Mom won Miss Congeniality of Harris Southwest Hospital

No speeding ticket racing from hospital to graduation.

No speeding ticket racing from hospital to graduation.

But we still have to be self-disciplined if we want to be successful authors (or anything else).

I confess. For a long time I was lazy. I was blessed with a sharp mind, so I’d gotten through school writing papers the night before, sliding by, and dazzling with BS and glitter. I thought I had to “feel” like doing something to do it. I needed to be “in the mood” to clean, write, study, do dishes, etc. I let emotions drive my decisions and actions.

And emotions cannot drive. Seriously. Emotions text and look at Facebook when they drive.

I have a saying, “Small truths reveal larger truths.” If we can’t take control over a pile of laundry, how can we take control of our writing futures? Back then, I thought everything had to be BIG. I wrote the ten-page paper in ONE day. Cleaned the ENTIRE house in ONE afternoon. Planted ALL the flowers in the ENTIRE yard in ONE morning.

…and half-killed myself in the process only to have shoddy, short-term success.

I didn’t understand that there are five keys to being self-disciplined.

1. Baby Steps are Steps

Small decisions/actions add up over time. Yes, this blog has a large, active and amazing following, but that didn’t happen overnight. I had to blog even when it seemed I was only talking to the ether and the male-enhancement products. Every novel is written one word at a time, one page at a time, one day at a time. Trust that consistent action eventually adds up and that eventually you’ll break past The Dip.

Can you tell when I broke past The Blogging Dip? And this snapshot was taken almost TWO YEARS into blogging.

Can you tell when I broke past The Blogging Dip? And this snapshot was taken almost TWO YEARS into blogging.

2. Excellence Begets Greater Excellence

Making our bed is a start. Really. Good habits have a way of birthing more good habits. Plant a seed and watch it grow. When we get in a writing routine, soon we find that we will write more words for longer stretches. We need practice to be masters of our craft. Focus on positive goals.

3. Be Careful Who You Befriend

If you want to be a professional, careful hanging out with too many amateurs. When I say amateur, I don’t mean unpublished (pre-published) writers. I mean writers who are hobbyists. If you’re in a writing group, and it might as well be a coffee klatshe? Find another group or create one on WANATribe.

This is why conferences are vital. Meet authors who are at that professional level and soak up some pro-mojo. Join a local chapter of RWA (Romance Writers of America) even if you don’t write romance. Those folks are SERIOUS when it comes to writing, and will crack the whip and whip you into pro form.

4. Don’t Let Emotions Vote

Emotions LIE. Don’t listen to them. Emotions are self-centered and don’t understand why you can’t pay attention to them 24/7. Expect them to throw a fit and want to live on candy and pizza. Ignore them and eventually they will stop kicking their feet and go watch cartoons.

5. Just Do It

Yep. Says it all. Butt in seat. It writes the words or it gets the hose *pets fluffy white dog*

What stumbling blocks do you guys face? What challenges? Any tips or tricks to share? Great books to read about self-discipline? What is your success story? I want to hear! Are you a reformed slacker, too? Do you try to do too much all at one time?

I love hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of June, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novelor your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

And also, winners have a limited time to claim the prize, because what’s happening is there are actually quite a few people who never claim the critique, so I never know if the spam folder ate it or to look for it and then people miss out. I will also give my corporate e-mail to insure we connect and I will only have a week to return the 20 page edit.

At the end of June I will pick a winner for the monthly prize. Good luck!

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