It’s the question that every self publisher has asked at one time or another. Why did my book fail? (What counts as a failure or a success I think is relative to the author, obviously if you’re book didn’t match up to your sales goal it could be considered a failure, but that you sold any at all could arguably be a success, but I digress). Typically a book fails for one of several reasons, the first of which… because no one saw it.
This seems like it should be fairly obvious but the fact of the matter is, each day there’s over a thousand different books being released across the world. (That’s probably WAAY too low). Between self publishing and traditional publishers, there’s a lot of books going out, and for a reader it would be impossible to find every single book. So what do you think the likely hood is they’ll find your particular book? 20%? 15% 10% I’m going to guess anywhere between .5% to 1% chance (and that’s probably being generous).
This assumes, you’ve simply put the book out there and did no marketing in which case, .5% is really generous. Having a blog and a twitter increase your chances slightly but the problem is you don’t want to bombard people’s twitter with BUY MY BOOK! tweets. It’s spammy and unprofessional and even between a blog, twitter, facebook and google + what are the odds people will find THOSE pages among the millions? Another 1-5%?
It’s important to market yourself as much as possible… wherever possible, show off your blog to anyone who will listen, have your book reviewed by anyone who offers (and my offer does still stand), do interviews with authors who offer (and I’m curious to start this one myself), put your name out there wherever you can. Recently I had business cards made with my information including twitter facebook and the like and a QR code for where you could buy my book. It’s fun interactive and what’s more it even has the cover on it … vista print has a wonderful service in which you can get 250 business cards for $10! (And believe me 250 may not sound like a lot but when you see them it really is. I still have cards which I need to give out). What’s great though is that I give a whole chunk to my friends to pass out for me and even my mother (she’s a server so pretty much anyone she comes in contact with could potentially decide to read my book). Word of mouth is probably the single best advertising campaign you have in your arsenal, and it’s also the cheapest. (That said it’s probably a good idea you have something prepared for when inevitably you are asked the question: What’s the book about? I constantly find myself trying to figure out how best to explain it because as the author how do you exactly condense all of the subtle nuances of a novel into a minute long response? Asked the same question one of my bffs Kat has simply opted for the response: Here’s the back of the book, read that. (Except I’m sure she says it in a nicer way).
The other major problem is that is just isn’t well written (or it’s poorly edited). It’s easy to say that marketing is the problem and it is a big big problem for a lot of self published authors who don’t realize that writing is in fact only half the battle, but editing and the writing itself are incredibly important too. You want people to enjoy the book when they actually do find it, right? I can’t even begin to stress the importance of having a professional editor look over your work. In fact one of the biggest problems I have found with other Smashwords books is simply a lack of editing. Misspelled words, poor grammar, showing not telling… unfortunately one of the downsides to the self publishing process is that a lot of writers who think they’re ready for their work to be seen are putting themselves out there making it harder for the rest of us.
The last and arguably one of the hardest reasons for a writer to face is simply that it wasn’t a marketable/good idea. And not every idea will be. Sometimes things that you think are going to be amazing don’t work out quite as planned and things that you didn’t expect to go anywhere blow up like wildfire. The thing about literature is that there’s almost no rhyme or reason to why things just explode like they do. Why has no one been able to create the same runaway success with wizards and magic as Harry Potter has either before or after? No one knows. Why is it in spite of the fact that at least a million vampire books have come out since then, Twilight still remains one of the largest vampire saga’s in recent history? (One could argue that True Blood and Interview with a Vampire were equally successful but… I’m not entirely sold on that). Why is it that poorly written books seem to be flying off the shelves like hotcakes for that matter. (I could get into a whole post regarding what constitutes a badly written book and why but generally speaking we all have a different view of what’s good writing and what’s bad writing. I’ve found that quite a few books that most people love I can’t stand the writing style of and for me that’s enough of a turn off to stop reading and never continue. But my reading habits are a story for another day.