Friday, July 6, 2012

When Good Books Don't Sell

So this is what I've realized about publishing...good books don't always sell. I mean REALLY good books. I've read books that I felt were better than mine and they haven't sold. Believe me, I'm an editor and I read voraciously, I'm a pretty good judge of these things. This is not a case of sub-par books getting passed over for stellar ones (though that DOES happen). This is a case of AWESOME books not selling.

Why is this happening? Shouldn't good books just be snatched up? Well, OBVIOUSLY, they should, but the reality is, they aren't. Because of timing, because of other books that are on a publisher's list that are too close in, because an editor has too full a schedule, because they don't fit in a good category, because they're too niche, because they skew too old or too young, because teen boys don't read as much as teen girls, because... because... because.

And yes, I'd like to think if one editor doesn't snatch up a GOOD book, then another one will. But trust me, AWESOME books have been passed on by lots of editors. And maybe every single one of them has a different reason, but the point is, GOOD BOOKS don't always sell.

Editors have limited time, limited money, and frankly, in my head, they're only allowed to take so many risks a year. I work for a small independent romance publisher who has never once put any kind of pressure on me to acquire BEST SELLERS. In fact, my company prides themselves on taking risks. And still, I imagine if I bought every book by a debut author I thought was a risk, it wouldn't be too long before I went a little batty obsessing about whether all my risks were paying off. I DO take risks, but I don't take every risk that crosses my inbox. I just can't.

Every debut that publishers take on is a risk so sometimes, awesome writing isn't enough. Sometimes having a rockstar agent isn't enough. Sometimes having a HELL of a premise isn't enough. We're losing readers to other media and we're losing brick & mortar book stores to...well, Amazon. These things don't make for an ideal book sale scenario.

So then why wouldn't authors of unsold good books just give up? Or why wouldn't they skip traditional publishing and self-publish? Some do, but that is a whole different can of worms of which others have spoken much more eloquently than I. This is NOT that blog post.

To answer the question of what do we do about these good books that aren't selling in the traditional publishing world: I actually would like to believe that these books WILL sell eventually. In my head, when you don't sell your book, you write another book and try to sell that. And if that doesn't sell, write another one. And THEN, when your book finally gets to the right editor at the right time under the right circumstances and sells, you can say, "Fantastic, I have two or three or five other books ready for you to buy after this one." (I'm maybe being an idealist. But that's where I am in the process).

Bottom Line: Keep writing. Keep trying. Don't let everything hang on acceptance and rejection. Write for fun. Write because you love it. And remember, sometimes GOOD books don't sell.


P.S. I didn't include in this post WHY I think TRAINWRECK sold. I'm incredibly grateful it did. This book has many champions behind it. But it certainly also had a LOT of things going against it when it went out on submission. I can speculate as to why it was the right book for the right editor in the right circumstances, but honestly, it's speculation so I'm refraining from doing so. Those of you who know all the behind the scenes of this book can speculate too, but really, who the heck knows for sure?


Brinda said...

This is one of the best posts I've ever read on why writers shouldn't give up after a wirting a book and facing rejections. So much is luck and timing.

Morgan said...

"Who the heck knows for sure." <----No doubt.

You've totally nailed this, Christa. And in a round-about way, this post is actually really inspiring to me, so thank you. I find the whole process absolutely fascinating---and I love hearing of each individual publishing story that I can--and what's interesting is that they're all different. There's no magic formula. It's not a A+B=C thing. All we can do is put our best work out there, keep writing, and hope for the best. And if not, you're right, we keep pushing. Keep trying. <3

Heather Howland said...

Never give up. I've signed several books I didn't know about until I asked authors what else they've written. It's all about timing and catching the right editor's attention!

Stephsco said...

I suppose "good" is subjective, and also it's fair to consider that publishing wants to sell what's sellable. I think we all know, not every book topping the NYT bestseller list are quality books. Some are quite gimmicky and poorly written, although there is usually some factor that gets the book attention -- controversy, famous author, quick pacing that makes up for lack of depth or cliche characters.

I spent some time on goodreads catching up on reviews. Some of the most buzzed about books, a few particular YA books I'd had my eye on, had a lot of mixed to bad reviews; things like wooden characters, cliche plot, nonsensical storylines, and over and over I kept seeing comments like: I'm so disappointed -- wanted to love this! or The cover was so beautiful, too bad it didn't live up to it.

These same books I keep seeing reviewed and featured on blogs. People are buying them because those are the ones the publishers are putting muscle behind and getting the ARCs to reviewers. Who knows why a mediocre book with a beautiful cover gets more attention than a well-written book with a less flashy premise. Give that book the better cover if covers are what sells!

Anyway, I seek a mix of reviews before I read anything these days. Sometimes the hype leads to a lot of disappointment; I'd rather hear hype from readers who liked a story and recommend it, and not from publishers before the book even comes out.

Stephsco said...

Although, I realize, any publisher doing promo for an author is something to be appreciated, and I wouldn't want to take that away from hard working authors. It just seems more and more the most buzzy books are a let down.

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

This is a really encouraging post, Christa. I don't think you're being idealistic when you say 'write, write, and write some more and then you'll have plenty to show your editor when one of those books finally sells.' (loosely paraphrased, of course -- you said it much better) We all have to hold on to our idealism if we're to survive in this business, that's for sure. I think the only time I'll be truly frustrated in this business is if the ideas stop coming and I still haven't sold anything. As long as I'm working on something new and exciting, I have hope. (Don't quote me on that!)

Claire Hennessy said...

What a great post, thank you. It's good to hear this. And you are right. Good books don't always sell and rubbish ones do (50 Shades being one!)

roxanne s. sukhan said...

This is a great post. I think that hype has a lot to do with this. Not all hyped books are good books and not all good books are hyped books.

Elana Johnson said...

This is so true. I think sometimes we think that once we get an agent, everything is done. Or that if we've had an agent in the past, we'll automatically get another one. The fact is, we have to keep writing, and writing what WE love.

Great post!

erica and christy said...

I'm particularly frustrated when I hear that published friends of mine don't keep their agents for their next project, or they go on submission for months and can't get the next one contracted. What a long uphill battle it is for everyone in the process. But there must be a reason we do it, eh?

Mandie Baxter said...

I needed a post like this right now! Thanks! You have such a way with words!

Jolene Perry said...

Fab post.
I'm the QUEEN of near misses.
Loved it, but not enough.
Loved this so much, but too similar to another.
Like a lot, but don't love. Would like to see more from this author.
Just signed one too similar.

Also. Your writing is effing brilliant. trainwreck may have had some other things going for it, but your writing is still what sold that book.

Heather said...

Sometimes it's all just about crazy luck. I agree with you though. If the book is good, really good, it will eventually find a home. The key is not giving up. Maybe taking another look at our goals, thinking about small presses, and maybe rewriting, but never giving up.

Emily R. King said...

Publishing is a business. Sometimes I think writers get caught up in what's "good" and don't understand why "good" isn't enough. The market speaks for itself. "Good" isn't always what's in or in comparison to other good books, isn't good enough. Tough to acknowledge, but true.