My new book won’t sell.
Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. A few readers will buy it, ones like those who’ve kindly endorsed it.* But I’m not expecting it to attract a huge number of readers.
I expect you’re wondering: Why would I bother writing a book when I don’t expect to sell many copies? The answer, in part, is that this book is a “passion project,” one that’s entrenched somewhere deep inside me, one that I feel compelled to share with however few readers might appreciate it.
Another reason I decided to go ahead with this book is that I’d already written parts of it, published online at The Self-Made Writer, my teaching series for writers, now in its fourth year. Not that you can just push a button and turn a series of blog posts into a viable book. As with any meaningful collection, the material needed to be curated, organized, and amended. It needed revision for voice. It needed new chapters, to fill in the gaps. It needed cohesion.
In draft, this book was actually incorporated into another book that came out at the beginning of this year: What Every Author Should Know: No Matter How You Publish. But early readers suggested that there were really two books—one a comprehensive guide to publishing and promotion, the other a practical guide to writing books that rise above the rest.
Here’s the problem: My plan had been to sneak the craft portion, the part about writing your best book, alongside the part that I knew would attract the larger audience, the part about how to publish and promote. From traffic stats at The Self-Made Writer, I knew that page views for posts on publishing and promotion are on average four times greater than page views for posts about craft.
That trend is visible all over the web, in chats and on reader boards, in Google Plus groups and LinkedIn discussions. The MFA crowd aside, there’s a huge concern with how to get published, and an even huger concern with how to get your book noticed.
I get that. It’s a confusing time in publishing. There’s a content flood, so even the most experienced marketing people at long-standing publishing houses are less certain than ever about how to attract readers for authors who aren’t flying celebrity class.
Nevertheless, I firmly believe this: Reading may be a subjective experience, but there are still certain qualities readers expect of great books, whether they’re fiction or nonfiction. Readers may not be able to articulate these expectations, but believe me, they have them. If you want your work to get noticed—if you want to find readers—your writing needs to rise to the top. Good isn’t good enough. Your work needs to be exceptional.
No amount of marketing, no amount of agent or publisher clout, will make readers love a book that’s poorly conceived and badly written.
And in the changing world of publishing, where who’ll buy and read your work is in many ways beyond your control, what you can control is the quality of your work and your efforts to continually improve at it.
If you agree, and you commit to writing your best book, I believe you’ll gain an advantage in the marketplace by studying how best books are made and applying those processes to generate your own best work.
While readers at 49 Writers may be the exception, if you represent the larger sampling of writers nationwide, you won’t do any of that. If you’re like most authors, you won’t consult my new book, or other books devoted to helping writers improve their craft. You won’t commit to writing as a lifelong process of learning.
I don’t begrudge anyone that. We all have to do what we have to do. For me, it was writing this book. Even if it won’t sell.
*“Some of the best advice available today on the craft of writing.” Tanyo Ravicz, author of Ring of Fire; “An excellent resource for writers who are serious about their work.” Stephanie Cole, author of Compass North
Co-founder of 49 Writers and founder of the independent authors cooperative Running Fox Books, Deb Vanasse has authored fifteen books. Her most recent are Write Your Best Book, a practical guide to writing books that rise above the rest; What Every Author Should Know, a comprehensive guide to book publishing and promotion; and Cold Spell, a novel that “captures the harsh beauty of the terrain as well as the strain of self-doubt and complicated family bonds,” according to Booklist. Deb lives and works as freelance editor and coach on Hiland Mountain outside of Anchorage, Alaska, and at a cabin near the Matanuska Glacier. A version of this post also ran at www.selfmadewriter.blogspot.com.
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