When good books don’t work

One of the most disappointing parts of my job is having a very good book published to lukewarm sales.  Many times, we can point a finger at the publisher and say they didn’t do x, y, and z.  But sometimes—like earlier this month with one of my incredibly talented authors who has written a fantastic book—there is nobody to blame.  The book has been published and it simply isn’t selling. And nobody knows why.

In cases like this, where the book is really very well done and where seemingly everything possible has been done by the publisher and the author to generate sales, I try to develop new ideas for marketing.

In the case of this particular book, I have met with the author and asked him to pull out all the stops in terms of using his contacts—both to garner reviews and to set up additional interviews and book signings.

I am also pressing on to see what if any film/tv rights we might be able to sell.

I am working with the book’s publisher to see what can be done to coordinate solid electronic sales of this book when the paperback is launched as we believe that e-book sales can help drive up print sales in the right formats.

Finally, I am talking with my client about moving forward and thinking about the next book.  He is a fantastic writer and rather than having him dwell on something we cannot control, I am encouraging him to begin something new.

The fact is that ours is a business of surprises, good ones and bad.  This is why many of us do what we do—serendipity can be quite seductive.

So, again persistence has to be the lesson here.  When a good book doesn’t work, and all avenues to make it work have been exhausted, it is time to move on to the next one.

Do you agree?

6 Responses to When good books don’t work

  1. Bill K says:

    I think you hit the nail on the head: sometimes, despite everyone’s best efforts, a book just doesn’t sell the way we’d like it to.

    From a purely spiritual perspective, if everyone is doing their best, all you can do is accept the reality of the moment. This book is not a big seller at this point.

    The one silver lining, it seems to me, is that this is only the first life of this book. Who is to say whether the author’s next book might hit in a way that will give this book a new life?

    My only further suggestion, as an author who had a book that sold OK but not brilliantly: what is your author doing from a social networking standpoint? I made more fans and sold more books through goodreads/facebook/twitter than I did garnering newspaper articles in various cities for my book tour. Sometimes we can pick up a bit of momentum simply getting our books on the correct lists/discussion groups.

    Here’s to hoping for a nice turnaround for your author!

  2. I second the hope for a nice turnaround, and agree that sometimes the best thing to do is to just move on. That said, I worry that the way sales records are used to influence future acquisitions creates a Catch-22 for the author in this sort of situation, especially when there’s nothing to point to to explain lackluster sales. Ironically, I also think this demonstrates the fallacy underlining the “sure thing” strategy of some publishers discussed in an earlier blog post, because clearly even when people who know what they’re doing do everything right, things still don’t always work out the way they should. In other words, the only sure thing is that there are no sure things.

  3. Catherine Whitney says:

    Like Dave I was struck by how this reality contradicts the “sure thing” publishing strategy you spoke of a couple weeks ago. There are no sure things. Sometimes there’s no explanation for a book’s lackluster sales. Sometimes fate delivers the blow (as happened with an author I know whose publication date was September 11, 2001). Fortunately, there are more opportunities today to re-launch in different formats or adopt new sales strategies, as long as authors, agents and publishers are willing to put in the work and think creatively.

  4. I do agree, but after reading many posts about how difficult it can be to get backing for a second book if the first does poorer than expected, I am very glad that you are committed to making sure absolutely anything that can be done is done as well as urging your author to begin a new project. Perhaps, like Bill said, the next book will be a bigger hit and increase sales for this one, or maybe word-of-mouth will start to spread and it will be one of those books that starts slow but takes off later. At least with e-versions of the book around, it’ll never be unavailable, and that means you can keep trying anything you think might help!

  5. Gilbert J. Avila says:

    Tell us his name so we can boost his sales!

  6. Complete redesign on the next edition’s cover. Lick wounds. Try again.

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