When a Book Fails

Sometimes, books don’t sell.


We (authors) don’t talk about it much, for lots of reasons. We think it’ll reflect badly on us. If we admit that this one book failed, that very very very few people wanted to read it enough to click the “buy” button, maybe readers will think all our books, past and future, aren’t worth their latte’s worth of book money. Maybe fellow writers will want to distance themselves from us, afraid to catch our bad selling juju or look totally lame by association.


Perhaps most of all, for self publishers, we don’t want every proud, confident, totally contented thing we publicly said about our publishing choice to look stupid.  We made a brave choice, and, for this book, at least, it didn’t pan out as we had hoped. And because that choice isn’t the popular choice, isn’t the lauded choice in this industry, instead of looking brave? We just look ridiculous. Naive. Quixotic in a worse way than Quixote himself (after all, we knew all the risks.)


Well, readers, my latest book has been out for a month, and has, so far, failed.


To be clear: It has sold some copies, an average of one a day. It’s made just under $100 this month, against a $1000 investment. Those are, by some measures, pretty decent numbers, and I know that a lot of writers would love to see $100 a month from one of their books.


But, see, I’m spoiled, I guess. In a way. The first book I ever self-published made one hundred times more in royalties (yes, you read that right) in its first month out in the world than my latest, the seventh, did. It’s not fair, really, to count that one as a comparison though. It hit during the high point of a hot genre, and today it probably wouldn’t make close to that much money. So, while we can’t compare the two, we can all admit that my expectations of how this whole publishing thing would keep panning out were seriously elevated from the get-go.


Now let’s look at something a little more reasonable – sales for my sixth book. More or less, it had the same genre, same cover, same writing styles, same promo efforts as my seventh. Reviews for the sixth were mixed (whereas they are glowing for the seventh.) That book sold ten times as many copies in its first month as my latest.


So, by comparative measures, my latest book is a pretty serious failure. Whereas my other books have earned out within a couple of months, this one may never earn out, let alone make any profits.


After all these cringe-worthy numbers, though, I think the most interesting thing about this whole failure is that I’m okay. I mean, you can ask my CPs. I didn’t cry, not once. Didn’t even obsess too much over the sales numbers, past the first week. I’ve spent the month, instead of wallowing in misery, writing another book.


I’ve also been thinking about why, exactly, that is. After all, with my debut YA novel, I clicked “update” on that KDP reports page obsessively. I calculated, daily, how close I was to earning out on the book. I felt like there was so much at stake – my reputation and future as a writer, my pride, my self-respect. If that book had fallen so embarrassingly flat, like my latest did, I would have wept for days. Maybe I would have regretted the whole endeavor, stopped writing, picked up a new hobby. Because, at that point, I still believed that a book that didn’t earn out quickly amounted to a very expensive, largely pointless hobby.


Now, obviously, I’m not in love with the fact that my latest book has fallen so flat. I’m not overjoyed that I’m still not even close to netting any profits on it.


But I’m okay, and (aside from my antidepressants) here’s why I think that is:


I’m proud of my work.


Of course, as writers, our first reaction to a book that doesn’t get an agent, doesn’t sell, gets a bad review, doesn’t win an award, doesn’t make the NYT bestseller list (we could go on and on,) is this – Was the book that bad?


But I know with 100% confidence that I put my all into this last book. I wrote it from a place of love, and I worked hard to make it the best it could be. My spirits are buoyed by the great reaction to it by the people who have bought, read, and reviewed it.


Furthermore, my team did an amazing job – I loved everything from the cover to the formatting to the illustrations. I couldn’t have imagined the book could be any better.


I don’t know why it’s failed so far, and I probably never will.


I’m so glad this happened with my seventh book, and not my first.  I’ve seen sales take off and continue with barely any mention of the book’s existence (still happening now, by the way, with Solving for Ex – I never talk about it and it’s still selling pretty decently.) I’ve seen sales move at a snail’s pace after a book gets the royal treatment – reviews, promo, giveaways, and ads (like right now.) The genre is doing well in general out in the wide world of books.


This book’s failure makes zero sense. But then again, nothing in publishing really does.


I still have my job.


I can still write books, and those books will still be published. I can say this with one hundred percent certainty because I’m my own publisher. I’m the only one who can decide to give myself another shot. At the same time, I never run the risk of being cut off by my publisher for reasons out of my control. I don’t need anyone’s permission to write or to publish.


So, despite the relative failure of my latest book, I’m still a working writer, and I’m still very happy about it.


It’s just one book.


There will be others, but only if I keep writing. Each new book I pour my heart, soul, and money into writing and publishing could be the one that takes off, selling better and earning more than I ever could have imagined. (Just ask Suzanne Collins, whose first series, a middle grade fantasy, did okay, but pales in comparison, success-wise, to The Hunger Games.)


Moreover, there will be others soon. Because I self publish, I’m able to publish two, three, or four books a year, meaning that every few months brings a new chance to be wildly successful.


If I let this one failure get me so down that I never write another book, I’m cheating myself of the possibility that any one of the dozens of others I’ll write in my lifetime could be the one that sells beyond my wildest dreams, the one that reaches thousands of readers and maybe even touches their lives in some meaningful way. (Besides, even if a book sells ten copies, it could touch ten lives. So worth it.)


At the end of the day, I self-published because I knew I could handle the business side of things, with all its ups and downs. This is just one of the downs. Every business has that one product they tried to sell that just didn’t take off. Publishing is no different.


I don’t know why my latest book has failed so far. But I do know that none of my other books can possibly succeed unless I write and publish them.


So, here I go. Wish me luck.




When my seventh self-published book failed to sell as well as expected, my reaction wasn’t what I would have expected. goo.gl/lU9Yax Via @LeighAnnKopans


Do lower-than-expected sales numbers equal failure for a self-published author? goo.gl/lU9Yax Via @LeighAnnKopans

When self-published books are well done…and still sell almost nothing. goo.gl/lU9Yax Via @LeighAnnKopans

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