Friday, 11 April 2014

Why did my book sell less than Auntie Nora's shopping list?

Every so often, author friends and I have this discussion which generally follows the same path.
"I really love this book."
"It's a great book. One of your best. Look at the 5 star reviews from all these happy readers."
"Yeah but Auntie Nora's shopping list - the one with cream for her piles - sold more copies than this book did."
"Gettaway. Why didn't it sell?"
"Fuck knows. XXXX did and that's a pile of pants."
"HUGE pants. Great-aunt Betty sized pants."
"There's no justice in the world."

It's not fair. The book you put your heart and soul into sells three copies and sinks into oblivion. XXXX which was clearly written on the back of a cigarette packet sells hundreds of thousands of copies, if not millions, and is crap, really crap.

Lisa Worrall and I had this discussion a couple of weeks ago and she blogged about it. We've both had books, Hairy Harry's Car Seat for me last year and Un-Expected for Lisa that have sold very well - and yet others have sold less than Auntie Nora's shopping list. Why these and not the others?
Last night we sat around a dinner table with Elizabeth North, Connie Bailey and Anne Regan from Dreamspinner, three ladies who know the business inside out, and had the same discussion.

There's no rhyme of reason why X sells and Y doesn't. They can be about the same topic and yet one catches the readers' imagination and one doesn't. You may get five star reviews from reviews sites but will they translate into sales? Let's face it, readers make their own minds up about what they want to read, and word-of-mouth is a powerful tool. Aha! But what about marketing? Clever marketing does make a difference but word-of-mouth is greatest marketing tool there is - look at the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon.

What about our genre. Let's be honest. The MM Romance genre is very small tadpole in the big pond of romance. Except that no one knows how big it is because there is no industry record. We could be 5% of the romance market, we could be 55%. Who knows? But it's hard when you see tweets from authors celebrating 6000 downloads a month, and knowing that even with your one bestseller, you could only reach half that figure - for one month - maybe. Will MM romance ever reach mainstream sales levels? I see MM books reaching scary high in the Kindle charts. I look forward to the day we hit the top 100 on a regular basis. I want to be one of those writers.

I have four years' experience as an author. I follow the pattern; regular releases and I see sales building up from sales of my back catalogue. I call myself a jobbing writer. I work hard, I write a lot, release a lot and I hope that each new book will be 'the' one. I have hope and I love my job.

So if you're discouraged. If today is not your day, now's the time to pull up your big girl/boy panties, mainline the coffee and start writing. Because your next book could be it.

12 comments:

  1. I look at several things before I purchase a book. Is it an author I am familiar with and do I enjoy his/ her style? Interestingly enough, I delayed reading a series that is now one of my favorites because of the covers. I will look at reviews on goodreads or the m/m group though that does not solely influence my purchase.I am more inclined to select a book when highly recommended by my Facebook m/m family/friends. I also do not want to pay $5 for novella length story. I primarily read on my Kindle and Amazon usually does post length of book and Barnes and Noble was notorious for NOT stating length of book. I know you put a lot of effort and time into writing a story but several times in the past I felt cheated when I paid $4.99 for 40-70 pages. Sue Brown,I have read several of your books and Nothing Ever Happens is still one of my favorites and I recommend it every chance I get. :)

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    1. $5 for 40 pages? Good grief, that's daylight robbery. I have a sliding scale for my self-pubs depending on word count. I have read that MM is underpriced but I try to charge fairly. It isn't 'free' to produce a book; editing/cover costs etc but $5 for a short... I'm actually spluttering.

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  2. I understand and my heart knows every word you've said. I've said it all to myself over and over and over.
    I almost---almost---want to just break down and write that book you speak of on the the back of a cigarette pack. To 'spoon feed' (as a friend termed it once) readers. But...I...just...can't. And I can't blame it on lack of marketing, either.
    But you know what? I also know it's not my writing. It's NOT crap, it is NOT. And neither is yours.
    And I gotta admit I'm shocked to hear you say your sales are what they are, as I consider you a stellar author, mega talented. With HEART in your books.
    Maybe it IS our genre. But,like you say, look at those folks in it who are 'royalty' and sell more in one week than I sell in a year.
    I do not know the answers. I wish I did, because I so often feel just like you.

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    1. Hey beautiful Vastine, I think readers make up their own minds. If we write a book 'for them' it isn't from the heart and it shows. You have too much integrity for that.

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  3. Wow, I cannot believe my fave author has the same concerns I do!

    I often wonder when I will write "the book" between the three names that will get some notoriety. But as you and wonderful Vastine said, I cannot just write just so it would sell. A lot of my stories push boundaries. I love interracial couplings, I write a little fluff, some angst.

    All 3 write from different sides of the spectrum and I do it because I love it. Maybe one day more people will take notice.

    Thanks for this article and as you know, I love your writing! Keep up the awesome work!

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    1. We all have the same worries, don't we? We all sit there agonising over sales. You are one of the few authors I saw in a book store in London. I should have taken a photo to show you like you did for me.

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  4. So true - great reviews do not a best seller make. I get mostly 4 star reviews, and I'm lucky if I've sold a couple of hundred of one or two titles - or between fifty to a hundred on the rest. Hitting a thoyusand? Oh, how I wish...

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    1. The link between reviews and sales should be totally ignored. Reviews are fantastic, but we get too hooked on them.

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  5. Well if we all knew the secret, we'd be on the other side of the fence! No matter how good a book you write, there is still a lot of luck involved. Like you, I have a couple of books that just haven't sold that well and I have no idea why. I persuaded publisher to change the cover on one to see if that made any difference. Don't know yet! We're all chasing reviews which are getting harder and harder to find. I have lost faith in Amazon reviews (too many liars and cheats) and yet we're told that's what drives sales. I'm giving a talk in June - a literary lunch and one of my topics will be MM romances. I'm going to be interested to see the reaction of the audience!

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    1. I am really looking forward to your report after the talk!

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  6. As a reviewer, I'm always looking for that next amazing book. At the same time, I also look for authors that write consistently good books. If I read a great book by an author that is new to me, the first thing I do is look through their catalog of older books. I think you have the right approach. Just keep writing solid stories, learn as much as you can about your craft, and enjoy what you're doing. An organized website is also very helpful to your new readers.

    It should go without saying, but in today's world, doing even the smallest thing wrong on the internet can spread like wildfire. I've seen several authors go on the "never read again" list by readers because they supported the petition to require real names for reviews. Authors attacking a reviewer is also a huge issue. Most authors should realize that readers take nasty reviews with a grain of salt. The people who are buying your books day in and day out are counting on a handful of other friends to decide what to buy.

    I've read books by you and Elsborg and enjoyed them.

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    1. Writing and publishing is a job, and 99% there is no easy route to stardom. Write/Publish, that's what we do. And as you say, staying classy is a huge part of acting professional. Nothing spreads quicker than an author meltdown.

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