Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Book Sales Isn’t Always About the Best Book

When we consider book sales, the thing that separates the successful good book and the unsuccessful good book is the number of people who know about it. There are a number of books out there that are well written but don’t sell well because people haven’t picked them out of the noise. I say that at the risk of sounding like I’m trying to tell you that I think my own books fall within that category. For this discussion, let’s forget I’ve ever written a book and look at book sales from a broader perspective. Some people are concerned that with the influx of self-published books, customers will be overwhelmed by the options. I have news for them Customers are already overwhelmed by the options. That is part of the reason why bestselling novels do so much better than other books. If customers could go out and find the book they will enjoy the most at any moment in time, book sales would be more evenly distributed, but customers aren’t making a decision about which books they will like the best. Instead, they are looking for a book that is good enough to meet there needs. There may be some obscure book that the particular customer would like better, but good enough is good enough when all the customer wants is something to help him pass the time. Greater risk brings greater reward, but it also brings greater defeat. Rather than sample the obscure in hopes of finding that touches him in that special place, the customer avoids the danger of finding only another poorly written book and selects a book from those that many people have read and liked. If thousands of people have read the book and liked it, then it probably isn’t terrible, even if it isn’t the ideal book for the customer. So if we have two books that are passable, the one that is the most in the mind of the customers will sell better and will likely get better reviews because most people don’t like to disagree with the majority but they fill safe in saying bad things about a book that is more obscure. 


Arlee Bird said...

There is certainly a lot of truth in what you are saying. Unfortunately a lot of rather good books are ignored by many because they don't show up on the best-selling top 10 or 20. I have read very few best-sellers.

My criteria for picking up a book to read are book reviews (if the book sounds like my cup of tea), experience with author (I started reading Cormac McCarthy books in 1970, it took him years to become relatively widely recognized), cover and title (this can be a real potshot and I'm sure many do this), or recommendation by a source that I respect.

Alas, for a slow reader like me, there are far too many books and not enough time.


Timothy Fish said...


My book selection process is something like yours. And I don't read many bestsellers either. I frequently buy books if I know the author. I don't buy every book the author puts out, unless I really like his work, but I like to support people I know.

Timothy Fish said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Deb said...

What's the model, then, for a mediocre book that sells quite well?