Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Why Good Books Don't Sell

Hundreds of times I’ve heard authors say, “I’ve got a good book, but I can’t get an agent to read it.” Or someone will say, “I know my book is better than a lot of the books in the stores, but no one wants it.” My first thought is that the author doesn’t have as good of a book as he thinks he does. I’ve read a few of these books and I know that’s the case, but let’s suppose that it isn’t. Let’s suppose that it is your book. You’ve seen sub-quality books too, but your book isn’t one of them. Still, agents and publishers aren’t interested. Why?

As much as we would like to think that we can improve the quality of our writing to the point that people will be interested in our book, that isn’t the case. Once your writing reaches the point that it is “good enough” there isn’t much that improving your writing skill will do for you. There are thousands of authors just like you and me; their writing is good enough for publication. So what’s missing and why is it that authors with less writing skill than us have publishing contracts?

It all comes down to the emotional aspect. I don’t mean the emotions in the story, but the emotional desire of the people considering making a purchase to buy the story. People don’t buy a book because they see the superior quality of the writing. People don’t buy a book because they need it. People buy a book because they want it. I once bought a book because I wanted the picture on the front cover. Fortunately, it turned out to be a good book to read, but it could have been poorly written and I still would have bought it.

That’s the question about the books we see selling. What is it that makes people want this book? Think about it. Why is it that your mother will buy ten copies of your book? Because she has an emotional attachment to you and she desires your success. You may be able to sell books to friends and family members because of that, but not to strangers. If you want an editor to make you an offer, you’ve got to convince him that your book will make him a hero at his publishing company. If you want to the general public to buy your book, you’ve got to have a story that they’ve got to know how it turns out. And you’ve got to convince them of that through the product description. But you’ve also got to have a book that ends in such a way that your readers feel compelled to tell others about it. “You should read this book I just finished.”

All of that is far easier said than done, but that really is what it is all about.


McKenzie McCann said...

"Good" is in the eye of the beholder. I agree that high quality writing is something seen more as icing on the cake rather than essential, and I'd like to think that readers care, but at the end of the day, it's a hook and a cover that will attract readers. Not your fantastic use of language.

Timothy Fish said...


I'm sure readers do care, to a point. A few years ago, I stumbled across a blog whose owner had the tongue of a poet. Everything she wrote had a natural beauty to it. Her writing was such that it would have made Max Lucado look like an amateur. But I didn't read her posts for long because the subject matter was about things I had no interest in.