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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Why books don't make money



(From the upcoming The 100 Worst Self-Publishing Misteaks by Sheila M. Clark and me.)

Each year hundreds of thousands of different book titles are published. Some sell millions of copies. Many sell thousands or hundreds. Many sell just dozens—or even fewer—copies.

Books “fail” for many reasons. Here are some:

• Your book stinks. There are many ways for a book to stink.
• Your cover is ugly.
• Your title is confusing.
• Your title has been used by other books.
• You are being confused with another author—or maybe someone with a bad reputation.
• There are many other books covering the same subject. You have too many competitors and probably should not have published the book. Does the world really need another barbecue cookbook or JFK biography?
• You didn’t work hard enough at promoting it. Not enough potential purchasers know it exists.
• You’re too bashful to promote yourself.
• Your book is hard to find. It’s not available where people expect to buy it.
• Your market is too narrow—not enough people care about the subject. Your mother may be a wonderful person, but how many people want to read about her?
• Your price is wrong. If it’s too low, there’s not enough money left for you, and the low price hurts your book’s credibility. If it’s too high, you may scare readers or lose sales to your competitors.
• Your book has received either too many bad reviews or no reviews at all.
• You tried to do too much yourself, and did not hire a professional editor and designer.
• Your timing is wrong. The book came out too soon or too late. You missed the peak of popularity. The fad either never became big enough or went out of fashion before the book was published.

• Your thesis has been disproved.
• You used a self-publishing company and its services were overpriced or the company did not do all of the work you expected it to do or it did not produce a high-quality book.
• You spent too much money on original photography or illustrations, and did not have enough money left to promote the book.
• You don’t have a website where potential purchasers—and book reviewers—can find more information.
• You think that your work will end when you finish writing.



  • Timing may be very important. Sales of Jerome Corsi’s book, questioning President Obama’s birthplace, dropped to almost nothing because it was published after Obama released his birth certificate.
  • Pick a hot topic, and one that may stay hot, or at least warm, for a few years. Consider combining two hot topics such as “Gay weddings on a tight budget.”
  • Pick something that you know about, that you can contribute something new about and that lots of people care about and that lots of people have not already written about.


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