Why It’s Okay to Publish a Book That Probably Won’t Sell

 

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No, this article is not about to tell you that it’s okay to use a stock cover, do your own editing, and ignore proper formatting rules.

I’m talking about genre, story. The best-selling indie books tend to be erotica, romance, mystery, and thriller. What if you have an idea for a novel that doesn’t fit anywhere in these popular categories?

Neither traditional publishing nor Hollywood are known for taking on risky projects. It’s understandable, really, because there’s typically a lot of money at stake and there’s a lot to lose if you gamble on an untested type of story. Unfortunately, that’s why there is such a glut of superhero movies and sequels. Slap the word Marvel on a film and it’s guaranteed to make big bucks, and a sequel to a bad movie is likely to make money if the first one did. With traditional publishing, the number one priority of agents and publishers is producing a book they really believe will sell well. Again, this makes good business sense, but it also results in a lot of repetition, severe lack of originality, and little room for passion projects.

Enter self-publishing.

We indie folks are all about passion projects. We don’t have to wait for someone else to tell us we’re allowed to write and publish what we love, and we can afford to take risks. If you publish a book traditionally and it doesn’t sell well – and quickly – it’s going to get yanked from the shelves with no second chances. If you thought it was hard to get traditionally published the first time, good luck getting a second deal, EVER, if your first book didn’t sell well. I was listening to one of Simon Whistlers’ podcasts recently with host David Gaughran, author of Let’s Get Digital, and they were discussing the fact that there are no asterisks in publishing. Even if your terrible sales record was completely beyond your control ( for instance, your book was released on 9/11, or your publisher suddenly pulled all its advertising of your book to focus on another hot release) you’re still going to be blamed for sluggish book sales. Your career could be over before it’s begun.

The worst-case scenario for a self-published book is that you’re disappointed that your book didn’t sell well, then it’s on to the next. You can even leave your book up for sale indefinitely in the hopes that it could still take off someday. And why not? The book is still part of your backlist and could still get sales as you slowly build your following.

You can slowly build your following.

And there it is – one of the coolest parts of being an indie author. Your career doesn’t have to take off like gangbusters right away. Realistically, how many endeavors are successful immediately? Almost everything worth doing takes a lot of perseverance and hard work.

So if you’ve got a book that you just love and don’t want to let go of – DON’T. You can’t expect it to make you a lot of money (though it could), but you can expect to be really excited and proud of it. That passion shines through, and you’ll probably find at least a handful of readers who really love that book of yours that means so much to you. Isn’t that what being an author is all about? That special relationship between reader and author?

I wrote a middle-grade book called THE JOYVILLE SWEAT SOX. It’s about baseball, which I love. It has lots of humor, which l love. My eleven-year-old, baseball-playing son loves the book, and I love him.

I can’t market the book, which is targeted at boys and girls aged 9-12, on Twitter. Those little people aren’t old enough to be on Facebook, and it’s not too likely they’re going to sign up for my email list anytime soon.

This book is likely not going to be hugely successful for me.

I wrote this article – Self-publishing Means Never Having to Say Goodbye – all about how sad I was that I that I was never going to publish that middle-grade novel.

Yeah, well, I’ve changed my mind.

It probably won’t make much money. So what? I don’t have an agent or a publisher breathing down my neck for big sales numbers. The publishing company releasing the book is WANNABE PRIDE publishing. MY COMPANY. I’m the boss, and I approved this project.

No, it won’t sell a ton of books, but maybe it will make a few kids laugh. Maybe I’ll get to give a talk at a school about it at some point. And, as proud as I am of QUEEN HENRY, my super-gay, pro-equality LGBT book, I know it’s not for everyone. I don’t mind talking about the book, but when someone who is uber-conservative asks me about what I’ve written, I kind of inwardly roll my eyes. Just don’t ask. You’re not gonna like it.

THE JOYVILLE SWEAT SOX is perfectly acceptable and appropriate for all ages. Knowing the kind of racy stuff I usually write, I’m not going to be able to say that often. The book is about a woman, Konnie Mack, who loves baseball but hasn’t played the sport since her beloved father passed away. It’s against the law to get mad in the town of Joyville, and her punishment for having a hot temper is to coach the local Little League team. The kids have never played baseball, so it will take a lot of patience for her to teach them without totally blowing her top.

Once this book is released, I’ll always have a book that my friends and family can read and promote to others without blushing. I can send a copy to the old orthodontic office where I used to work, and if I’m chatting up old ladies in line in the supermarket, I can recommend they buy a copy for their grandkids. I might only sell a handful of copies, but I will get to share my story after all.

And that’s pretty cool.

So if you’ve got a weird, crazy, potential-flop of a tale you really want to tell, DO IT. Go ahead and greenlight the project and make it happen! You’re the boss and you’re in charge. Don’t invest your life savings in a super-risky project, but don’t let the fear of failure stop you from pursuing something that you truly have a passion for.

The only real failure is that risk you didn’t take.

  • Linda Fausnet

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