Why Aren’t You Selling?

Okay, harsh truth time.  Not the harshest of the harsh truths that I’ve ever laid down, but still pretty harsh.

There’s a “thing” that a lot of writers go through.  A LOT A LOT.  I do this and have been doing this for years, although I can see the light on the far side of the tunnel.

When we start out as writers, there’s this fairy tale that we’re told. “Write well and good things will happen for you.” It is false or at the very least misleading. Writing well is necessary, but it’s only the first thing.

Obviously covers, editing, blurbs and that kind of also thing affect sales, and knowing people who are in a position to help you with sales is good, and being known for writing a certain type of thing or for engaging on that same topic on social media is a good thing. Most writers know that these things have to be accomplished, either by themselves or by a publisher.

But…there comes this time when you’re doing all those things and you’re still not selling, and people are like, “But of course you’re selling! You’re doing everything right! Or at least right enough!”

And you’re still not selling, and you get angry about the damn fairy tale.

My perspective, fortunately, has always been to learn how to write better. (Some people can learn to write better simply by writing or by learning; I have to learn new things AND write until they work for me, because beating my head against the wall is how I let the light in.)  So at least I’m not still stuck in the place I was when I first started bitching and moaning about this.

And after a while, the small accomplishments build up. You’re published, you’re paid and published through independent sources (such as magazines for short stories), you’re getting independent validation, not just wishful thinking, that you’re running on all cylinders. And you’re still not selling. Getting to a place where you’re not bullshitting yourself about how well you write can be HARD. It’s easy to think you’re writing better than you really are, that you have more control over your craft than you do.  One or two under a penny a word publication credits does not make a professional writer.  Ditto one or two professional-level publication credits.  Sorry.

The stretch between “I’m good enough” and “Okay, I really am good enough” is a long and bitter one. BITTER. Because you constantly have to eat crow about your idea of how good you are, which is, yet again, not good enough.

The next thing after the bitterness is, the whateverth item on the list, is to stop giving a crap about how good you are and how readers aren’t reading you, etc. etc.  O woe is me?  Bullshit.  What you have to care about is…the reader having fun.

Readers are more important than writers.  They just are.

And yet, in practice, it’s almost impossible for writers to have faith in this.  It’s all about the writer and their talent and hard work, right?  No.  Most writers, even the selling ones, are replaceable.  The reader is more important than the writer.

I’ve see the O Woe/Bitter phase in myself, and in others a bajillion times too.

“Why isn’t this working?”  A lot of writers abandon the work here, because it attacks the most sensitive parts of the ego.  Everyone says they “love” what you do.  So where is the money???

The money is going to the writers that know how to sell their crap.

Learning how to sell your crap makes you a better writer.  Period.  You must learn how to sell your own crap.  Period.  Learning how to sell your crap means a better relationship and understanding with your readers.

If you’re bitter that you’re not being read more AND you’re a competitively professional writer, THEN your problem is that you don’t know how to sell your crap.

Learning how to sell your crap is part of the process of writing, as in writing books that readers cannot NOT buy.  It’s also how you handle yourself in the world, and how you approach the business side of what you do.

I think we writers all feel a little entitled to sell books because it’s hard to get to the point where there’s a book on the market, indie or otherwise. We did all this work; we deserve a reward, right?

But that doesn’t tell the reader why they should care, why they should want what you write.  If you can’t communicate why a reader should care about your book effectively, then you’re not going to sell a book, no matter how good it is–and it may not be all that good, because hello, communicating with readers.

I’ve heard successful writers, especially indie writers, tell me that they treat publishing like a game–to beat other writers in Amazon rankings, to be able to make readers hand over money and sign up for newsletters, etc. Just publishing the book is only the entry fee to the game–not the whole game itself.

Good players invest time and money in learning how to sell books.  Bad players get bitter, and eventually drop out.

I am not a good player; there’s a learning curve.  I’m working on it.

Again, my perspective is that the first thing to selling more books is writing a better book. It’s easier to win a cribbage tournament if every hand is a full house, even if you’re terrible at everything else (and, honestly, a lot of people mistake a pair of twos for a full house; I certainly have, and for an embarrassing length of time).

But writing well is not the only thing.  If your attitude toward selling things is, “I did the hard part, now the world needs to take care of me,” then  you are just another sucker waiting to be double-skunked–or someone who gets so bitter that they eventually talk themselves into tossing in the cards when they have three sevens and a six and dropping out just as that eight comes up on the draw.*



* I don’t play poker.  I have played a metric buttload of cribbage.


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