Whenever an article or blog comes out in which an author grumbles about lack of sales, as author Michael Henderson did in this recent article about Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program, it’s common for people to slam them as whiners who don’t respect reader’s choices to buy other authors’ works, or worse, to claim it’s because their work is obviously inferior.
I don’t like this.
Michael Henderson will probably do just fine thanks to the boost his sales are likely to get from the article—he’s at least picked up one good review from it—but I’d like to address a few points:
- Amazon has over 3 million eBooks available. It’s illogical to assume that any reader is able to go through that morass of brilliant and god-awful novels and decide which are good and which are not, in his or her opinion. Readers — and that includes every author I’ve ever known — gather data from other readers they know, advertisements, reviews, and what-have-you to select books. They also browse categories and look at blurbs and covers, but none of these techniques will ever give a reader more than the tip of the iceburg to choose from. That’s just a statistical fact.
- Given what I said above, there is no way to correllate the quality of an author’s writing with how many books they sell, especially if we’re talking about the low end of the spectrum. Nobody even knows what that means, frankly. I often think a book is brilliantly written when nobody else seems to like it, and vice versa. And it’s impossible for any reader to decide a novel is bad if he or she hasn’t read it. Period. So if an author’s book has only sold ten copies, it could mean the author can’t string two sentences together (as one reader claimed of Murder on the Mountain), but it could just as easily mean only ten people have read it and they don’t have a large enough influence over other readers to make the book take off. Assuming a book is bad because it didn’t sell is just another form of blaming the victim: “It happened to him because he did something wrong. Therefore, it won’t happen to me, because I know what I’m doing.”
- Not all authors are good at selling themselves or their books. The nature of the profession tends to attract introverts who prefer to be by themselves, writing or reading—not running around to cons and bookfairs chatting readers up, or even getting too social on social media. Most new authors have no idea this is even part of the deal. It’s like getting on a flight around the world, being yanked out of your seat, and shoved into the cockpit. “Didn’t anyone tell you you’re the pilot? Good luck!”
Having said all that, my advice to authors who aren’t selling well is this: Don’t bitch about it. Okay, you can grumble a little, but whatever you do, don’t attack popular authors and complain that their books are crap. Don’t insist your own books are brilliant—that’s not for you to decide. And don’t insult readers by claiming they have no taste. Just realize they need to see you and your work before they can read anything you’ve put out, and the competition for reader attention is insane.
So get out there and be friendly!