"In writing, you must kill all your darlings."--William Faulkner
Writers are a sensitive group--I am one, so I can relate on some level; but I've also been in this business as an editor and marketer for nearly twenty years so tend to look at the big picture more than most. I hear people lamenting about poor sales or bad reviews while simultaneously covering their ears and closing their eyes to advice that could help them.
Here's the thing: if your books aren't selling, you need to look at the why instead of finding excuses.
No, it's not because there are so many books in the market place. No, it's not because the writer over there has a rich husband funding paid advertising. No, it's not...fill in the blank for whatever excuse you were about to give.
Sometimes the reality is that you're not working hard enough or being critical enough of your own work.
How open are you to advice? Be honest. As an editor, I've been fortunate to work with professional authors who crave feedback. They know when to question, when to bend, and when to admit that maybe...just maybe...they'd made a mistake. There's a reason why they are professionals--true pros are open to another perspective. Writers who see this as a career know that the digital marketplace is competitive but not impossible. Quality always rises to the top.
How is your quality?
Take a good look at the product you're putting out into the world. Is the cover captivating? Is the downloadable sample riveting? Is the blurb a strong hook? Readers have a lot of choices, those three things need to be perfect. They won't wait until chapter five to be interested. They won't read the blurb if the cover alone bores them. They won't bother with the sample read if the blurb is too long or falls flat.
Is your spouse/friend/coworker working as your editor? Just because they may be an English teacher, avid reader, or what-not does not qualify them to edit your manuscript. Editors have been educated in story arcs, character development, grammar, dialogue, setting a scene, etcetera. They are worth the money. If you've worked with a professional editor, are you truly open to their feedback or do you argue over every comma or suggestion?
How does your cover look compared to others in your genre? If you have tried to be too unique, it's possible you're turning off potential readers. If someone reads mysteries, for instance, they are accustomed to certain images that subconsciously tell them, "this looks like a good one" and triggers them to read the blurb. If you are off the mark, you may not got a second chance. Are you staying up with trends? They are always changing. Your cover is your main marketing tool--invest the time and energy involved to make sure you're putting forth the best first impression you can.
Does your blurb hook from the very first line to the last? Are you teasing the story rather than telling someone an entire synopsis? Are you ending it with an emotional hook that makes a potential reader care about what might happen? Blurbs are hard, I won't deny that. They can be more challenging to write than the novel. Take the time. Start working on your blurb before you're done with the book, tweak it, ask your editor to give it a look.
How open are you to marketing suggestions that are outside of your comfort zone? Believe me, many authors moan about marketing while they are also crying about no sales. They don't want to write a blog or participate in a Facebook party or post on Tumblr or try any other distributor than Amazon. Yet they cry and complain louder than any I have ever met! They've gotten into a rut and, even though that rut may be digging them deeper into trouble, they refuse to try another path. Maybe "someone" told them how useless it was to try a thunderclap campaign or a blog tour even though others are succeeding with those tools. Maybe they say that they're "too busy" to do anything else. Maybe they get defensive immediately at the suggestion that they need to change--despite the fact that what they're doing isn't working. That sounds crazy, doesn't it? I hear it all the time.
Success requires more than passion, talent, and intent. You need to be able to look at your work product and marketing strategy objectively.
Yes, there are a lot of books in the marketplace. Yes, this author gig is hard work. Yes, you can make money as a full-time writer. Yes, the problem might be you! That's good news! We all have the power to change our course in the blink of an eye. Isn't it better knowing that your success is in your hands rather than at the mercy of the whims of outside forces?
Are you willing to take off the blinders, stop the excuses, and be self-critical? I hope so.
Amber Lea Easton
Amber Lea Easton is a multi-published author of nonfiction, thrillers, and romantic suspense. A professional editor and freelance journalist for nearly two decades, she created Mountain Moxie Publishing Services to assist authors in mastering the writing craft. Her memoir, Free Fall, is dedicated to spreading suicide awareness, has topped international best selling charts, and has been named by Dr. Prem as fourth on the "Ten Most Inspiring True Stories Everyone Must Read" list. Easton is also a speaker regarding parenting through trauma and suicide awareness. To discover more about Mountain Moxie Publishing Services, please go to http://www.moxiegirlwriting.com. For a list of all of Easton's books, articles and interviews, go to http://www.amberleaeaston.com.