Is a low-selling self-published book considered baggage?

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Is a low-selling self-published book considered baggage?

Post by paravil » August 17th, 2012, 9:08 am

There have recently been a couple of helpful threads on the issue of seeking representation post-self publishing (See here: viewtopic.php?f=7&t=5087, and here: viewtopic.php?f=7&t=5021), so I don't want to rehash what was covered there, but ask a slightly different question on the same topic.

Let's say I have a friend who wrote a book, and for various reasons (like, just hypothetically, he didn't get a lot of interest from agents) he decided to self-publish it as an e-book. This guy had no dreams of indie superstardom. His book was a fairly low-key affair and didn't contain any alternate realities on far away planets or supernatural phantasmagorical plots involving the reanimated corpses of US presidents copulating with colonies of zombified Playboy models while machine-gunning hordes of bloodthirsty vampires that are converging on America in order to locate the ancient Mystery MacGuffin that holds the key to the survival of the human race (not that there's anything wrong with that). This guy was only hoping to sell a few copies a month, figuring the book was doing him more good sitting on a cyber shelf potentially making money and being read, than sitting on his hard drive with the potential of doing neither.

My friend is not a marketing wiz, and those few monthly sales never materialize. Nor does any feedback on the book from the few who bought it or downloaded it on a free promotion. He considers the possible reasons for the poor performance: 1) Poor marketing; 2) The book is so brilliant that the people who have read it didn't get it; or 3) The book really isn't any good. My friend is resilient, though, and plans to write other books that will surely be better. The question is: Is this low-performing self-published book a liability? How negatively will it reflect on him if and when the time comes that he finds an agent to represent future works? Is it worth it to leave this book out there in the ether on the chance that it might still take off, or should he un-publish it, forget it ever happened, and get to busting his hump writing more and better books?

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Re: Is a low-selling self-published book considered baggage?

Post by Sommer Leigh » August 17th, 2012, 9:57 am

I'm not qualified to answer this question in terms of agents and editors caring about it, but my gut response is that your friend should find out what, if anything, is wrong with the book right now so he/she can use this non-selling book as a learning place for the future.

Too many writers assume because no agent or publisher wants their book, their only option is to self-publish --without visiting that crucial in-between step that asks the very hard question, is this story even ready to be published? The answer is usually no. Sometimes it's just bad luck and an over-saturated marketplace, but usually the problem is in the book. That's the hardest lesson for most writers to accept, and yet it's absolutely the most valuable one. Once we know we have problems, we can only get better, right?

My advice for your friend is to seek out some writer-types, like those here on this forum, and ask them to look at a partial sample of the writing and offer up their honest feedback. Your friend can get advice on what the writers think of their title, cover, and blurb, but really it's the writing we care about.

Your friend needs to be ready to hear the hard truth, and it might hurt. My personal opinion is that yes, it is better for a book to sit abandoned on a shelf than published just to see if anyone will buy it. You're putting your name on a thing and setting it out into the world and that thing should be the best of its kind. If it's not, it needs more work or the writer needs to start a new project. I believe in the integrity of storytelling and the industry of publishing and I believe that while everyone should write the story that is inside of them, not all of those stories should be published. It's a business after all, not a hobby.

Your friend needs critique partners and beta readers and they should be other writers who can give good, honest feedback. They should become well educated in the industry (both traditional and self-publishing). Your friend needs a good understanding of the current trends in their genre (like, what is selling in titles and covers right now?) And my personal opinion is probably if your friend didn't have these to begin with, the book should come down until he/she does have them and feels very comfortable republishing it (probably with a profeessional editor and cover artist.)

My opinion, if it was never ready to be published, it'll probably hurt his/her chances in the future if the book stays up for sale.

But it's also a great learning experience and your friend shouldn't feel bad about it at all. Things can only get better from here.
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Re: Is a low-selling self-published book considered baggage?

Post by longknife » August 19th, 2012, 11:42 am

From what I've read, unless you're someone like Joe Konrath who sells hundreds of thousands of indie novels, KEEP SILENT ABOUT A SELF-PUBLISHED BOOK! It's an instant sign that no agent or publisher is interested in your work.

So, as the previous poster said, withdraw the indie and go to work to find out what's wrong with it. Then, once the other work is "legit" published, release your indie, citing the professional published one.

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Re: Is a low-selling self-published book considered baggage?

Post by paravil » August 20th, 2012, 11:51 am

Thanks for the helpful replies. Good advice.

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Re: Is a low-selling self-published book considered baggage?

Post by Mark.W.Carson » August 21st, 2012, 9:39 am

From listening to various agents, a self published book is not necessarily an anchor. However, they won't represent THAT book if it is not doing well. And... if it is doing well, why do you need an agent? So... if you have published a book before, and you have a NEW book that you are looking for representation on, that is not necessarily going to work against you, however... what do you have to gain by letting them know? You may want to tell them after they say they love your manuscript and want to represent you, as part of some sort of working relationship disclosure, but that's like telling an executive chef:

"You know, I used to be the grill guy at burger king."

It doesn't help you here.

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Re: Is a low-selling self-published book considered baggage?

Post by oldhousejunkie » August 23rd, 2012, 4:52 pm

Personally, I think he should be fine as long as he doesn't mention it. If a future novel pulls in agent interest then they will most likely dig up the book at some point (or maybe not).

People fail to get representation for many reasons. In my case, my novel (now self-published) was the wrong time period. It got several requests but the bottom line was "you're very talented and will have a great career eventually, but this book is wrong for the market." That one comment (from a editor) was what gave me the boost of confidence to self-publish. It validated what I already suspected (but failed to admit) and I suddenly felt good about putting myself out there.

Since the market seems to be dictating pretty much everything in the publishing world, I think your friend needs to review his interactions with agents (did he receive requests? was there any feedback?). If there was positive feedback, then he probably should have submitted his novel to a few review sites. It's scary as hell but it can be a good thing. Marketing yourself is a pain and can be downright uncomfortable, but to sell, you must have a platform and/or presence on the interwebs. And even then, it might not sell stupenduously well.

End of the day, he should be fine. All he can do is do his best and try again next time. If it sticks, it sticks.

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Re: Is a low-selling self-published book considered baggage?

Post by jollyllp » June 26th, 2013, 5:24 am

A self published book is a way to get published more easily. However, it also makes it much more complicated to sell the resulting books. They must be sold by the writer in order to make back the book publishing costs and to find an audience. Without a publisher to back the writer, the he must handle the publicity and networking by him.....

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