Saturday, March 24, 2012

Is It Time To Burn Your Book?

When store owners go through tough times they sometimes find a lifeline by starting over.  They file for bankruptcy, sell to investors, take a match to the joint, or fake a robbery and look for some insurance money.  I recall hearing a story about my great grandfather who “lost” his business due to a fire during the Great Depression.  Sometimes accidents are necessary.

I propose the same for authors.  When is it time to walk away from your book and move on to other ventures?

At some point every writer has to be honest with himself and admit that his book just isn’t going anywhere.  Sales are anemic.  The few reviews it generated were negative.  Even friends and family stop asking how the book’s doing. 

But you don’t want to give up.  That would be like a mother parking her baby at the firehouse in a basket and walking away.  Writers get attached to their book.  Its ego and pride on those pages, not just words.  They so desperately want to be seen as a success, and certainly not as a failure.  But somewhere along the line things don’t work out.  Like a marriage that ends in divorce, it can get ugly.

If you walk away from your book, what can you do with it?  Well, you can try to write new books and should those start to sell, you may be able to sell the one that fell short now.  Or, you can donate the books to a library or non-profit organization.  Or, you can sell the rights to another publisher.  Perhaps publishing in a different form would help, such an audiobook instead of the e-book or a lower-priced e-book instead of a printed one.  Maybe there’s a market overseas for your book (you can sell foreign language rights).

Or maybe you just look at the whole thing as an experiment and move on like you would from any of life’s setbacks.  But I know you can’t just turn your nose up at the 50 or 80 thousand words that you were convinced were arranged in the exact order needed for a best-seller.

I would suggest you go back and examine what went wrong.  Chances are, many things went wrong.  Here’s a 21-point diagnostic test.  Depending on your answers, you may be able to make changes to the book and re-launch it at a later date.

1.      Is the book out of date?  If you revised the contents and added few chapters, you can republish it.

2.      Was the sale price too high?  You can lower it.

3.      Did the title/sub-title of your book mislead people or not draw them in?  Simply change it.

4.      Was the layout or packaging crappy?  Was the front size too small or too big?  Could it benefit from photos, charts, or illustrations?  All of this can be corrected.

5.      Did the book need better editing?  Could it have been shortened and tightened?  Are any words misspelled?  Should chapters be re-titled or re-ordered?

6.      Is there a way to add material so that the book appeals to more types of people, but still serves its intended niche readership?

7.      Does the back cover’s descriptive copy fail to lure people in?  Does it have snappy bullet points with descriptive benefits offered to readers?

8.      Do you have a few solid endorsements or reviews from known entitles on the cover or on the first page, so that people buy into the testimony of trusted experts?

9.      Is the cover image, colors, and typeface attractive, or does the book look better with a brown paper bag over it?

10.  Is the genre you write in or the topic you cover simply overcrowded?  Is there anything about your book that can win over a reader vs. the competition?

11.  What feedback did you get from peers, family, and friends? Can you correct what they say is broken?

12.  Did you try giving the book away to a certain number of people, in hopes they’d give you a review, feedback, or spread good word of mouth?

13.  Do you struggle to give a good 20-second elevator speech about your book or does it flow naturally?

14.  Was your book mislabeled as far as the genre-subgenre category it should appear under in bookstores and online?

15.  Is your book written in a way to inform, enlighten, inspire, or educate the reader—or is it more a self-serving confession that few can relate to?

16.  Can you add something to the book that makes it more valuable, such as resources or a DVD—if non-fiction.  If fiction, could you add a new character or more sex or humor or whatever seems to be missing?

17.  Did you promote your book to the media in a targeted but comprehensive and timely manner?  Did you hire a professional to help?

18.  How active were you in using social media to get the word out about your book?  Did you blog often, tweet, post on Facebook, etc?

19.  Did you have a marketing plan that made sense?  Did you execute it on time?  Did you reach out to groups to speak or sell books to?

20.  Did you advertise your book, if so, where?  How often?  What was the message or offer conveyed?  Think you can improve on it?

21.  Is there offensive material in the book?  Are opinions shared as facts?  Are there factual errors in it?  Clean that crap up!

Once you determine what’s wrong with the book, assess the cost of time and money to fix it, determine if it is really worth saving.  Then you either go full throttle with a second chance to make a first impression—or you get out the matches and light up the cartons of book-filled boxes sitting in your garage. Either way, you are sure to go out and blaze a new trail.

Interview With Author Jenyfer Matthews
1.      As an author, what do you make of the new publishing landscape? What exactly the new publishing landscape is, is anyone’s guess! How will the traditional publishing structure adapt to the new wave of electronic and independent publishing? Will readers continue to embrace e-books to the eventual exclusion of paper books?  Personally, I love all the new options that authors have to get into print, but I don’t believe that either traditional publishing or paper books are in any danger of disappearing. There are some books that lend themselves better to print than electronic versions, but as an avid reader I do love to be able to carry countless e-books with me on my Kindle so I can read on the go.

2.      What advice do you have for struggling authors?  First: read and white as much as you can. You can only get better by practicing, and take any and all feedback you get seriously. Second: don’t let the ease of self-publishing tempt you into rushing the process. Putting your best work out for the public will only help you in the long run.

3.      What is your newest book about?  I’m in the midst of writing a women’s fiction novel about a young widow and stay at home mother of two who decides on a whim to use her late husband’s life insurance money to buy a bed and breakfast in northern Minnesota because she once spent a happy summer vacation there as a young child and she thinks it will be an “easy” job that will still allow her to be available for her children. She learns the hard way the error of her decision!

4.      What inspired you to write it? Probably my own fantasy of owning and running a bed & breakfast – which I am sure wouldn’t be nearly as much fun as staying in one is!

5.      What do you love most about the process of writing?  I really love getting to know my characters as they reveal themselves through the course of the story. I am what is known in writing circles as a “pantster” meaning that I don’t plot things out ahead of time, I just make it up as I go along. Often that means I start a story with a scenario and a vague notion of where I want to end up. What the characters decide to do along the way is often a surprise to me!

6.      What makes for a great writer?  A great writer is one who knows how to use the technical know-how of writing to capture the magic of the story. Too much technique and the story can fall flat, too much magic and the story can lack structure. If in doubt, I always err on the side of magic.

7.      Which skills must a writer possess? Besides a vivid imagination, you mean? Probably among the most important skills a writer can possess are persistence and discipline. Coming up with the story ideas is the easy part – developing them on paper is vastly more difficult.

Jenyfer Matthews, the author of One Crazy Summer, recently returned to the US after more than a decade in the Middle East, most recently living in Cairo, Egypt. For more information, please check out
Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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