Friday, September 30, 2011

Self-Publishing, An Author's Despair

I received an email last week from Carol D. Parker a self-published author (whom I didn't know) telling me how distraught she was that she hasn't sold a book. I could see that my reply to her would be long and detailed and asked her permission to used her email and my reply as a blog, in the hopes that it might also help others.

Dear Dr. Debra
I was broken hearted and terribly disappointed when viewed the “report” on my book and saw that not one copy had been sold in the whole world to anyone. Not one person was interested enough to purchase it. My cover picture is striking and fits the theme of the story. I am so despondent I can’t even talk to anybody. I have to sleep to stop crying. I wrote about it to the support team and asked if they could help me.

Then I ran into your ad and read that you made $20,000 already on your books. I was so upset, I thought I would faint. Can you please tell me what I’m doing wrong? And how you succeeded? I’m sure The Lord doesn’t want me to be a failure.

I have an extensive literary background as Editorial Associate, critic, writing instructor with F&W Publications; Writer’s Digest School. I’m a published writer, contributing writer and editor for numerous publications. My work was featured in the Miami Herald’s Pulitzer Prize winning Tropic Magazine often.

I made a promise to my mother that I would have my books published. When I published my book, “Flukes” with KDP I felt I was fulfilling my promise although she died 3 years ago. I’m 71 and I’m determined to finish this job. Four more books and two in my mind. But right now I am so depressed that I feel it’s not worth it to spend what years I have left struggling to accomplish a back-burner dream.

Thanks for your attention. I know how many irons you have in the fire so I don’t really expect you to answer this. I only hope.

Carol D Parker


To clear up a few things before hitting the "meat" of your letter, you must have read my blog because I don't have any adds except the free one from Savvy Authors, which I got for teaching an online class. The 20,000 is sales, not dollars, (of the Montana Sky Series) although I'm close and should hit that mark next month.

Before I address your book, I'm going to put on my psychotherapist "hat." Although I'm NOT diagnosing you, I'm going to suggest that you might have depression. Crying all day to the point you need to sleep to escape is often a symptom. You might also be experiencing complicated grief from the death of your mother. I suggest you see a psychiatrist or counselor to talk about what you might be going through.

I don't believe as you do that "God doesn't want me to be a failure." I do believe that God's definition of success may be very different than mine. Failure is often one of our best opportunities to learn and grow. It's what you make of your failure that's important.

I'm going to be firm with you, which may come across as uncaring. That is not the case. If I didn't care about you, I wouldn't be writing this.

When you publish a book, regardless of whether it's traditionally published or self-published, you need to promote it. Most of the time, the publisher will do little or nothing to promote your book, and it's up to you. For the last ten years, authors have known this, although to many, it's still a shock to find it out. Because of your age, you may have "grown up" in the time when publishers did more to market a book.

Therefore, you have to adjust your thinking. The success of your book will be up to you--not just to write a good book and have a good cover designed, but to get the word out. There are a lot of blogs and books on the topic of promoting your book.

Also, I can't believe that none of your friends, family, students, fellow writers, and acquaintances have bought your book. I know I have sold about 50-100 books from these people alone. Since self-publishing, my circle of friends has grown! Therefore, I think you must not be mentioning your book to these people. Some people feel self-conscious about doing this. But most people in your circle want to support you and would be eager to buy your book. They're not mind readers, though, so you'll have to tell them. Sales from your circles are what usually gets the ball going. Also don't be shy about asking for reviews.

When I went to Amazon to look up your book, Flukes, I saw 6 names, which confused me and made me think it was an anthology. I suggest you take everyone else's name off but yours. You can acknowledge them in your book.

Then I saw a typo in your blurb/description. That's a big turn off because it tells me that the book might not be well written and/or full of typos.

Your description was also confusing, and I wasn't sure what kind of genre story the book is. It looks like it has some great elements, but they're not put together well.

All three of the above are easy changes. :) Isn't it nice that self-published efforts aren't set in stone?

Keep writing, Carol. Having more than one book makes a difference. GOOD LUCK!

Readers, what else could you say to Carol?


  1. I agree that the blurb needs work. They are really hard to write, but they sell books. Additionally, I'm not in love with the cover or the title. "Flukes" doesn't tell us anything about the book. Does it refer to an unlikely occurrence? Or a flatworm? (ewww)

    What genre is this book? Romance? Women's fiction? Something else? This should be evident by the title, blurb, and cover but it isn't.

    The writing itself is very readable (I only looked at a few pages) so I think it's that people aren't getting to that point, which always means title or cover or blurb need work.

  2. A nice reply to the woman. Well done.

  3. I second the comments about blurb, title and cover. This is the first impression and it has to hold prospective readers' attentions. This shouldn't take you very long to do. In fact, once it is done hop over to the Kindleboards and ask people for their opinions on the cover and blurb.

    Also, it is very difficult to make sales for indie authors who only have one title up, so get to work on that next book:-)

    The last thing I'll say is that name recognition is key, and social networking, blog posts, interviews and advertisements is the best way to do that.

  4. The first thing I noticed is that the blurb is disjointed and full of comma errors. That alone would keep me from buying the book. I agree with Debra that you need to delete the other names. Acknowledge the editors in the acknowledgement page of the book itself.

    Start the description with who the book is actually about and focus on that person. Is it about Judson, or is it about Quinby? Find a group of writers to join and ask for help refining that description.

    Join Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and learn how to use them to market your book. No one can buy it if they don't know it exists. And get another book up there as quickly as you can.

  5. One thing I meant to add is that you have almost no tags listed. You can add up to 15, so use them all. Tags help bring your book up in searches. Is it a romance? Then add that as a tag. Suspense? Add that too. Medical thriller? You can tag Caribbean, Florida Keys, terminal illness, healing, etc. Also, add the book's length in your description--either how many words or how many pages it would be if it were printed. Reader's like to know.

  6. I agree with the other comments. Actually, this sounds like an interesting premise, but I'd like a better description before buying it.

    One other thing you need to do when talking about the book is to use the title and the link. I had to wait for Debra's reply to find the link.

  7. Carol,

    Don't cry. Don't give up. Take the advice given by Debra and the others and keep on writing. I've been writing for 20 years and have been published for 10 and I just jumped into the SP pond myself. While I've sold a few books I'm no where near (or even in the same galaxy of sales) as Debra.

    Tweak your description, join some online writer's groups, especially ones who are focused on self-publishing. There's a wealth of information available. It won't guarantee sales, but it will help you find a way to get your name and book in front of readers.


  8. Carol--you have received excellent advice, and I agree with each and every one. First, make a list of these suggestions, then do one, mark it off, do another one.
    I also believe the title should be changed. Your cover is beautiful, but the title is starkly wrong for it--find a title that suggests healing, soothing, etc.
    We're the exact same age. I got my first contract six short years ago, and now I have 12. It was a steep climb, but I'm like a dog with a bone when I have a problem to solve.
    Good luck to you, and stick with the IndieRomanceInk group--they are good teachers. Celia

  9. Once you make those corrections on the blurb, you need to make an Amazon author page. Get your name out there. People won't buy a book they don't know about.

  10. Thanks, everyone for your support of Carol and anyone else who might have a similar struggle. I've had several people email me that the blog wouldn't let them post. How annoying!

    Some have emailed me, and I'll post for them.

    From Lisa Mondello: "You've gotten good advice here, but I will go one step further. You have to remember that each of us takes our own path when we publish. No two careers are the same. Therefore, it's useless to compare yourself to someone else.

    Second, I'm reminded of something I've always told my children. There will always be someone who has more than you. But there is also someone out there who wishes they had what you have. You need to learn to celebrate your successes. You've written a book. That's a huge deal. Many people want to and never do. But you also have to listen and learn as much as you can from people who've already started their self-publishing journey. Choose what makes sense for you to do and don't bother trying to reinvent the wheel. Good luck!"

    From Norah Wilson:

    I didn’t even try posting, Debra, after I saw the problems others were having. When Blogger acts up, I can’t get anywhere with it. But you can tell the gal I did the Look Inside the Book thing, found it fascinating and bought it. I also liked and tagged her. Maybe you can communicate that to her. I also wondered if the editor she worked with to edit the book could help her fashion a blurb to help her target the book to the right audience. I think more people would buy it if they understood what was between the covers, but I can understand why they aren’t, given how it’s currently presented.

  11. From Regina Duke:

    Hang in there! Many of us are slow starters as indie publishers. But please do take Dr. Debra's advice and find a counselor or therapist to talk to about your grief over losing your mother. My mom passed in 2008. I didn't realize I needed help until my BFF made an appt for me with her therapist. I ended up going for two years. It changed my life. Take care.

  12. Hey Carol!
    If you make all the corrections to your book, blurb and are doing promotions every day, you might want to look at the subject matter and compare it to what people are actually buying.
    The 4 things you can do to have a book that sells are:
    1. Write a good book, make sure it has been vetted before you publish
    2. Write a great blurb that hooks the reader/buyer.
    3. Get a great cover that matches the theme of the book and can be read in the thumbnail size
    4. Promo at every opportunity to get your name/product out there.
    In regard to the latter, do you have a FaceBook page? Are you on Twitter? Do you promote on all the FB groups? Do you belong to some online writer/reader loops where you can promo? Are you on the Kindleboards? Goodreads?
    This is like setting up a small business and you have to wear all the hats.
    If you're doing all that and haven't sold any, I don't have any more suggestions, but I'm sure wiser heads than mine will come up with an answer. Good luck, Carol.

  13. My first question, (unless I missed it) was how long has it been published? It takes time.
    I love the cover, but it doesn't tell me enough about the genre. I also want to cheer for the sister, but in the blurb, she's suddenly involved in a diabolic plot? Is she the heroine or villain? I've downloaded the sample to read, though. Keep working the blurb and polish it up, and good luck!