Seven months ago, I published my first book… so why can’t I sell it?

Distraught by indirect feedback by a potential agent or two, I ventured out into the world of self-publishing.  I should also mentioned that I was encouraged by recent articles floating around about a young author who had become a millionaire by selling her ebooks for $.99.  I needed to become a millionaire, too.

And hey, I wrote some books… some damn good books.  So why couldn’t I achieve the same success?

Exactly the question I’m asking myself right now.  Why couldn’t I achieve the same success?  I may never truly know the answer.  But I have a few ideas on what’s holding me back.

1. Time – I have a full-time job that doesn’t consist of creative writing, because let’s face it.  I’m just not a millionaire yet, and I have bills to pay… But there simply are not enough hours in the day to do what all needs to be done to make a self-published book successful… but this is a pretty lame excuse.  After all, the successful young author in the article doesn’t get 25 or 30 hours a day.  She’s forced within the same time constraints.

2. Marketing – You’d think after working for ten years in marketing, this one wouldn’t be a problem for me.  Well, you’d think that, but you’d be wrong.  I was never good at marketing myself.  And now, there are so many different avenues to take.  I can offer free books or discounted books (and I do).  I can tweet to my heart’s content (and I do).  I can send out email newsletters and beg my friends to forward them on (done that).  I can have book release parties (did this, too).  I can have a web presence on Facebook, on my own personal domain, and on Word Press… but I can’t make people buy my books (<–see, haven’t done that).  To date, I have probably gone through about 15 different Twitter campaigns.  In those, I’ve probably thought of about 500 different 140-character descriptors that I’ve used to entice people to buy.  I get clicks somehow, but rarely do people follow through with the sale.  How does one ask for a sale on a website?  I need to make an offer people couldn’t refuse.  I thought I had by pricing my well-written, character-driven, emotional novels at $.99 each.  But people still refuse that.

3. Genre Identity Crisis – My books don’t fit neatly into a certain genre.  I think this one really hurts me more than anything else, but I simply don’t know how to rectify it.  Is it a dramatic romance?  Is it a romantic drama?  Are those really genres, anyway?  No, no and no.  Romance readers have told me that they aren’t really romance books.  But literary readers tell me there’s too much sex.  So, um… I don’t know how to place them.  I don’t know how to market them, in essence.  I may think of people who will love the way the stories draw them into the characters lives… but those same people may be uncomfortable with the sex.   And the people who read books for a little titillation might be disappointed with the amount of emotional drama they contain.  I do believe there’s a market for these books.  I just don’t think that the Bookstore Gods have created it yet.

4. Content – Let’s talk about sex (baby).  I know some people are squeamish about this part.  Someone once wrote in a review that the books had “graphic sex scenes” and I realized right then and there that people have varying degrees of acceptance for “love scenes,” as I prefer to call them.  None of my characters ever have sex just to titillate a reader.  Every single scene is integral to the story in some way.  It’s either essential to the plot line, or important to character development.  None of the scenes are gratuitous, though, and I don’t believe them to be graphic– or pornographic, as I’ve heard suggested.  These books are for adults, admittedly.  Adults are my audience.  These books are about adult relationships that are common and real in our society today.  The scenes are not dirty, and I don’t think they’re overly descriptive… and I tried to make them all tasteful.  I don’t like using slang words (or clinical ones, either).  I allude to as much as possible without using offensive words…

5. Language – …which brings us to offensive words.  Do I say “f*ck” one too many times in the book?  I don’t think so.  I wrote it as my characters would say it.  Anyone who reads the books would know that a) Nate used it quite often, as a lot of twenty-something men I know do; b) Emi used it when she was angry, typically, or frustrated; c) Jack used it once when she was caught off guard in a physical confrontation.  It’s not an author just throwing the word out there for shock value, it helps the characters emote in a modern-day-way.  The word– taboo as it is in our society– is still a valid word that people use to express different emotions.  They’re four little letters– one letter different from the word “luck.”  Why does one little letter make it so horrible?  I’m not sure… in my world, it’s not that big a deal, but in the minds of many others, it’s too much.  They’ve told me so.  Some people can overlook it, some cannot.  Would it sell better without the language?  Honestly, I don’t want to find out.  I’m not being stubborn, I’m just staying true to Nate and Emi.  That being said, am I being “choosier” about the words in the next series?  A smart author would say yes.  And I’m a smart author.

Anyway, if anyone out there has some advice, I’m listening… because again, I’m a smart author, and I know I’ve got smart readers.

10 thoughts on “Seven months ago, I published my first book… so why can’t I sell it?

  1. I feel your pain! I think this is a difficult and challenging slog for most people. We’re trying to gather the resources of my over-40 women’s writing group to leverage our contacts, but time will tell if it’s effective or not.

    I also have genre issues, and I’m not sure what to do about that. I can only write what I write. My thing with the sex stuff is that people have complained that I don’t go far enough — go figure!

    Keep on keepin’ on. It may take us several books to get a solid readership, but I believe it’s possible! Good luck! And great post!

  2. This has gotten me to really thinking. I read the premise of your book, and it sounds very intriguing, so I’m going to be checking it out, and adding it to my wishlist. I don’t currently have a Kindle yet to read books that are only available as ebooks on though.

    The description you gave of your story containing romance, but not exactly being about that, and more about the characters developing should have a known audience I think. I have no idea how you would label them though. (500) Days of Summer, and the novel, One Day, are about romances, but not exactly love stories. I’m not sure if that’s how your novel is, but the vibe reminded me of how those stories were described. I could be completely missing the mark though on how you were saying others described your novel though.

    1. Thanks, Holly! I really hope you enjoy it. The books are available in paperback on and, but the savings is significant in ebook format. I hope you’re getting a Kindle soon. It was my first e-reader and it made an avid reader out of me. 🙂 LOVED it.

  3. I personally think that when an author wirtes to sell, or writes to an audiance, then his/her writing should stick to the expectations of that audiance.
    It might sound limiting, but remeber that no matter how good you are at handling a particular topic, you are not writing for yourself nor for your own tastes.

    The audiance is very broad in taste and you would want to satisfy that taste in order to sell. The book has to be planned to fit a particualr genre instead of made to create one.

    Some best sellers are really horribly writ. They have very creative plots and discriptions but the language should be pitied.

    1. You know, Lettie, I think you’re right. I guess when I started this series, I was just writing it for myself. Of course, I had pipe dreams that someone else might read them someday, but as someone who has started many things and not finished them, I wasn’t hopeful. (I’m glad I proved myself wrong.) I didn’t anticipate the difficulty I’ve faced in categorizing the books, OR the push-back I’ve gotten from a few people about the language/sex. It has made me much more conscious of these things, and I am hyper-aware of the scenes/words in my current work in progress. I’ve even caught myself saying “is that necessary?” or “could he say that differently?” I hope that the next series is more marketable… but I still have a lot of hope in getting the Emi Lost & Found series out there to the world. It tells a great story, and so many people have enjoyed it.

      Thanks for your comments!

  4. I can empathize with the genre problem. I wrote a manuscript last year, and spent months and months sending out dozens of (rejected) queries. Most often, I was told that “this just doesn’t fit neatly into a category.”

    1. I got that response, too. I queried for about 9 months before I just gave up. Originally, I was just going to self-publish the first, and hope it sold so well that an agent would be knocking at my door… not only did that not happen, but the suspenseful ending of book one had a lot of people begging for the second book.

      I’m writing my next series… so maybe by the time those are finished, I’ll be able to get an agent. What happened with yours?

      1. I ended up tabling it for the moment and working on other projects. Since it’s already finished, it’s not like it’s going away. In the meantime, I’m trying to get short stories and novellas published so that someday I can try to sell it again in the future.

  5. I do wish you all the best. I have heard this is a common problem not only with self-published authors, but evn traditional authors.

    I would offer to buy your book for .99, but alas…romantic/erotic/ dramatic romance books are not really my thing.

    Now, write a book where said romantic fling actually turns out to be a Amazon Warrior Princess on a quest to find her invisible kingdom that has been banished into another plane of existance…I’m all in.

    Sorry…I have a thing for fantasy!

    1. Aaron, I’ve had quite a few male readers who’ve read it and enjoyed it… yet another reason why I don’t know what genre to put this in. Admittedly, I had women in mind when I wrote it. I just think those male readers must be super comfy in their skin. Or lonely. It’s one or the other.

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