Why Do Good Books Fail?

1 March, 2012


This morning, my twitter account featured a couple of posts from a well-known book publicist who bemoaned the fact that publicists are always blamed when a book doesn’t take off.  She’s not alone.  Editors and agents are also frequently fingered. Indeed, sometimes the entire publishing team that fought for the book is castigated.  The publicist on twitter raises an interesting point.  Could it be, she asked, that perhaps the book didn’t succeed because it isn’t a good book?

Now, that’s a bit harsh, but there’s a glimmer of truth.  It takes a village to publish a book, but at the end of the day, more books fail than succeed.   They may fail for myriad reasons:  1) maybe the publicist is right and it wasn’t the greatest book ever written. 2) maybe it was a good book but for whatever reason, it didn’t seize the public’s attention even if we all think it should have. 3) maybe the big (and sometimes known as “bad” Barnes & Noble chose to skip it as they do with so many titles by unknown authors, and it wasn’t well represented in bookstores around the country.  Readers get impatient when they can’t easily find a book. 4) maybe the publisher was well-intentioned but the publicist’s pitch didn’t take hold or wasn’t the right pitch (it’s always easier to make this determination after the fact. 5) perhaps Amazon bought it conservatively and ran out of stock just at the moment that a publicity break occurred. 6)  maybe everyone really was asleep at the wheel and the publisher ran out of marketing money.

Blaming the publicist, the agent, the editor, the publisher is a little like blaming your spouse 100% for your divorce.  It takes two to tango, and then there’s luck, good and bad.  The bottom line is that playing the blame game is not constructive, poisons relationships (never burn your bridges–this business is small), and stands in the way of a constructive analysis of what could happen differently in the future.  A smart author understands that there are many factors that contribute to success, not least of which is the inherent value of the literary property and the author’s own efforts.  So if your book doesn’t meet your expectations of success, it might make more sense to ask your “team” what they think, try to correct the situation if that’s possible, and to move on to the next project, applying lessons learned.

–Joelle Delbourgo