Friday, August 26, 2011

A Book's Success (or Failure) Depends On A Lot Of Variables

I have talked a lot here about variables in publishing. In many ways, you can think of seeing your book to the book shelves being very similar to a couple deciding they want to have a baby. I don't know if you have ever thought about this or not, but think of all the variables that had to be in place just for you to be here today reading this blog. The combinations of patterns that had to fall in alignment at the right time and place for your parents to even think about having a baby. Add in the factor of all that "genetic" mixing that had to be in alignment. When people say a baby is a "miracle" it truly is.

I bring this up today to not depress all of  you on before the weekend, but to address two groups of people there that might have forgotten this.

The first groups are those individuals who, when their book succeeds (or fails) will immediately place the reason for that end result on a single factor. While that factor might have had a hand in part of the success or failure, it was not the single factor.

For example, I have seen numerous workshops on query writing that have either authors, or testimonials of how "this query letter" got me published. Um, not! The query letter, while it was an important element in getting the writer noticed was not the only factor. Think about it. Would an editor really risk the time and money simply on a 3-4 paragraph query letter with only 1 paragraph devoted to the book? Probably not.

The same goes for those authors that see a book that just doesn't do as well as they had hoped and attempt to place the blame on a single factor. "You know that cover completely ruined the book." Again, this may have been an issue, but it could have also been a ton of other factors coming into play. Did the book come out at the wrong time? Did the book not get enough publicity? The list goes on and on.

The second group of people I want to address today are those out there that proclaim the single answer to success. These are the people who have written books or spend the time teaching workshops that claim "their solution" is the single and best way to get to succcess. Now don't get me wrong, I am not saying 100% of all presenters out there are bad. I am also not saying that 100% of all books written about the subject are bade. What I am referring to is the approach these people take of eliminating all of the gray areas. In other words, if you don't do it their way, you will fail. If you do it their way, you succeed.

While these ideas might be useful tips, and the advice may be very valuable, it is up to you to incorporate that learning into your own personal style. It is up to you to find what will work best for you.

As many of you know, my daughter rides horses. Although she has her own horse, her instructor has been having her ride other horses every now and then. The point of the lesson is simple. The things she does with her own horse will not always work on another horse. Sure the over-all techniques are similar, but how much leg and how much rein you give to your horse will be very different. Success or failure of riding that new horse depends on a lot of variables.

Now, the point of all this is simple. There are a lot of approaches out here in the publishing world. The approaches some take may work for you exactly as  you were taught. Some may cause utter failure if you do it exactly as you were taught. Your job is to find that right twist and turn to make that approach work for you. Do not simple take a single approach and look at it out of context. There is no right or wrong way out there. There are better ways and there are certainly things that are big "no-no's" but the approach will always be different.

As you take the time to work through your writing this weekend, think about what you are doing. Are you using a technique that someone told you "was a must" or "you should never do that", or, are  you thinking about what will work best in that situation?

Have a great weekend!



  1. I sold real estate for a number of years. During my first month all the old hands pulled me aside and gave me advise. "Take every moment of floor time you can get." "Don't waste your time on the floor, get out there and farm." "Don't waste your money on farming, join XYZ lead group." "Oh, I belonged to XYZ for awhile and didn't get a single lead. You need to get into this coaching system." "Forget coaching, just sign up for all the floor time you can."

    I listened to them all and observed their levels of success. I also compared how they ran their business to the kind of real estate agent I wanted to be. In the end, I shunned floor time and lead groups, hired a coach and farmed a neighborhood. It worked.

    Now rather than selling real estate to make a buck I'm writing to fulfill my life dream. I'm listening to all the old hands. Some advice I take and some I ignore. This success is a lot harder to create than rookie realtor@ of the year. So far, I haven't found an agent to deliver my baby, but I sure appreciate the wisdom you pass along to us.

  2. Very true. It's hard to disregard what sounds like gospel truth, but sometimes the rules get in the way, and must be discarded. Everyone has a unique voice, and must find the rules that best enable their style.
    And so ends harsh reality week on your blog ;)

  3. “The definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” — Albert Einstein

    Thanks for the reminder to explore all avenues, try new things and find what works best for you and your manuscript.

  4. Agreed.

    Jane, something that makes this industry so odd, in my opinion, is that the people who seem to be giving the *loudest* advice aren't the ones who have achieved the kind of durable success I'm looking for. The ones who really seem to be "selling it" are the ones who are trying to, perhaps, make a buck off of the advice, like the author of a how-to book or the writer of a blog. (Not all, of course, but enough to make me narrow my eyes a bit.)