Friday, June 12, 2015

My Book's Not Selling...Why?

In 1982 Thomas Peters and Robert Waters wrote what was known at that time as a key piece of literature in the business world - IN SEARCH OF EXCELLENCE. Peters and Waters identified "eight common themes which they argued were responsible for the success of the chosen corporations, which have become pointers for managers ever since." This text was initially built around a report they did known as the McKinsey 7S Model. That model, focused in on 7 common things they found in all businesses that were successful and continued to be successful.
  1. structure
  2. strategy
  3. systems
  4. style of management
  5. skills - corporate strengths
  6. staff
  7. shared values
Peters and Waters noted that all of these elements had to work together to be successful. Companies were not "making it" or "failing" simply because of one thing. It was the interaction of all of the elements together. If one area was weak, the other areas would "pick up the slack" and cover that weak area until things got better.

When I completed my first Masters Degree in Literacy from Pacific Lutheran University (Go Lutes!) I focused my student on the links between student learning and literacy. Using the Peters and Waters model, I found that student success only happened when 4 individual elements were in alignment.
  1. teacher
  2. student
  3. curriculum
  4. environment

I too found the principles that were working in business were working in the classroom.

So why do I bring this up on a publishing blog? Because these same issues deal with why your book is either being successful or not doing well.

I follow a lot of chats and discussions around the Internet and a common theme I hear from authors is sales. People don't tend to go on and on about great sales (yes we get the NY Times Lists and so forth), but positive sales don't make the discussion boards. What does hit is when the sales of an author declines or "tanks". At that point, the discussion boards explode with all these reasons and explanations why the book is not doing well.

What I find is interesting, in all of these discussions, is the fact that the reasons for that lack of success are always facing outward. "It was the publisher's fault." "The cover design sucked." "The bookstores didn't put my book in the right place." I could go on and on.

Do you notice the one thing that is not showing up here? It is the author as a factor. At no point has the author looked at maybe it was something he or she did that could be the factor. Maybe the story wasn't that good. Maybe the plot and story idea is out of date. Maybe the platform the author selected, especially in terms of self-publishing, was not effective.

One author I noted on one of the chats made a statement that stood out and really exemplified the idea. The author noted, "My sales were terrible this last quarter. You know, I haven't changed the topic or how I write so I don't get it." Ahhhh, that was a key element the author needed to listen to. The author did not make a change. What might have been working in the past, might not be working now.

Now please don't get me wrong. In no way am I saying that the author is 100% to blame. But we cannot say that the other elements of the model are 100% to blame either. Everything has to work in alignment. I should also note, the readers and the consumers are also part of this model and they tend to shift focus at the drop of a hat.

Think about historical romances. Some time periods are just not selling well right now, while others are doing amazingly well. If you are writing in one of those genres that is not doing well right now, guess what? Your sales will be low.

Remember the Peters and Waters model? They noted that one of the other elements would fill in the gaps and make some modifications to get the entire model back on line. Authors are actually the best at doing this when it comes to the publishing model. Slight tweaks of how they do things might be all it takes to get sales back on line. One author at Greyhaus who does write historicals recently made that shift. Known for writing in the mid 1830's just shifted her latest 4 book contract back about 10-15 years. Same stories, same settings, just a slight difference in time. Why? The market was more favorable to that time. Easy fix!

On one final note, what we have to also understand is that the model for sales is not a fixed model. Everyone is constantly tweaking and adjusting to get those sales up. Publishers are trying new things to see if that will get sales heading in a different direction. They keep trying. They might not be able to adjust the other elements of the model (for example they cannot make new bookstores show up in North America), but they can try other things.

The point is, if your sales are down, look at EVERYTHING. But, when you do look, consider also that maybe the reason that last book didn't sell, or you weren't offered a new contract, it might be due to a lack of change on your part.

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