Why not give up if your books aren’t selling?

Liking a book–or not–is subjective.  It may be something as simple as the setting is a place where a reader may have broken up with an old girlfriend. Your reader picks up your book and the first five pages remind him of heartbreak. That is not a judgment on your book.

Your book description may have conveyed the impression this was a light-hearted “cozy” featuring cats and an amateur detective. Instead your book is really noir, dark in tone, and not something your reader is in the mood for. Again, not a judgment on your book.

Your reader may read only a few books a year and faces your book with many competing agendas for his time. Just because you read dozens of books a year and are in the habit of reading, too many others aren’t. They’re TV watchers, or gardeners, or like to hang out with the family in their leisure time.

Another book may have taken precedence. All this publicity over Harper Lee’s new book may have compelled your reader to take another look at To Kill a Mockingbird. Or a popular summer beach read.

Your first five pages may have started slow. There’s no zing there to keep the reader turning pages and to drag them away from the TV.

A speaker, at one of the first writer’s conferences I went to, said when you’d written a million words you’d be published. I’d written about 5000 at that point so you can imagine how those words resonated. Now when writers no longer have to struggle past the bottleneck of agent and publisher to publication, these words may no longer to true in one sense.  You can publish your second draft, without the advice of an editor, critique group, or proofreaders. Your mother loves it. That’s good enough.

The reason readers may not like your book is that you may not be at the top of your game yet, sad to say. Your next story, or your next novella or full-length piece of crime fiction may be the one that grabs notice.

Sometimes it’s perplexing to look at two books side by side and wonder why one succeeds and another doesn’t.  It’s all subjective (when you hit all the high points that are currently popular in your genre.)

The important thing is to honor your own voice, to keep going when the shadows creep in and darken your optimism.  Keep going when the most published author in your critique group, the one with the most insistent loud voice, tells you to make your heroine a hero, rewrite the ending, or just give up on this story. Don’t do it. Persevere.

If you have completed a manuscript that has a beginning, middle, and end, with a plot that makes sense, characters that are alive and engaged with each other, and a colorful setting—whatever else is wrong with it can be improved.

starsIf your spirits are sagging, along with the middle of your story, don’t give up. Take an online writing course, find a critique partner, trust a friend who loves reading your genre. If you’re ready to listen and learn–and take helpful criticism to heart–there are techniques you can learn to improve your writing.

Did anybody sit down and draw like Michelangelo after a few tries? Play like the master cellist Pablo Casals? Till his death at 96, Casals practiced every day “because I feel as though I’m making improvements.”

You get better at it the more you write. No one else brings to your manuscript the same life experiences that color the characters, setting, and plot that you are writing. Your story is important.


I know a little about writing mysteries and the craft of telling stories. You might check out my eBook series on “Writing Your First Mystery.”


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