This is a question I get asked quite a lot. Is it worth to invest in my book?
As usual, the infuriating answer to this will be: it depends. It depends both on your situation and your publishing history.
I’ll be answering this question for the situation that this is your first book, you have published it a while ago and it has been sitting in the seven figure “telephone number” ranking range on Amazon for about two years. Maybe you have been able to get a review or two, but you have not been able to sell great numbers of them. You have an inkling that maybe the book is not as good as it could be. You want to know whether it is worth investing money in that book to make it better and hopefully to get it to sell.
In the first place, let me say something. To get a dead book like that to sell is not impossible, but it is very hard. You have to know what you’re doing and understand why your first attempt didn’t work and how to change things to have a better go at it.
But more likely than that, it is your first novel ever. In the dark days of traditional publishing, there was a saying that first novels should stay in the bottom drawer.
Now, the moment I say this a vocal handful of people will go up in arms saying that so and so published their first book after typing “the end”, never showed it to anyone, never did any writing training, and it really well.
Well good for them.
However, if this is you—completed your first novel, gave it an edit and published it—there are a number of things that are solidly stacked against you.
Most importantly: storytelling is a craft. It needs to be learned.
Oh, but you will say, I am great at English and I always did really well at school and I write reports in my day job. I can write.
I repeat: Storytelling is a craft that needs to be learned.
Not writing. Story telling.
In fact, the writing can be severely mediocre, and even riddled with errors, as long as the story is engaging.
Second fact: Few people are natural storytellers.
So before you stare yourself blind at cosmetic issues, like the cover, like proofreading, like pretty writing, and whether or not it is a problem that English is not your first language, worry about learning to tell a good story.
And for this, you probably need to take a step back and ask some people for advice. These people cannot be your friends, or any people who have a vested interest in your happiness, because they will probably make you very unhappy.
Alternatively, enrol yourself in some courses about storytelling or buy some books about this, and learn about story structure and how to write engaging characters, and point of view.
Notice that I have not mentioned the individual book here.
When you start to invest in your fiction, you don’t start by investing in your product straight away. You start by investing in yourself.
It is best to set the book aside, and write another book with the things you are learning. Learn about story structure, learn about writing engaging characters, learn about point of view.
Yes, again, some people are born storytellers, but for the most of us, it is a craft that needs to be learned. In fact, I hazard a guess that the more you assume that you are a natural born storyteller, the less you actually are. The people who are runaway successes either have history of storytelling in other forms, or they luck into writing something engaging and are taken completely by surprise by their success (a significant percentage of the latter actually find it really hard to repeat that success with a second book or series). If you struggled for a while, that runaway success is obviously not going to happen to you, therefore you need to work for it.
So to come to the question: if you have published one book and it is not selling, is it worth getting it reedited, gutting the book and getting a new cover on it and re-launching it?
Is it worth spending $1000 or more on a book that is already not selling?
I would say it is not at this point. Write another book. Develop your storytelling craft. Then write a third book.
Then maybe go back to the first book, gut it and then do the work using all of the aspects of the craft you have learned.
Do not fall into the trap that great editing and a great cover alone can make your book sell. You can make your book sell by learning to tell a more engaging story that people want to read. An editor can’t (and won’t) do this for you. Don’t throw good money after bad.
The last chapter in my self publishing guide Mailing Lists Unboxed is called Patience Really Is A Virtue. Self-publishing writers have far too little of it. They want shortcuts to bestseller sales without having to do work. They want to pick up a violin and walk into a symphony orchestra.
Forget about the prodigies that people talk about all the time. Seriously, forget about them right now. Do the work. Fix the major problems with your storytelling and then write another book and another book and another one. And then maybe think about re-launching your first book. I can guarantee you will be embarrassed how bad a writer you were and how good you thought you were.
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