6 Reasons My Debut Novel Failed to Make Money
Mistakes to avoid when publishing your first novel
Selling thousands of books is usually the goal when you decide to publish your book. Online, you can find many informative pieces on what you should do if you want to hit the bestseller list and make a bucket load of money. Few pieces, however, go into depth on what not to do.
On the 2nd of August 2016, I hit the publish button on Amazon, making Winning at Love available for purchase worldwide. With more than 20,000 followers spread over different platforms, I believed I was headed for, if not fame, at least fortune. So certain was I that my book would find traction and sell thousands of copies that I didn’t even waste my time on marketing.
If you think this is another story highlighting the need for book promotion, rest assured, I have more important lessons to impart. My absurd belief that I didn’t need to launch a marketing campaign to sell my book and top the sales charts was a huge misstep. I realize now that this faulty thinking stemmed from insecurity and fear rather than arrogance and confidence. But this article is about six other mistakes.
To this day, I have never been honest with anyone other than my mother and business partner as to how poorly my book performed in the fifteen months it was live on the platform. Nor have I shared the exact amount I made on Amazon — a whopping $54USD.
My Diploma in Writing and Editing, my years building a readership, and the years I spent writing the book and editing it meant nothing because of the things I didn’t do.
These six mistakes were what caused my debut novel to fail.
1. I didn’t ask for help
Not only did I fail to market my book, launch any marketing campaign or create any kind of email list with my 20k following, but initially, I didn’t tell anyone I had published my novel. I wanted to prove I could succeed on yet another platform without calling in favors. I was wrong. You can’t launch a bestseller without telling people about your book. You just can’t. If no one knows your book exists, no one can purchase it. I didn’t do that. I didn’t tell my 20,000 followers I published my book.
Ask for help. Tell your friends, tell your parents, tell your regular audience you’ve published something. Announce it to the world and let others support you.
2. I knew my book could be better but I published it anyway
If you’re about to compete for a share of the book market, you need to believe your book is the best product you can deliver. Of course, this doesn’t mean you believe it’s better than what everyone else is selling, but you know you’ve put in the work to make it as perfect as you can. One of the reasons I wasn’t ready to shout about my book from the rooftops was that it was good but could have been better.
If you’re squirming at the idea of promoting your book because you know there are things you can do to improve it, listen to yourself. Hold off on publishing until you’re confident you have the polished product your readers deserve.
3. I was running away from something, not towards something
For me, publishing was my way of ensuring I didn’t have to go back to a traditional 9–5 job. Before I had my first child, I had a string of jobs that sucked real bad. Rediscovering my love of writing in a world that had mostly embraced self-publishing meant I could potentially guarantee I never had to work for someone else again.
This absolute obsession with killing it with my first novel stressed me out so much that when I didn’t get the initial result I was aiming for, I crashed so hard I didn’t recover. When desperation and fear are your biggest motivators, you don’t see things as clearly, and you don’t make great decisions.
4. I believed my success hinged on the performance of my first book
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again, right?
I wish I’d listened to this advice. Who was to say, really, that my first book failed? I say it failed because the results did not meet my expectations. I removed the book from the platform because I was embarrassed it wasn’t performing well to my arbitrary standards, when people were, in fact, buying it, reading it, and rating it highly.
Of course, I would have liked to have sold a thousand copies overnight, but I could have marketed my novel at any point. Publishing another book and promoting it would have also helped sales.
It is never too late to turn things around. It’s never too late to market your book. The best strategy is keep publishing, continue marketing yourself, and believe people will eventually find your work.
5. I forgot resilience matters
After writing online for many years, I had received my fair share of criticism, both the constructive kind and the kind designed to tear me apart. With experience workshopping with some critical minds, I knew how to deal with nasty comments and scathing reviews.
However, I didn’t know how to transition from being a big fish in a little pond to being a no-one. Resilience is something I talk about with my sons, but back in 2016, I forgot to practice what I preach.
Instead of picking myself up and dusting myself off, I spat my pacifier in the dirt and bawled like a baby, believing my biggest fears had come true and I was headed for a desk job. I fell apart instead of settling in for a fight.
Now I talk about that time with my children, using it as an example of what not to do. I tell them that things don’t always go your way, but that’s a sign to dig in and get better at what you do, not a sign to quit.
6. Sometimes, the only way from here is up
I used to be envious of people who knocked it out of the park with their first book. While most debut novels go unnoticed until they are followed up with commercial successes, there are a small few who make a name for themselves and enjoy a healthy bank balance from the start of their publishing journey. What I have noticed, however, is that readers have such high expectations of the follow-ups from these successful debut novelists that their second book inevitably falls flat or fails to meet expectations.
I didn’t make a name for myself when I published back in 2016, but I now see that as a positive. Unlike those novelists who pen a bestselling debut destined to fall short on their sophomore novel, no one expects anything from me, and I don’t have to worry about letting down my audience.
It’s taken me nearly five years to find the courage to start publishing again, and while the book I published in March this year has easily out-performed my debut novel, there’s still room for improvement. Building a significant stream of income from publishing fiction takes time and willingness to grow as an author and business person. You must learn from your mistakes, or learn from somebody else’s. Like mine.
Now, here I stand on the precipice of publishing a spate of novels over the coming years. This time I’m going to market the hell out of them. This time, I’m going to ask people for help. I’m going to run towards my goal instead of fearing the worst. I now know this is the beginning of my journey, not the sum of it.
As for resilience: have I learned how to bounce back from failure? Only time will tell, but pressing the publish button on my next book is a darn good start.