There are countless writers who have a novel out that hasn't sold. At each of my events, I get lots of questions about this. I've noticed that the questions these authors ask me can be summarized as follows: "I've written and published a novel, but I haven't gotten any traction with it. Advice?"
If you are one of those writers whose book hasn't found an audience, read on. If you are not, you should probably skip this post as you will find it boring.
Before I write this post, I want to stress that I don't have the one true vision. I don't think my knowledge about writing is especially significant. I have no pretensions about being a great writer. And, at 355,000 books (both paper books and ebooks) in circulation, I'm nowhere near as successful as the big names in the business. But I've learned enough about writing entertainment fiction that many authors at an earlier point on the career arc ask me questions. I am making a good living telling stories, so perhaps my perspective is useful. In light of all the questions I get, I realize that I would have liked this kind of information when I was new at this business. So I'm going to write this as if I'm talking to the former me, when I was beginning to write my Tahoe mysteries 20 years ago. Even so, the hubris of giving advice makes me uncomfortable. It may well be that you shouldn't pay any attention to what I think...
Okay, here goes the first of an eight-part series.
If your novel hasn't sold, you can do one of three things.
One, you can decide that you don't care because who needs an audience, anyway? You did it for the satisfaction of seeing if you could do it. If so, congrats, you've succeeded at achieving your goal. (That may sound like I'm being sarcastic, but I'm actually speaking earnestly. Writing a novel is a big achievement in and of itself, and you can sleep with a smile on your face just knowing you completed something significant, something that only the tiniest percentage of people ever accomplish.)
Two, you can decide that you didn't win the author lottery, and that life isn't fair, and that you're not charismatic or beautiful or young enough to be TV talk show material, and you can blame your publisher and/or your agent and/or reviewers who can't recognize genius when it calls out from the page. (Okay, there's some sarcastic snark.)
Three (back to earnestness), you can change the situation and start over, either redoing your current book or starting a new one that fits the recommendations I'll outline in this series. (But please note that if you do all of the following, it won't guarantee your success. However, it will go a very long way in the right direction. After that, your success will get down to how hard you try, how badly you want it. If, instead, you think you are the exception who doesn't need to heed all of the following, then I will submit that whichever of the steps in this series that you didn't do is a part of the reason you haven't found the audience you seek.)
Here's the first step in re-shaping your novel and its presentation to the world with the goal of finding readers.
A) Get multiple critiques of your book from other writers in your genre, writers who are not your friends or relatives. Then consider carefully all of their comments as you rewrite. You might say, "Yeah, but I really know this genre because I read voraciously, and, besides, I asked my best buddy, who has a Masters in English, to be my beta reader, and he told me the honest truth about what he thought."
First, you might be a voracious and super intelligent reader, but that won't help you solve the problems in your novel. And your Best Bud Beta Readers won't tell you the truth. Worse, they'll bring an agenda - pro or con or something else - to their critique. Simply knowing you renders them incapable of telling you what they really think. Join a critique group/writer's group made up of people you don't know and trade critique. "I'll critique yours if you critique mine." Then do it multiple times. If you can't find a critique group in your town, join an online one.
You might say, "I got it critiqued once, and it was good, and I'm sure that is enough to make my book sufficiently better." I believe that one critique is not enough. (My books certainly need more than one critique.) As with the following points, if your book isn't selling, maybe that alone is indication that you didn't get enough critique.
Nothing about this business works unless you have a good novel, a gripping story, a flawed sympathetic hero, a rising plot curve that can't be ignored, fascinating side characters, impeccable prose mechanics, and all the other aspects of a good book. Multiple critiques are the way to get there.
Stay tuned for Part Two...