Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Insecure Writers Support Group : Why SOME Published Novels Fail to Sell (according to Donald Maas) : Romantic Friday Writers New Challenge :: LETTERS

Hello everyone! Finally, I'm posting again. The madness that is April is over for the A-Zers, and now it is back to the 'normal' business of blogging, for some of us, anyway.

I survived the house move in early April, but my writing time suffered, naturally. I'm back teaching. [Speaking of which, I've created another blog, Free English Resources where I post on many topics -- literature, grammar, punctuation, book reviews, analysis, current Australian curriculum streams... It's open to all. I don't have many followers--that's not the point--but I have heaps of page views, so I'm hopeful I'm putting something back into the educational community.] You're welcome to visit and use the resources if you're interested. I'm also back blogging and setting challenges for RomanticFridayWriters with Donna Hole, who's also been on blog hiatus too, writing up a storm.

Today, for IWSG, my post is about the topic - Why do some published books not sell?

I started thinking about this when reading an article by Donald Maas in the Writers Digest. He's a favourite how-to writer of mine.

We've all seen it in blogland -- at times rather vicious comments when an author's book fails to sell. The blame is often laid firmly at the feet of the book-industry, where some publisher failed to promote the author. Other things to blame -- terrible cover (I had a better idea, but they forced this one on me), horrible blurb (I didn't really write that badly, did I?), the timing was right off (how could they release my book called A Crocodile Ate My Lunch on the same day that a crocodile ate a tourist?)...come on, the list is LONG.

There are many vagaries in the publishing industry and unpublished authors try to learn all they can before that magical day when they sign a contract (or in the case of self-pubbed, they hit Publish on Amazon or wherever).

Some books are published on the evidence of several best sellers by the author. I've just abandoned A Casual Vacancy a little over halfway through. I like to read books with bad reviews just to get my own take on them, but I feel like I wasted several late nights which would have been better spent reading a 'good' book. (I don't usually say negative things about books, but Rowling's sales won't be impacted one whit by my opinion). J K Rowling didn't have to worry about whether her book would sell or not--her huge audience would buy it anyway, even though I couldn't find one likeable character out of the dozens of characters she bombarded the reader with in the first few chapters. I hated the foul language, I didn't care for the plot at all and could care less how it turned out (I hear a lot of the characters die, but do I care? Nuh.) I love books about village life by writers such as Rosamund Pilcher and Sybil Marshall, but this one I feel was written for its shock value. Of course, you may have read it and LOVED it, so ignore me.

My point is, there are lots of reasons a book sells or doesn't sell, but it is universally agreed (and Maas makes this point) that 'Great novels not only draw us in immediately but command our attention. They not only hold our interest but hold us rapt.'

Let's get to and write a novel like that. If we don't we have only ourselves to blame if it fails to sell.

I'll list some of the culprits Maas declares may be responsible for a published book failing to sell:
  1. Timid Voice - this DOES NOT command attention.
  2. Untested Characters - Make sure your characters show spine, take courage, have high principles or face their deepest fears.
  3. Overly Interior or Exterior Stories - Be the god of your story world. Interior stories need dramatic outward events. Dramatic outward events need to create a devastating interior impact.
I'll finish with another quote from Donald Maas: 'Runaway success comes from great fiction, period. The publishing industry may help or hinder but cannot stop a powerful story from being powerful.'

But really...there's no failure per se, there are only disappointing sales...

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Now, if you want to flex your story writing muscles this May, RomanticFridayWriters has a challenge for you. 

LETTERS will be the central theme of our May challenge. You can use letters any way you like. 

'Letters are among the most significant memorial a person can leave behind them.' van Goethe.

Multi-generic writing is popular ATM, probably always has been. Multi-generic writing includes embedding other text types within your prose/poetry. Within prose you could add letter/s to/from lovers, letters could form the bulk of your story. You could add other text forms  -- dea th certificate, diary entries, appointment calendars, a found as creative as you want!  Your entry will be a free-flowing story interspersed with whispers from the lives of the lovers. A poetic entry could be interspersed with the same type of texts -- let your imagination have free rein.


*One of the lovers may have gone away - to work, to war, has left the relationship, wants time out...
* Someone has been left at home - fretting, upset, determined to save the relationship, determined to have revenge
* Perhaps one of the lovers wants a holiday by themselves, (not unusual these days), and the one left at home is furious, feels unloved, or relieved to have some time out too

These are scenarios that just pop into my head. Your entry may use all/none of these suggestions. It is your story, your way, your era...just let's go back to a romantic element in whatever form we write for this challenge.

You can sign up now, or you can wait until you've written your story. Entries to be posted on Friday 24 May - Sunday 26th May. 

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  1. One of my favorite authors wrote a book I couldn't finish. That was a surprise, but a good edit might have saved it. Sometimes the ego precedes the work and it's a shame.

    Interesting challenge for May, looking forward to it! Welcome back by the way, glad the move went so well!

    1. Thanks Yolanda. It's good to begin to feel settled again. D

  2. I have to agree that a powerful story has a life of its own.
    And yay to things going back to normal!

    Lynda R Young
    IWSG co-host

  3. Horses for courses. One man's meat another's poison! IMHO, she would have done better to go out on her HP broom stick and leave past grudges against one-time fellow villagers in the past! But, new found riches and goddess status can go to the head and revenge was probably less sweeter than imagined. Sadly class will out... (Yeah yeah bitch comment). BTW I did't waste my money: I read the Amazon excerpt, plus prior knowledge of what it was about I saw VENGEANCE in red letters rather than title as viewed. ;)

  4. Lately my interpretation of a "good story" differs from the popular. Someone is always on the outside though :)

    A good post worthy of deep thought.


  5. Timid voice - check! Will try to avoid that one.

  6. I didn't post personally in April either. Too much chaos!

    I have JK's book on my shelf. I'm very curious about it. I haven't read Harry Potter, so I guess I will delve in untainted! :-)

  7. Break the rules. Tell a story that breaks your heart as you write it, and others will read. I think JR just poured out the bile in her heart from years of dealing with unpleasant people in her Harry days. Have a great May!

  8. Maas is such an excellent teacher. I have his breakout novel book. Tons of great insight!

  9. All great advice, Denise. Thanks for sharing. And so happy to see you back online. I, for one am a constant visitor at your other site.

    I have Maas Breakout Novel on my sheves too. Well...haven't really utilised it much!


    1. Nas I'm pleased that you visit my resource blog. I have a lot of pageviews and it is working well for my students.

  10. Thank you for sharing those three points. What a great reminder. Simply Sarah

  11. I was fortunate enough to take a class with Donald Maass about two years ago. Such a brilliant teacher. He's so fluent in stories and what makes them work that he's able to break it down as if it were the most obvious thing to anyone sitting in the room. So much harder to actually do, though, when you're writing that story page by page.

  12. Hi, Denise,
    Lots of things to think about from your post. This one, in particular, stuck with me. Isn't that just the way writing characters should work even if we don't consciously think about it?

    Interior stories need dramatic outward events. Dramatic outward events need to create a devastating interior impact.

  13. Very interesting post for today. It's hard to say what will sell and what won't. A very thoughtful post on the matter. I will consider the romance letter for this month. I don't have anything yet but I will give it some consideration.

  14. This is a great post Denise and the crunch of it is we have no one to blame for our book's performance but ourselves. Maas is right, if it's a great book it will sell. Of course with a lack of marketing it may take a lot longer for the book to become spoken about it, but it will happen. And let's face it, we don't write every novel hoping to change the world, sometimes we just want to produce something fun or a pass-timer. You're spot on hinting that success is perception.

    Wasn't even tempted with Casual Vacancy and you read enough fiction for me to trust your opinion.

    Now onward with planning a letter-based romance (Grover and Oscar brought to you by the letter Q?). Looking forward to our next writing session.

    1. Yeah, you just make sure it's funny honey! D

  15. 'the timing was right off (how could they release my book called A Crocodile Ate My Lunch on the same day that a crocodile ate a tourist?'

    Okay, I hope this wasn't in bad taste, but this gave me the early-morning smirkies. Heheh.

    I like the three 'culprits' you chose to list, Denise. Concise and right on target.

    Have a great day, girlie.

  16. Interesting post! A book's popularity or lack of it can be a confusing thing.

    I see Donald Maass cited by writers all over the place. I really must get around to reading one of his books.

  17. Oh, Denise, I wish we lived closer. Actually, for your sake it's probably best. We have our house on the market and I'm driving myself crazy trying to keep up with everything else. Some would say I'm not that far away, but honestly, it's so stressful. Course, you know that already!

    As for low sales, I think timid is a huge factor. I know so many gifted writers who are afraid to promote themselves. Sad.

    Thanks for visiting my blog!

    1. Yes, Joylene, we know about stress and timidity, don't we? D

  18. I like your point on Overly Interior or Exterior Stories. My editor worked with me on this and it really makes the story reach out and grab the reader by the lapels.

  19. This is a really great post with great points.

  20. Looking at it this way actually gives me a lot of relief. My philosophy (which I have to remind myself of from time to time...and which I think may have come from this Maas fellow, though not directly in my case) is that all I can do is get my books out there, scatter the seeds as far as my time and ability allows, and hope a few land on fertile ground. And I don't want people reading my sotries because of some fantabulous marketing plan, anyhow. I want them to read it because someone they know loves it and recommended it.

    What you say about Casual Vacancy is exactly how I'm pretty sure I would feel if I'd actually crack the thing open. I got it as a gift but have heard enough to know I'm probably better off leaving that binding intact.

  21. HI, Denise.

    This was a very informative post and thanks also for you new blogsite ... I am SURE you will really help lots of people!

    LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the NEW prompt... signed up. I CAN FINALLY WRITE another segment of my Film Noir Novella... YAY! The "Kiss off" letter will be PERFECT! SUCH fun.... I can't wait to write it.

    I am SOOOO happy A-Z is over and I can get back to my editing and writing. I have another five days in Florida then I am GOING HOME. It's time.

    Congrats again on your lovely new place.... I can't wait to see pics... I miss YOU and DONNA so much. It will be good to get back to my comfort zone again.

  22. I liked your candid review of The Casual Vacancy, Denise! Want to return to mine? (You'd avoided it before for fear of spoilers :-))

  23. Loved your distillation of Donald Maas's advice here Denise. I've been thinking too much about this stuff lately!

    I had no idea you were a fellow RWA gal until your last comment on my blog (months ago, won't be surprised if you've forgotten!). I've never been to conference and really want to go if not this year then next. Putting faces and voices to names would be wonderful.



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