Saturday, November 19, 2011

Why Is My Book Not Selling?

Okay, not my book -- it's not posted for sale anywhere yet, so that's a fine reason for it not to sell. But I stumbled across this blog, Why Is My Book Not Selling, and spent a fascinating hour reading. I also added it to my RSS feed. It's such a terrific source of help for self-pubbed authors and I'd like to start commenting there. Partially to build up karma for when Ghosts gets there, but also just because it seems truly useful.

I did realize, though, while reading other people's blurbs that I'm a truly critical reader. If I do start commenting, I'm going to have to qualify everything I say with 'just my opinion' and 'personal taste.' Reading for a while made me want to go through my work and delete every adjective and adverb. I wonder what Ghosts would be like if all the adjectives were missing? I might have to try it and find out.


  1. I come back to straighten you out about covers and what monstrous thing do I see? You have a book filled with adjectives and adverbs! What are you thinking!

    You can safely delete nine out of ten and be a better writer—nay, a better person for it.

  2. Ha! It's a romance novel, not Hemingway.

    I've never understood the prejudice against such a useful part of speech. Example: I could spend three sentences with a character while he answers the phone, having him pacing around his desk, tapping a pencil against a pad, sighing and raising his eyebrows, and leave the reader to decipher whether he's nervous, anxious, stressed, suffering from ADHD, or what, or I could just have him answer the phone impatiently and get on with the important part of the story, which is whatever is happening on the phone call. Adverbs and adjectives can be efficient.

    That said, I do admit that you're looking at a first draft and the revised version has lost quite a few of them already. Maybe not nine out of ten but probably three out of four. (Can I admit that sheepishly or would that just make me evil?)

    It also starts with one of the top ten cliches of romance novels, ie having the main character look in a mirror. I did that on purpose to remind myself while I wrote that self-publishing means I can break any rules I feel like breaking. :)

  3. I didn't actually read any of the novel, I just saw the comment about it. Do you have in on your site?

  4. Oh, the blurb in the sidebar? Yeah, it's adjective heavy. But a blurb needs to be so short and adjectives are so efficient. I've also been told I shouldn't start with dialog and eh, I'm not sure I feel like listening to that rule. Maybe after it hasn't sold any copies for six months and every commenter on Why Is My Book Not Selling tells me to get rid of the dialog. :)

    If you still want to read it, despite the adjectives, the first draft is currently posted at or I'd be happy to email you a Kindle version or PDF. I haven't figured out how to post it for download yet. I think you have to have another site, not just blogspot, and there's no reason for me to get that ambitious until it's really ready to go. Or maybe until the second or third book is ready to go.

  5. I had a look at the first chapter. It's looks pretty good (not my cup of tea, of course, but you had a lot of good reviews). Sure, the prose could use some parsing, but it's better than ninety percent of what's up there now. I'd publish if I was you. But that blurb has to go...

  6. Skeptically, elaborate, highly competent, small -- right? Those are the only adjectives/adverbs. I could get rid of elaborate, I guess, but skeptical is important and yet not worth a description of a behavior within a blurb (IMO). I mostly want to make sure, immediately, (ooh, adverb), that the readers of paranormal realize that this isn't a typical vampire story. Highly competent changes the meaning of schizophrenic in a way that's not possible with a description of an action, right? I want to clearly establish that she knows that if she's crazy, she's still completely functional. She's not insecure. And sure, I could get rid of the small on central Florida town, but it establishes that this is going to be one of the quirky small-town romances, which is a definite subset of the romance genre. How does taking that out help the reader?

    Again, though, thanks for the suggestions! It's lovely (does that count as an adjective?) to have critical feedback. It's so hard to find. (I would have qualified hard with damn but I knew you'd disapprove of it as an extraneous adverb.) And yeah, I will throw a smiley in, just so you know I'm kidding about the disapproval. :) (Not kidding about the thanks, that's 100% sincere.)

  7. I finally realized the context of your comment here! I was responding from gmail, and thought we were on the cover post. Ignore previous comments. Yes, I did say that reading other people's blurbs made me want to delete adjectives!

  8. You were right about my cover. I changed the typeface and layout, and uploaded a new version today. So I’m going to return the favor (whether you like it or not).

    First, it’s not just the adjectives in the blurb, it’s the dialogue. You can open a novel with dialogue. (In fact, I’d open yours with the boy’s remark about her being beautiful. It’s something the girls love to hear, so it’s bound to hook your audience right way. Plus, opening with a fundamental truth about one character uttered by another, and that will be revealed over the course of the story, is always a good idea.)

    You’d be better with something like “Akira doesn’t believe in vampires, werewolves and ectoplasmic blobs, auras, telepathy or precognition. But she does believe in ghosts. She has to believe in ghosts because she’s seen them all her life.”

    Since the distinction between ghosts and the rest of the paranormal is narrated, it conveys the fact that she’s skeptical without leaving the reader guessing about the exchange between her and Shane. Look at it this way: just because your dialogue tag says she uttered those words “skeptically” doesn’t mean that she is actually skeptical about those things; maybe she just said them that way to Shane for some unknown reason (we always subconsciously qualify dialogue). When her skepticism is narrated, it’s a fact; when it’s tagged onto dialogue, it’s just the way she said it. So the dialogue weakens the blurb by introducing ambiguities, which is one reason dialogue doesn’t work in blurbs.

    Second, “highly competent schizophrenic” is not a good expression. For one, it sounds like amateur psychiatry, as if you paraphrased “high-functioning autistic.” Second, even if a character throws around “schizophrenic” in a self-deprecating way, it’s bound to alienate readers who know someone who suffers from the disease when you throw it around in a blurb (obviously, I’m not saying you intended to offend anyone, but it opens you up to it). You could say she entertained (or worried about) the possibility that she might suffer from mild schizophrenia.

    Third, never use parentheses anywhere in fiction. Inserting information into a sentence to make sense of it should always tell you that you have to reformulate.

    Fourth, “small Florida town” is okay, but is it essential at this point that it’s in “central” Florida? If so, maybe “south central” or “north central” is also important. You see what I mean? That’s one of the problems with adjectives.

    Fifth, “let down her walls” is a mixed metaphor. You “let your guard down” and you or someone else “break(s) down walls.” Sure, a lot of people will overlook it because people mix metaphors all the time. But you’re a writer now, so you’re bound by the Never Mix Metaphors Code.

    One last piece of sound but unsolicited practical advice? Others gave you good advice about avoiding dialogue in the blurb and avoiding adjectives. These are tried and true rules of good style. Now, those who told you might not have been able to explain why or you might not have been able to see the virtues of the rules yourself. I can understand the skepticism and if you’re only writing for yourself it doesn’t matter.

    But it’s the wrong way to look at it if you want to sell your writing. When it’s a commonplace rule of style repeated everywhere, always assume there’s some reason for it, even when you can’t figure out what it could possibly be (you don’t want to end up in the “Why is my book not selling?” queue where what I’ve told you will be repeated ten times). The bottom line is that you can’t go as badly wrong this way as the other. That’s why I changed the typeface on my book.

  9. Thanks for your thoughtful response! I appreciate your insight.