When Is a Book a Success?


My first two novels, Found in Translation and Lost in Dreams, both came out in 2011. They were Barbour Publishing’s first venture into Young Adult literature, and I’m sure the  advance I received for each of them reflected their confidence in my books’ success.

Although I didn’t have a contract for a third book, I was already 30,000 words into writing one when Barbour informed me that they were doing away with their young adult line. Consequently my books would be going out-of-print and they had no need for the third book.

What had happened? 5,000 copies of the 10,000 print copies of Found in Translation had sold, and 2,500 of the 5,000 print copies of Lost in Dreams. Not enough, apparently.

Although I hadn’t gotten much feedback from teens, what I’d received was encouraging. An upper teen I met in a restaurant said, “You wrote Found in Translation? Wow! I loved it!” Even better, however, was an email from one young lady who said she’d been inspired to start reading her Bible and going to church again.

A number of adults loved those two books as well. Even just a year-and-a-half ago, my surgeon’s nurse emailed me, asking if I was the author of the Altered Hearts books. A reading group she was in had just read them, and she wanted to know when would the next book would be coming out. I hated to tell her it wouldn’t be.

The Devil and Pastor Gus came out in 2015. Although its fifty-four Amazon reviews have a 4.1 star average, Pastor Gus hasn’t sold large numbers.

I revised Rosa No-Name, which has always been my wife’s favorite, paid for editing and a professional cover, and self-published it. Despite its fourteen Amazon reviews and 4.9 star average, it’s not a best seller, either.

I finished writing the third Altered Hearts book, Overshadowed, uncertain what to do with it. But then Barbour gave me the rights to the first two books, and small publisher Winged Publications was happy to release all three. (We changed the name of Lost in Dreams to A Season of Pebbles.) Winged Publications has also published three of my quirky romantic novels. We’re struggling to boost sales.

Going from a big-name publisher like Barbour and reaching so many readers initially and then going to a small publisher and a questionable sales record might make the average person say, “You’re not a very successful author, are you?”

Sometimes I’m tempted to think that way, too. I never hoped to become a New York Times bestselling author, but I’ve never given up the hope of being “successful.”

After all, God gave me whatever writing ability I have, and He’s inspired all of those novels. I don’t mean to say He dictated them to me, but He’s certainly helped me to write each book to the best of my ability, always striving to do better than the one before.

I consider Him my most critical reader…and my biggest fan. If I’m pleasing Him with my writing, what greater success could I ask for?

Still, I do want my books to sell. Not because I care about making money from them–I would like for my publisher to earn something, though–but because I believe they have something important to say and they say it in an entertaining way. That’s why I like to sign books, “May this both bless and entertain you.”

I’m learning. Too slowly at times, it seems. The success of a book–one of mine, anyhow–won’t be determined by the numbers sold, but by the souls touched. And I will probably never know the extent to which a book has done that until I arrive in Heaven.

Please feel free to leave a comment.

I’ll be back again next Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger

          

Links you might be interested in:

 

Advertisements

On Judging a Book by its Cover

There’s something to be said for the old cliche, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” It would be impossible to determine or even just  guess how many excellent books have the least appealing covers or how many of the absolutely worst books have covers that not only gain a potential purchaser’s second look, but are largely responsible for their ultimate purchase.

I suspect we’ve all avoided at least one excellent book and settled for one of the worst instead. Not that we’re apt to admit it, of course.

The longer I’m in my post-retirement career as a novelist, the more I’ve come to appreciate how important the cover is. And I’ve changed a lot in how I evaluate a cover.

I admit it. I want to see some kind of resemblance between the cover and what the book is about. But it doesn’t always work that way.

I was allowed to give input for my three traditionally published novels, and I had very specific ideas. What I didn’t realize at the time is that publishers have various sources they check for stock photos and use a model only as a last reserve. Undoubtedly a more expensive move for them.

My wife and I really liked the covers Barbour Publishing came up with for Found in Translation and Lost in Dreams. The Kim Hartlinger depicted on the first book is appropriately shown with a suitcase.  But Kim in the book was petite and looked almost Latina. Not so on the cover. It was still a good cover, though. One readers could connect with it, and that was the important thing.

Barbour very intelligently used the same girl on the cover of Lost in Dreams.  That in and of itself was appealing, and it helped to tie those two books together. Kim’s wistful look was perfect for a story that started out extremely seriously.

Although the way LPC depicted Gus on the original cover of The Devil and Pastor Gus was whimsical and clever–I can just hear Gus thinking, “Is this plan to defeat the Devil going to work?”–the cartoon-ish depiction of a stereotypical devil on the upper right not only didn’t fit the book’s depiction of B.L.ZeBubb, we know of people who were afraid to buy the book because of the cover. Not good.

LPC realized the need to try again, and the new cover is immensely more satisfactory. Although I’m not sure exactly what this night-time view of the church represents, it’s intriguing without being scary,  and I’m satisfied. I think the addition of those two lines of text at the top helps.

For Rosa No-Name, the prequel to Found in Translation, a novel I’m independently publishing, I knew I would need a professional cover. Not something I could do myself. So I got in touch with graphic artist Ken Raney, who’s done a number of excellent book covers, including some of his wife’s (popular women’s lit novelist Deb Raney).

My wife and I sent him a list of very specific suggestions. Although Ken couldn’t fit those ideas to any stock photos he could find, he sent us four or five photos to consider. We fell in love with two of them. Picking the right one was tough.

But since Rosa No-Name is a fictitious memoir about Rosa from age sixteen to twenty-nine, we thought the more mature Rosa would be the better choice. She looks like she’s actually thinking about her past, and we love that.

Everyone we’ve talked to loves Ken’s cover . We hope it will make people take a second look and hopefully read the description. And then buy it if it appeals to them. We want them to judge Rosa No-Name–initially at least–by its cover.

How do you feel about book covers? Do they make a difference in your buying…or at least in your considering buying? How about leaving a comment?

By the way, please note the form below you can use to sign up for my quarterly newsletters. I’d love to have you as a subscriber.

Subscribe to Roger’s quarterly newsletter:


Links you might be interested in:

I’ll be back again on Sunday. If you’d like to receive my posts by email, go to “Follow Blog via Email” at the upper right.

Best regards,
Roger