Notes from An Alien

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Why Trying to Write a Bestseller Is Bad for Your Mental Hygiene

If you persistently scan the writing blogs and the publishing news, you’ll find an overabundance of articles telling you how to write and market a book so it will become a bestseller.

Writing A Bestseller

Image Courtesy of Michael & Christa Richert ~

Nearly all those articles are bunk

They’re either written by deluded folk or by people trying to scam you for your money.

I hear a few readers saying, “Alex, how in the world can you write such generalizations?”.

Well, partly from my own experience and partly from the experience of other rational people.

Let me share a few quotes from my past post, What About All The Authors Whose Books Don’t Sell Very Many Copies?:

“An extremely small percentage of writers sell more than 500 copies of a book…”

And, this one from a New York Times Bestselling author—nominated for the Hugo, Nebula, Prometheus, and John W. Campbell Award for Best New Science Fiction Author:

“…in business school there’s this point made that if you interview rich people who have won the lottery, you might come to believe that playing the lottery is the only way to become rich. I thought that was interesting. One of the things I’m constantly trying to point out is that we’re not doing nearly enough to highlight both median and failure modes, because that’s where the real lessons lie.”

Then, a quote from a linked article, Survivorship Bias:

“If failures becomes invisible, then naturally you will pay more attention to successes. Not only do you fail to recognize that what is missing might have held important information, you fail to recognize that there is missing information at all.

“You must remind yourself that when you start to pick apart winners and losers, successes and failures, the living and dead, that by paying attention to one side of that equation you are always neglecting the other.”

If you are pinning your hopes on writing a bestseller, I heartily suggest you go to that past post of mine and read it and all the linked material

Also, I feel that beginning the process of writing a book with the dream of it becoming a bestseller is going to make the writer, consciously or subconsciously, write in an imitative fashion—trying to write to the folks who like bestsellers—killing any true originality and honest creativity

Certainly, there are methods and practices that will help you make sure a book sells as many copies as the market will bear.

And, it has been argued that the never-closed nature of e-book stores (and, the fact that a book will stay on the shelves as long as the e-retailer stays on the “Net) can, eventually, help a book sell more copies.

Bottom-line, unless you’re some hot-property sports or movie or business person with a Traditional Publishing house’s money behind you, you need to write a book that expresses your deepest creativity and let the sales-chips fall where they may

I knew my book, Notes from An Alien, was non-genre and non-niche, so I self-published it and give it away—I want readers, period.

Finally, to round-out this argument, I’ll share some excerpts from Ursula K. Le Guin‘s article, Up the Amazon with the BS Machine:

“Best Seller lists have been around for quite a while. Best Seller lists are generated by obscure processes, which I consider (perhaps wrongly) to consist largely of smoke, mirrors, hokum, and the profit motive. How truly the lists of Best Sellers reflect popularity is questionable.”

“If you want to sell cheap and fast, as Amazon does, you have to sell big. Books written to be best sellers can be written fast, sold cheap, dumped fast: the perfect commodity for growth capitalism.

“The readability of many best sellers is much like the edibility of junk food. Agribusiness and the food packagers sell us sweetened fat to live on, so we come to think that’s what food is. Amazon uses the BS Machine to sell us sweetened fat to live on, so we begin to think that’s what literature is.

“I believe that reading only packaged microwavable fiction ruins the taste, destabilizes the moral blood pressure, and makes the mind obese. Fortunately, I also know that many human beings have an innate resistance to baloney and a taste for quality rooted deeper than even marketing can reach.”

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