Why You Can’t Expect Success From Publishing A Book

Expect Success

How do you know if your book is going to sell? You don’t.

One fail-safe rule of publishing books is that no one knows if a book will succeed or fail.

Publishing has always been a gamble, and major publishers have never found a way of knowing if they are onto a winner or not.

The only firm fact is that most books fail.

Publishing is a risk

Publishers offset the risks in traditional publishing by spreading the risk, or gamble, across a portfolio of titles and hoping for a few successes.

In an article by Digital Book World regarding reader analytics and data, there is a paragraph that encapsulates how high-risk book publishing really is.

Unfortunately, this article is no longer available, so I have removed the link.

The fundamental function of a publisher is to make a decision on what to publish (curation). Like a venture capitalist, a publisher has to select among many competing and worthy prospects to select those that have the highest probability of delivering an economic return.

Few books earn back their advances, and a publisher’s success and survival rely on a few outsized winners. This is as true for venture capitalists as it is for book publishers, record label executives, indie filmmakers, and Hollywood moguls.

It is well-known that Harry Potter was rejected many times before finding a publisher, and that Fifty Shades of Grey found its initial success through blogging and social media and not through a publisher.

Fifty Shades of Grey, in fact, created a new business model for traditional publishing by which it waits for self-publishing titles to succeed and then seeks to contract the authors.

In a way, this is letting social media and the Internet do the hard work of sorting through the slush pile.


There is no formula for success

By whatever means, though, no one has found a formula that ensures that a book will succeed.

For self-publishers, the chances of any particular book succeeding are very slim.

However, like traditional publishing, the chances of success increase by the number of titles published.

Relying on one book for success is a long-shot, but the odds get better if an author has published ten titles.

But, even if these ten books fail, self-publishers have a distinct advantage.

They have the ability to modify, improve, or change these books, by editing and re-writing, changing the covers and the titles, and then rebranding them as new books.

It is even possible to change the author’s name.

Using a pen name or names is a very useful means of writing in different genres and trying to find new readers.

From a marketing perspective, by using pen names, it can give an author the opportunity to have a range of products, which are suited to different market niches.

Just as major publishers spread the risk by publishing a lot of titles, self-publishers have the same possibility, admittedly, on a smaller scale.

However, the same principle applies. The more books you publish, the better your chances are of success.


Related reading: The Four Essential Elements You Need To Sell Books On Amazon

Derek Haines

A Cambridge CELTA English teacher and author with a passion for writing and all forms of publishing. My days are spent teaching English and writing, as well as testing and taming new technology.

2 thoughts on “Why You Can’t Expect Success From Publishing A Book

  • December 15, 2017 at 9:31 am

    Useful article Derek. My friend’s book will be self published under a pen name. What is your opinion on whether the pen name should be used on forums, blogs and platforms, or his real name? For example, signing up to Goodreads Author Program. He is reticent about using photographs for author bios. I am doing some support work on his behalf and would be grateful for your guidance on this.

    Kind regards

    Anita Dow

    • December 15, 2017 at 11:01 am

      Hi Anita. I would suggest using a pen name consistently on social media, a website and blog as it would be logical to build an author brand. Being shy about a profile image causes a concern though, as it wouldn’t help create a personal connection with readers.


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