There’s so much helpful advice out there on book publishing that it seems almost impossible NOT to do well if you want to publish a book today. So I wanted to give some advice to all you people out there who are tired of so much success to help raise your chances of abject failure. Here it is, in no particular order. I hope you take it to heart!
1. Decide what you’re going to do based on nothing but your own whims.
You like your Grandma’s watercolors, so they’d make an excellent thriller cover. Or maybe do it in crayon. You don’t see any errors in your writing, so put it out there as it is. What you really want to write is a romance with a sad ending and a mystery where no one finds out who did it. Write it! Publish it! You’re well on your way to not selling 1000 books a day.
2. Take advice from people who don’t know what they’re talking about.
When someone gives you advice, determine its value based upon how good it makes you feel. Whatever you do, don’t go and check out how well they’re actually selling. If someone makes tens of thousands of dollars giving workshops every year but has all his books ranking in the six digits and above, take his assurances that he knows what works completely at face value. Covers. Blurbs. Genre. Quantity. Quality. Editing. You name it, the person to listen to if you don’t want to sell any books is the person who’s not selling any books. Their advice can be pretty much assured to steer you to the level of failure where you want to go.
3. Sign your rights over to someone who can’t (or won’t) sell your books.
This is like a shortcut for not selling books—give up your rights to someone else who sucks at it, too. That way, they can provide you with everything from bad positioning and covers to blurbs without you lifting a finger!
You might even get a nice four-figure advance from a publishing house through a slightly larger failure of an agent and/or publisher. Who cares if your print run is lucky to be 10k? It’s Random House! Take that validation. You can definitely eat that.
Super bonus: Give your rights to someone you pay to publish your book. That’s like an extra fast-track to failure.
4. Believe that you can fail upwards.
Buy into the idea that every sale is progress in an inevitable climb to the top. That way, you don’t have to recognize and reassess your own failures. You don’t have to repackage, replan, relaunch, or eventually rethink your hopes of being a full-time writer. You can continue to live in delusion and not have to face reality until you’re too broke to continue. Even better, you can pay people to lie to you and tell you you’re doing the right thing. That’s an even faster path to financial ruin.
5. Write short stories.
Everyone loves short stories.
6. Write standalones.
Everyone loves standalones.
7. Avoid genres.
You should absolutely brand yourself as a literary writer. Avoiding genres or even common themes isn’t a way simply to avoid knowing what you’re writing or who you’re writing it for. It’s a way to fail utterly at finding anyone who’ll like your books. If you have a grasp of your audience and what they might expect out of your book, you’re not being original enough. You need to be as utterly unpredictable as possible. If you set up any expectation in your book, it’s your job not to meet it and to veer in another direction. That’s the very best way to alienate your readers.
Even better: Call it literary when even you really don’t even know what the story is.
8. Write badly.
Some people who write crap fail at not selling, but writing poorly will definitely help you on your goal of no one wanting to buy your books. Things like grammar, plot, structure–use your clumsiness with all of those to turn off your potential audience. Readers will definitely be less inclined to buy anything from you if it’s terrible.
9. Don’t outline or revise to your storyline after it’s revealed through pantsing.
Be lazy and claim that it’s “Heinlein’s rules.” Just write whatever barfs out of your brain. Never go back and make sure it makes sense. Never drop in stronger clues for the mystery. Never make sure you tie up loose ends. Never make sure that the middle doesn’t sag. All of these things will make readers like your story better, and we can’t have that, can we?
10. Don’t hire an editor.
Don’t edit yourself, as mentioned above, and certainly don’t hire an editor. You’ve caught all the errors that matter on your one read-through. Editors are expensive. If you hire one, you might actually have to sell books to afford the expense, and since our goal is failure, you can’t plan on that. Besides, error-free writing is more appealing to most readers.
11. Don’t give away copies.
If anyone is going to have a copy of any of your books, they’d better buy it. Don’t have an advance review team. Don’t give copies to bloggers or other reviewers. And certainly never, ever set the first book in a series free. Real writers don’t need loss-leaders, and besides, if you accidentally wrote well for a clear genre, you might accidentally find some fans.
12. Don’t price according to the market.
You know how much effort you put into your book! (Okay, well, if you followed the rules above the answer is really “not much,” but who’s counting?) You should price all your work as high as new books by best-selling authors with a huge, ravenous fan base. That will help you not sell books at all. You should also avoid pricing ladders because they really help sell books. And you should never change strategies.
You can even do a tricky thing and manage to sell a lot of books and still not make a living by pricing everything super-low, below $2.99, without an intelligent strategy behind it. Getting half the royalties on a lower price point for no particularly intelligent reason behind it is a sure-fire method for failure.
13. Don’t run sales intelligently.
Never run any sales at all or drop your prices for any reason. If you do, make sure to drop them only slightly and only for a brief period of time. And if you drop them slightly, make sure to not publicize the drop because people might know about it.
If you want to take the back-door approach of actually moving copies and still not making a living, you should make sure you run $.99 sales on absolutely everything–free days are even better!–to train your readers to never buy your stuff at full price. That way, you can be on the front pages of your subgenre and still have to take a day job. Selling but still failing is a fine art, but some people manage to do it!
14. Don’t use social media intelligently.
We all know that social media can connect us with readers, so you shouldn’t use it well. If you’re on Twitter, make sure you’re just blasting out ads for your books constantly. If you’re on Facebook, post about how miserable your life is and how angry everyone makes you all the time, and never be funny about it. Or don’t use social media at all.
15. Don’t have a mailing list.
Mailing lists are the best way to let dedicated readers know about your next books. We don’t want readers finding out about your books, so you definitely shouldn’t have one of these, and if you do have one, you shouldn’t ask readers to sign up for it in your books. That might look unprofessional, and looking professional is more important than selling enough to buy food, right?
16. Don’t buy ads.
If you buy ads and don’t see a return on your investment in places that other people typically succeed, congratulations! You’re well on your way to failure already because you’ve managed to incorporate a good number of pieces of my advice above!
But if you are foolishly doing some things well and recklessly running sales, you should absolutely not buy any ads for them that might get you new readers. You should never, ever spend money intelligently on your books for more exposure because you might actually be able to quit that day job.
17. Don’t release frequently.
If you release often, readers might not forget you. Make sure that they do by releasing as infrequently as you possibly can. If you release a lot, spread your releases around in terms of genre and series. Never cluster them. That’s a great way to lose readers, and you should make sure to do it.
18. Don’t meet reader expectations.
I’ve mentioned this a bit above, but if you foolishly decide to write in an actual genre, make sure that you do things in it guaranteed to leave readers unsatisfied. Don’t solve the murders in your mysteries, and put a sad ending on your romances. Pissing off readers really helps ensure they won’t be back for more.
19. Don’t change your strategy for each retailer.
If it works for Amazon, it should work for Kobo. If you change your strategy and learn the platforms deeply, you’ll end up selling books outside of the one platform you’ve figured out, and you wouldn’t want that.
20. Don’t have a cover that clearly communicates your genre.
Confuse your readers so that they scan straight past your book.
21. Don’t hire out work.
Do absolutely everything yourself even though you’re not a graphic designer or an editor. Domain expertise makes books more appealing, and we want to avoid that.
22. Don’t have a short, compelling blurb.
Either confuse readers or summarize the whole story so that they feel like they’ve read the book before they even pick it up. Bonus: include spoilers.
23. Don’t write cliffhangers.
Don’t write cliffhangers at the end of chapters to keep people turning pages, and definitely don’t put them at the end of your books.
24. Treat your book like it’s precious.
Treat it like it’s special and gets to break any rule you please. Concentrate on that one book and write no others. Be extremely defensive about it and resist changing things when your approach doesn’t work.
It’s still possible to sell well even if you follow four or five of the strategies above (and I confess to having used a few of them, myself), so you need to make sure you employ as many as possible to make sure you don’t find success. Good luck with your failure!