Writing The Best Book You Can Write Just Isn't Good Enough

Last summer, I wrote a blog post called 'Why Am I Not Selling Any Books? (Because You Suck At Everything.)'. If you're a self-published author whose books aren't selling as well as you think they should, that might be a good link to click on.

But what if your book doesn't suck? What if you're doing a great job getting it in front of the eyes of potential readers? You've written the best goddamn book you can write. Why the hell aren't any of these people buying it?

The easy answer: If I build the best house I can build, it's still going to be a pile of shit.

This is probably an overly generous representation of my house-building ability.

This is probably an overly generous representation of my house-building ability.

But for the purposes of this post, we're going to assume that you're a decent writer who's written a fantastic book. 

And yet you still wake up every morning, check your book sales, and resign yourself to the fact that you once again have to get out of bed and go to your shitty job.

I'd been following that same routine for the better part of four years, but I finally managed to crawl out of that hole. My books are now my family's sole source of income, and we're not fighting buzzards for roadkill.

“We play our cards right, kids, and we get the bird and the rat.”

We play our cards right, kids, and we get the bird and the rat.

So what's the difference between you, hypothetical struggling writer, and me?

Am I a just a better writer than you? Probably not. I've got a knack for dialogue, but my prose can be pretty amateurish at times. You can probably write circles around me. 

Is it luck? Absolutely not. With few exceptions, my climb to moderate success has been one of hard work, studying my promotion options, and cold calculation. 

Here are a couple of questions I'd like you to ask yourself.

1. Are your books the best in their genre?

"Holy shit!" you may have initially reacted. "That seems like a tall order. Do I really need to be the best in my genre to sell books?" 

Absolutely. Like it or not, this is a competitive game we're all in, and there are a shit-ton of players.

But take a deep breath and relax. I'm not necessarily talking about conventionally defined genres. First you need to determine, as specifically as you can, what your genre is.

For example, I write Fantasy. Take a look on Amazon's Top 100 Bestselling Fantasy Books list, and guess what you won't see. 

If you guessed "Bear porn", you might find you are inexplicably mistaken.

If you guessed "Any of Robert Bevan's books", you are correct.

Straight up Fantasy is too wide a genre for me to compete in. So let's get more specific.

I write Comic Fantasy. As sadly neglected a genre as it is, I'm still competing with a bunch of more established names. Terry Pratchett, Tom Holt, Piers Anthony, etc...

Let's skip a few steps and get down to how I personally define the genre I write in.

Vulgar, Profanity-laden, Tabletop RPG-based Comic Portal Fantasy.

You can probably see a potential problem with this. If you label your genre specifically enough, any story can be the best of its genre.

"I've written the best book in the world about serial killers named Carl whose weapon of choice is a mop."

“Now... If only I had something with which to clean up the blood.”

Now... If only I had something with which to clean up the blood.

That is indeed a problem. Being too specific negates the point of being the best at anything. You need to be the best at something there's actually a demand for... whether the demanders are aware that they demand it or not.

Does Vulgar, Profanity-laden, Tabletop RPG-based Comic Portal Fantasy have a demand? You bet your sweet ass it does, though I can say with near 100% certainty that no one has ever typed that exact phrase into a search engine.

Needless to say, Amazon doesn't have a Top 100 Bestsellers list for my particular sub-genre. But if they did, I'd be owning that motherfucker. 

Remove the "Vulgar, Profanity-laden, and Comic" from the equation, and you're left with "Tabletop RPG-based Portal Fantasy", which has a bit of precedent. 

Joel Rosenberg wrote a popular series called Guardians of the Flame back in the 80s. I've never read it, but I hear the bare-bones premise is similar to the one which catalyzes the events of my books. And who can forget the old Dungeons & Dragons cartoon, also a product of the 80s?

The main differences between those stories (and those of the aforementioned more established comic fantasy authors) and mine are gratuitous swearing and dick jokes.

Is there really a demand for this kind of filth? Of course there is. I know this, because I know my audience. This leads me to my second question...

2. Do you know who your audience is?

"Do you like sci-fi? Then you'll love "My Shitty Book."

I see this sort of thing a lot when I'm spamming my shit on Twitter. I don't actually know whether or not their books are shitty. And I never will, because their pitch didn't make me even the slightest bit curious about them. Those people either don't have a specific target audience in mind, or they're just doing a piss poor job of trying to reach them.

If I have a hankering for some sci-fi, there are more books written by established authors in the genre than I could ever hope to read in a lifetime. The same is true for most genres. What have you got to offer me specifically?

All right. Now I’m listening.

All right. Now Im listening.

Stephanie Meyer didn't sell a gazillion Twilight books because of her stellar prose. Whether she knew it or not, she succeeded because she was writing for a specific, yet plentiful audience. Dull, unattractive girls who think clumsiness is a suitable alternative to having a personality, and that it takes an immortal glittery monster to recognize that.

Donald Trump didn't make it this far as a presidential candidate because of his qualifications as a statesman. This is a man who truly knows his specific and plentiful audience. White trash.

Who's your audience?

Mine is composed of two groups.

Gamers. 

When you're sitting around at a table with your friends role-playing a wizard or a barbarian, the question eventually arises. How would you all, as yourselves, fare in such a fantasy world? What would you be like? If my books are any indication, you'd be the same dumb assholes you are now, only you'd probably piss yourselves a lot more frequently.

Former Gamers.

These were my real targets. Guys who spent entire summers in their parents' basements, sucking down Dr. Peppers around a rickety card table, letting their imaginations loose playing Dungeons & Dragons. The margins of their character sheets were filled with scribbles of bonuses and statistics that had grown way too complicated to keep track of. The insides of their lungs were orange with Cheetos dust. Those were the days.

Now, twenty or thirty years later, they're married, working dead-end jobs, raising two screaming infants, always feeling like they're two episodes of Doc McStuffins away from fellating the business end of a shotgun, drinking themselves to sleep every night until the cycle starts all over again, or until their fat hearts mercifully stop beating.

Are you feeling it, guys. Do you remember?

“Yes! Yes, goddammit! I remember!”

Yes! Yes, goddammit! I remember!

It's okay, buddy. I'm going to take you back there. We're going to roll some dice. Everything's going to be okay. All you have to do is click here.

And that's how I sell books.


Think you might be part of my audience? Here's one last link to my books.

Need a shoulder to cry on? Come find me on Facebook.