Author Dan Balow

Is Your Writing Controlled by Fate?

I was going to title this blog post something along the lines of “Calvinist vs. Arminian Authors,” or “Predestination vs. Free Will in Publishing,” but these titles inferred an entirely different angle than I intended.

Every author believes their book, if published and promoted enough has the potential to sell well.

No author writes a book feeling deeply it will sell 349 copies. Someone messed up to yield this result.

On the other hand, publishers will look at a proposal and based on their experience with similar books, will determine a range of sales they believe the book will attain and apply an appropriate level of effort and money to support the “predestined” range.

When publishers look through their filtered looking glasses, they see book proposals this way:

More people buy books affecting the heart than the head. Fewer people buy and read deeply intellectual explorations of human behavior than romance novels.

More people buy daily devotional books than Bible commentaries.

More people buy books to help them grow spiritually rather than witness to and disciple others.

More people buy books to help feel better about themselves than worse about themselves, even if feeling worse will lead them to feeling better long term. (Personally, I’d rather have a vanilla shake than cough medicine)

People buy emotional more than rational and intellectual arguments for anything.

People would rather buy a book which promises something positive and relatively simple to grasp and easy to accomplish. Pure illumination only goes so far.

In addition, regarding marketing of books, here is what I have found:

Marketing alone is not the causal factor for good or poor book sales.

Well-executed marketing is highly effective for a book, which is already selling well. Rarely will good marketing transform a book not selling well into a bestseller.

No one knows for sure how a book will sell, but marketing people know the most effective marketing accelerates a process already underway, like shoving a rock downhill faster. Pushing rocks uphill never pays off. Even rocks on flat ground will not continue to roll when the pushing stops.

The media will always find the time to interview an author whose book is selling well.

Almost every mega-selling series debut or standalone title of the last several decades was a complete surprise to the publisher. Sure, they planned on selling 100,000 copies, which was pretty good, but five million? Never.

For every title, which unexpectedly sold five million, there are multiple books expected to sell a large amount, but despite a solid marketing plan sold a fraction of the budgeted number, resulting in substantial financial losses for the publisher.

A primary concept behind all book marketing is to get a book to a place where its reputation takes over and creates its own long-term sales momentum through word of mouth and other organic “free” marketing.

So, are book sales predestined or influenced by good marketing?


It’s both. Just like human behavior and personality is a mix of heredity and environment, nature and nurture. Some books have built-in limits and no matter how hard they are promoted and pushed, once they reach some level of sales, they slow down or stop selling altogether.

Publishing is still highly subjective and relatively immune to making it purely a scientific pursuit. So, go ahead and write what you want, but at some point come to realize what you write has some limits, sometimes dictated by the marketplace which is highly competitive with many authors vying for the same reader as you.

More often than not, there is nothing much you can do about it.


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