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.


Leave a Comment

Presidential Quotes

Today is President’s Day in the U.S. Originally established in 1885 as a recognition of George Washington’s birthday (February 22nd), it was later expanded to include Abraham Lincoln and all other U.S. presidents. Some of the words of these leaders have stood the test of time. For example from Abraham …

Read More

Easily Entertained

Recently my husband, daughter, and I had dinner with my parents at King’s Barbeque in Petersburg, Virginia. My paternal grandfather discovered this restaurant in the 1950s and it is still one of our family’s favorite places. Since it was near Christmas, they displayed a unique decoration – a pig wearing …

Read More

Remove the Barriers in Fiction

Few things empower fiction better than well developed characters. Which is why you don’t want to create unintentional barriers between your characters and your readers. What barriers, you ask? Well, here’s one that affects POV characters: John knew he was about to learn something important. Do you see it? The …

Read More

The Isolated Writer

In general, writers do not do their best work in a group. The very nature of creative writing is a solitary pursuit, but without taking great care, can morph into a feeling of isolation. And this can occur whether an author lives in a quiet rural town or in midtown …

Read More

What is Your Attention Span?

I came across the study that claims the average person now has a shorter attention span than that of a goldfish. Eight seconds. This means most people tend to lose concentration in less than ten seconds. As an experiment, I read the above paragraph out loud. It took about 10 …

Read More

Contrived is a Four-Letter Word

Few things irritate fiction readers more than a story peopled by characters who act and react without any apparent reason for what they’re doing and saying. No reason, that is, except to illustrate the author’s message. Or prove the author’s point. Well, you say, don’t we all have a message …

Read More