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.


20 Responses to Is Your Writing Controlled by Fate?

  1. Jon Guenther February 21, 2017 at 6:33 am #

    Great insight as usual, Dan. Thanks!

  2. Henry Styron February 21, 2017 at 7:09 am #

    Thanks much, Dan. Some very good and thought-provoking material. I suppose most authors have “best seller” dreams; after all, we’re passionate about the books we’ve written and we’d like to think everyone else will be, too. It’s probably better to think more realistically.

  3. Glenda February 21, 2017 at 7:32 am #

    All the more reason for a writer to give their best every time. “Humility+Obedience=Success”. Thank you, for this candid post.

  4. Lois Y Easley February 21, 2017 at 8:00 am #

    This disturbs me. Maybe because it is all too true that even biblically-informed, Christ-transformed readers may not buy the highest quality content over lower quality. (I like sugar better than broccoli too!) But, I feel called by the Lord to make excellent art and need to trust that call more than catering to buyers’ appetites, no?

  5. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser February 21, 2017 at 8:32 am #

    So true, that people want books as mirrors showing what they could be.

  6. Richard New February 21, 2017 at 8:41 am #

    Even though this post came across as truthful, it left me feeling sad. Guess that’s because it’s dealing with humanity.

  7. Carol Ashby February 21, 2017 at 8:47 am #

    I like the realism you bring to the author’s world view, Dan. I’ve worked down the publisher’s checklist, and here’s my conclusion. My book that explores greed and spiritual hunger interwoven with a beautiful romance, feeds the believer’s faith while inspiring them to share with others, is emotionally intense while intellectually intriguing, and has a happy ending that is both earthly and eternal should be a winner in the publishing marathon.

    Well, maybe not a winner, but a respectable contender. I can be happy with that. Sales of 1K seem more likely than 100K since no professional marketer is going to be working it. Unless, of course, God decides otherwise.

    • Henry Styron February 21, 2017 at 9:14 am #


      (Don’t forget to include a puppy dog on the cover. Pets sell.)

      • Carol Ashby February 21, 2017 at 9:25 am #

        No puppy dog, but there’s a lamb with a broken leg in the first (now out) and a magnificent stallion in the second (out in April) where ambition replaces greed. Neither animal is on the cover. Too late to fix that now!

    • Lois Y Easley February 21, 2017 at 10:27 am #

      Sounds like a great read!

  8. Dan Balow February 21, 2017 at 8:48 am #

    When I wrote this post, I was thinking how encouraging this could be for someone who feels the weight of the world to succeed in publishing.

    My perspective is when you walk into a room with the lights on and eyes open, you won’t stumble over anything and hurt yourself.

    Knowing how things really work is encouraging! At least, this was my hope.

    Didn’t mean to discourage anyone today.

    • Henry Styron February 21, 2017 at 9:11 am #

      Thanks, Dan, and don’t worry about it. We writers and creative types do on occasion nourish unrealistic dreams and expectations. Truth, even “discouraging” truth, is a help to us, especially when so kindly and graciously presented as you’ve done.

      I wouldn’t call it discouragement. More like education. If I’m writing a scholarly tome on the influences of the Ugaritic language on the book of Job, I probably ought to recognize that it’s not likely to outsell J.K. Rowling. Maybe Tim LaHaye, but not J.K. Rowling.

      Keep giving us the truth, and thanks for taking the time to do it. God bless.

    • rochellino February 21, 2017 at 9:36 am #

      Dan, excellent post. I don’t find this post negative or discouraging.

      Illuminating, challenging, motivating and maybe even thrilling could be descriptive words I would apply.

      If something was easy for everybody and anyone who wanted could easily succeed at it who would value it. For example, can’t we all say our ABC’s, anyone impressed?

  9. Susy flory February 21, 2017 at 9:17 am #

    I felt encouraged that we need to write the best book we can, give it the best start and push we can, and trust God with the rest. So much is out of our hands. I always tell people “the stars have to align” for a book to be a bestseller. It’s so rare, yet it happens!!

  10. Melissa Henderson February 21, 2017 at 9:58 am #

    I don’t want to be the kind of writer that is writing just to try to make money. I want to share God’s love in my stories. I pray that His message will shine in all my stories. 🙂

  11. Jeanne Takenaka February 21, 2017 at 10:21 am #

    Dan, I appreciate your post. It’s such a reminder to me that we have our role with our books—to write the best book we can before putting it out there. Publishers have their roles—marketing, among many other things. And God has His role—He knows who the books need to reach. He knows the lessons He desires to teach each writer in the process, and He knows the reasons for why things go the way they do.

    So much of this process is our of the writer’s hands, especially once they hand the book in (or work through the process of self-publishing their work). We need to remember to do our best to God’s glory but then trust Him with what He wants to do next. Not meant to sound like a platitude. This is just what I’m learning in the process.

  12. Sheri Dean Parmelee February 21, 2017 at 11:02 am #

    Dan, thanks so much for giving us a little glimpse of the marketing behind the publishing industry. As someone trying to break into the field of writing, I appreciate your explanations so much!

  13. M K Simonds February 21, 2017 at 12:29 pm #

    At least we can wade in with eyes wide open. We know what we’re up against. Thank you!

  14. Joseph March 18, 2017 at 11:18 am #

    That’s a great article !

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get New Posts by Email

Get New Posts by Email

Each article is packed with helpful info and encouragement for writers. You can unsubscribe at any time with one click. 

You have Successfully Subscribed!