Why writing “better books” will not lead to more sales

I hear this from authors and clients all the time:

That author is making tons of money, with terrible books. My book is way better, so I should be able to make at least that much.

There are several things wrong with that logic, but the one that irks me the most is this:

It’s condescending to the readers.

You’re basically saying, readers only liked that book because they are dumb, or they didn’t have anything better to choose from. They couldn’t have really liked that book, because it sucks. Yours is better so they will like it even more.

There’s a fallacy in assuming better written books are better books. I don’t think that’s true. I think readers have the right to decide what they like, and they vote for what they like by purchasing. Starting out by making another book that you hope will please the same readers, but making it different, because you assume that those readers simply don’t know any better, is belittling.

It’s kind of like going up to a kid who likes strawberry pop tarts and saying,

I made you this artisanal, all natural, gluten free, hand-crafted strawberry concoction. It’s sugar free but tastes better and is healthier. You’re going to love it!

It also leads to bitter resentment later, when (surprise!) those readers who keep buying those shitty books, don’t like your new book which is different from the books they like. You think they just don’t get it, or have poor tastes, or that appreciation for quality literature is dead and education is the problem.

Nobody owes you a living. You don’t get to choose what readers like. Nor do you get to teach them to like something else. What you do get to do, is understand what they like and write a fucking awesome book that they love. You can only do that if you actually know what they like and why they like it – not by projecting what you think they would like if they were smarter people.



  • Paul Edwin Holl, Esq. Posted

    Derek. Thanks for raising this issue. It is a bewildering one for many authors. For someone to say You must write a great story to be successful is completely subjective. Every writer realizes that there will be some people who won’t like his or her writing. The most important thing is how well the story has been edited and not the story itself. It is common knowledge among business people that just about anything can be sold with the right marketing. It is the marketing aspect that is frustrating me. Thanks for highlighting the point. Paul.

    • Derek Murphy Posted

      Thanks for commenting – actually I think the story matters more than the writing. The tricky thing is, marketing won’t sell books anymore, readers choose what’s successful. At least, marketing a book readers don’t like won’t work. But if the book is good enough, the right marketing can make a big difference.

  • John (Books That Change Life) Posted

    There is so much at play when you’re talking about what makes any product popular. Anything from quality to the environment in which it is released. But yes, it is really important not to get bitter and see your potential audience as stupid!

  • David Cooper Posted

    You have to remember that some of the worst drama on television in the form of soap operas gets a huge audience. People are surprisingly tolerant of shit. What matters is that you provide something that grabs them emotionally, and if that means using the same old tricks over and over again, then that may be what you need to do to become popular. More intelligent people have higher standards and require better quality programmes and books to satisfy them, but most people are fault-blind and never tire of the same old bilge coming round again and again. The most popular writers are good at feeding those people, and the danger if you aim too high is that you will get fewer readers as your work will go right over their head, although it is sometimes possible to appeal to both groups at the same time. I had a friend who went to see the film E.T. in the cinema over twenty times, and yet the story is dismally poor – it contains an idea which is highly attractive, and it is highly regarded because of that alone. You could make a film a hundred times better with the same beautiful idea at its heart and most people would tell you it is inferior. Quality is not king.

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