How to Manage Expectations for Underperforming Books

Have you ever heard of the Zune? Haven’t you? I cannot blame you. A precursor of Xbox, the Zune is a portable media player by Microsoft that was discontinued a few years ago. Let me try another question. Have you heard of a book called The Chemist which came out in 2016? What if I were to tell you that this is the most recent book by Stephenie Meyer, the author of the famous Twilight series?

When a new author is signed on by a publisher, he/she dreams of book launches, winning literary prizes, hundreds of fan letters and of course, sales in lakhs. However, one of the biggest disappointments an author has to face is when a book fails to take off. As we can notice from the two examples above, even the best and the biggest of products can fail. In the end, while a certain number of things can be controlled, the success of a book will depend on the response that the readers will give.

So what should you do if your book has failed to sell? Can you lose heart from your underperforming book? Or should you, instead, manage expectations and do better the next time around? Here’s what you can do: Take inspiration from Microsoft and use failure as an opportunity to learn from the unnoticed pitfalls of your book. Let’s break it down into a five-point checklist that you should refer to if you are a new author or an old author with a new idea:

  1. Concentrate on Your Genre and Content:

While it is true that certain books become bestsellers on release, the reality is that such books are few and far between. India is a market which is more skewed towards commercial writing such as mythological fiction, romance; and also business books, biographies and motivational books. For instance, a post-modernist crime novel in spite of its brilliance will have a limited catchment area. It is simply wrong to compare the sales of such a book to commercial successes which are easy and snack-able reads.

Concentrate on writing well and ensure a level of consistency with your writing. The response of a book from a few genuine readers is important in determining how the book is perceived by a larger subset. Thus, be open to feedback from your editors, readers and improve continuously. Let this be how you manage expectations.

  1. Question the Timing:

It is important to evaluate when your book will be published rather than at any point of time. If a new author is launched at the same date as a worldwide bestselling author, it will be difficult for the new author to be a priority for readers and booksellers. This is when you need to manage expectations for lesser to no disappointment later.

If you face such a scenario, try to avoid a clash in dates or shift your book a fortnight after the bestseller release. Plan for the release of your book in advance. Avoid clashes with bestseller releases or any other events that will dominate the mind space of your potential readers.

  1. Ramp up Your Marketing and PR Strategy:

Efficient marketing and PR is what gives a book good visibility which eventually leads to sales. Many authors feel that marketing and PR is an easy activity which they can undertake solely on their own with minimal efforts. Unless an author has some understanding of PR and marketing, they should not undertake it as a half-baked effort. Have a sound strategy in place before jumping into advertising. The best way to go about something like this is to take the help of professionals. This helps you manage expectations better.

For example, some authors feel by creating a Facebook page, a twitter account, and Instagram profile, their social media handle will automatically attract visitors. However, one must constantly remember that these social media platforms are paid platforms that and consistent work.

Similarly, a PR professional will be able to help an author reach readers who might be more inclined to pick a book like theirs. To illustrate, page 3 media need not cover the launch of a book on technology. However, it is important that it finds mentions in business papers and tech blogs.

  1. Evaluate Professional Help:

If you are planning to invest in an agency this time around, ask about the budget, timelines, scalability and expertise. Thus, do try to find marketers or agencies which can help you engage with your readers in the long-run and constantly build upon that.

Don’t be fooled by the idea of a viral campaign. Yes, it is possible to make campaigns viral with deep pockets. But this doesn’t mean that the book will automatically sell well.

  1. Analyze Better to Manage Expectations Better:

Always remember that marketing and PR is a range and not a definitive number. Journalists and readers sitting at the other end may or may not respond to the book the way you would like them to.

While you may want an ad to give you 90% sale conversion, the truth is only a fraction of people who see your marketing efforts will actually end up buying the book no matter how good (2-5% is the average benchmark for many social media ads). Read up, know your numbers and be realistic about book sales.

If you think that the response to a particular book isn’t good, analyse first. Then decide whether you would like to put in more money or scale back. In the end, slow and steady like the fabled tortoise might help you win the race than a viral sprint.

If you are an author, share about you and your book(s) in Author’s corner and do take a look at our unique community approach to Book Marketing.


Shobhita Narayan
Shobhita Narayan currently handles online and content marketing at Glitstreet, fashion e-commerce start-up and is completing her business degree. She has previously worked with Hachette India for four years as a Publicist and has handled major brands in publishing such as Playing It my Way by Sachin Tendulkar, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, The Girl in the Spider’s Web by David Lagercrantz amongst others.

Leave a Reply