Writing a Book vs. Desiring to Sell Copies

Best Seller Books

With the explosion of indie publishing and self-publishing, there’s a conundrum that was avoided through traditional publishing because there were gate keepers. Now, indie published or self-published authors need to ask themselves the tough questions hopefully before writing, and certainly before releasing.

You have a story to tell and you can’t bear not to tell it. It’s burning inside of you and you’ve always considered yourself a pretty good writer, so why not?!

Well, what some people feel compelled to write many more people do not feel compelled to read. If you don’t want to be encumbered by any “rules” or “gatekeepers” who annoyingly want you to conform to practices that have proven successful for other books and authors, then fine. But, be aware. Be very aware. Just because you write it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll read … and certainly doesn’t mean they’ll buy it.

Recently I’ve had conversations with several authors who are determined to write exactly the book that they want to. And those same people often are determined to sell a lot of copies. Here in lies the problem.

Consider other industries. A self-trained musician who took some music appreciation classes in college may want to write a song, or many songs. That’s fine. But what do you think the chances are that the musician, working alone in her house without the guidance of Quincy Jones or another tried and true producer of hits, making it BIG? What about a kid who plays basketball on his driveway—every day for hours—but never against anyone else on a team and without a coach. What are his chances of making it to the top of the NBA? There are flukes. But I think we all agree that someone working with a mentor who has already made it in the big leagues probably has a better shot of selling more records, or tickets to a basketball game, than someone who is going it totally alone.

I believe that there are books that people have to write. Are compelled. But, and especially when it comes to writing about personal experiences, determine why you are writing and be honest about what your goal is. If your goal is to make a permanent statement or capture a time gone by, do it! If your goal is to sell as many copies of a book as possible, consider finding a veteran mentor. Surround yourself with other people successful in the business (go to author events at your local bookstore, follow and study your favorite authors and figure out what makes them successful, find a killer editor who has had success in your genre). Just as parents encourage kids on the basketball court—“Honey, you are really great at shooting that ball!”—recognize that family and friends don’t have a financial stake in your success. They love you, so they’re going to say your book is great. I promise, I’ve seen it literally hundreds of times. I get calls, “Twenty of my friends loved my book! One said it should win a Pulitzer!” I’m much more interested in what someone who doesn’t know the writer, doesn’t care about the writer, thinks of the writing. How can you get an unbiased opinion? I loved the ingenuity of one clever author that told me she gives her manuscripts to family and friends and says, “A friend wrote this and gave this to me to read. Let me know your thoughts.”

Lots of kids play little league baseball. Fewer kids play for their high school team. Really great kids play college or farm team baseball. The minutest number of those terrific baseball players ever makes it to the big leagues. And how many baseball players playing today can you name? My point is that there is a place for everybody on that baseball scale, but very few will become famous. It’s the same odds for writing a book. There are authors who will delight their family and friends. Some will go on to make an impression in their community or field of work. The really great ones who get some breaks along the way will sell 100,000. And of the millions of people who write books each year, many less than 1 percent will become household names. In baseball, the current players don’t have to play against Babe Ruth and stars of the past. In the book world, you’re still competing for the attention and time of readers against every book ever written as well as all the new stars coming up through the ranks this year.

Set realistic goals while reaching for the stars. Understand that if you choose to go it alone, then that doesn’t mean that you also necessarily get to have the luxury of demanding that others purchase and read your book.

Whether you’ve written a book that 2,500 people buy and many hold close to their heart or you become an overnight sensation like JK Rowling (and how many have there been since her?!), celebrate what you have done. You’ve created art that has its place. If you’re determined to rise to the top, make sure you’ve got a coach and team surrounding you that gives you a pretty good chance to showcase your talent on a national stage.


Gifts for book lovers, including new subscription service for kids, Lillypost

With the holidays quickly approaching, it’s never too early to start picking out gifts! Here are some great gift ideas that bookworms everywhere are sure to love!!

Another great gift idea for book lovers is a subscription box! Subscription box services are becoming increasingly popular, and what better gift to give than one that lasts all year? Lillypost, a new subscription service, is the perfect gift for the special children in your life! Lillypost provides monthly deliveries of carefully curated, age-appropriate books for kids. Each box arriving at a child’s home will include individually wrapped books and occasionally other goodies, giving each child a sense of surprise and anticipation surrounding the books’ arrival. Even better: your purchase of a Lillypost subscription will help children in need.

Created by Book Depot, one of North America’s largest book wholesalers, Lillypost hopes to strengthen literacy throughout local communities by encouraging each parent, grandparent and caregiver who gifts a subscription to a budding young reader to donate the books to local libraries after their child has progressed to the next level of reading ability.


Lillypost is also partnering with Project Night Night, a charity that provides comforting nighttime essentials – stuffed animals, blankets and books – to homeless children through the United States. These items help children feel safe, warm and ready to learn. Each month, Lillypost will donate one new book to Project Night Night for every single box shipped.

“There is no greater gift in this world than seeing a child’s eyes light up when they discover the world of books,” Book Depot CEO Wilf Wikkerink said. “Lillypost wants to do it’s part in spreading this joy.”

Lillypost will launch its service on September 1, and subscription sign-up can be accessed at Lillypost.com.

It’s Time for Ebooks to Get Innovative and Interactive

I saw something recently that blew my mind: Piotr Kowalczyk pulled together a list of “35 Most Interesting Animated Book Covers,” which left me saying not only, “Wow, these 35 covers really are the most interesting animated book covers I’ve ever seen,” but also, “ANIMATED BOOK COVERS ARE A THING? How have I not heard of this??”

Perhaps you’re sitting back and chuckling to yourself, thinking, “Of course animated book covers are a thing. What rock have you been living under?” But I won’t hear this remark, because I am still scrolling, bright-eyed, through simple animated gifs that bring average ebook covers and illustrations to life, going particularly gaga over the gritty Batman and Joker motifs and, oh yes, the elegant reimagining of the Harry Potter series.

Ebooks are becoming more interactive, and it’s about time, too. In a world where new digital masterpieces continue to flood a thoroughly oversaturated market daily, it’s surprising that more authors aren’t taking advantage of, or at least exploring, new technologies that enable readers to truly interact with the written word—and taking advantage of opportunities to make their ebook stand out from the crowd.

Granted, some of this technology is still in development, but we can’t ignore the possibilities technology affords us not only for publishing work online, but also for creating multidimensional works of literary art.

Consider, for example, Ryan Woodward’s superb Bottom of the Ninth, an interactive graphic novel that not only showcases Woodward’s impressive animation skills, but gives us something truly “novel”: graphic panels that move fluidly with the plot, which the reader can interact with thanks to the tap of a button. The graphic novel, which follows ace baseball pitcher Candy Cunningham, can be read on its very own app, an iPad, iPhone, or online (take a look, it’s super cool).

Consider Eli Horowitz’s The Silent History, a digital novel written specifically for iPad and iPhone and also available via a custom app. This mysterious story about a generation of unusual children who are unable to create or comprehend language, but who demonstrate surprising skills, unfolds gradually via 120 “eyewitness testimonials” about the children’s unusual abilities. Plus, according to the novel’s website, “For readers who wish to explore the world of the novel in more depth, there are also hundreds of location-based stories across the U.S. and around the world. These can be read only when your device’s GPS matches the coordinates of the specified location.” New stories unlocked based on the reader’s physical location? The plot thickens, indeed.

Consider that Al Dixon, the visionary behind the innovative new digital imprint Imaginary Books, is publishing a new mystery novel, the real pleasure in life, in “dynamic typography,” or interactive, animated text. The gritty, animated text is integrated into the plot itself, so that the movement of every word illustrates a plot development, or reveals a clue in a philosophical, slapstick adventure about a man whose life is turned upside down after he receives a mysterious summons to a surreal version of Athens, Georgia, and, after falling in with an eccentric set of new friends, discovers that nothing in his life will ever be the same.

Here’s what all of these innovative digital stories have going for them: They utilize new technology not as a gimmick or a “look-what-I-can-do” bit of time-consuming irrelevancy, but as an actual enhancement to story itself. The technology isn’t there for the sake of being there, but because it actually enhances the story, and enables the reader to interact with the literature in wholly new ways.

In a world where there’s an app-improving update or new system available for your device every week, it’s surprising that tech innovations to digital publishing haven’t become more mainstream. However, the current innovations that exist—or will exist in the near future—offer savvy, enterprising authors a relatively untapped realm of creative possibilities for creating, releasing, and promoting their newest digital book.

Top 10 Tips for New Authors

10 Things Every First-Time Self-Publishing Author Should Know

I love late night talk shows. (I’m staying up late to catch Clooney on Jimmy Kimmel.) I adored Leno’s monologues (still miss him, though I marvel at Jimmy Fallon’s talent), but Letterman had the trademark on the Top 10. So as a tribute to late night icons and to the upcoming launch of my first novel, I thought I would share my Top 10 Tips for Writing a Book.

  1. Create and pay for your own ISBN # so you stay in control of distribution.
  2. Have a few honest friends give you early feedback—it’s hard to judge your own work. You know the old saying, “It’s hard to tell if your baby’s ugly.”
  3. Print on demand  so you can make early tweaks.There are always more typos than you think are humanly possible! CreateSpace is a great option.
  4. Don’t go to layout until you are sure you have no more changes. I mean absolutely, positively, 100%, no more changes sure.
  5. Find the right PR firm. The best way to test them is to see who can produce a good media kit and how many current media contacts they have.
  6. Learn the world of social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest. Understanding these platforms as platforms for growing your brand is critical.
  7. Do spend the money on a proper website. It’s your home base and your identity.
  8. Have other projects or work that balance your focus on your book and allow for a fresh perspective.
  9. For reviews, Foreward/Clarion and Midwest Book Review seem to be the most Indie friendly, in my experience.
  10. And most importantly, remember that some of the most famous authors have a pile of early rejection letters. Don’t let it discourage you!

While writing Free of Malice was a labor of love, as a first time self-published author, I have learned that writing the book is just the beginning. Taking the manuscript to final product, distribution and promotion are just as important. Hopefully my Top 10 tips will make the journey a little easier for others who are just starting out. Fellow authors, what tips would you add to the list?


thumbnail-2 Free of Malice

Liz Lazarus was born in Valdosta, Georgia, and graduated from Georgia Tech with an engineering degree. She spent her career at General Electric’s Healthcare division. The work allowed her the chance to travel the world, including living in Paris for three years. She later attended the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern, earning an MBA in their executive master’s program. Liz lives in Atlanta where she is a partner in a strategic planning consulting firm. Free of Malice is Lazarus’ first book and is based on her real life experience.

Conversations on the Art of Writing Fiction


Not long ago, a friend of mine was reading a manuscript version of my new novel, Getting Right (release date January 29, 2016), and looked up at me to ask, “How can you bear the irony of this?”

Her question stemmed from her knowledge that my novel, Getting Right, is fictionally structured around my brother’s and sister’s struggles with terminal illness. My brother died from cancer in 2006.  My sister died from cancer in 2008.  I finished writing Getting Right in 2012 and was diagnosed with cancer in 2015.  (My case, unlike theirs, has been cured—as much as anything like this can be—so I again have the good fortune to be here interpreting what all this means—to me, at least.)

“How could you manage to write this?” my friend went on.  “How could you stand it?”

Two excellent but quite different questions.  Let’s start with the second:  I had no choice but to write the book once I’d visited my sister in the hospital and was told her cancer was inoperable.  But that devastating news wasn’t what I took away from my visit to her.  Rather, I remember an image of the PIC line in her arm, which haunted me for days after I left—I simply couldn’t shake it from my mind.  I soon wrote it down, hoping that would give me some relief.  Instead, the image took on a life of its own and became the opening passage of Getting Right: 

The hole in the crook of Connie’s arm resembled a miniature red mouth going OOO! A Betty Boop mouth puckering for a kiss, a greedy little baby mouth sucking through a plastic tube injection after injection of clear liquids and antibiotics, none of which assuaged her real hunger. . . .

Even with such an image, the novel didn’t happen right away, of course, but soon enough.  It became clear that once I started thinking about a Betty Boop mouth and all it implied, I couldn’t not write the story, come hell or high water.

The first question from my friend of how I managed to write the book is even more complicated.  Since the raw material I was dealing with—the deaths of my brother and sister and my witnessing of those—was so close and so emotionally-charged, I had to figure out a way to distance myself from the “real” world I’d been involved in so I could deal with it in a fictional way.

It took me a while to decide on a narrative structure that would give me the distance and freedom I needed to explore what I thought was the larger story underlying the purely “factual” one of my siblings’ deaths.  As I worked, it became apparent that more than “cancer” and “suffering” were at the base of what I was trying to create.  The novel’s canvas grew larger and larger the more people and issues I uncovered, so that Getting Right came to involve a whole family, past and present, and their stories, individual and collective.

In order to deal with this wider-ranging narrative, I artificially divided the work into three acts—the first concerning the narrator’s sister Connie, the second the narrator’s brother Len, and the third “me,” the nameless narrator himself.  The story is told through the point of view of “me,” who is charged early on by Connie to write the story of her life.  He says he will, but only if he can do so on his terms.  What follows is a filtering of memory and imagination through the narrator’s mind that spins itself into the novel, Getting Right.

When I finished, I sat back, strangely satisfied, this time not succumbing to the sense I sometimes have that what I’ve just written is a disaster.  No, this story seemed right, felt right, had a ring of intrinsic “truth” I liked.  All well and good, I thought.

But despite what I saw as my well-realized artistic intentions, another friend who read the manuscript earlier on said, “You know, before I comment here, can you tell me what I’m reading, a novel or a memoir?”

Hmmm.  Another good question, maybe best left for a future post.

With this blog, I hope to begin an ongoing conversation with my readers around the art of fiction writing.  What is fiction?  What draws us, as readers, to it?  What does fiction offer our senses that other forms of writing do not?  Where do ideas for fiction come from?  How are they shaped into the forms we recognize and find satisfying?  These are only a few “seed” questions to help stimulate your own ideas as we move along in our developing discussion.

Please feel free at any time to submit your observations, questions, or comments to me at GaryDWilson.com


Gary Wilson

GARY D. WILSON’s best-selling first novel, Sing, Ronnie Blue, appeared in 2007. He has taught fiction and short story writing at both Johns Hopkins University and the University of Chicago. His work has been recommended for a Pushcart Prize, and he was a finalist for the Iowa Short Fiction Award and the Drue Heinz Literary Prize. He currently lives with his wife in Chicago and is working on his next novel The Narrow Window.