Your (First) Book Will Not Sell and Why That Is OK

Writing is a profession that takes many years to learn. #writing #marketing #publishing

This is an excerpt from Writing Better Books the Agile Way. You can get a copy here.

Write without pay until someone offers pay. If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this as a sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for.

—Mark Twain

Writing books is hard. The deceptive thing about books is that they are easy to read. There is no hidden mechanism in the book; the book is exactly what you see: a series of letters. It is easy to think that if you just put the right combination of letters on a piece of paper, you end up with a bestseller. But that is like saying you could throw stones on a pile and end up with a house. Though Michelangelo said, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it,” I would apply this more to editing than to writing something new. As a writer, you do not start with a block of stone; you first have to get that block of stone (mostly consisting of the results of your research).

Writing is a profession that takes many years to learn. If you want to earn money by writing, you have to learn not only writing but also marketing. Most people, on their first job, did not run the entire company on their own. While learning the ins and outs of their profession, their early jobs revolved around a single activity, like sales, construction, programming, etc. But as a writer (especially a self-publishing one), you have to wear many “hats” at the same time.

For myself, the best learning experience was looking at the sales number of my first book. “0.” It showed me that, not just in theory but also in practice, people will not come to you simply because you have a product. You have to help them understand the value of the product, study what they want, and find your niche accordingly.

For your first book, aim for a learning experience. This will keep you on track, even if you have not figured out the goal of your book. It will also help you to actually finish it. And the more books you write from start to finish, the faster you learn. Trying to write a perfect book on your first attempt will only open the door for procrastination.

In Writing Better Books the Agile Way, you will learn that writing requires organization of your ideas, identification of your target audience and their needs and wants, a strategy to create a page-turner, a process of editing, a “definition of done,” a plan for how to advertise your book, and a means of interacting with your audience before you actually release the book. All these points are interwoven and should not be seen as “phases” of a book. The best approach is to think of marketing your book from the moment you start writing it. This way, you can streamline your writing process and connect with your readers from day one. And even if you have already written your book, you can still apply the marketing techniques discussed here. The companion book, Better Books with LaTeX, deals with the technical challenges of publishing the book itself. Together, these two books will enable you to produce, publish, and market high-quality books in a short period of time.

I wish you every success in your venture. If you need me, I am here to help! You can do the thing.

By Clemens Lode

Clemens Lode is a management consultant with focus on agile project management methods (check out He likes to summarize his insights into books, check out his philosophy series "Philosophy for Heroes" here: His core approach to philosophy and management is that people need to be more aware of their limits and ultimately their identity and their vulnerabilities.

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