Hugh Howey

Bestselling author of Wool and other books. Currently sailing around the world.

Most Books Don’t Sell

It doesn’t matter how you publish, most books don’t sell very well. If you query your manuscript, there’s a 99% chance you won’t sell a single copy. If you self-publish, there’s probably an equal chance that you’ll never sell more than 1,000 copies. A great thread on KBoards pointed this out and serves to balance the numerous threads from those authors doing very well. The message is this: Don’t think you’re doing something wrong or that you aren’t successful if your book isn’t keeping up with your neighbor’s.

It’s a great message, one I agree with 100%. My attitude remains this: “You mean I’m ALLOWED to publish my book? Without asking permission? I can just do this? No one is going to stop me?”

I don’t take the miracle of publication for granted, much less that I might sell a copy. I marvel that I’m able to set up a book on CreateSpace for free and then order a $5 proof print copy and hold my work in my hands. It’s a book. A real book. Full of words. That I wrote. How crazy is that?

My dream when I set out on this adventure was simply to have written a book in my lifetime. I feel like I’m getting away with something devious when I hit “publish” and my book shows up on Amazon with all the other “real” books. Someone commented on Facebook today that it was weird to see me enthused about these things. I’ve been on book tours all around the world. I’ve sold millions of books. Shouldn’t it all be blasé by now? It isn’t.

Keeping this mindset — that publication itself is a miracle — ensures that every single sale, review, and email are a treasure. The other way to look at the world is to compare up and be disappointed. A publicist once told me about an author she was touring with in Spain. This author found out that his novel debuted at #2 on the New York Times list. He fell into an inconsolable funk for the rest of the book tour. That’s the other way of looking at the world, seeing what you missed. How many of us would go bonkers to even be on that list? I assume this author had been on the list before. That was no longer a goal, just placing. Now it was to be #1. There is always yet another goal, accomplishment, or reward taunting us over the horizon. Or inspiring us. How we look at the world dictates which.

Sadly, it isn’t often up to us. There’s no credit to take for our attitudes, and it’s difficult to blame others for theirs. Numerous psychological studies suggest that our innate base level of happiness is fixed. Winning the lottery results in only a temporary high. Losing a limb results in only a temporary low. Those who haven’t had either of these things happen to them balk at this suggestion; they claim that they would be supremely happy for a very long time or insanely depressed for the rest of their lives if they won the lottery or lost a limb. But that’s not what takes place.

As authors, we can be thrilled with a handful of sales a month or miserable with “only” 10,000. Our desire for and belief in free will makes us think we choose this reaction. Those same beliefs make us doubt study after study that tells us otherwise. Even though these studies have been replicated over and over.

I would counter, however, that knowing this about ourselves gives us the ability to make a concerted effort to see the world differently. That is, the more we are aware of our lack of free will, the more free will we exercise. We suddenly begin to “feel” ourselves reacting to our environment in a manner we find distasteful — and we immediately fight this urge. Learning that our attitudes are mostly reflex gives us impetus to change them. Understanding how limited our responses are makes us aware of those responses and also of possible alternatives.

This is a powerful muscle, once exercised. The positives in our lives can be drops of nectar, each one unique and delicious. And the negative can be responded to with honest positivity. Hate can be countered with love. Violence with an embrace. There’s nothing false about this; it’s simply a choice. A powerful one. How we feel should be up to us. So why don’t more of us spend the vast majority of our lives blissfully happy? It takes practice.

Most books don’t sell. Knowing this as a writer, how are you going to feel about publishing your book? One choice will have you turning to the next story with a smile on your face, disbelieving that you can make your works available for them to be discovered or not. The other choice is to give up in frustration, your expectations unmet. Are we free to choose between these two options? I like to think so. But first, we have to understand how difficult — how very nearly impossible it is to see the small good in the world. It takes effort. But it gets easier the more we try.

79 replies to “Most Books Don’t Sell”

This is a great post.

Our mind is always set on the future: goals, metrics to measure our worth, anxieties of what could be.

We forget to be grateful for the miracle that thousands of years of growth in society have provided for us today.

You mention it well: to be able to hit “publish”. To express ourselves to potentially millions or just ten people. That is such a miracle.

The best thing is to be appreciative every moment for that miracle. But it takes practice.

Thanks for the words of encouragement. I agree. I’ve published 23 books now–most of them are slow sellers but one has sold 10,000 copies and another 30,000 so I am perfectly happy. I totally believe what Wayne Gretzgy says, “You miss every shot you don’t take.”

A fabulous post, Hugh. I totally agree with this. Happiness isn’t something that happens to us because of outside influences, other people, things we do, things we get or achieve, etc. Happiness can be in us all the time, if we let it be, simply by changing our reactions to what happens in our lives. We control our thoughts, our thoughts don’t control us, so thinking positively gives us (and only us) the power and choice to be happy. :) xx

I was just thinking about this the other day, Hugh. What does a writer do when the goal of “selling a lot of books” falls flat? What drives them, then? If the books they write aren’t selling, then why do they write?

Now more than ever, the desire to write has to be based on a metric you, the author, can control. How many books you sell is not on that list. But your next book? The next story? Your growth as a writer? These are all things you can control.

For me, a writer who doesn’t sell a lot of books (yet), my focus when writing this next book was strengthening myself as a writer. Making everything cleaner, tighter. The focus stronger. Bringing the reader into the story quicker and, through strong writing coupled with equally strong storytelling, keeping them there.

That is a metric I can control and has nothing to do with how many books I sell. And I still love what I do. :)

As it has for Jonathan, this has been on my mind recently, too. He stated it so well, I have little to add. I can influence sales by making it easy for readers to “push the button” by writing the best book I can, but ultimately, I can’t make people buy.

I have found that focusing on sales robs me of the joy of writing. It’s only one metric that can be used to measure success, and not the best.

Back in 2005 I wanted to release my own DVD made up of Hawaiian sunsets. I wasn’t out to make money I just wanted to share some of our experience of beautiful sunsets with the world. Create Space made that dream possible. Not just hitting the publish button but getting my own DVD product in the mail and actually having people review my DVD on Amazon was just a dream come true. I have sold a few hundred over the years. Nothing to quit my job over but I measure my success by the fact that someone shared with me that their elderly grandma, who was too sick to go back to Hawaii, was able to find some joy from my videos during the last years of her life. That made it all worth it. I know this isn’t a writers perspective but thought I would share because I feel like there might be others out there who are discouraged to publish their work. Just do it. Even if you touch just one person, it is so worth it!

I’m with you Mike. Someone just recently wrote me to tell me how my stories are making the end stage of his disease better. Um. Yeah. I’m only a mid-lister, if that. But you know…any bad review I get now, any flack I get from big name authors, or those who are traditionally published…I’m just like “Pffffffffftttttt…”

Thanks for this. I have set the lofty commercial goal of one day being able to pay my monthly internet bill with my sales (around $50). That is the the highest goal I can think to set for myself right now, but I’m having so much fun with the machinations of storytelling, the publication process, and seeing the smile on the faces of others when they tell me what they liked best about my work.

I agree with you completely, the goal is to enjoy the ride, have fun with the process, and to keep everything new in your mind. We pay so much money nowadays for entertainment. Blue Ray discs cost $20 for two hours worth of entertainment, a track on iTunes costs $1.99, and “grade A” Video Game costs $60. Writing a book can offer a year or more’s worth of joy, and hours worth of joy to each reader, and it doesn’t have to cost anything to produce now. So even if I hadn’t made a single cent, I’d see it as a bargain, just replacing all of the empty time that I would be spending money on movies, music, and games, just to stave off the boredom.

I guess it depends how driven each one of us is. I know that I’m very driven and it annoys the hell out of me (and others). I WANT my books to sell and appeal to readers. But every time I see that new reviews have been posted on Amazon, iTunes, Goodreads, etc., I always ALWAYS think: Ok, now people finally noticed what crap I write. Then I check the new reviews and can’t believe it when they are good.
That’s another weird thing… why can many of us not accept praise and why is it more important to have reached a certain number (of sales, of income, of whatever)?
On second thought it’s not weird at all. Our culture demands performance, not happiness. But then, it’s our own choice wether we bend to that demand or not.
GREAT article, Hugh!

Thank you for sharing thoughts we all can benefit from considering, whether we are writers or working in other professions. I teach 3rd grade and despite the security of tenure and relatively decent salaries, which aren’t dependent on fickle markets or cautious consumers, many teachers complain and carry-on as if they were shoveling salt at the mines for a living. I have done many different jobs, from mowing lawns, carrying newspapers, writing newspapers and stocking soup cans at a small grocery store. I have sheetrocked, painted, hammered and roofed. I even spent two summers making duct tape- working all the different jobs on the line from the adhesive ovens to boxing the product. There were highs and lows in each of those jobs just as there is in being a writer or a teacher, but as you pointed out it is our attitude that makes the difference in how we perceive our success or failure.
I’ve taught school since the mid 90s and I consider myself as fortunate to be doing this work today as much as I did on my first day. I still can’t believe the opportunity I get each day to inspire and new crop of students to find their passion.
BTW: How about penning some science fiction for middle grade students?

Indeed. I know people who make huge, and I do mean huge, money, and are basically miserable.

I also know people who are living on what many would consider to be nothing, and are happy and satisfied, greeting the new day with a smile.

It never hurts to drive home the point: it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. Forget that, and you’ll never be happy in the moment, preferring to live in perpetual anxiety over a future that may or may not happen.

Reaching readers, having them love your words, maybe making some shekels in the process…that’s the journey. If you’re enjoying that, the ultimate destination doesn’t matter. It will be whatever it is. That doesn’t mean you should be all deterministic and not do what you can to attain your goals. I’m not a big fan of hoping for the best and taking no responsibility for narrowing your odds of selling well or improving your craft. But it’s possible to enjoy the process even as you swing for the fences.

Pet a puppy. Have a cold one. Life is good. All you have to do is realize it, and you’re halfway there.

“Reaching readers, having them love your words, maybe making some shekels in the process…that’s the journey”- That is says it all, and thanks to Amazon (and others) it is now a journey anyone can take. Results may vary, of course, but it sure beats the alternative.

Well said once again Hugh. And I am surprised and pleased to see James Altucher’s comment on this post. I remember reading a blog post of his a couple of years back lamenting how little money he makes writing and publishing books. His are non-fiction but he can claim best-seller status. And as a columnist over the years he has had some pretty high profile platforms from which to promote his books to a wide audience of potential readers.

I was disappointed when I first read his post and learned that he was not finding a pot of gold in the aftermath of each book he published. My own non-fiction book drafts remain incomplete to this day, but I’m blaming him. I’ve published one novel so far and it has sold a few copies, but not enough for me to cease other activities necessary to pay the rent. My optimism, however, remains undiminished.

Writing, especially fiction writing, should remain a creative outlet driven by the need to write, not the desire for fame and fortune. I expect to one day reap the rewards of working hard, improving my craft and finding my audience. In the meantime I continue to write because, goddammit, I have to.

Thanks for reminding me of this, Hugh. I sell so few copies of my books that I actually know when a copy has been purchased by a “stranger.” When that happens, I feel a moment of absolute elation — and that’s a moment that would never happen if I didn’t write and publish.

Wonderful post. Your desire to share the joy of the new publishing paradigm is appreciated and inspiring.

I’ll take a guess and say that the author who was depressed to debut at the #2 spot had a deal with his publisher that if he debuted at #1 he’d get some sort of financial bonus.

Beautifully said, Hugh. Reading through the various threads on KBoards, I often get the feeling that people are convinced their sales need to reach the stratosphere, or they’ve “failed.” For a lot of years I only had one reader (myself), and that seemed fine, because I needed to tell the stories and simply getting them down on paper seemed like success. I’ve still come nowhere near Hugh Howey levels of readership — and more than likely never will — but it’s such a thrill to get a comment or an e-mail from someone who says “I liked your story”… and they’re in South Africa, or Ireland, or Russia. Being able to share the stories with people all around the world is an incredible high, one that the 12-year-old me who wrote with pen and tablet paper never imagined.

Then, too… my dad has said he’s incredibly proud of what I’ve achieved. I feel like my only “failure” is that my mom passed away before she could see this new chapter in my writing career. Beyond that, my goals are modest, and seeing each new story published is a “win.”

Thank you again for being one of indy publishing’s chief cheerleaders, and for being kind and generous enough to open the world of the Silos to anyone who wants to play there. Because of your willingness to share, I was able (for a couple of weeks last fall) to hold the top spot on the Kindle Worlds list. It’s not the NYT Best Seller list, but being #1 *anywhere* for a little blew my socks right plain off.

Be well. And rock on!

This is a great article. I’ve just barely reached 100 sales and only have 10 reviews between my two books, but I cherish every download and each word of those reviews. Would I love to have more sales or more reviews? Of course, but instead of focusing on ways to sell more I choose to just keep writing, and I’d like to think no matter how many sales I get will still feel the same way.

Ten reviews off only 100 sales is outstanding. Your book must inspire passion for people to be so willing to review. Unless you’re bribing them … :)

The same goes for lots of things. I don’t sell many placemats right now but I totally enjoy creating them for the person who orders, making them just what the customer likes. The joy of making them is what I focus on, not my sales numbers.

One thing I always enjoy about reading your stuff is how delighted you continue to be with your success and how much of yourself you put back into your writing community. I’ve seen authors who broke through and then become “untouchable” as if sloughing off the old skin of their past.

Wishing you continued success and delight with your life!

It’s kind of liberating knowing that your book isn’t going to make much money. I threw away conforming to a word count or novel structure when I realized probably less than ten people will read my next book. I can do just what I want; if it sucks, not too many people are going to see it.

Wonderful article, Hugh (as ever.)
Just last night I had a little gathering for a close family and friends for just the reasons you’re describing – simply to celebrate that I had completed what I consider a submission-ready draft of my first adult novel. A few people were confused about why we were having the party because I’m as yet unpublished, but I’ve been trying to be produced or published for a long time, now, and each time I’ve submitted (mostly screenplays until this novel) I’ve come just that little bit closer to publication or production, then fallen at the last post. Of course, you brush yourself off and keep going, but anyone who says that isn’t hard, or heart breaking is gilding the lily – and it is very easy, in those low moments, to judge your project, and even your ability on the fact that you didn’t achieve your (or your family’s) desired outcome (which may or may not have been realistic, anyway – especially when a trip to Hollywood is involved and your glasses are oh so rosy lol!) I’ve learned the hard way that it’s important not to dismiss the steps you do achieve – starting with completing a polished manuscript.
Obviously, I don’t have anywhere near the readership you do, but I have no trouble believing that you still get excited by each new reader. I wrote this draft on Wattpad, posting each chapter as I wrote (nerve-racking, but motivating) and for the first time I’ve had the experience of readers reading the work – not producers, not managers, not anyone with a commercial outlook – just readers looking to be entertained. I was thrilled when I hit 200 reads of my first few chapters and hugely satisfied when I had 70 or so readers following the serialization (it also helped my craft in many ways); now that I’m approaching 250,000 reads, I’m just as thrilled with each read, vote and comment (especially the comments, it’s fabulous to connect like that!) Frankly, if I didn’t feel the need to start contributing to the household finances again (I gave up producing audio books to write full time), I think Wattpad might even be enough for me (though I really would love to see my stories on film, I still love the medium so much, hehe.)
Anyway, thank you for the post :)

Obviously, I don’t have anywhere near the readership you do, but I have no trouble believing that you still get excited by each new reader. I wrote this draft on Wattpad, posting each chapter as I wrote (nerve-racking, but motivating) and for the first time I’ve had the experience of readers reading the work – not producers, not managers, not anyone with a commercial outlook – just readers looking to be entertained.

Great post, Hugh! This is something I think a ton of us struggle with. Yes, our happiness is in our own hands to some degree, but it’s so difficult when you want something very badly to not be disappointed when you fail to achieve it. Especially when peers or friends are achieving that and more. It’s hard not to compare and feel let down.

The question is how to balance that joy of simply being able to publish and write freely with the goals and expectations you have for success? I’m still working on this! But it’s nice to be reminded that yes, we really are very blessed to be able to at least get out there and try.

You are turning into my hero – saying so many things I’ve been talking about one way or another for years but with so much more eloquence. Great post Hugh!!! It’s so true. We should write only because we have a story to tell and we should publish because we are hoping we can find one reader. The rest is the lottery.

A great post! I always figure if my first one doesn’t sell, it can just be part of the backlist. And if I DO write a book that sells, then readers will have other stuff of mine to discover.

I’m always happy to read a ‘new’ author or breakout book and then find out, to my delight, that they wrote a bunch of books before that one.
It seems fairly common–I remember reading Wool, then backtracking to Molly Fyde, come to think of it!

Great stuff Hugh … and interesting from a trad pub POV as well. I was talking to an editor the other day – as she wanted to know why being indie is so great – and I asked her about why trad pubbed authors don’t get transparent sales results (as we do). She said that they have been trying it out at her publishers but many authors are getting really upset but seeing 5 sales a week, or 10, or very few. They are shocked at the reality of sales and don’t actually want to know and many of them are just happy to be published.

Great stuff Hugh … and interesting from a trad pub POV as well. I was talking to an editor the other day – as she wanted to know why being indie is so great – and I asked her about why trad pubbed authors don’t get transparent sales results (as we do). She said that they have been trying it out at her publishers but many authors are getting really upset but seeing 5 sales a week, or 10, or very few. They are shocked at the reality of sales and don’t actually want to know and many of them are just happy to be published.

Personally, I love seeing 1 or 10 or whatever books sell. We have the best jobs :)

Wow. That’s part of their reasoning? I never thought about that, but it makes sense. Why let them see how few of their books do well? And why deal with all the angry emails from authors wanting to know what they are going to do to make things right. Of course that wouldn’t work. Unless they were up front with their authors from the very beginning. Imagine that.

It is certainly helpful to read this. I self-published my first book in four months ago. I’m not sure what I was expecting but the sales have been slow. Of course they have been!!! Now, each sale lifts me a little as I think about the small miracle that someone out there, a stranger, has purchased my book. You have to write because you love to write.

At first I thought, “That’s pretty disappointing,” but I think this post was actually inspirational. For many authors, it DOESN’T matter if their book sells as long as they know they accomplished their goal of finishing their book.

I agree with Alicia Rades. For those who set out to leave their mark on the world, publishing their work is not about numbers sold and dollars in the pocket. Its about leaving behind words that others will read, be it family, friends, or distant relatives in the future. Great article, and I look forward to reading more!

Great post, Hugh. I’ve seen some of that same research, plus that TED talk you linked to by Dan Gilbert above. I was actually thinking of that when I read your post. Reminds me of the famous quote by Abraham Lincoln: “People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Personally, I’ve never really believed in pursing happiness as a pure objective. The best kind of happiness is that deep inner contentment that is a bi-product of doing things that we feel have meaning. A happy gardener is one who loves working the garden, not just picking the tomatoes that are the result of all his labor. We may not fully be able to control our level of happiness, but we can control where we put our focus and our attention.

Thanks for the food for thought! I added you to my RSS reader not long ago and you’ve had a lot of good things to say lately. Keep it up!

Achievement 1. Complete a manuscript. A triumph of the imagination. You’re thrilled. You’ve done something you thought you could never do.
Achievement 2. Edit it into a publishable form. Hard work and hard lessons. Possibly the hardest part. A triumph of discipline. Something you’d mistakenly assumed anyone could do.
Achievement 3. Formatting appropriately for an eBook. A technical challenge and a satisfying new skill.
Achievement 4.. Wrapping it in an appealing cover. You’ve written 150,000 words, and now you must sum them up in one picture. A triumph of ingenuity and concision.
Achievement 5. Making it appear in an online store. The most thrilling moment, but the easiest part.
Then it dawns on you. You’re the only person who knows it exists and you want to share your triumph. You want some recognition. Just a little bit, the odd sale the odd review.
You give your book away. There are plenty of takers, but no acknowledgement. You’re sure those copies are as lost somewhere on a hard drive as your book is on the internet. If someone would pay for a copy you believe the purchaser would actually read it. So you sell it for 99c. Suddenly zero takers. You look at the books which sell, and those which don’t. Some rubbish sells, many excellent books languish at the bottom of the rankings. So what sells books? An appeal to people who buy books. Advertising. Now you must become an advertiser,
How do you generate more revenue from advertising than it costs..By getting free advertising – be loud and public, stand out from the crowd. But there are millions in the crowd, doing the same things as you, and the most talented advertisers aren’t necessarily the most talented writers.
Now you must become a talented advertiser.
And you only ever wanted to write a story.
Another achievement pending.

I know most books don’t sell. I know most writers never earn enough to support themselves. I know most writers write in the wee hours of the morning, or on trains to and from day jobs they tolerate so they can pay the bills. I know most writers fit writing into weekends and late nights and occasions when everyone else is on vacation or spending time with their families or playing poker or gathered around a bon-fire with their neighbors. I know most books don’t sell, despite a writer’s day to day sacrifices and positive thinking and hard work and marketing and good writing. I knew this from the time I was old enough to dream of one day being able to tell a story someone would enjoy reading. I knew this from the first time I dared share that dream with anyone. I grew up hearing it from everyone (except for one creative writing teacher in high school…bless him). “You might as well dream of being an actor or a singer in a rock band. Pipe dreams like that will kill you. Get a real job. No one ever makes a living writing books. It doesn’t matter how much you love it or how good you are at it or how hard you work. Writers are a dime a dozen. You’re nothing special.”

Still, I’m disappointed reading this article, Hugh, and hearing you say something publishers have been telling authors for years. Yes, I get what you’re saying about being happy just having written something (anything). Yes, I think the new world of self-publishing is pretty awesome. Yes, I agree that we’re only as happy as we decide to be. The circumstances of our lives don’t really play into our happy/sad levels that much. Yes, I agree that some people will knock down goals only to set higher ones, and will always feel they are not doing enough, while others will be content to reach one milestone and call it a day.

So, what’s my problem? I don’t need one more person telling me I ought to be happy just being able to write at all (I am) or that I should be okay if all I write is one thing and find one person to read it (I am). I’m tired of hearing that writers should accept that they probably won’t ever make a living doing what they love. I know it’s true. I’ve been published by mainstream publishers and I’m self-publishing some of my work currently. I’m reminded every day that writing usually doesn’t pay in money. Though I wrote for years and never showed anyone—just doing it for the pleasure of writing while I got that real job everyone said I should—and though I’d still write if something prevented me from ever sharing my work again, it’s that dream of someday finding an audience that keeps me going on the hardest days. It’s the dream that makes the sacrifices worth it.

I’m tired of people telling me I should just be happy I can finish one book (as if I’m not) or say I should be thankful every time I get a good review or sell a book (I am really, really happy every single time either of those things happens). I am weary of hearing from those who try to convince me there’s some shame in daring to want more.

I adore you. I was one of the first readers of your work. One of the first to tell everyone I know to buy your stuff, read your blog, and listen to what you have to say about self-publishing. Hell, I even love your dog and think your wife seems like a really nice person (and relate to much of what you say as if we’re really friends, much like the way you describe your feelings about Phillip Seymour Hoffman in today’s post). I almost didn’t submit this because everyone else is being so emotionally “correct” and agreeable and kumbaya-ish. In the end, I’m hitting submit in support of the other side. The side that’s still nice, still grateful, still oh so happy with whatever this writing life brings and for every small success, but that still is willing to sacrifice and to dream of someday actually making a living writing without feeling bad about it. The side that dares to dream of, and hope for, more.

Zander, I think it can be both. Dream big, work hard toward your dream, but appreciate every step along the way.

“There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.” -Albert Einstein

Or, as Buddha put it, you can work hard without attachment to the outcome.

Both easier said than done, I know.

As a Buddhist, I have learned that all life is perception and perception can be controlled, it can be chosen, but only when one masters the mind. 98 out of 100 people never learn the benefits of a focused mind and are therefore prone to believing they are victims of their circumstances instead of seeing how they create those circumstances by their thoughts.

As a Buddhist, I have learned that all life is perception and perception can be controlled, it can be chosen, but only when one masters the mind. 98 out of 100 people never learn the benefits of a focused mind and are therefore prone to believing they are victims of their circumstances instead of seeing how they create those circumstances by their thoughts.

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts and made up of our thoughts. If a man speak or act with an evil thought, suffering follows him as the wheel follows the hoof of the beast that draws the wagon…. If a man speak or act with a good thought, happiness follows him like a shadow that never leaves him.” -Buddha

I saw you posted a TED talks in a comment above, so I’d like to share a couple good ones that are somewhat on topic. They talk about meditation but your comments about people just living happy ties into this heavily:

This was a fantastic post. When I wrote Pendomus, I had visions of huge sales and movie deals as the story was playing out in my head. As I finally hit ‘publish’, the reality sets in a bit and puts things into perspective. I haven’t sold much, but those who have taken the time to read have enriched my life – many of them posting reviews. It keeps me going as an author and encouraged to keep writing. For me, it’s not about how much money I make (or don’t), it’s about telling the story that I can’t live without.

Hi Hugh,
A great post!

For me I feel it’s the journey in reaching towards your dream, or goal, call it what you will. Some people never have that goal in front, they get sidetracked along the way. I feel you have to keep that dream in sight. Forget that, and you’ll never be happy.

I love reaching out to my readers, knowing they love my words, interacting with them,even maybe earning a living in the process…that’s my voyage. Enjoy that, and the ultimate destination won’t matter. So long as you strive towards your goals and do what you like doing best – writing – you’ll continue to enjoy the journey.

Life is for now – enjoy it!

Thanks a lot


Great post, Hugh, and full of such great advice and wisdom, as always. I particularly loved this:

Someone commented on Facebook today that it was weird to see me enthused about these things. I’ve been on book tours all around the world. I’ve sold millions of books. Shouldn’t it all be blasé by now? It isn’t.

Like you, I’ve sold millions of books, seen my name repeatedly on the NYT list and have already had an awesome ride by anyone’s standards. Tomorrow my 30th book is out, my first big NY release, and I’m as nervous as a virgin before the big date. It’s never blasé. Ever. I hope it never will be.

Continued good luck to you!

These are truly excellent points. Anytime I start worrying about sales rankings, I remind myself that a little over a year ago, I was gleefully celebrating cracking the Kindle Free Top 100, something that I’d never have done without lots and lots of help from my indie writer friends. Each review–even the occasional clunker–was precious because it meant that someone actually READ my book!

It’s so easy to get caught up in the race. but once you lose the joy of telling the story, the joy of finding the *right* reader (even if it isn’t the thousands of *right* readers you might wish to find), then it’s just another job, just another paycheck.

Okay, so let’s carry this one step further, starting with the last paragraph. “Most books don’t sell.” Why not, “Most books don’t sell many copies, but very few books don’t sell a single copy.” And then look at it from that prospective. At this point in the printing/publishing game, if a writer jumps into this quagmire expecting to hit it big, then let’s hope the water is deep, because they haven’t been paying attention.

Clear goals concerning why the book is written and published are better defined at the start of the process. Caring about controlling only that which we can control is most judicious. The rest will be what it will.

It is hard not to have big dreams and expectations for a book’s potential. I’m good with the big dreams for if we don’t dream big, we most assuredly will wake up small. But expectations that are too inflated will lead to disappointment.

Set your gauge accordingly (I have) and see where the needle ends up.

Great post. I’m afraid I get fairly tired of hearing authors bemoan their low sales. I write because I love it, because I can’t imagine life without it, and publishing and the attendant sales are all gravy to me. If I sell a few books, yippee! If I don’t, that’s okay, too. But that’s not why I write, and not why I publish. I think you’re dead on when you talk about our inherent level of happiness. I guess I’m just a glass-half-full kinda person, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Thanks for this article. Timely and much-needed.

As a Buddhist, I have learned that all life is perception and perception can be controlled, it can be chosen, but only when one masters the mind. 98 out of 100 people never learn the benefits of a focused mind and are therefore prone to believing they are victims of their circumstances instead of seeing how they create those circumstances by their thoughts.

Oh, how badly I needed to read this today!!! The compare and despair line of thought needs to be removed from my programming asap. When I reached my book sales goal, suddenly I had a new goal and it came with a nagging voice telling me I won’t be happy until I reach it.

BUT you are right – I published a book!!! How amazing is that?! People are reading my words, and leaving great reviews and they want more… isn’t this what every writer truly wants?

Writing brings overflowing joy into my life. I want to honor this precious gift. I know in my heart that even if I sold millions of books, I’d give myself another goal and judge my progress or failure to reach it.

Happiness is a choice. It’s not an achievement.

Thank you for this post.

I agree wholeheartedly. But everything comes with a good and a bad side. It’s what makes the world tick. You just have to decide which side you wish to take.
I’m a ‘glass half empty’ kinda person. However, when it comes to writing, I do it because I love it. I only have one piece out there at this point in time, it hasn’t made any sales (but nearly 2,000 people have read it when it was free) and it hasn’t been reviewed. So what. The thought alone that those people took the time to download it in the first place and took a chance with someone they had never heard of before, well, it was enough to fill my happy-meter to the max. So I am grateful for that.
I’m not saying I wouldn’t love to have at least one sale, or one review, I’d be lying if I said otherwise. But, it will not make me give up. I want to write. I need to write. And for the moment, I’m happy with that..

Thanks for the brilliant article by the way.

Excellent post and very heartening.
When I first put out a book on Kindle, I used to do a *happy dance* for each sale as it came in. I’m not big on dancing and it was a bit of a weird thing for anyone to watch (it has a song that went with it). As sales grew, the dances grew less. I’ve had to turn my brain back to that time, as the e-book slump began and every sale became again precious and I become more thankful as it means a stranger thought it worth buying a book. When one book passed it’s thousandth sale, I celebrated by buying myself some perfume I’d been craving. Now when I give myself a little squirt of it, I feel the uplift from both a delightful scent and also the memory of what it commemorates.
Thank you.

I like this post. It was uplifting and nice to be told it’s okay not to sell, sell, sell. Sometimes I have a bad habit of focusing on dismal sales instead of the fact that, hey, I wrote a book and that is an accomplishment itself.

Thank you Hugh, for writing such an inspirational post. I did publish my memoir about life with and without epilepsy which did receive (limited) success. I am currently writing my first work of fiction which I am looking forward to pressing the magical ‘publish’ button.
Thanks again for sharing your thoughts with us.
I wish you continued success.

Thanks for this great post – I started writing for me in the first place, it just made me happy but pushing the publish button a few weeks ago gave me unexpected joy! Reading your post kicked me up the backside and made me set up a paperback via Createspace and the thought of seeing my book as a paperback when the proof arrives in a few days time is keeping a constant smile on my face! Not sure the cover will be great as it was a little challenging for my formatting skills but we shall see – at least those who have asked for it in this format will get a chance to read it. I am loving the process – even the steep learning curve where the social media element is concerned. Cracking on with second book (and third actually…) whilst scribbling down ideas for others as they come to me and won’t leave me alone until I have written down the outline! And if they don’t sell? – I was only writing for me in the first place anyway and receiving a fantastic review from someone I don’t know had me dancing round the house with glee last week and how fantastic is that! I don’t get that from my day job…..

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