Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Sophomore Book Blues

How to give your follow-up book its best chance of success, and coping when your second book isn't as "big" as your first.
By Marissa DeCuir

You did everything right–and your book still didn’t “take off.” It didn’t get the publicity you hoped for. Readers aren’t responding in the way you expected. Sales are just not reaching where you want them to be.

This is hard for any author. But it’s especially confusing, frustrating and (yes) even frightening if you’re a publishing veteran with a debut book that was more successful. I mean, what gives? You knew the industry (or you thought you did). You built a readership. You thought people would be excited for this next book. So why isn’t it doing as well?

Let me start by saying: You aren’t alone. Many, many authors–dare I say, most authors–have experienced sophomore “book blues.”

And it doesn’t have to be the “second” book; it could be the third, the fourth or beyond. At some point, most authors have released a book feeling confident, excited even, that it would out-perform their previous releases or at least do equally well. Then it just–didn’t.

Let’s explore “why” it didn’t perform as well–and what you can do about it.

The reason why your book didn’t perform as well as you expected is highly contextual, and almost certainly not the “fault” of any one reason (unless you know of a specific publishing catastrophe you encountered that I don’t know about, in which case, skip to the “what you can do about it” part).

Perhaps your book was released at a time when too many other media titles or news headlines were vying for public attention. Perhaps the marketing was not as poignant, streamlined or prevalent, and it didn’t incentivize (or maybe even reach) your target audience. Perhaps you lost some connection with your readership between your last book and this one, whether by genre-hopping, having a long wait time between books, etc. And perhaps–someone has to say it–perhaps the writing and/or subject matter just didn’t connect with readers the same way your previous titles did. Even if you loved it. Even if it’s good.

“Sophomore book blues” happen to fantastic and successful writers.
Photo by Daniel Thomas on Unsplash

Now here’s what you can do about it.

First, take a deep breath. It’s going to be OK. Panic, frustration, confusion, resignation, despair–it’s OK to feel those things when your book isn’t performing as well as you hoped, but let’s not get stuck there. Struggle is a normal part of the publishing process (before, during and after a book launches). Take extra steps to care for yourself during this time. You want your next promotional moves to come from a place of calm, savvy strategy, not recklessness or apathy.

Be encouraged that your book has a longer shelf-life than its launch month, promotionally-speaking. For years, traditional publishers have maintained that a book is at its most promotionally and commercially viable within 3-4 months around its release. It’s true that media outlets do try to cover “new” books. However, readers–the people who will actually buy, share and connect with your book–don’t work that way. Readers discover and enjoy books for years after their publication date. During the pandemic, books that had made very little splash upon release years ago and then faded into obscurity were suddenly catapulted onto the New York Times bestseller list thanks to a few viral TIkTok videos. Readers are always finding new ways to discover, share and consume books, and so long as you have a book out there, there’s a chance that a reader will connect with it–and who knows where that may go!

Do some re-strategizing. Take a good look at your book’s current marketing materials, including your synopsis, cover, BISAC categorizations, website, etc. Are they positioning your book in the best possible way for connecting with your audience? Did you correctly identify your audience and align your materials to them and your genre? Also consider what has worked, even to a small extent. Are there certain things reviewers are particularly connecting to in this new release? Did you start to see any traction in some promotional area that could be expanded? Take some time to calmly assess why your current marketing strategies are working (or not), as new ideas and opportunities might arise with reassessment.

Photo by Ashlyn Ciara on Unsplash

Look for high-impact opportunities. Think about what will get the most eyes on your book in the shortest amount of time. A savvy digital advertising campaign through Amazon or Facebook can put your book in front of thousands of readers at the touch of a button. Writing a guest article tied around a timely event in the news could introduce you to many new readers without added cost. Applying for spots in newsletters like BookBub and Chirp can result in hundreds or thousands of instant downloads. Speaking at conferences, festivals, schools and organized luncheons ensure that you’re getting in front of a large captive audience. The important thing (per the tip above) is to think clearly, calmly and critically about where your specific audience is, and strategically find a way to get to them.

Write the next book. Regardless of how your current book is doing, one thing is certain: you’re never stagnating or “failing” as an author if you’re working on your next book. Your chances of discovery and success grow with each book release. Preserve some energy and strategy for getting your next book out into the world. Every release will teach you lessons that can improve your next launch.

Marissa DeCuir is the president and partner of Books Forward publicity and Books Fluent publishing. As a former journalist, she’s always looking for the best hooks to utilize in author publicity and book marketing and believes in taking a personal and strategic can-do approach to help authors reach their goals. Books Fluent specializes in top-quality audiobook production, and Books Forward has implemented a unique program to help authors promote their audiobooks. Learn more at Books Forward and Books Fluent.


L. Diane Wolfe said...

Dancing Lemur Press had a title take off and become a best seller almost a year after its release, so no need to panic if a book doesn't sell like crazy out of the gate. There are lots of things authors and publishers can do to boost sales.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Alex and Marissa - wise words here .. patience is the word isn't it - all the best to all authors ... wherever you're at in that journey - cheers Hilary

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for the great advice on how sophomore book blues, which can be helpful whenever a book doesn't sell as well as we'd like. I agree with you that it happens, and it's often for reasons beyond our control.

Elizabeth Seckman said...

That's some really good advice. I usually just abandon the book and try another one.