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Why Great Books Don’t Always Sell

A reader asks:

Jessica … I have a GREAT BOOK! That’s what my test readers say; that’s  what my family says; that’s what I SAY! A dozen well-respected agents have given my pitch the bounce. Is it one strike and I’m out? If I up my game with a new strategy, will you see if I can bunt?

While your family and test readers might think you have a great book, I have to ask the question, is it the query or is it the book?

Getting published means entering the business of publishing and that means having more than just a great book. It means creating a product that readers want and can find. In addition to powerful writing, interesting characters, and a dynamic plot, the book has to appeal to a segment of the reading market in a way that they can even find it (especially for debut authors). So a fabulous story is one thing, but does it have a marketable hook and is it really fabulous? Or is your family being nice (which is just fine too)?

If you feel the problem is just the query, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to rework the query and resubmit to an agent once, but just once. Remember though, this is a business, and agents are reading hundreds of queries, submissions, and books each month. We have tough opinions and are focused for a reason. We are here to find books to build a business on and it takes more than just a “great book” to do that for an agent, for a publisher, and for an author’s career.



Category: Blog



  1. I stop myself from saying I have a great book. That is up to the readers and the readers I choose are beta readers and writer’s groups. I am drawn to romantic-comedies so in my case the market should always be there.

    For those writing outside the circle of genres that may be a bit tricky but all is not lost. If the book is well written and the idea exciting I feel a lot of it comes down to packaging. If a writer struggles in this area than they need to hand it off to someone who is good at it and yes, that may cost money but it’s worth it.

  2. So true! I think a writer has to decide whether they want to make a career out of writing, meaning doing their homework and writing what people want to read. Agents have a real good idea of what publishers are looking for. When querying them, take the time to look them up and read what they are looking for, read their bios, look up who they represent. Read the books they have been successful in getting into the publishers door. What are these authors doing, you’re not? And if you’re lucky enough to get an agent who believes in your work, listen to them when they tell you things that need to be cut, reworked, or added to your manuscript. Finally, thicken your skin, because getting in through the front door is just the beginning in a long process of putting the shine on your mss.

  3. And sometimes it comes down to the right book on the right desk at the right time. All you can do is to keep trying and while you do that write your next book. Good luck!

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