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Is Your Book Bad? Or Is Your Book Marketing Bad?

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.


A self-published author was concerned about his self-published book being “bad.” He made that assessment based on book sales that were generated from Amazon ads which, he guessed, elicited some low-star reviews on Amazon. Maybe his advertising is reaching the wrong audience and causing customer dissatisfaction?

I’ve never equated low ratings on Amazon with bad marketing. My theory is that advertising that reaches the wrong customers doesn’t make sales. However, I do think this is a fair question to ponder.

So what is a bad book? What is bad book marketing? How can you know whether your book or your marketing is bad?

What Is a Bad Book?

“Bad” books can become bestsellers. “Good” books can often go unnoticed and unsold. But what makes a book bad?

It may comfort you to know that there is no one determining what a good or bad book is. No critic, no bestseller list, no library, no bookstore, and no book reviewer has the power to judge your book as bad. Bad is merely defined by the reader as a book that:

  • Is a waste of their time or is too long.
  • Offends them in some way.
  • Is boring or confusing.
  • Contains too many errors (grammar, typos, etc.).
  • Has a dissatisfying ending.
  • Doesn’t meet the reader’s informational needs.
  • Is too expensive compared to the value of entertainment or information received.
  • Their friends say is bad.
  • Is not like other books in their preferred genre.
  • Has characters they can’t relate to and/or don’t like.
  • They’ve never heard of.

I’m sure I’ve missed some definitions of a bad book in that list, and you could probably come up with more based on what you define as a bad book.

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As you can see, there are only a few bad definitions over which you have any control. You could put your manuscript through beta reading and editing rounds to improve the book’s clarity or compliance with language mechanics, such as grammar. You could do your research to come up with a competitive price that’s profitable for you. You can understand your market’s needs and wants and try to meet those with your work. Beyond that, the definition of “bad” is all in your readers’ hands and heads.

Let’s also get away from a good/bad dichotomy. Your book may not be for everyone, but that doesn’t make it bad.

What Is Bad Book Marketing?

Bad marketing is a bit easier to define. It is simply marketing or advertising that does not produce sales that you want. The difficulty with this is that the sales you want may be impossible to achieve.

You may want to sell 10,000 copies of your self-published book, or maybe even $10,000 in sales, every month for the next year. Is that realistic? It’s unlikely most self-published authors will achieve that without a significant investment in marketing and advertising that could obliterate all profits or even create a loss.

Self-published authors also often compare their marketing to that of self-publishing “gurus” who make it seem like they’ve easily achieved astronomical results from their “good” marketing, marketing secrets, surefire self-publishing formulas, or whatever success nonsense they boast. It might be possible if you use whatever tricks, gimmicks, and programs they promote. But, without fail, what I’ve seen in all of these programs is that there is a hidden or glossed over investment that they don’t tell you about. Usually, that’s a massive investment in Amazon or Facebook ads, sometimes as high as several thousand dollars per month.

There is no good marketing, only good marketing habits. Those include spending on advertising that fits your budget, doing advertising tests, closely and constantly monitoring results, and making adjustments to meet ever-changing circumstances. As well, consistently building your author platform is going to be your primary book marketing for the entire life of your book and your self-publishing career.

Is It Bad Book Marketing? Or a Bad Market?

Some niche markets are so small that they cannot produce enough sales for you. Other markets are so incredibly competitive that to make sales in them requires heavy and continuous investment that could bankrupt most self-published authors.

Then there are markets that are seasonal. Their peak and valley sales levels put authors on a nerve-wracking budget roller coaster. Some genres and topics flourish and flounder, producing a feast of early financial gains after a book’s launch followed by a prolonged sales famine, possibly for the remaining life of a book.

In these cases, whether the book or the marketing is bad is almost an irrelevant question. The market itself is so challenging that it can be a bad publishing investment for authors.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2021 Heidi Thorne

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