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Troy's Rants

12 Axioms for Understanding the Book Business

Based upon my experience; selling books (on-line and off); publishing book reviews; witnessing the careers of many authors for a decade. I’ve come up with the following axioms. If the following statements are accepted as true, it will help the reader understand a lot of the controversial issues in the book our industry. It will help explain, for example;

Why some feel “their eyes are reading smut”:


Others believe “…Self-Publishing is Ruining a Generation of Black Writers”

Again these points should be self-evident. However, given the reactions of many authors and industry professionals, to some of the current conditions and trends in the publishing; one would think some of the simplest ideas were obscure concepts.

1 – Major Publishing Houses do publish “Bad” Books
Let’s be clear: all books published by major houses are not worthy of literary merit, contribute positively to our culture, or are well written. Indeed given the financial resources and number of skilled professionals involved we should be more critical of major publishers than we are of the highly motivated individual that decides to self-publish.

2 – Some Self-Published Books are “Good”
Similarly, let’s not fall into the trap of believing that all self-published books are bad. has published many favorably reviewed books that were self-published.

3 – Sales Volume Best Measures the Relative Success of a Book
If there is any single measure to quantify the level of a book’s relative success – the number of copies sold is it.

4 – Not All Successful Books are “Good”
The converse is also true, though perhaps less frequently.

5 – Books That Appeal to More People Will Be More Successful
It does not matter if the book is “good” or “bad”.

6 – The More People Who Know About a Book the Higher it’s Potential for Success
People have to know about a given book before they can even consider buying it.

7 – The Average Person Can Not Distinguish a “Good” Book From a “Bad” One
Ignoring books that are truly horrendous or spectacular; most book are “OK” and indistinguishable from each other, in terms of “literary merit,” to the average reader. Readers tend to read books that; (1) they find interesting and (2) They are aware of (see #6). A lot of the discussion surrounding the “ghetto-hip-hop-urban-street-erotica” literature is largely irrelevant to the average reader.

8 – More Books Published is Better Than Less
Readers benefit when there are more choices and more competition between authors for the reader time.

9 – Technology is Good for the Book Industry
I’ve heard one writer lament that there were too many poorly written books by self-published authors. They then proceed to blame POD technology — that is the equivalent of blaming the printing press for pornography.

10 – ”Good Books” and “Bad Books” are Subjective Terms
Ignoring books that are unintelligible because of too many misspelled words and syntax errors; there is no universally accepted standard for determining a, so called, good or bad book. This is a purely subjective matter. Of course, this will not stop others from forcing their standard of quality onto you or lamenting the dearth of “Good” books in the face of an even greater number of books being sold today.

Bestsellers lists and books awards, like the NAACP Image awards, are more indicative of popularity, often driven by celebrity, rather than literary merit.

There are more “good” books published each year than I have time to read or even identify. I can only hope this will remain the case.

11 – People Have Absolutely No Reservations Against Criticizing an Author They Have Never Read
Typically the more vociferous the diatribe the higher the likelihood the reader has never read that particular author’s book.

12 – The Book Business from Author to Retailer is Hard – You Better Love it
This applies to all walks of life; but we tend to forget this in the book business. Many of us in the industry who want to contribute something positive to the world. Whether it is relating truths in a new way or sharing a wonderful story.

Sure, some authors are purely motivated by money – but most are not. The most successful authors I’ve observed enjoy what they do. Admittedly, some authors are tempted to make more money by changing their style in order to sell more books (see #5). Even in this case, if the author is successful, reader benefits and author benefits from the liberty to write what they want because of the additional income.

In this industry, if you don’t love what you are doing, we’d all be better off if you found you love to do.

Thank God it is Tuesday!


Troy D. Johnson is the President, founder and webmaster of, LLC (The African American Literature Book Club). Launched in March of 1998, has grown to become the largest and most frequently visited website dedicated to books and films by and about people of African descent.