When Your Book Doesn’t Sell
Listen up, aspiring writers. Here's something you may not know: Having an agent is no immediate guarantee that a manuscript will sell. It could find a publishing home in a matter of minutes or it could float around in submission purgatory for a year or two. A tough lesson to learn is that, should the latter be your book's fate, it isn't because you're a bad writer with a bad book and a bad agent. Well, I guess it could be any or all of those things, but probably not.
"Hang on," you're probably saying. "Isn't signing with an agent a fast track to publication? What's the problem here?"
No, it isn't a fast track. In fact, I don't think any part of traditional publishing isn't glacial. There is no fast track. None. Nothing. Nada. Zippo. Zilch.
Soon after I signed with an agency, the days and months ticked by as my first book made the rounds to editors. The feedback was fairly consistent: "I love A, B and C about this book, but D and E is ultimately why I'm going to pass."
With each rejection, as nicely as they were written, a little of my confidence was chipped away. Am I not any good at this writing thing? Do I suck? They seemed to like a lot about the book, and their hang-ups could be addressed and improved upon, right? Surely someone will take a chance on this book I've spent so much time pouring my heart and soul into!
Eventually my agent and I decided to hit the brakes on submission of that book, take the feedback we'd gathered and revise. It was a blow to the ego for the book not to sell – after I'd gotten so excited, after I'd bragged to all my friends and relations that I'd signed with an agency, after I claimed to really be on my way.
I distracted myself from those distracting thoughts of failure by diving headfirst into a second book. Eventually I finished that book and it entered the submission phase. It's still there. Still unsold.
I revised that first book. It has reentered the submission phase. It's still there. Still unsold.
I'm writing my third book. It's going fairly well. I like it. I feel good about it. But those distracting thoughts of failure I just mentioned…yeah, they're still there.
Yesterday, I read fellow scribe and agency mate R.L. Saunders's post about this very subject, this "book not selling" thing. It is a perfect description of the emotional rollercoaster that is this process. It isn't all gloom, despair and agony, though. My favorite part is her list of good things that have happened. I echo them all, and will add a couple more that I've experienced.
I've corresponded with some really terrific folks. Writers are, by and large, honest, caring, eager people willing to connect, help and support one another. I've built a nice little platform for myself. I've connected with writers I admire. When I first started the agent hunt, I was a fan of writers like Brent Hartinger and J.H. Trumble, who write books like the ones I write. Now I'm a fan who corresponds with these people. We're friends'ish (I say "ish" in that sense that we talk online but I've never met them in person.) Brent was even nice enough to ask me to contribute to his Real Story Safe Sex Project. I value these relationships, connections and opportunities very much.
Would I change what has been my process if I could? Well, hey, it would be nice to have sold a book more quickly. I won't pretend otherwise. But I can't change it, so why dwell on it? I like where I am. I'm a better writer than I was when this started. I'm a better person for the experiences it has provided and the connections it has allowed me to forge. I am a good writer. It is a good book. My agency is an awesome agency.
So I'll keep answering the "have you published yet?" questions (and others like it) with a smile. Because I know they are well-intended, even if they do sting the ego just a tad.
2 thoughts on “When Your Book Doesn’t Sell”
Great post! I think this is a fairly common occurrence, but not many people discuss it. Thank you for talking about it openly!