This week we’re talking about being on submission and selling our books. I’ve discussed being on submission before. And I think my fellow Debs will have plenty to say on selling books. So I’m going to talk about not selling a book.
We constantly hear of famous books that didn’t sell. Gone With the Wind was rejected thirty-eight times before it was published. Yet the fact is they are famous books because, eventually, they did sell. Sometimes, though, books simply don’t sell. Not the first time. Not the thirty-eighth time. Not ever.
This is what happened with my first novel. I was passionate about my first novel, CONTINUITY, and I believed it had a future as a published book. I had an agent who agreed with me.
When CONTINUITY went out, I was a naive new writer. “Everyone will love my book! Of course it will sell!” was all I could think. I’m usually a worst case scenario–kind of person, but this time I let my optimism get the best of me. My agent has a policy of not sending individual rejections to her authors. She said, “You get more rejections than yeses and it can be very depressing to see them as they come in.” When the process was done, if I wanted to see them, she would send me all the rejections at once. I agreed even though I knew there couldn’t be that many rejections.
Every time the phone rang, I jumped, thinking, “Is this THE call?” I was my former sixteen-year-old self, waiting for the guy I had a crush on to call me. But THE call never came.
Instead, it simply ended. Just like that. No one wanted my book.
“What do we do now?” I asked my agent, hoping she’d say, “These folks have it all wrong! We will find other editors out there who will see the brilliance of this.”
But that’s not what she said. What she said was, “I’m sorry. This book is over.” With the merging of publishing companies and the constant shuffle of editors, the pool to which to submit was exhausted.
I scoured the rejections my agent sent me in one big Word doc, so I could see what the editors had to say, if there was any easy change I could make to have them begging for my novel. Yet there was no one universal fix, no one thing I could change that would make it all better. I was in shock. I was depressed. I ate too many gummy bears and drank too much bourbon. I felt like a huge failure. I now had two choices: self-publish or move on.
I gave real consideration to self-publishing, and I even took a class at Boston’s Grub Street to see if it was the road I wanted to travel. I have friends who have self-published books or who have chosen the hybrid method of publishing, with both great success and great disappointment. In other words, with exactly the same results one gets on the traditional publishing route. However, after thinking about my long-term goals and weighing the pros and cons, I decided this was not to be my path.
So I moved on.
The right thing to have done would have been to jump into that next novel. But I didn’t. I needed a mourning period. I needed a break from my computer and a time to let myself heal. But then it was time to get over myself. It was time to get back to work. Jaded, tired, depressed, I went back to my computer.
This isn’t as easy as it sounds. First of all, there’s the daunting task of writing an entirely new, entirely different novel. Second of all, there’s the sound of failure humming in the back of your brain. “No one liked the first one. Why will they like this one?” I had to work twice as hard to drown that noise out, which is why NaNoWriMo was an excellent way for me to write; I had to move so quickly I out-typed the buzz of failure in my ears. This time, I wrote MODERN GIRLS. Like starting any new relationship, it was hard to be trustful of this new novel. What made me think I could get it right this time?
But I wrote. And I finished it. And I breathed a huge sigh of relief when my agent liked it. Together we went through many rounds of revisions until we felt it was in the best shape possible.
Then she began the submission process. And this time it was pure hell.
This time, I knew better. I was wary. When MODERN GIRLS went out on submission, I knew what was in store. I had lived the process. Instead of blind optimism, I felt total despair. Instead of assuming everyone would want my novel, I assumed no one would want my novel. I felt honest-to-goodness depressed on this submission. What would happen when the second novel was rejected. Did I have it in me to write a third? Could I justify all my writing time for a third novel? My family was (and is) incredibly supportive, but was it fair of me to keep writing when I could be working a paying job or doing something more supportive for the family?
I have a happy ending (or else I wouldn’t be blogging here today!). MODERN GIRLS sold. And it was all the more sweet because of all I had been though to get to that point. Was it so sweet that I’d want it to happen the same way if I could do it again? No, I still wish CONTINUITY had sold. But it didn’t. I moved on. Success came on a second try. But you know what? Despite my doubts, despite my existential crisis, I know myself well enough to know that if success hadn’t come on that second try, I would have retreated to the gummy bears, the bourbon, and eventually made my way back to my computer. The next novel was going to come no matter what.
Putting yourself out there is hard. I want to encourage others on the submission process, whether it’s submitting to agents, to hybrid publishers, to small presses, to contests, to the traditional publishers, to whomever is reading your novel: Keep moving. Your book may sell the first time out. Your book could go to auction. You could be the next Jonathan Franzen or Elizabeth Gilbert.
Or your book might not sell.
If it doesn’t, you have two options: self-publish or move on. Either way, you need to keep writing. Let yourself mourn. It’s okay to be sad. But then, get back to writing.
Keep writing. Keep writing. Keep writing.
Easy to say. Hard to do. But it’s the only path to publication.
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