March 28, 2011

After The Call: What Happens When Your Book Doesn't Sell?

Last week, I wrote a post about why your book might not be selling and I thought I'd expand on this topic today. Let's say your book doesn't sell at all and you and your agent decide to shelve it. What happens next?

As I've weathered the storm that is called "Getting Thee Published," I've noticed a strange syndrome that seems to befall certain novels on submission. I call it...First Bookitis.

First Bookitis is a sad occurrence in which an author's first book fails to sell to ye olde editors. And yet, hope must not be abandoned! After all, numerous authors have suffered from First Bookitis but have gone on to sell their second novels. Like Kierstin White and Brodi Ashton just to name a few.

So yeah...a lot of first books don't sell. It happens! In this crazy business called publishing, not every agented manuscript can land that coveted publishing deal. There simply aren't enough slots to go around. But what happens once your first book doesn't sell? Should you sob and take up knitting? Or perhaps you should give up writing to become a sloth whisperer? No! Instead, take a look at these options.

1.) Mourn for your book. 
It's okay to cry. It's okay to be sad. It's okay to bury yourself under your blankets for awhile and drink rum out of the bottle. You've poured so much of your time and passion into a book...but it hasn't sold. Give yourself some time to mourn.

2.) Talk to your agent. 
Once you receive the bad news that your book didn't sell, it's time to a chat with your agent. Where do you two go from here? Do you want to continue working together? If so, what project should you tackle next?

This step is especially important if your contract is on a project-by-project basis. Since your agent signed you on for the manuscript that didn't sell, you need to discuss the possibility of working together on your next book.

2b.) Part ways with your agent. 
Ideally, both you and your agent enjoy working together and both of you want to continue your professional relationship...but this doesn't always happen. Maybe your agent doesn't love your new manuscript and doesn't feel comfortable shopping it around. Or maybe something happened during the submissions process (like lack of communication) that makes you want to get new representation.

Whatever the reason, you have some thinking to do about your career and about who you want representing your work. (Before you cut ties though, you may want to have one last heart-to-heart with your agent about your concerns and to get his feedback first.) But if things don't work out, just try to keep things polite as possible. And remember, you'll be okay! You're going to land on your feet.

3.) Get another book out on submission. 
Publishing is a business and books are your products...so start workin' on your next product! I know this advice has been given many times across many different blogs---but it really does work. You know what eases the pain of shelving a manuscript? Writing a new kick-ass book that makes you tingly with excitement. Chances are, this new book will be loads better due to everything you've learned while writing and polishing your previous work.

You know...I've been writing seriously now for about 3 years and I've been an agented writer for nearly 11 months. Through my successes and failures---my ups and my downs---I've learned that every writer has to carve their own path to publication. Some writers have a relatively easy path in getting their book published but then they have trouble later getting another deal. Some writers spend months writing manuscript after manuscript before they land an agent. And some writers hone and refine their craft for years despite having no book deal in sight.

So if you have to shelve your book, it's okay. Realize how far you've come! There are so many people who would love to be in your shoes: to have an agent, to have had the chance to go on sub. Just keep on truckin' and keep on tryin'. The path ahead of you may seem dark and dreary, but sunshine and blue skies could be only a few steps away. Keep looking for that sun! 

7 comments:

  1. Wise and comforting words, Caroline.

    'Just keep swimming,' seems to be the message I got from other writers, agents and publishers on this subject at the conference I've just been to as well.

    But it is a good point; I think when you're starting out you think that once you have an agent, then the grand doors of publishing will automatically swing wide and let you in. That isn't the case, it's still just as tough and infinitely more terrifying. So all we can do is keep writing.

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  2. Wonderful words, Caroline. Encouraging and honest.

    Another thing that I find incredibly supportive is the following quote: "I am a writer. I look to publishers to make me an author."
    (I can't remember where I read this or who said it and I apologize for it going uncredited)

    Either way, book deal or not, we are writers if we write. Period. The author part is just a label that comes with the book deal we will all reach if we, as Ian put it, just keep swimming. :)

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  3. I think you're severely underestimating the potential in sloth whispering. Sloth whispering could snag you a reality TV show, which would really increase the odds of getting published!

    Lol. But in all seriousness I think it's important for writers to know that this does happen a lot, and that lots of writers have First Bookitis and go on to lovely successful careers! Great post :)

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  4. Great words of advice.

    "Just keep on truckin' and keep on tryin'." It seems to be the best advice for any stage of the process.

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  5. LOVED this! It's a little scary to think about what should happen next if your book doesn't sell, but you give some great advice. :)

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  6. Great thoughts Caroline. . .as always, upbeat and honest!

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  7. Gotta say, I'm with Lynn. I kinda want to be a sloth whisperer now. >_>

    But yes, great advice. I think many writers tend to pour all of themselves into just THIS ONE BOOK and if that one doesn't sell, for whatever reason, it ends up being heartbreaking to the point where they can't do anything else. I think one of the harder things about being a writer is not coming up with the ideas and the stories and the books--it's letting them go.

    (I've been ghost town extraordinaire lately, not commenting on anyone's blogs--I've been reading though! <3)

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