After The Call: The "My First Book Didn't Sell" Club

Ah, writing. So full of highs and lows!

When you first finish your book, you dance a little jig. Then you get that puppy ready for querying, so you break into a moonwalk. And then—and then!—you get an offer of representation, which calls for something like this:

But once your manuscript goes on submission, your dancing might be put on hold. If your book sells, you can keep on rocking out a la Jeff Bridges. On the other hand, there's always a chance that your book may not sell, at which point you might do this:

Crying + Eating = Medicine for the Heart

In all seriousness, it's okay to cry (or cry and eat) if your book doesn't sell. We pour our hearts and sweat into our novels—so why wouldn't we tear up a little? If you do find yourself in this situation though, here are a few thoughts I've cobbled together that may (hopefully) dig you out of the Pit of Despair:

1. You are not alone.

Kiersten White? Natalie Whipple? Brodi Ashton? Pretty big names in the YA blogging community. Perhaps you frequent their blogs, like I do.

Yep, all three of them had to shelve their first books on submission—but went on to sell their second novels on sub. So yeah. You're in pretty darn good company! And like them, you have to keep your chin up and work on your next book. 'Cause the next one might sell and it might sell really big!

Just ask my friend, Jessica Spotswood, who wrote about her first-book-not-selling over on this blog post. Don't you love her honesty? Fortunately, her story comes with an oh-so-happy ending: this past February, Jess sold her second book on sub, BORN WICKED, in a major deal to Penguin!

And so, if your first book doesn't sell, it's okay to cry and eat cheeseburgers and sit on a swing. Just don't feel like a failure, okay? Because you're not. 

2. This is an unfortunate part of the business. 

An editor at a Big 6 publisher may receive hundreds of agented submissions a year...but can only acquire 5 to 10 novels, depending on the size and budget of her house. Basically, this translates into a lot of books not selling. There's simply not enough room for them, even if you have a stellar agent.

I'm not saying this to make you depressed—because a lot of first books on submission do happen to sell!—but to underscore a reality of the publishing world. You won't be able to sell every book you write. Your agent won't be able to sell every book he signs. This is a very, very competitive business and we won't always get the outcome we hope for. Which sucks. Majorly. And yet, it's something we have to (grudgingly, frustratingly, mournfully) accept.

Sometimes, it's a matter of trends and tastes:
"Sci-fi isn't doing well right now so we're going to have to pass."
"We just acquired a book like this one, which means we unfortunately have to decline."
"To be frank, the market is a tad too saturated with dystopians."

And, sometimes, maybe your book needs some more work. Characterization. Plot. Pacing. Maybe there's something missing. Which leads to...

3. You can do better.
Right now, you're probably staring at your manuscript, thinking about the hours and months and maybe years you poured into it. And what do I have to show for all of that? you think to yourself.

Well, a lot actually. This is the book that landed you an agent. It might have gotten you multiple offers of rep. This is the book that taught you how to plot and how to make your characters not just characters but real people. This is the book that taught you how to revise—really revise—and how to keep going when you got rejections left and right.

So don't sell yourself short. Don't sell your book short. Tangibly, you may not see how far you've come as a writer but, believe me, you have. Now, you have to take everything you learned from this book and pour it into the next one. I know, I know. It's such cliche advice. "Keep writing! Work on that next project!" But it's important. If you want to see your book at Barnes & Noble, to feel it in your hands, then you gotta keep writing. Give your book a funeral, mourn for it properly, and then move on. 'Cause you have a lot of stories to tell and you have to start cranking them out.

- - - - - - - -

Wow, I didn't meant to go all inspirational speaker on you guys! But I hope that this post may help some of you experiencing the pain of not selling your first book on submission. It sucks. And worse, you feel like you can't say anything about it because you should feel grateful that you have an agent in the first place.

Still, you should know that you aren't alone. A lot of writers have gone through what you're going through. You're not a failure. You're a writer facing a setback. *Major hugs* Drink some tea and draw the shades and, when you're ready, start on the next book.