Tuesday, August 23, 2011

So, What If Your Book Doesn't Sell?

There's a piece in The Millions today that got under my skin a bit: "Shutting the Drawer: What Happens When a Book Doesn't Sell?"

First of all, I don't think the author of this essay needs to have to have the funeral service for her book quite yet. Nine months is a long-ish time, but it isn't actually a LONG time. Particularly if there are warm responses from editors - why not tweak the book and try another round, for crying out loud? Sheesh. But whatever, that is between her and her agent.

This goes out to the rest of you.

Thing is... and I am not sure there is a gentle way to say this, but... just because you want to be published, doesn't mean you automatically get to be. Not even if you are super smart. Not even if you are super smart and SPECIAL. Not even if you have lots of published friends or an MFA or a great agent or whatever.

Maybe your book hasn't sold because you just haven't found the right editor yet. Or MAYBE your book hasn't sold because it just isn't good enough. So REVISE, or write another, better, book.

Sometimes books don't sell. Sometimes they take a long time to sell. I've sold books after YEARS of trying. A recent agency book was sold after 4 years of submission and 45+ editor rejections, and now has starred reviews and is going places. It happens, it really does.

Sometimes you have to revise them before they sell... or revise them again. Sometimes you have to take a break and come back later with fresh eyes. Sometimes you have to shelve it and then cannibalize that book for parts. Sometimes you have to shelve it and move on. Sometimes you have to shelve it and move on... more than once.

I've said it before: first books are very often like first pancakes. Sort of a mess. A shame to waste food, but if they are not in servable condition, you have to throw them away. Or better yet, eat them yourself while you cook better ones.

The good news is, those ugly books aren't a waste. You'll be a better writer because you wrote them. The only way to learn to be a writer is to WRITE. The only way to learn to write novels is to write some novels. That doesn't mean they should all be published - but it also doesn't mean that they weren't worth writing. I have never heard of somebody becoming a WORSE writer with practice.

If the book that doesn't sell is the book that taught you how to be a better writer, it was worth spending time, blood, sweat & tears on.

Now keep going!