Saturday, September 15, 2012

When That First Book Doesn't Sell

It's a hard thing to let a book go. Actually, it sucks big time, and with it comes an inherent sense of failure that pulls at my chest and churns in my stomach. And then, I have to remind myself I've failed at nothing here. I wrote a book, which is a huge accomplishment all by itself. It got me an agent, which is yet another flaming hoop, and it got read by some of the top editors in the publishing industry, many of whom praised my writing. I have to remind myself that that, all by itself, is success, even if the ultimate outcome is not what I hoped for.

Yet, truthfully, it feels much like a death. These are characters I've given birth to, know intimately, laughed with, ached with, rooted for. The book is a part of me. I understand publishing is a business, and that rejections aren't personal. A book is only as strong as the marketplace that is willing to receive it. Across the board, the feedback I received was wonderful, constructive, and helpful. They praised the writing, they loved the humor and the characters, many thought it was a fun, great concept for a YA. However, most ultimately felt that this book was a tough sell for the current market because it had a male protagonist in a book that wasn't geared for boys. Some even mistook the target audience to BE boys because it had a male protagonist. (I don't know many that would willingly read a humorous, romantic comedy, but hey...) So whereas I thought perhaps my "fresh" take on things was to let girls live inside the head of a boy and hear the story from his perspective, apparently publishers thought their readers would not ultimately respond.

Fair enough.

But now that the book has been read by all the major players in YA publishing, we can't return to them with essentially the same novel but flip-flopped with a female protagonist. So what happens next?

Unfortunately, it's time to put it on the shelf (for now).

It's not unusual for that first book to not sell. In fact, as I prepared to throw myself a major pity party, other writer friends showed up and graciously shared their stories with me of how they could relate to what I was feeling because they'd been there themselves. One major bestselling YA author I've met sold her first book with the 9th book she'd ever written. Another said the process took her 10 years. It happens.

Therefore, the best thing you can do while your book is on submission is to WRITE SOMETHING ELSE. Not only does it keep you nice and busy and distracted, but that way, if the first one fails to get attention, you have something else waiting in the wings. One of the positives of having sent the book out there, despite the rejections, is it let the editors become familiar with my writing style, and several said they would love to see anything else I wrote as I result. That's huge! It means for the next book, there's a built in audience of where we can send it that already likes the way I write. We can strike while the iron is hot and the interest is current by sending something new. There's little room to feel overwhelmed by being discouraged because there's a new and exciting project waiting to take its place.

Rejection is a huge part of the process, unfortunately. No way around it. But there is more to be learned from the rejections than anything else, frankly. The feedback, for those that take the time to give it, can help your future writing be stronger with greater attention to specific details that may have missed the mark on the previous work. You are introducing yourself to the editors, and although they may not connect with that particular work, it may whet their appetite for others.

So if your first (or second, or eighth) book doesn't sell, keep moving forward. There are many stories within you, and it's simply a matter of finding the right one that connects with the right editor and the right marketplace at the right time. And once you've established a foothold and had your work published, you may be able to pull that old book off the shelf and re-introduce it. It may have less of a "risk factor" if you're an established author with a clear audience.

So remember the old adage - "If you love something, set it free. If it comes back, it was meant to be." This is true for our stories too. Trust that everything is as it should be, even if we cannot appreciate it at the time, and that if it is meant to happen, it will find its window.


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