Monday, March 3, 2014

Agency Lessons: When your book doesn't sell

When you first start on the journey toward traditional publication, the holy grail is finding your agent. There are so many resources for sorting through the long list of agencies, writing a query letter, and perfecting those all important first pages and a scant few that discuss the process after. It's no wonder that the assumption is everything will be rainbows and sunshine once you get representation.
Ideally, you work with your agent to fine tune your manuscript, go out on submission and sell your book to the highest bidder. Realistically, there are writers who go through the first two steps and then falter on the third. What few folks will admit is that plenty of writers don't sell their first book.

And that can be scary. As a writer, you might start to wonder about yourself and your writing. Why didn't my book sell? Is it normal? Does this mean I'm not good? Is my agent going to drop me?

Books don't sell for all kinds of reasons. I've talked about this before. The current market, your genre, recent sales and comparison titles all factor into book sales. And none of those factors have anything to do with the quality of your work.

Now, what happens next is a conversation that takes place between you and your agent. Every situation will be different so there's no point in trying to compare yourself to another writer. But there is one thing that should be constant.
Regardless of if the realization that your book isn't going to sell means a parting of ways or forward into the fray, you can't find your next success unless you've kept writing. The only variable in this whole mess of a world we call publishing that you control is your work.

So try not to worry about what selling or not selling your book "means". Instead, focus your energy on writing the next book, and the one after that. That way, no matter what direction your path takes, you're ready.

You're turn. For those of you who've been through the submission process, what advice would you give to other writers who are on submission or facing the possibility that their book isn't going to sell?


  1. I'd suggest constant self-reminders that you're writing because you love it, that you have many more shiny new ideas, and that validation for your writing can come from places other than publication. Also, as much as it can hurt, maybe NOT publishing this particular book is what is ultimately best for your career.

    1. Great thoughts, Beth. Sometimes it's a good thing that a book doesn't sell. :) Though, that can be hard to hear in the moment.

  2. I know people with agents whose first, second, and third novels didn't sell. I don't know anyone who's been fired for not selling though. There's another step at the end of the above. If the ms does sell, it's possible that after it's published, it won't sell/earn out. That's something else the "rainbows and sunshine" people don't realize. It's just one big long struggle...

    1. Yep, it happens much more often than people think. Publishers use the big best sellers to offset the books that just never make it out of the gate. There really isn't ever a point when it's all just a walk in the park. That's why you really have to love it if you're going to make it in publishing. :)

  3. I think this is why I write so much. lol I know I might not sell every book I write, so I keep writing. It also keeps me sane during the submission process. I get lost in my work during drafting. The rest of the world kind of stops existing—at least while I'm typing, so it's a great distraction. Otherwise, I'd stress out over what the editors are thinking as they read my book, and that would drive me crazy.


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