Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Year My Book Didn't Sell

This post is about 2 weeks overdue, but I know you'll all forgive me. ;)

So, some pretty amazing things happened this year, and some pretty amazing things didn't happen. About this time last year, my manuscript Shell scored me an agent, Mr. Michael Carr, whose know-how and agent-ness has helped me through some sketchy, author-related moments of flail.

I think every book, before I started querying, I sat down and said, "This is the one." I believed in every book I submitted to agents. How could I expect an agent to sell my book if I didn't even believe in it? But with Shell, things always seemed a little different. Writing it was different, editing it was different, and I knew when I held the printed off, finished version, that this one was going to get me an agent.

And it did. So why didn't it get me a publisher?

It's easy to focus on getting an agent, but the real fact of the matter is getting an agent is never the endgame. The endgame has always been to sell your book. Getting an agent is an achievement, but it's by no means a guarentee of success. Sometimes the book just doesn't sell.

Sometimes? Let's be real here. Most often, the books don't sell.

So, like many others, I'm kind of drifting through a strange limbo between submission #1 and submission #2. I think once we've come this far, we expect to go all the way. We expect the book to sell once we have an agent, because if one person likes it, why won't everyone else? Part of the problems stems from only hearing the success stories. The book that sold in a week. The book that went to auction. The book that's got a six-figure deal. But 99% of first books don't sell. Most second books don't sell either.

That's not to say that there's anything wrong with your book if it doesn't sell. The great and terrible thing about this industry is it's incredibly subjective and time sensitive. Perhaps your book didn't sell because one too similiar landed on the editor's desk earlier that week. Maybe it didn't sell because the editor doesn't like your vampire/elf crossover. Maybe an editor on the fence about your submission got some bad input from an intern and decided to pass. Whatever the reason, it's not a reflection of you as a writer. Rejection is an unfortunate side-effect of publishing.

I will say, setting aside Shell has been really difficult for me. Rejections are one thing, but shelving a book altogether feels kind of like giving up. I know it's not though. Shell was the first book I've ever written that's graced an editor's desk, but it won't be the last.

I think the most important thing I learned this year was how to let go. Not just when it comes to shelving Shell, but also about letting go of my control over the process. As writers, (unless we're co-writing) we have 100% authority over our world, characters and plot. But as we pursue publishing, slowly that control slips away. With an agent submitting my work, there was no querying to be done, nothing to keep track of, and I didn't have rejections rolling in every other day. I poked Michael every week in the beginning, just for some sort of update on what was going on. Of course, all he could ever provide me with was, "Nothing yet."

2011 was the year my book didn't sell, but I'm letting that go too. It's hard because it almost feels like accepting defeat, but it's anything but. I'm letting go of Shell, I'm letting go of 2011, and I'm letting go of my control-freakishness. I'm doing all this so I can start 2012 right-- by looking towards the future and writing new things.

Maybe 2012 will be the year my book DOES sell.