So I have an agent who’s going to try and sell my novel. Sweet. All I have to do now is sit back and wait for fortune and fame to knock down my door. Yay.
Yeah, not so much.
Back when I was practicing guitar all the time, a guitar veteran asked me if I was good enough to know I wasn’t good yet.
I didn’t know what to say. “Um… well, I guess not?”
But I kept practicing. I got better and better until one day I realized I had an answer to that question: I really was good enough to know I wasn’t any good.
Like so many hobbies or vocations in this world, when you first start out you can’t imagine what it takes to become great. You’re incapable of imagining it because you don’t know what you don’t know.
That’s where I was (and still am) with the publishing industry – incapable of imagining what it takes to be successful. This is because there are so many factors outside of the author’s or agent’s control. In October of 2014 I had it in my mind that if I just put out great work publishers will love it, fight each other for it, print it, sell it, and and that’d be that. What I didn’t know was creating great work is only a small part of the equation, maybe the smallest. The rest of it is a convoluted formula of timing, genre, public mood, and probably a dozen other factors to which I’m not privy.
Translation: it comes down to luck.
That doesn’t mean you can just write garbage, get lucky, and be a career novelist.
Wait a second… yes it does!
The point is, I was naive to what the publishing industry had in store for me, and I was about to learn… by getting pummeled.
First thing to digest is that publishers won’t get back to you for a couple months, maybe longer. And it’s like, eff me, ya know? But a quick reality check puts that pain to rest. You have to ask yourself, “Do you think these people are sitting around in their offices twiddling their thumbs, just waiting until your spectacular book lands on their desk?” Not if they want to, you know, make money and stuff.
So I got over the waiting game a little more quickly this time. I could use the time to work on my next novel, anyway, so there.
A couple months later the responses started coming in.
You know that whole, it’s not you, it’s me thing? Well, I don’t know how many times it actually rings true in regular life (read: it was probably you), but it sure happens a lot in the publishing world. Stuff like, “Man, I sure loved reading this awesome book. I laughed. I cried. I stayed up all night with it. I red whole chapters to my friends. I’ll even admit that I hugged it a few times. Anyway, it’s not for us. Good luck selling it!”
You think I’m kidding. I’m not. Never have I been so blindsided. These strange responses are 99% about how great my book is, how it’ll probably be a bestseller, and how anyone who would pass on it will regret it, but, regretfully, they’ll pass on it.
Look at it this way: what if I told you I had an idea that will change your life and make you a millionaire? What if I made an awesome argument as to the validity of the idea, the benefits, the lack of risk, etc., and you were absolutely convinced that it would be a surefire smash hit that everyone would buy and that you’d become filthy rich if you invested in it. Seems like you’d be a fool not invest, right? Okay, but now let’s reveal that the idea is to create a porn site.
Eee… now how do you feel? Probably not so warm on the idea, anymore, I assume? Why? Because it’s just not what you do, what you’re into, or how you want to represent yourself to the world. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t change the logic from above. It IS a good idea (financially, anyway). It IS completely marketable. It WILL make you a ton of money.
But it’s just not for you.
Welcome to being an author working with the publishing industry.
The mismatch is never so apparent as a porn site, though. You don’t send a horror novel to a house that publishes nothing but romance. You send a horror novel to a house that, you know, publishes horror. And you’d think that would work, but now apply that convoluted formula. Let’s say you wrote a thriller with a twist ending and your agent sends it along to a bunch of thriller publishing houses. You have every reason to be excited, but they have every reason not to.
“Great book, but we recently acquired a thriller with a twist ending, so, pass.”
“Great book, but we’re looking for something where the main character is a woman, so, pass.”
“Great book, but too scary, so, pass.”
“Great book, but it was too short, so, pass.”
“Great book, but I had corn flakes this morning, so, pass.”
Okay, I’m being a smart-ass with that last one. The truth is, editors have legitimate reasons to pass because, after all, they’ll have to invest their money in a book, and they know the industry well enough to know what will sell and what won’t. No matter what they tell you, if they don’t want it, it’s for a good reason. It’s the same thing as the porn example above. They DO love your book, they DO think it could be a bestseller, they DO hope it finds a happy publishing home somewhere… but they just can’t be the ones to make it happen. And you just have to live with that.
What it amounts to for the author (and the agent, at this point) is the same thing it always amounts to: you just gotta keep grinding.
Until the day you get pummeled so hard, you quit.