You’ve written your book, edited and copy checked, and submitted three chapters to an agent or a dozen following all the advice you can find. Many weeks later, their responses trickle into your inbox. They are all in the negative. And you’ve now run out of mainstream addresses to query, plus the inclination to spend more time submitting.
It’s all about the book market and timing, assuming of course that the book itself doesn’t actually suck. And it might.
(A quick test of whether your book sucks: have a stiff drink, read the first chapter or two of a quality bestseller in the same genre and then read the first chapter of your own work. Flinching is a sign your work is not good enough, yet. Schedule another round of re-writing possibly with a coach or freelance editor. If you are honestly pleasantly surprised by what you read, and you want to read on without making any changes, you could well have a good book on your hands.)
Agents look for the following –
- A facsimile of a recent bestselling novel only with its own slant (yes really)
- A book which has a strong chance of featuring in the bestseller lists of the day
- A book they think they can sell to their publishing contacts
- A work which hits the sweet spot between literary award winner and an easy read (oxymoron noted)
- A work which ‘takes them somewhere’ and tickles their taste buds (whatever those may be)
In addition, publishing is a self-selecting industry run by people who don’t necessarily need to work for a living. And they can be ‘book snobs’. Those who make it as agents follow the norms and provide their bosses and publishers with what they want. And what they want is what sold well recently or won an award recently. Or is linked to a high profile celebrity / marketable story.
You will notice a clear omission from the above list – originality and innovation.
As with the music business, innovation happens by accident when there is a groundswell of support for something that is outside of the cosy world of what sold last quarter or last season. Or by sheer luck.
Inevitably this leads to a paradox. Without taking business risks how can the publishing industry innovate to attract new generations of readers and retain existing readers?
Further, how can a future Fifty Shades, Harry Potter, Girl on a Train or Game of Thrones type phenomenon happen again unless a publisher takes risks?
Celebrity books, media tie-ins and cookery books. They keep the literary world solvent while a handful of bestsellers or worthy books pick up the prizes. And of course the long tail of classics, school reading lists etc. help keep the ship afloat. Of course, quality new books continue to be published, but with what levels of promotion?
So what do you do if you have written a book, it reads back well and it is nothing like a recent bestseller or award winner? And your submissions led nowhere?
In short, write another and consider whether you want to self publish. Promote yourself as best you can. (Or take a break and do something else for a short while to live a little.)
It can be tough to keep the faith and keep believing in the merit of your own work, especially in the face of rejection. It is all the more poignant when many consider the badge of ‘published’ to be the accolade in itself (and glaze over at any attempt to explain the challenges). In addition, many people still actively exclude self-published authors from events, reviews, blogs, festivals, libraries and so on. It can feel like a disease at times – the great untouchable author syndrome.