Monday, April 19, 2010

Your First Book Probably Won't Sell. Get Over it!

Currently reading - Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer

The next most common problem newbie writers make is not knowing when to let go of that first manuscript. (The first most common problem I discussed in If You're Serious, Finish the Bleeping Book.)

Yes, it's your first baby. Yes, you've worked your ass off writng, revising and submitting it. But rewriting, re-revising and resubmitting it over and over will only drive you (and every agent and editor known) crazy.

Maybe it's not an idea or subgenre that will sell at this time. Maybe it was just a bad idea. Maybe it was a terrific idea, but you didn't have the skills yet to make it wonderful.

Yeah, I hate to break this last one to you. Maybe, it's not them; it's you.

Not everyone sells their first book out of the gate. And before you point out the marvelous Ms. Meyer listed above, let me point out she's the exception to the rule.

Unless you've already got a MFA in creative writing already, the art of writing fiction is a learning curve. Which is perfectly fine. That first book is like your first tricycle. Great first vehicle. Safe. Secure. But being able to ride a tricycle doesn't mean you're ready for a bicycle, much less a skateboard, motorcycle or car.

Do you really want to be a writer? That means learning to set aside the first manuscript and move on to the next. And then maybe the next. And the next. Ad inifinitum.

I'll be blunt. There's a manuscript that will remain under my bed until the day I die. I was so proud since it was my first completed novel. Frankly, it sucked. Purple prose to the max. The hero had "aquamarine eyes" for crin' out loud. It deserved to be rejected. (And I'll thank any agent or editor who might have seen it not to remember it when I query you again.)

What taught me was moving on to the next one. Good concept. Terrific dialogue. A few requests, but the description and emotional nuance wasn't up to snuff.

Moved on to the next. Lots more requests, but the subgenre had hit its peak, so no takers. Learned a lot more about pacing. Finally got POV right!

Wrote next one as a NaNoWriMo project. Proved to myself I could write a first draft in six weeks.

Went back to Manuscript #2. Damn, I loved that idea, so I threw the entire thing out the window and started over from scratch. Have been getting lots of full requests. Still waiting on answers from agents. Yep, you guessed it. Manuscript #2 is ZL, the one currently on submission.

So don't let rejection get you down if the first manuscript doesn't garner an agent or a publishing offer. If you really want to write, then move on to the next book.


  1. I kept reading this very same piece of advice over and over while getting ready to submit #1 and I actually think I scoffed at it. "Of course my first book will sell. And in less than six months just like Ms. Meyer."

    When I moved past this fantasy world that's when I started to feel like a real writer. If you don't dive into another book the fear of not being able to write more than one book will set in.

    And my #1 could have been titled "Purple Prose"

  2. Yeah, Julie, I have to agree. Giving up that first book fantasy is tough. Like losing the training wheels on the first bike. And despite the skinned knees, you will get better without it.

  3. Another point is that if you don't get into the habit of starting work on #2 while #1 is making the submission rounds, you'll never produce enough work to make a living at this. Not that any individual writer is likely to do so anyway; most writers don't. But if you want even a shot at it, you have to keep producing. Waiting until each manuscript has sold before starting the next one is really kind of dumb. [wry smile]

    And having a #2 ready to go by the time you realize that #1 should be retired to the trunk makes it easier to do the retiring, since you're ready to try again immediately with something new. Much more depressing, and more difficult to make that retirement decision, if it means you'll have to start all over from square one.