EVERYTHING YOU DON’T WANT TO HEAR
When I first developed and wrote my literary masterpiece (a post-apocalyptic noir the size of War and Peace), I was ecstatic.
“Horary!” cried ignorant, tender-spring-child Hannah. “Fame and fortune are right around the corner! With a book like this, surely, I should begin to shop locale for my mountainous piles of money.”
Then I started looking into how a book goes from the depths of my laptop to immutable print. The process seemed so complex—so intricate and third party-dependent—I called quits to the researching for the sake of my sanity.
I didn’t want to learn what I didn’t want to hear.
“No problemo,” said Ignorant Hannah. “I write a few letters, tell them how great I am, and then move on to fame and fortune.”
Then the rejections started coming. Lots of them. I grimaced and sniffled and pulled out chunks of hair, trying to divine how these people had been blinded to the potential of a surefire cash cow.
The sinking feeling in my stomach had been right; it was time for some more research. When I say “some,” I mean, A LOT of research. Only then, after accumulating a sheaf of tear-stained rejection letters, did I discover something very important:
Publishing a book is hard.
“Hard” isn’t exactly an adequate adjective here. It’s too ambiguous—too loose. “Soul-sucking,” “disheartening,” or “a cruel gauntlet of personal demons” may be more apt.
Notice, I did not say “impossible.” Publishing is anything but! Your dreams of seeing your book on the shelves of B&N are achievable, and fame and fortune is out there. (Somewhere.) What I wish someone would have told me when I began this process was that it takes a lot of time and perseverance for just about everyone. I’m talking years—sometimes even decades.
Of course, there are exceptions. Becky Albertalli, the author of Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda, pitched her novel at a conference and was agented within weeks. Her agent sold the book within months, and now, mere years later, her book is coming out as a movie.
How many times does that happen? Well, from the stories I’ve heard, once.
A more realistic timeline might be that of author Kate Miller, M.D. Kate is a good friend of mine and her book, Karma Patrol, was published by Curiosity Quills. In her blog, she gives a much more realistic picture of how long it takes to query, edit, and publish a book.
Keep this in mind: Kate’s publication process was whippity-quick. Mine took (is taking) even longer, and by all intents and standards, I should have waited longer than I did.
This process is what the French would call “dur,” meaning, “hard, harsh, tough, or difficult.” However, JUST BECAUSE YOUR SCINTILLATING SUCCESS DOES NOT HAPPEN OVERNIGHT DOES NOT MEAN YOUR BOOK IS BAD.
Let’s crunch some numbers, shall we?
- Eoin Colfer, the author of the famed Artemis Fowl series, published his first book, Benny and Omar, in 1999. Heard of it? I sure as cuss haven’t. Two years later, he debuted Artemis Fowl and became an international sensation. Lesson? Your first book is not a silver bullet.
- Stephen King nailed his rejections to his wall. Lesson learned? CUSSIN’ STEPHEN KING WAS REJECTED!
- J.K. Rowling was rejected by twelve different publishers (after being agented, mind you), and she is unarguably the most successful author alive. Lesson? Rejection is inevitable—even for the most commercially successful series in human history.
- John Kennedy Toole’s brilliant masterpiece, A Confederacy of Dunces, was rejected so many times, Toole became depressed and committed suicide. It later won the Pulitzer Prize. The lesson here? Don’t kill yourself.
- Eragon was originally self-published. It took Christopher Paolini an entire year of travelling the country, self-promoting, before it was discovered and reprinted. (There are other reasons why this one didn’t hit the jackpot right off the bat, but I will not discuss them here.) Lesson? Everyone has a chance.
According to Bowker, over one million books are published every year. Of that million, how many become multi-billion-dollar, box office sensations? How many can you name? You’re playing against loaded odds, my friend, and a saturated market plays by house rules.
I’m sorry for being such a downer. Please believe me when I say that I’m not trying discourage you. (I’m also very hypocritical, and I reserve every right to remain that way.) These are the things that I wish someone had told me when I began my publishing journey. If I had started chewing on these cold, hard facts before they struck me across the face, perhaps they would have landed more like a wet noodle and less like a cement brick.
If you take one thing from this post, let it be this: The only way you will fail is if you give up.
It may take two years. It may take 200 years. (I mean, let’s give poor Edgar Allen Poe some mad props. He died in poverty on the streets of Baltimore.) But ever since the Phoenician Code—ever since Gutenberg’s Press and the ridiculous serialization of Dickens novels—people have always and will always want to read books. If you just keep swimming, do your research, and keep a perked ear to the market, you will find someone who wants to read your book.
Always dream big. Just make sure that your timeline and expectations are flexible enough to accommodate that dream.
Photo credit: MILKOVI