Editor’s Note: It’s hard to believe in your book and your work when you get negative feedback, rejections, and the Black Hole of Silence from editors. Some writer friends and I were talking about how important it is to believe in your book and my colleague, bestselling author Alisa Bowman, sent me such a smart and insightful email about how to believe in your book that I asked for permission to publish it here.
She did me one better and wrote this guest post, about fantasy versus reality in the world of writing books and why you have to believe in your book, even when no one else does.
Why You Should Believe in Your Book and Never Give Up
So No One Believes in Your Book?
Welcome to the World of Authorhood.
A few people each week tell me that writing a book has always been their dream, and they ask me for tips on how to make this dream a reality. When I ask them why they want to write a book, many of them tell me about this very common fantasy. It goes like this:
An editor falls in love with their book and offers a 6-figure advance.
The entire publishing house treats this person like the next Elizabeth Gilbert.
The publishing house pours all of its resources into the book—hiring the country’s top designer to ink the cover, the most connected publicist, and many others.
The author ends up on The Today Show, Oprah, Fresh Air and The Daily Show, among many other outlets.
The publishing house pays for a 50 state book tour.
Hundreds of people review the book on Amazon, and they all give it 5 stars.
A movie is made based on the book.
A reality show series is based on the book.
The book sells millions of copies.
It wins a Booker.
Every single person in America knows this author’s name.
The author is so rich he or she buys an island and still has millions left over.
That would be nice, now, wouldn’t it? Unfortunately, it almost never happens.
In reality, this is how the publishing process usually goes:
· Said author queries 600 agents. Most of them do not answer the author’s emails. A few do email back and tell the author that:
1) They are not right for this book
2) They haven’t gotten around to reading the proposal and don’t even know if they have the proposal because they have 80 million emails in their inbox and most of those emails have proposals attached to them
3) The author should think about investing in a ghost writer
4) The proposal has already been done
5) The proposal is great but the author’s platform isn’t
6) The category is too crowded
· If the author manages to find an agent, the agent then sends it out to all of the major publishing houses. They all pass because of any number of reasons which range from “____ is dead” to “____ is a crowded category” to “I don’t do ____ books” to “I just did a book like _____” to “We would love a book about _____, but we’d be a lot more interested if your name was ______.”
Seriously. I exaggerate not.
Take me. Editors passed on my upcoming book Project: Happily Ever After for the following reasons:
1. “You don’t have a PhD.” (The book is my life story).
2. “It’s too close to the Happiness Project.” (My book is a true story about my marriage, and how I went from wishing my husband dead to falling back in love. The Happiness Project is Gretchen Rubin’s story about trying to become happy. There is no overlap whatsoever. Oh, don’t even get me started…..)
3. “There’s something missing.”
I eventually got a deal, but it was a sobering, humbling, tear-producing, GI-upsetting process.
You might be tempted to think that I am an anomaly—that my book MUST have sucked.
If it had been GREAT, then editors would have been falling over themselves to buy it.
I won’t argue with you on that point. I’ll only state some facts:
· 12 publishing houses rejected JK Rowling’s Harry Potter. It took her a year to find a publisher willing to take on the book.
· Dr. Seuss’s first book was rejected by 28 publishers.
· Stephen King’s Carrie was turned away by 30 publishers.
· Jack Canfield’s Chicken Soup for the Soul amassed a record-breaking 140 rejections.
I could list hundreds more.
These editors weren’t intentionally trying to miss out on the next best seller. They weren’t sticking their heads in the sand, and they weren’t morons, either. I know some of the very editors who passed on In the Kitchen with Rosie and the first You book by Dr. Oz. These are brilliant people, people who have been a part of dozens of other best sellers—just not those.
While there are some fairly consistent ideas about what makes a book sell and what makes a book bomb, there is not a single person in publishing who owns an operable crystal ball and who has flawless instincts for picking the next great book. Every editor in publishing has invested in a bomb. Most editors in publishing have passed on one or more future best sellers.
No one is right all the time. Plenty of us are wrong a lot.
Even me. I’m a professional ghostwriter. I’ve helped 7 authors get their books and names on the NY Times bestseller list. But I don’t always pick them right. Years ago, an unknown author came to me with a book idea. I thought, “There’s no way anyone will buy this book.” I agreed to write it (hey, I had a mortgage) and I did the best job I possibly could—even though I thought the book had a fatal flaw.
You know what? It sold millions of copies and that author is now a household name. (I have not mentioned the book title or the author on purpose, as it was a ghosted work.)
So chances are, if you want to get a book published, you—at one time or a hundred other—are going to feel very alone, as if no one believes in your book. And around that time you are going to wonder if your belief in your own book is wildly misguided. When that day comes, here are a few tips:
Remind yourself you’re not alone: 99.9 percent of authors are rejected multiple times. Rejection does not mean that you suck and it does not mean that your book sucks. It just means that you tried. You’ve already gotten farther than most of humanity. Be proud for trying.
Hey, if this doesn’t kill you, it will make a great essay. Some day. You are a writer. Adversity is the best material a writer can have. Embrace it.
· Learn from the rejection: Why aren’t they getting your book? Is there something missing? Could your book be better? Don’t keep sending the book out to editor after editor after editor. Take a step back and honestly assess, “Is there any validity to their concerns?” If possible, workshop your book and/or proposal with other authors. Or hire a professional editor.
· If you’re in a “dead” category, perform CPR: When an editor tells you that “____ is dead,” the editor really means, “We did a book sort of like this last year and that book bombed.” Study the category (self help, cooking, science, health, cancer, autism, etc). Figure out why certain books bombed and certain books succeeded. Become the world’s expert on this book category and on the book-buying audience who flocks to it. Once you do that, you will be able to find a way to craft a book that stands out from the competition and manages to sell—even though certain people thought the category was dead. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you perform CPR:
· Books that sell generally solve a problem for the reader. You’ll probably find that the books that bombed failed to do that. Study where they went wrong so you don’t make the same mistake.
· Books that fail to sell usually lack focus. They read more like encyclopedias on a topic rather than books that are shaped around a specific idea. Study the category and learn the difference between a topic (vegan diets) and an idea (Skinny Bitch).
· Books that fail usually lack a strong voice and a personality. Does yours? By the time the reader finishes your book, the reader should feel as if the two of you are friends—even though you’ve never met.
And think about it this way: if you can convince one reader that you are friends, that reader just might tell two friends about your book—and so on and so on and so on—until you truly don’t care about all of the editors who didn’t believe in your book.
Dust yourself off. Try again. Believe in your book. Even in the face of adversity. Don’t let rejection stand in your way. It will happen for you but you can’t give up. After all, that island that you bought with your royalties is quite a nice place for an author to craft his or her second book.
About Alisa Bowman: Alisa Bowman is a prolific ghostwriter who has penned nearly 30 books for other people. She was the featured writer at the Southern Oregon Author Book Fair in Ashland. Project: Happily Ever After (Running Press, 2011) is the first book she wrote just for herself. It’s the true story of how she went from the brink of divorce to falling back in love. Overcoming the obstacles and finally getting it published helped her realize the importance of believing in your own book.
Published: October 19, 2010
Updated: January 11, 2020
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Dina Santorelli says
Fabulous, fabulous post! I agree with all of your points. And the sad part is that after I tell folks of all the work and all the belief that has to go into their book/proposal/novel idea, that the work doesn’t end once the novel/proposal is finished, so many people throw up their hands and don’t even try. To me, that is the real tragedy.
I know this is all true – but living it is hard! Appreciate the virtual propping up and support. I may just re-read my book tonight!
Jules Carey says
Wonderful article! I’ll bookmark it and read it over and over!
Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart says
Yep, everyone who wants to do a book needs to bookmark this page. I know I did. Thanks, Alisa.
Laura Vanderkam says
Oh, do I relate. It took 18 months to sell 168 Hours. It finally sold because an executive at the publishing house read something else I’d written and liked it. In those 18 months, I certainly learned a lot more about the topic and built a platform and made it a lot better. But I was just reminding myself that 2 years ago, I was about 15 months into those 18 months and was feeling miserable about everything. Living it *is* hard, as Renee puts it.
Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi says
Love, love, LOVE this. Thanks so much Alisa for writing it and Jennifer for posting it!
Kim O'Donnel says
THANK YOU! On a rough day, this turned this beleagured author’s frown upside down.
Merr - The Writer's [Inner] Journey says
What a fine approach and such a nice piece to share.
Caitlin Kelly says
Much wisdom here. If you can’t believe madly, truly and deeply in your own book (yet still have enough detachment to analyze why it’s not selling, as you suggest), who else will? I think finding a pit bull of an agent who will fight hard for it as well is so important.
I am lucky to have found an agent who helped me see much more in my new book idea for “Malled” My Unintentional Career in Retail” (Portfolio, April 2011)l than I initially did. Sometimes an agent or editor can imagine more than we can.
Erica Manfred says
Thanks for the post. Oh so true. I heard the same thing over and over while trying to sell my book on women over forty and divorce. “Too many books about divorce.” “Too many books about women and divorce.” “Not a big enough audience.” Etc, etc. Finally sold it and it’s doing well. The publisher expects it to become a word of mouth classic because sure as hell they’re not doing any publicity.
Now going through the same thing trying to sell a humorous Jewish vampire novel. I ask you, the guy who sold “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” must have been told there’s no audience for this kind of book (actually there had never been this kind of book before) It sold a million copies. Go know!
Jenni Derryberry Mann says
Not only is Alisa savvy about getting a book published, she’s very smart (and inspiring!) about promoting it once it’s in print & ready to sell.
dr aletta says
I am going to print this out and fuse it to my forehead. Thank you!
Michelle Rafter says
Great advice, and well put too. Thanks for sharing. Now I can’t wait to read your book!
Me, too. I want to read Alisa’s book. Such great perception on how this miserable industry functions.
It’s so difficult to get a book published – but after reading the stories of other rejections and then successes, it makes me realize that you cannot take no for an answer if you really believe in your message.
Lori Lowe says
Sad but true. It is not nearly enough to be a strong writer or to have a great idea. But nothing worthwhile is easy, and following one’s dream has its own reward. I’m in the midst of the process and finding it a challenge.
By the way, I can vouch that Alisa’s book is fantastic. Anyone who is feeling mediocre or worse about their relationship, or who could use a shot in the arm romantically, should order a copy. Despite the weightiness of the topic, it’s lighthearted and funny as well as helpful.
Grace Heyward says
Love this! Thanks for sharing. I feel as if, even though I have gotten two books published, are they really good enough. Thanks for reminding me to put the faith back into myself and seeking out thoughts and opinions from other authors and writers when I begin to doubt myself. I’m in the process of writing another book and I, too, am coaching a new writer, as well. Thanks again!
P.S. I am going to order YOUR book. Love the title. I’m looking at getting married, myself and I’m eating up anything and everything about marriage.
Very good advice. Book publishing mostly just sucks but some of us find it’s the only thing we were meant to do.