We all have this dream about what being a published author will look like. What will happen with each step, what inspirational phrases we’ll use and what it will feel like.
What we don’t dream about is the disappointment, and we all will have some at one point or another. For some it’s minor stuff like getting a few rejections in a row, your dream editor passing on your work, getting a little publishing deal instead of the big one you’d always dreamed of, or one bad trade review. Those are easily swept under the rug. Easy to move on from.
But some of us, and honestly this pile is more like most of us, the disappointments are bigger. Like monumentally bigger.
Like when you’ve queried five books, all of which you’ve loved, and can’t seem to find an agent interested. Or you have (or had) an agent and went on sub with three different books and no editors are interested (or maybe even worse, they all seem to love it but don’t think it sell well) Or maybe you had that big book deal but it didn't sell well.
When things don’t work out as planned—what now?
With each book that “fails” to achieve that dream, you have a choice.
You can put your beloved book away and start the process all over with another one. This is healthy process that nearly all writers go through. It’s normal, and likely the correct choice for most writers. This should be your first go-to option. Consider what else you have to offer as an author. You next book will likely be even better. The one after that even better! And, as many a writer has dreamed, once you get that big deal you’ve been hoping for, you can come back to your original lovelies and give them new life! Keep dreaming the dream!
But, if you’re not ready to give up on this book, consider these next options:
2) Small Press
Like a big 5 publisher, you also have to be accepted by a small press for this to be a feasible option, but it is a choice whether you even submit to a small press. And if they show interest whether you are willing to give up the opportunity for a bigger sale. I spoke with an agented author recently who was in this predicament. She’d been on sub for some months and was offered an R&R from a small press and she wasn’t sure if she wanted to go through with it, thinking maybe she should hold out for a big deal with another book. I am pro small press (if it’s the right small press!) but I also know that this choice doesn’t come down to whether small presses are good options are not- it’s down to if they are the right choice FOR YOU. And your book. If having a big debut deal and having the prestige of a big publisher behind you is extremely important to you, than don’t feel like you need to settle. I personally wouldn’t turn down an opportunity with a good press just for the possibility of a bigger deal another day-- because we all know that there are NO guarantees. But I’d never suggest an author take that opportunity and end up disappointed because it’s not what they wanted. There are also other considerations: like if you click with the editor and you think their revision ideas will make a better book (definitely don’t settle in this area) or if the publisher is excited and willing to put you at the top of their priorities (all publishers have “big” titles coming out each year that they will put their full weight behind and some smaller ones that won’t get as much attention unless they start to sell well). Also consider if print is a priority for you. For many it is, and there are only a few small presses who will do print runs or can get your book into book stores.
In the current publishing world, self-publishing is a real option for writers. You can put out a quality work that finds legitimate success all on your own. But should you try it? This choice has a lot of things to take under consideration. Like if you’re able and willing to put in the work that it will take to do it right and fighting to find that elusive audience. Or if you’re willing to deal with the stigma. You won’t be in book stores, you won’t have a publishers name behind you to get you into things like book festivals etc (some will let self-published authors in, but it’s not easy. There are so many now that it’s hard for them to judge quality). Another big thing to consider is whether or not your book is really ready to be published. This is a hard topic, but an important one. If you couldn’t find an agent, or a small press—maybe this book just isn’t ready to be published. Or maybe you would simply be better off publishing something else.
Also consider the market for your book. Romance books do great (possibly even better) as a small press or self-published work. Middle Grade doesn’t do as well with self-publishing, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be done. Just realize the full scope what you’re getting into before you choose your path.
When deciding which route to take, you need to realize that you are beginning a career. If you are convinced that THIS is your book, your debut, what you want to use as your foundation for the rest of your writing career, then do what you need to do. Take the route that works best for you.
There are ways to reach that elusive dream of a being a bestselling author without taking the traditional route. Don’t be afraid of the twists and turns, but most of all be brave enough to choose the right path for you. Even if that means waiting years for all the pieces to fall into place, or taking a path no one expected of you.
It’s your career. Your writing. And in the end it’s your choice.