10 Common Misconceptions of the Wannabe Novelist, #7
See Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6.
#7: Once I publish my novel, I’ll just be able to keep cranking them out.
Oh, if only it were that simple, especially in today’s economic climate. The fact is, publishing a well-crafted novel is no guarantee of future publication. Oh, if only novels could be published based on their own merits.
Stepping into publication, I had a lot to learn. I naively thought getting my first novel published basically guaranteed long-term publication. After all, if my first novel was good enough to be accepted, why not future books?
Being a Salesperson
What I learned is that getting a novel published is only a small part of the equation. The other part is the almighty dollar. Publishers take a big financial risk on first-time novelists. They spend a lot of money on editing, graphic design, and printing. They put their necks on the line and, like any business, hope to make a good return on their investment.
Writing my first novel was fun. Selling it, on the other hand, was an expectation I felt unprepared and uneducated for. Someone may ask, “You mean, I have to actively try to sell my novel to others?” Yep, that’s exactly what I’m saying.
As I said in my last post in this series, publishers expect authors to take an active role in promoting their novels to as many readers as possible. Sometimes authors may feel like panhandlers, and the experience might rub them the wrong way. But that’s part of the cost of being a published novelist.
Sales must be good enough so the publisher reaps a profit, and frankly understanding how many sales are considered “good sales” is not so easy to understand. If sales are disappointing, the publisher may not be inclined to publish the author’s future books. And other publishers may not be interested if they learn about an author’s record of poor sales. So understandably the author must work hard to get good sales.
Sales Reports: What the Author Knows (or Doesn’t Know)
Once a novel is released, an author has no clear idea of sales for a while. The books are mailed to bookstores; sometimes copies that don’t sell are later returned to the publisher for a refund. The publisher must wait for sales figures to roll in before drawing any conclusion about sales. No, publishers do not routinely send authors a sales report monthly or even quarterly. Some authors receive two royalty statements per year, if their agent is able to request that preference in their contract.
I didn’t have an agent going into my first book (nor do I have one now), so I’ve received only one royalty statement per year, interestingly on April Fools Day. If I want to know about sales, I can either wait for the next royalty statement or ask my publisher. (I’ve been typically afraid to ask. No news is good news, right?) Various authors have recommended watching my sale ranking at Amazon.com, but I’ve learned that one’s Amazon ranking is not an accurate reflection.
Ever Growing, Ever Learning
What have I learned as a result of this process? An author can write a strong novel, do everything right on the exhaustive marketing checklist, and still experience poor sales. Ultimately, God calls the shots. “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” God has a unique path in mind for each of us, and we must trust Him to bring about His ordained plan. While poor sales are certainly discouraging and embarrassing, an author can only do his or her best and trust God for the rest.
Times are changing. Due to e-books and the possibility of authors doing their own publishing, the world of publishing has been turned upside down. It will be interesting to watch what happens over the next five years. My second novel will be an e-book.
Being a published novelist has certainly been an interesting learning process, and I am growing in my knowledge of new things all the time. I gained so much experience during the launch of my first novel that I feel much more prepared for the release of my second one.
Does any of this information surprise you? Let me know if you have any questions about the publication process. I’m happy to remove the mystery if I can.
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