Perhaps the only thing more mystifying than understanding how to write a good novel is getting your head around the notion of selling one. You read some of the drivel under the name of a “New York Times Bestselling author,” and you wonder what the folks in New York are smoking. You see novel after novel from authors who, in your humble opinion, are barely even adequate, while your masterpiece keeps coming back to you. You’ve read all the manuals and taken all the workshops, and you’ve executed it all. Your critique group says it’s your time. You read story after story of a breakthrough novel that had to endure dozens of rejections to find a home, and you have to ask yourself why, if it did this well, didn’t it sell on the first couple of submissions.
It’s all crazy-making of the first order. And the explanation was best put forth by legendary screenwriter and less-known novelist William Goldman, who eloquently said: “nobody knows nothin’.” Bill was right. And still is.
There are three things to keep in mind as you ponder the unthinkable fact that nobody seems to want your book.
First, good work gets rejected all the time. Low level readers at publishing houses are hesitant to risk their careers by recommending something that the suits upstairs – the same geniuses who rejected Harry Potter 12 times – will in all likelihood not like at all. Because nobody seems to know what they’ll like. It’s a numbers game, which means it’s perfectly normal to get rejected, and if it’s nearly as good as you think it is, it most assuredly still will.
Next, you might be gauging the greatness of your book by comparing it to the level of craft you find on the bookshelf already. Publishing is an insider’s club, and if you’ve published a book that sold well, you can be assured that your next book will be eagerly published. Even if it’s not great. All it has to be is mediocre to the extent that readers won’t mutiny. For the rest of us, our books have to be better than mediocre, even better than good or great. To break in to the business, a manuscript has to be earthshatteringly original, poignant, powerful – think The DaVinci Code, though it wasn’t Dan Brown’s first book and not everybody agreed on how good it was – enough to warrant an up-front investment.
And the final option: your novel truly isn’t good enough. If a good book stands little to no chance at publication, for either or both of the above reasons, how can an even slightly flawed book hope to find its way onto a shelf at Barnes & Noble? Or worst, a book from someone the editor’s never heard of? It can’t.
So how do you get a book published? Answer: somehow.
My point here: the bar is very, very high. Writing a publishable novel is not remotely as easy as it looks or seems, especially with some of the mediocre stuff you see in the bookstores. It can take years of practice and patience to master, and even then, there are many non-quality variables in play that can sabotage it.
The only thing you have control over is the quality of your work. Nothing else. And that, boys and girls, is the point of this blog.