When Your Book Doesn’t Sell

by Robin Lovett
published in Community

I’ve been planning to write this post for over a year. Except I really thought it would be the “When Your Book DOES Sell” version. But yeah… that didn’t happen. The book my agent signed me for didn’t sell. I found out five months ago. It’s taken me that long to be ready to write this.

I knew it was coming. The book was on submission for a year. My agent told me it would be happening soon, and I wanted it to be done. A whole year of checking my email obsessively, hoping an editor would want it—it drives a person insane.

I thought I was prepared for it to be done, but I wasn’t. The email from my agent with “Closeout” in the subject line—it messed with me. It didn’t matter that in the time I was on submission I’d written and sold another book. Having my first book not sell… The self-doubt was crippling. I’m still getting over it.

It’s like an old relationship that breaks your heart. Even after you meet someone new, someone better, it doesn’t make that break up hurt any less. But I’m not alone. This happens to every writer. (Don’t tell me the exceptions. I’m not talking about outliers here.) Plenty of writers have one, two, even three or more books that don’t sell, and they just keep writing.

And I wanted to be one of those people, the kind who keeps on writing and never gives up. So here are some things I did after the closeout that worked cuz… Three months later, I got a new deal. The three book kind J

So when a book doesn’t sell, try to…

Use it As Fuel

It hurts when your work doesn’t sell. It’s a horrible feeling. The gut reaction of “everyone hates my writing” is overwhelming. But take the wound and turn it into fuel. Turn it into motivation to make your next book better than the first. Turn it into, “What do I write this time?”

Learn From It

Listen to what others have been telling you. Don’t give in to the blinders of “no one will ever buy my books.” Somewhere in the feedback you got were positive things and suggestions of things to work on. Sort through it. Listen to the good advice from others and hear what things they want to read from you next.

Keep Working

Whether the advice and feedback work or not, keep writing. Keep writing. Keep writing. Keep writing. There is no better medicine. Though getting back to writing can be a tricky mine field. A book not selling makes you doubt even your strengths. Trying to figure out why it didn’t sell, which things to change, which things to keep about your writing—it’s exhausting to do on your own. That’s why you need to…

Talk to Your Writing Friends

This is crucial. Getting support, being reminded about your strengths is infinitely important when mired in the self-doubt of shelving a work. Lean on your friends. Let them be your cheerleaders. They’ll need you to do the same when they’re buried in the lows of this roller coaster publishing business.

Believe in Your Work

Don’t give up on yourself. Focus on your stories and what you want to write, rather than your fears. I won’t even name them here. They are the fears-that-shall-not-be-named, because they’re not worth your time. They just get in your way. Focus not the past disappointments but on the doing.

It takes time to recover from a book not selling. My doubt hasn’t gone away. I took big risks in the book that didn’t sell, and I wonder if I’ll ever be brave enough to take those again.

But somewhere in there, something good happened.

I looked up the dates of my emails and files. The week before my “closeout” email, my agent sent me a list of prompts from my soon-to-be publisher’s request list. The week after the closeout, I started on one of them.

It worked. Four months later—three book deal.

You can do it, too.

Robin Lovett writes contemporary romances with her debut novel, Racing To You. Her next series, Bad Boys of Blackmail is scheduled for release the summer of 2017 through SMP Swerve. She is represented by Rachel Brooks of the L. Perkins Agency. She loves to chat on Twitter @LovettRomance and every Sunday evening you can find her chatting with other romance writers at #RWChat.

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