When Good Books Aren’t Published

August 10, 2017

β€œThe publishing world is very timid. Readers are much braver.”

~ Kiran Desai

I started this post last night, writing about how I did, indeed, get my feedback wrangled for the YA and what my next steps would be. But I was bored writing it. And if I was bored writing it, let’s face it–you’d be bored reading it. So I decided to write about something different. Hopefully it’s not sleep-inducing.

I Love You, You’re Perfect…Now Go

Publishers are desperate for something new and different and yet they often balk when they get it, unable to put it into a neat or recognizable category. The sales team has no idea how to market it or bookstores don’t know how to shelve it. So a wonderful story is passed up.

I remember hearing an editor share at a conference that she was completely in love with a manuscript, but could not get sales and marketing on board (this actually happened to me with a picture book manuscript last year). She was heartbroken and it seems crazy that a book that she loved and felt would touch readers did not have a place on their list.


Even though we know it’s a business, the business side can often make us crazy. Or at least seem unfair.

The Publishing Industry and Fear

Like many industries (and human beings), the publishing industry runs largely on fear. Fear of not finding the next big thing. Fear of not making money. Fear of disappointing shareholders. It’s easier to say no to something that feels a little risky than to support a project that may lose the company a lot of money. Fear-based decisions can often make good business sense. (Though speaking from experience, they almost always make very bad personal sense. But that’s a topic for another post. πŸ™‚ )

So if we want to be a part of this crazy business, how do we stay sane?

Brave Readers and Writers

I agree wholeheartedly with the quote, but I’d include writers in the brave category. Not only must we be brave in our writing, exposing ourselves on the page, but we also must be brave and focused as we navigate the world of publishing.

When the editor said she loved that manuscript of mine, but couldn’t get others behind it, I was disappointed. I probably got a little pissy and shook my virtual fist at those nameless, faceless “others” who couldn’t see the brilliance that we did.

But then I stopped because that’s not helpful. And when I had time to think about it and talk it over with my agent, I felt hopeful. If she liked it that much, surely someone else would too. Or I might approach it differently and send a revision back to that editor.

Sanity Realization #1. I had options, I had choices.

Persevering Writers

I’ve been with my current agent for four years and I’ve found over the last 12-18 months that we spend a lot more time honing a manuscript before we agree it’s ready to submit than we did when I first came on board with her. I believe this is because the bar continues to be raised for quality in addition to marketability and we want to ensure we are sending out the best possible story. But it also means things happen more slowly.

Point of fact: I signed on with her in June 2013 and we placed If Your Monster Won’t Go to Bed in October 2013. I was convinced we were on our way. My (mostly self-imposed) drought was over!

Not quite.

Over the next two years, we submitted at least five other picture book stories, some of which came close, but ultimately were not accepted for publication. We haven’t submitted anything for about a year because we haven’t felt anything was ready yet. I’ve been revising a few different stories and working on my new YA so we’ll see what bubbles to the top.

I don’t share any of this to discourage anyone. I have plenty of friends whose manuscripts (picture books and novels) are getting acquired. I say this because this is my reality and I am trying to maintain the joy of writing while continuing to bump up against the realities of getting published.

Sometimes I get discouraged. Sometimes I get pissed off. But even when I do, I find myself right back in it. Because I love creating stories.

Sanity Realization #2. I can choose to disengage.
If the pissed off feeling is strong, that’s usually a sign I’m clinging too tightly to the end result (getting published) and am not immersing myself in the part that brings me joy (writing.)

Staying sane means recognizing that like anything and anyone, the publishing industry has flaws. Maybe they blew it by not accepting a story. Maybe they didn’t. But as the author, I have choices. I can submit elsewhere. I can revise. I can write something brand new. And I can remember what I love about the industry. The dozens of dedicated, funny, warm, and brilliant editors, agents, writers, and illustrators—-all with faces and names–I have met and/or gotten to know over the years who have enriched my journey more than they will ever know.