Stalled Dreams

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

Here’s a blog I wrote a while ago but it is still just as true today. And every bit as frustrating.

Remember those days when we worked so hard to get published? Did you ever think that publication would only be the beginning of a new set of worries? As aspiring writers we were fixated on the prize– representation and an eventual book contract. All we thought about was holding that first book in our hands. We longed for the day we could change “writer” to “author.” Heady stuff.

But dreams do come true. Let’s say the author finds the perfect agent, and she sells the book. The newly-minted author holds an exciting launch party, and everyone who knows him comes to celebrate. In the afterglow, he makes deep eye contact with his wife, takes both her hands into his and hums a few bars of “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” It doesn’t get much better than this, right? He makes it a habit to walk into bookstores looking for his book on the shelves. The only problem is that he rarely finds it. “We can order it for you,” the helpful clerk always says. Hmm.

Okay, so the first royalty statement is disappointing. Friends tell him about those famous “sleeper” books that start out slowly and build to bestseller status. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for him to realize that his book is not a sleeper. No, apparently it was DOA–dead on arrival and he fears his career is stalled.

His publisher acknowledges that marketing and sales mistakes may have been made. The editor offers another contract. A second chance! This time our author is practically paralyzed with fear. Will it be good enough? But eventually book number two releases. Everyone says it is good but, sadly enough, sales are still lackluster. Bookstore employees see the author’s name over and over as they pack up his books to send back to the publisher.

What’s an author to do?

When we talk about career planning, the stalled career is one of the hardest things we tackle. Many authors are surprised to discover that editors will be reticent to take on a third book if the first ones did not sell well. But here are a few suggestions for trying to get your career back on track:

  • Write the book that simply cannot be turned down. You are going to meet with some formidable resistance because your first couple of books did not do well. (A rough gauge of success –your book should earn back its advance within the first year.) Don’t forget, those bookstore owners are going to remember that your books sat on their shelves for a long time and then had to be sent back. They are not going to be eager to give you a second or third chance. If you want to resurrect your stalled career, you need to pull out all the stops. The idea has to be high concept and the execution near-perfect.
  • Continue to market the previous books. With enough word-of-mouth excitement, a sleeper can always be awakened. If a previous book started to do well, it alone could jumpstart your career.
  • Develop an innovative marketing strategy for the proposed book and communicate this to potential editors. The author with a stalled career must be able to overcome the reticence publishers may have, based on past sales.
  • Put the numbers in context for a potential publisher. This is something your agent will do for you. Every time an agent shops a book, the first question out of the editor’s mouth is, “What kind of numbers did he get on his first book?” There’s no fudging–sales are sales. But your agent needs to discuss some of the possible reasons for the lackluster sales and explain why this book is different. Often the agent will need to explain some of the issues at the publishing house that may have contributed to low sales. This takes real finesse since there’s a fine line between trying to put statistics into context and breaking professional confidences.
  • Try to be patient. When an agent is shopping a new book for an author with regrettable past sales numbers, it’s going to take all her skill and expertise to make the sale. She needs to be strategic and patient. This step could take longer than the first sale did.

Do you feel stalled in whatever stage you find your writing career right now? Got any suggestions for reinvigorating it?

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  1. Great post, Wendy!
    * I’ve had the experience of going into a Barnes and Noble and seeing a stack of “Blessed Are The Pure Of Heart” on the front table; and I saw the stack decline and refresh on subsequent visits, until I was too ill to drop by. (Would have been nice to get the royalties from the now-defunct publisher, but oh, well.)
    * It was heady…and in the end, empty, because I have learned a new thing. Dreams may stall, but intentional hope motors on.
    * Writing this is physically difficult. I’m not angling for sympathy, but I’ve got severe chest pain that makes me occasionally have to extend my arms (like Moses, only my Aaron and Hur are called Ladron and Sylvia). In between my elbows are extended, like a typing Funky Chicken.
    * Ah, yes, the lesson (is the Funky Chicken firmly implanted? Good!). Achievements are fun, but they’re frosting. The cake is to be found in community, to BE the Aaron and Hur holding up the arms of someone whose strength and hope and faith is flagging. We are not made to reach mountaintops; our purpose lies in helping others up the slopes that make them quail.
    * Our dreams will stall; but our intentional hope is defined by what we give away, and our giving is an open channel from God to our friends. There is no moderation in its flow, and it’s regulated only by the size of our hearts, and the smallness of ego.

    • OK, I’m not angling for sympathy, but I will flat-out ask for prayers. The development of crippling chest pain (yes,medical types, accompanied by a deep cough) along with a pancreatic malignancy would be absolutely terrifying to a man who is not so hard as I. But I’m in deep kimchee (or, if you prefer horrifying Vietnamese cuisine, nuoc mam).
      * Barb said this, about Hard Men: “The hardest men are made of marble or bronze, and stand on plinths in parks and plazas, whence may come the pigeons to crap on their heads.”
      * Marriage is not for the faint of heart.

      • Bluebirds, Andrew, not pigeons.
        And yes, we are praying.

      • Andrew, you are a MAN among men. Though we have never met face to face, my respect for your is without measure. Indeed I pray for you, Barb, Ladron, and Sylvia. I pray for everyone (here and elsewhere) who is impacted by what you share.
        * My favorite nephew went to be with Jesus just a couple of months ago. He contracted cancer in his brain at age 12, beat it, got it again at 15, beat it, and then finally again at 32. As he lay in his hospital bed talking with an awesome nurse, he remarked to her, “So is this the conversation about how I’m going to die?” She took his hand and said, “No, John. This is a conversation about how you’re going to live the rest of your life.”
        * That reminds me of you, Andrew. That’s how you approach everything! You run the race in such a way as to receive the prize. You don’t run from the starting line, but rather toward the finish line. You’re an impressive man, and blessed to be acquainted with you through this venue.

      • I’m always praying for you.

      • Shirlee, bluebirds are indeed appropriate. And they’re SMALLER. 🙂

      • Damon, you pay me great honour – especially in the comparison with your nephew – and I am deeply grateful to know you. Thank you so very, very much.

      • Shelli, we truly appreciate the prayers…and really need them. It’s harder on Barb than it is on me.

      • Dana McNeely says:

        Praying for Barb and Andrew this morning. Andrew, love your reference to Aaron and Hur, Ladron and Sylvia. Praying for all of you. And thank you for your encouragement to me when I read your posts.

      • Dana, thank you so much for this; especially the prayers. Very much neeed today, and I was so glad to see the sunrise!
        * I’m so honoured that you find inspiration in my words. Truly.

      • Oh my dear Andrew, I can understand, and I keep you and Barb I’m my prayers, especially regarding the pain. I shall NEVER forget as a new nurse, at the age of twenty, working my first day at the Lester E. Cox Medical Centerl in Springfield, Missouri . The wing I was assigned to wss part of an old section of the large hospital. This was in the summer of 1980, so the wing was old brownstone on the outside, with corridors that were dim, and rooms that seemed to come from a 1940’s movie. I don’t believe there was any way to brighten up that section of the hospital. I could hear the cries of pain, even as I walked from the hall coming onto that medical unit. It was the cries of a woman in her thirties with bone cancer. Bone cancer is one of the most painful cancers. Back then the pain meds were different, but we would give her a mix of pain killers called a Brompton’s Cocktail. This mic was created by the Royal Brompton Hospital in London, England specifically for patients with cancer. It was used mostly in the 19th and 20th century, and was considered to be the most potent pain killer of its time. But, that barely even helped her. She would have some rest, probably from pure exhaustion of crying out from the level of pain she was having. I could tell that her emaciated body, that looked like she came out of a Nazi concentration camp was once beautiful and her sunken eyes in there sockets were a deep blue. I cried for her so many times and for her husband and two young sons that would come to visit. Often the husband went in by himself. If there was ever a picture of profound grief it was there in that room, in those halls where I heard her cries, and say her husband’s and boy’s tears as cancer ravaged her body- a body in its prime that belonged to that once beautiful woman who had been so full of life and vigor. Oh, how I prayed for her and her family caught by this unwanted, uninvited disease of death. I prayed Jesus take her home please. I think it was not more than a week or two before her cries of pain on this earth ended, and her shouts of jubilation began as she entered heaven’s gates. Even so, I prayed for her husband and boy’s left behind, that our Heavenly Father would be their comfort and apply the healing balm as the Great Physician. My own dear mother passed on metastatic colon cancer in 2007. I gave her her pain medication her last four days on this earth, all except for the final dose which in the end ushered her into the arms of her Savior.

        No Andrew, I shall not forget to pray for you and Barb, as you live this journey out from this middle ground to your eternal celestial home. It is but on the other side of the curtain. I will pray for your beloved Barb, and that God the Father will wrap her in His arms, and hold her closely until she too reaches those shores. Like David said of his infant son, he can not come back to me, but one day, I shall go to Him.

        BUT FOR NOW, you my dear brother, are hear to stretch our brains and our hearts.

      • Andrew, you know I pray for healing for you every day, but God doesn’t seem to be following my advice. Of course I won’t stop praying for you, and for Barbara.You’re an inspiration for all of us.

      • Elizabeth, thank you so much for this testimony, and for your prayers. I’ve never taken the brompton Cocktail, but I have seen it used when I did medical rotations as part of my training.
        * I can so relate to the exhaustion that comes with crying out; and I think it is still wore for Barb as she sits by my side as I scream.
        * We’re so grateful for your support, love, and prayers; far more than we can ever say.

      • Jan, we truly appreciate your kind words, and your prayers. God has given me so many blessings denied to so many people…love in my life, shelter, clean water and safe food…I really don’t resent the illness. As long as it lasts, and as long as I may last, it provides a perspective that is both painfully fresh and a terrible fulfillment and justification of what I trained for, my whole life. Kind of a lethal Olympics.

      • Jerusha Agen says:

        Praying for you and Barb, Andrew!

      • Dear Andrew, do you know that I believe part of the reason God has brought me to this blog is to comfort you and Barb. He loves you both so much. His ways are infinitely above our, and His mercy and compassion are always there, like the waves of the see, He comes over us washing us with His unending love.

        As for Barb, my heart goes out to her with special pray and understanding of how helpless a person feels as someone they love experiences a pain, really no words can describe. If I am here for learning and to comfort you, and honestly, even if I’m not picked up by agent, it is enough. For, I am not a grasped, but a giver, and I trust in God and His direction and providence.

        Be blessed my dear brother, God has sent you a nurse via a writing blog, who has years of experience, my last in homecare where many of my patients had cancer.

      • Jerusha, thank you so much!

      • Elizabeth, words fail me at your lovely comment, that you may be here to be a comfort, bringing all of your experiences to bear…and you ARE a comfort, and support. A source of strength and hope for both of us. You’re an answered prayer.

      • Jennifer Muller says:

        I’ve been lurking a bit and have come to care for this family of writers here. You’ve built a wonderful community here.

        Andrew there is something about you… Your walk is true. Praying for you tonight.

        Damon, your words touched me deeply. “This is a conversation about how you’re going to live the rest of your life.”

        After my husband was diagnosed with aggressive terminal cancer (oddly, they gave a terrifyingly short time frame, but never used the word terminal), he said, “You think you can scare me with heaven?” He was never dying; rather, he lived every day with hope. This was out of character for my pessimistic husband, so I can only attribute it to God’s transformative grace.

        I’m jealous and happy for him that he’s living the good life with Jesus while I have to wait. I hope it blesses you a little bit to think of your nephew living the good life. The best is yet to come!

      • Jennifer, thank you so much…and my heartgoes out to you, for your loss. And yes…the best is yet to come!

    • Andrew, you are a master at keeping the Main Thing the main thing. We can’t truly succeed in the writing journey alone, and we certainly can’t maintain a level of success without those who come alongside us.
      *We need each other. I’m finding that on this writing road, I’ve been humbled, disappointed, uplifted, and beyond blessed by those who walk alongside . . . And those I have hte privilege to walk along side on their journeys. It’s truly not about us. It’s about honoring God and walking alongside each other.
      *Thank you for your words.
      *You and Barb continue to be in my prayers.

      • Jeanne, thank you so much! We do truly need each other, and your words have inspired me more times than I can count. We in this community are fortunate indeed to share our time on the Earth with you.
        * And thank you so much for the prayers; very much appreciated, and needed.

  2. Ours is a God of first, second, third and fourth chances (thanks be to God).

  3. Dana McNeely says:

    Wendy, I had heard of such challenges for published authors, but reading this today feels more real–and scary. So your list of actions to take makes sense, especially your marketing suggestions. Taking action usually helps–it never helps to be paralyzed by fear.

  4. I’m sharing from a pre-dubbed perspective. When I feel stalled it’s far too easy to put writing on the back burner in my days. The longer I do this, the harder it is to reestablish a good daily routine.
    *I try to be intentional to do something with my story daily.
    *I also talk with friends/mentors who help me to see my story with different eyes. This often helps reinvigorate me and get me writing again. Connecting with others is key for me. 🙂

  5. Thank-you Wendy for further information to add to my tool kit. I had heard some of this before, but you corralled it, and made it concise and personal. I’m hoping I will never have a stalled season, but no matter what, I am always busy with projects, or people to do what God has given me to do, “to lead and feed.” Lead people to the Father through Jesus Christ, and feed them the Truth of God’s Word so they can have the relationship with God, that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit desire. So be it speaking, writing, mentoring, or serving I will be at peace and go forth in joy. Sometimes, the immensity of the writing is not realized until later.

  6. Wendy, my books are with very small publishers. When they came out I was dealing with the terminal illness and death of a close family member and then my own cancer diagnosis and treatments so I couldn’t do much marketing. I assumed that meant no publisher would ever consider any other books from me so I’ve focussed on writing for periodicals. But your post has given me hope.

  7. Dear Father, I want to write the book that simply can’t be turned down. *That’s where it begins.

  8. Having to live what I have lived through, this type if thing could be discouraging, but in my life since I have been young, when God shuts one door, I don’t stay in front of that door for long, I’m looking for the window He has opened. My trust is entirely in Him and I remains undaunted. Which I like what the Miriam Webster online dictionary describes as: : not afraid to continue doing something or trying to do something even though there are problems, dangers, etc.

    That’s what my family and friends know me as. My oldest sister who has been into New Age recently commented on a post for my husband’s and my 24th wedding anniversary. She complemented my husband’s character and then said I was a bright storm of energy wanting to bring good to the world. She is very poetic, and has an IQ of 130. I love it, unlike powerful storms of destruction we have seen, she was saying I was the opposite, and I was a power that brought goodness to others. Someday, I’m praying and believing she will understand that power and brightness if from God, and she will understand Jesus is the only way.

    I am undaunted. Course having a goofy sense of humor helps too.!

  9. How many of you agree that Andrew has helped to change this group from simply sharing information about writing into a real community of people who care and pray for each other?That’s the way Christians, writers or not, should be.

  10. Mary R. P. Schutter says:

    Dearest Andrew (and you are indeed dear to those of us who have found Books & Such and your blog), thank you for being who God created you to be and making no apologies for that. Your words of truth have smacked me along side the head so many times, reminding me that life is short and I need to stop getting caught up in details. Most details are insignificant in the broad scheme of life anyway. Andrew, we are all praying for Barb and for you as you travel the difficult road toward heaven. Onward and upward, my brother!

    • Mary, thank you for this…being real in my writing has occasionally been painful, but God wouldn’t let me do it any other way. That my words have found a resonance in your heart is success far greater than any royalty statement or bestseller status. You touch one heart, and the world becomes a measurably warmer place. And we thank you so much for the prayers!

  11. Lynn Horton says:

    “In the afterglow, he makes deep eye contact with his wife, takes both her hands into his and hums a few bars of “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” Thank you, Wendy. I laughed so hard when I read this sentence that I snorted. I’m glad that only the ancient cat was in the office to hear me. On a more practical and helpful note, I always remind myself that this adventure is in God’s hands. And it’s been so exciting and fulfilling that I haven’t even had time to feel stalled.

  12. David Todd says:

    “Do you feel stalled in whatever stage you find your writing career right now? Got any suggestions for reinvigorating it?”
    Yes. No.