Blogger: Wendy Lawton
Location: Books & Such Central Valley Office
Weather: 74º and sunny
Yesterday I set up a worst case scenario about a stalled career. Here’s what I said: All your life you wanted to be a writer. You persevered, landed an agent and then sold a book. Although that book didn’t earn back it’s advance, the publisher believed in you and offered a two-book contract. You wrote those books and, well, they didn’t break any sales records even though many readers loved them. Your publisher let your agent know that because of the sluggish market and disappointing sales numbers they won’t be able to offer another contract at this time.
What do you do?
A. You write the most amazing book of your life so that your agent can get it out there, shopping it to new publishing houses. In the comments on yesterday’s blog, Nicole said she thought this goes without saying– that every author writes the best book he can possibly write. I wish it were true but when an author has a contract and a deadline sometimes the time constraints bump up against quality. Sometimes when you are promoting the book just released, working on edits of the next book and trying to write the current book. . . well, creativity just gets lost in the frenzy. Many writers lavish time and edits on the first book while they wait for it to sell. They never have that luxury again once deadlines and all the other tasks (edits, galleys, marketing, etc.) intrude. Too often second and third books are not as good as debut novels.
Glass-half-full point of view: When you no longer have a contract, you can once again lavish time on your writing. (Of course this assumes you are not trying to make a living as a writer. I shared my feelings on that subject in a blog post called Kiss of Death: Quitting the Day Job.)
B. You accept the inevitable and decide that that you have three more published books than most people. Time to quit. You wouldn’t be the first to decide this. Harper Lee wrote one book, To Kill a Mockingbird, and never wrote a second book. As Dale said in the comments, “If you can live without writing, it’s okay.”
C. You take a step back and do some co-writing or work for hire while you wait for the market to heat up again. In the meantime you learn everything you can about building a readership. Several of you pointed out that this is a good option. I agree. As you do work-for-hire you get to know editors in the industry and you build your value. If you write fiction and can write in a continuity series or for category romances, for instance, you will build a huge audience. These writing gigs are not easy to get and require excellent writing skills as well but the editors do not look at numbers. They concentrate on the writing and storytelling ability.
D. You decided to self-publish and create e-books to market directly. We’ve already discussed the downsides to this but it is always an option. Lyn suggested writing for small presses or university presses. Interesting possibility.
I liked the advice Dale Cramer gave: “We’re all different. Follow your bliss. If that means writing another book, then take it to a new level of excellence and innovation and trust God to open doors. If not, don’t beat yourself up over it. Do what seems best to YOU.”
I hope you’ve had fun discussing these worst case scenarios this week. The best thing about playing this game is that when you’ve developed a strategy for the worst thing that could happen, reality usually is a whole lot brighter.
This has been a wonderfully instructive week. Thanks so much for designing the learning exercises!
Amy L. Sonnichsen
I did have fun. This was a great exercise! Thanks for doing this, Wendy. 🙂
In the face of these worst scenarios, I’d suggest a one-writer mini-retreat and some sit-before-the-Lord prayer. (Fasting and praying sometimes go together, but I’ve also shared macadamia nut cookies and lattes with Him, too.)Parks and deserted college libraries during spring/Christmas breaks work well as locations. While I sometimes receive direct answers to my career questions from God, I mostly find that I think and react with more insight after these retreats. Plus a bit more sanity.
Although this is my first post this week, I’ve lurked and learned a lot. Thanks, Wendy, and all those who posted!
Great series, Wendy. Thanks for putting these scenarios together and discussing them with us.
Great series, Wendy. Very much fun.
Teri Dawn Smith
Agreed! I enjoyed this interactive learning opportunity. Thanks, Wendy!
Crystal Laine Miller
This has been a thought-provoking series and I’ve enjoyed not only the posts but also the comments from everyone.
What I wish I could do is take Dale Cramer’s advice because I beat myself up all the time. And Rachael’s mini-retreat with God is also good advice.
I think it was Francine Rivers (I’ll have to check that fact) who couldn’t write for 3 years when she decided she could no longer write for the general market after becoming a Christian. Then she wrote Redeeming Love.
Yes, these were very thought provoking issues. I’ve come to find in my own life that during those hard writing periods that God has drawn me closer to him as I go to him and pray and ask if he still wants me to do this.
Rachael, good idea with the mini-retreat 🙂
Actually, I have a question/comment. I’ve been listening to the CDs from the ACFW conference last year. During Allen Arnold’s workshop, he stated that over 80% of advances don’t earn out. I didn’t realize that? I heard a couple of other industry professionals state a similiar statistic. I’m assuming what they’re saying is accurate, and if so, the writer shouldn’t beat themselves up for not earning back their advance?
I forgot to mention, what I’d do about the sluggish sales? I’d definitely write category romance! Once you sell to Harlequin (or some other publisher) with the category romances, it’s possible the audience will see you already have a series out and they might go and buy your old books! You never know what might happen! 🙂
Cecelia, a writer should not beat himself up for not earning out if he’s written the best book he can write and done everything he can possibly do to promote the book but. . .
If you don’t earn out your advance, those numbers will stay with you and make it very hard to sell your next book. Don’t forget that it’s not just the publisher who is influenced by lackluster sales. The store owner who ordered books in and had to pack them back up to return always remembers. When the sales rep goes in to sell your next title, he meets resistance.
That’s why we talk about strategy for worst case scenarios. There are strategies around it– remedies and possibilities– if we know what we are facing. It does no good, however, to think things are okay if a book doesn’t sell up to expectations.
Great points, Wendy. Thanks for sharing them and getting us to think. This business is a crazy one!