This was Sophie’s response to a Dream Author member whose novel had been rejected by agents and publishers, and who was then let down by a suddenly-disappearing editorial consultant whom she’d hired to help her fix her book, and with whom she’d worked happily and productively for several months:
Dream Author is all about learning how to think about your writing, and your life as a writer, in the way that is most likely to make you a) happy and confident and b) likely to succeed in achieving whatever goals you have for your writing. A key part of that is practising thinking in a new way about a disappointing result, or a series of disappointing results, which is what you’ve described. Yes, all of these things happened to you…but the crucial thing is to realise, deep down, that none of these results means anything at all about your ability to succeed in the future. Let’s take them one by one:
The rejection of the first book: we know the explanation for that — the book needed some changes, and you were then able to see that and make those changes. That’s actually a great result, however uncomfortable it might have felt in the moment.
The Vanishing Book Doctor: vanishing with no explanation and abandoning a close working relationship is not normal behaviour and it suggests that something strange was going on with her. An editorial professional who has decided that, for example, this particular book is never going to work can and should always write and say, ‘I’m so sorry, I took this book on thinking this. Now, X has changed and I think differently, and on that basis I’m afraid I think I’m no longer the right person to be working on this with you.’ Or, ‘I think you should put this book aside and start a new one.’ In any situation where a book industry professional doesn’t think something is working out, whether it’s a particular book or the relationship in general, they can and should explain this in a straightforward way. Now, sometimes they do not do this! Sometimes they slink or sneak away, or don’t return calls, or stop replying to emails, and writers feel abandoned and lose confidence. The latest Dream Author podcast episode is all about this, in fact!
Here’s the crucial thing: when someone you’re working with behaves in this way, it demonstrates that they have lost confidence…in themselves! They have lost confidence in their ability to communicate clearly and achieve success while working with you. If they had simply lost confidence in you or your book, they would be able to express that clearly. Working with you productively for months and then disappearing is not the behaviour of a confident and mature person — that’s absolutely for sure. It’s possible that this book doctor had a personal crisis or an illness and that’s the explanation, but that also has nothing to do with you or your book. So, you have the option of thinking, ‘This person clearly quit on me for some reason, and I have no idea why or what it means, but I’m not going to make it mean anything bad about me. I’m not going to decide it probably means that my book is so awful she felt she had to run away.’ You can use it as an opportunity to resolve never to give up on yourself: ‘She might have given up on me, but I certainly haven’t, and I never will.’ You can use it as an opportunity to recommit to being a successful writer of fiction one day.
With regard to your next rewrite of your novel, the fact that two agents asked to see the whole thing is very promising. It means you’re a very good writer. Agents do not request full manuscripts for 99% of the submissions they get. So the fact that two did in this case is a very good sign. What it proves is that you have the ability to write fiction in a way that attracts attention and causes agents (who see many thousands of submissions a year) to ask for more. This is great news! This is what you can and should focus on every time you get a disappointing result. Keep coming back to that thought: ‘I can write fiction in a way that attracts attention and causes agents to ask for more.’
Now, let’s say all those agents reject this particular book. Here are two options of what you might think:
Option 1: ‘They all rejected it. This is so painful. I’ve lost all confidence. Maybe I should give up.’
Option 2: ‘They all rejected my book, but two of them asked for the full manuscript before rejecting it. So this is what I need to figure out: how can I improve the first chapters and pitch letter? How can I improve the whole manuscript in order to make it irresistible? Or should I start a new novel and make *that* the one that’s going to irresistible to agents? I’m totally going to figure this out. I know I can do it. I’m going to give myself one month to decide whether to pursue this novel or start a new one, and then I’m going to take action, on whatever path I’ve chosen, while absolutely believing I’ve made the right choice and will succeed.’
Option 1 will lead to feeling terrible and guaranteeing failure, because you’ll have given up. Option 2 will always lead to you feeling great, and empowered, and taking action in the direction of achieving your goal.
This was Sophie’s response to a Dream Author member who has always self-published in the past, and couldn’t decide whether to continue self-publishing or try to get an agent and a traditional publishing deal.
Okay, so…I have various thoughts about this, so let me try to organise them!
1) As a dynamic and ambitious author, there’s no need for you to stick with what you’ve already done/the tried and tested route. There’s a very persuasive argument that says: all dynamic and ambitious writers would benefit from extending their capabilities, stretching themselves and going outside their comfort zone to prove what they’re capable of in a new zone! (I personally intend to self-publish at least one book one day, for this very reason. I’ve been traditionally published since around 1992, and I’m excited to see what I can achieve as a total novice in a new field. Trying to get an agent and a traditional publishing deal might be a great new challenge for you. In your position, I think I might find that challenge irresistible.
2) Re the risk of losing your independence if you go the tradition route. This is an easy one! You can immediately start thinking to yourself, and believing, ‘There is absolutely no way I’m going to lose my independence. I’ve been self-publishing independently for X years, and I’m already independent in this industry, and no one can take that away from me. If I enter into a deal with a traditional agent/publisher, I will be using my independent power of choice to enter *willingly and gladly* into a publishing relationship that obviously will involve some compromise. Every time a compromise situation crops up and I’m tempted to feel pissed off, I will remind myself that this relationship was my choice — that I independently chose to be willing to compromise for the duration of this contract. And if that turns out to be less ideal for me than the self-publishing route, I will choose to go back to self-publishing for my next books.’
Do you see what I mean? It’s your mindset, not your situation, that puts you at risk of losing your independence. And you can sort that out very quickly by changing the way you think about traditional publishing. I regard myself as 100% independent, even though I’m signed up with various publishers. I could ring any one of them right now, and tell them to go away and stop oppressing me, but I don’t. Instead, I sometimes sigh and think ‘I don’t adore this cover, but Muriel assures me it’s perfect, so I’m happy to see if she’s right, and then at least we’ll have a result to go on and we can move forward.’ I compromise freely and independently, while never allowing myself to think, ‘They’re making me do this.’ That is never true.
3) There is no need to delay your decision because of worry that you’ll make the wrong choice. If you self-publish your next book, you can absolutely still look for an agent and try the traditional route in future. Equally, if you go traditional now, you can self-publish again in future. Nothing is lost either way. The most important thing, when you don’t know what to do, is just to do something. Then you’ll get a result from that thing you did, whatever it was, and you can evaluate it, decide if it worked and decide what you want to do next.
4) Pay attention to your reasons for choosing one route or the other. Neither choice could possibly be wrong, but many people do things for reasons that are not ideal. A few examples of right and wrong reasons:
• self-publishing because you’re scared of rejection by agents – wrong reason
• self-publishing because you’re afraid of losing independence – wrong reason
• self-publishing because you haven’t yet achieved what you want to via this route. So far you’ve sold X books that you’ve self-published, and you know you could improve your sales and marketing tactics and sell double that number. You want to get better at doing it yourself, because you love the business/marketing side of things, before trying the traditional route – good reason
• self-publishing because you have a very clear creative and brand vision for your next books, and you want to be able to realise and implement your solo vision without having to compromise – good reason (notice, there is no fear of loss of independence involved in this reason. It’s just: I have a great vision and I want to do it without compromise.)
• traditional publishing because you couldn’t be less interested in the sales and marketing side of things if you tried, so you’d rather leave that side of it to people who enjoy and specialise in that kind of work – good reason.
• traditional publishing because you want to stretch yourself and achieve in a new area, proving what you’re capable of – good reason
• traditional publishing because you want to focus more of your time on the writing/creation and are ready to delegate some of the sales/marketing stuff to publishers – good reason.
• traditional publishing because you think it would be fun to work collaboratively, having worked alone for a while on your books – good reason
• traditional publishing because you fear you won’t get the literary respect you deserve if you keep self-publishing, because the book world is still so snobby – wrong reason
What I’d advise is:
a) set yourself a deadline for making the decision. Tell yourself that when that deadline arrives, you’ll decide and then you’ll never waste any time from that point on thinking, ‘I should have made the other decision. I messed up. Oh, no, I’m an idiot.’ Whatever decision you make will be absolutely the right one, and you need to be prepared to say, for ever, ‘That was absolutely the right decision I made in that moment’, no matter what results from it.
b) list the reasons why you would do each option, if you did it. Not the ‘Official Reasons’ that you think sound noble, but your true reasons. What would be the thought/s and feeling/s driving your decision to self-publish again? And what would be the thought/s and feeling/s driving your decision to try to get an agent?
Last but not least: the very best reason for doing anything ever is ‘I just really want to’. So, what are your instincts saying? What do you most fancy doing?