It’s usually the case that when an agent or editor says ‘No’ to your work you hear the sound of a door closing. It’s not the end of the world. There are other doors to knock on. You need only one of them to be opened and to be welcomed inside.
Occasionally, an editor or agent will say, ‘Look – I don’t think this is the right book to go out with. Have you got anything else?’
Apart from accepting the original work, it’s the second best thing you could hear. It shows they’ve enough interest and faith in your ability to want to enter into dialogue about your potential career.
But what about that ‘anything else’? If you’re lucky, you might have an earlier manuscript to offer, hopefully in the same genre. The risk is, are you submitting work that isn’t as mature or polished or as compelling as the book that almost captured their interest? Hopefully, with each new book, you’ve developed as a writer. It might be that the older work warrants a fresh look and that you can do something with it, but the white-hot moment of the agent’s interest probably isn’t the right time to make a snap judgement.
Are you lucky enough to have spare manuscripts?
The alternative is a brand-new book that’s even better. But it took you two years to write the novel that was rejected. You can’t just reply: ‘Oh, of course – I’ve got a couple of free weekends coming up. I’ll knock off a novel and send it on.’
Some agents will wait for you to ‘knock off’ that novel, which may in fact take a year, or longer, but even if they do, market might change in that time. Other clients’ work might, by pure coincidence, take on your themes or subjects. Other clients will certainly come along and demand the agent’s time and energy, leaving less for you.
Starting a new book can be exciting but it can also be disheartening. Can I commit to all those words and pages? Even if I do finish, will it really be as good as it needs to be? Is it worth it?
Recently, in my life as an indie author, I heard a fabulous piece of advice at a session about marketing your work. There was talk of Twitter and Facebook campaigns and Amazon algorithms and the like. And there was this:
The best thing you can do to help market your book is to write another book.
The joy of backlist …
It sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? As if you’re substituting one book for another, supplanting the work you are trying to publicise. But it really is good advice.
When I met with a group of indie writers, all of them spoke of the opportunities that exist if you’ve more than one title to promote. You can compile ‘bundles’ and hold price promotions. You can have giveaways. You can advertise one title in the back of another. Offer sample chapters. Extra material. Best of all, you’re giving people a selection to choose from, putting the consumer in control.
I take great comfort from this as I try endless strategies for promoting my lone book, Ready to Love. I don’t mind so much if one angle doesn’t bear fruit, and if there are periods of stony silence from the outside world. I know there will be opportunities to present the book again when it has a companion – whenever it happens.
This applies to all writers – of both indie and traditionally published titles. Agents, authors and publishers are being hugely enterprising with backlists, giving old books new leases of life and creating whole libraries of work for readers to discover and devour.
If this seems like a purely commercial consideration, think again. I think it’s very much a creative one, too. Because there are times when we all need a motivation to return to the notepad or the keyboard. We all need a reason, sometimes, to KEEP WRITING.