At Books & Such, we help authors to build careers. From the smallest detail of the next book idea, to the big picture of the writer’s lifelong dreams, we work strategically to help each author reach his or her writing and publishing goals.
Do authors ever have to pay back their advance? This is a question agents hear a lot. Often a writer is nervous about possibly being asked to pay back the advance if the book doesn’t sell enough copies.
If you’re publishing with a reputable traditional publisher, then you don’t have to pay back your advance for lack of sales, or at least I’ve never seen such a case. Of course, everything is outlined in the author contract and I suppose it’s possible for a publisher to work that in (and the way things are going these days, it wouldn’t surprise me).
The advance is part of the risk the publisher takes on you. I say “part” because in actuality, your book is costing them a lot more than your advance. Publisher costs typically include:
Cover design & production
Typeset & interior layouts
Printing & binding
So the publisher has a significant financial outlay before your book ever makes a dime (usually a minimum of around $50,000), and that’s why they have to make such careful publishing decisions. The financial risk is on them, and they won’t recoup any of it if the book doesn’t sell enough copies to pay for itself.
Just FYI, there are cases in which you have to pay back your advance, specified in the contract. This is usually if you don’t deliver your book on time or if it isn’t what you promised in your proposal. There are other ways you can breach your contract and consequently have it canceled and be expected to pay back the advance. So read that contract carefully, deliver your book on time, and make sure it’s what the publisher is expecting.
If, during the writing or editing process you change your mind and decide to pull the book from the publisher and cancel the contract, of course you’d have to pay them back.
But just to ease your mind, it’s not typical to be hit with a request to pay back an advance for a reason such as low sales.
This week began with a celebration at Bethany House in Minneapolis to mark Julie Klassen’s one millionth book sold. Congratulations, Julie!
A million books! It reminded me what so many writers are anxious to know: when it comes to book sales, how many books does it take to equal good?
The answer? It depends.
I’ve heard the strangest theories of what constitutes success. For instance, this from Publishers Weekly, July 17, 2006: “Here’s the reality of the book industry: in 2004, 950,000 titles out of the 1.2 million tracked by Nielsen Bookscan sold fewer than 99 copies. Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies. Only 25,000 sold more than 5,000 copies. The average book in America sells about 500 copies.”
This statistic is totally meaningless. That would mean that if 501 copies of your book sold you could say you have better than average sales. I’m guessing that statistic encompasses the avalanche of self-published books, poetry chapbooks run off on mimeograph machines, photo memory books made to commemorate your trip to Tuscany, family genealogies and who knows what else.
Julie Klassen celebrates with scones and tea
I know writers wish we could simply give a definitive answer like: 1 to 4,999 books sold = poor. 5,000 to 9,999 books sold = fair. 10,000 to 19,999 books sold = good. 20,000 and up = success. Wouldn’t that make it easy? Every writer could then spin his standing with confidence, “I’m more than halfway to success.” Or “I sold 9,890 books. If my publisher had just pushed a little harder I could have risen above mediocrity, but. . .” Believe me, if we had a simple yardstick by which to gauge success it would just create new questions, new problems.
Here’s why it depends:
The number is different for every publisher. A small publisher may be delighted with sales of 4,000 books the first year where a bigger publisher will be disappointed with sales of 20,000 books.
The time frame needs to be defined when talking about book sales. When writers talk about book sales they are often sloppy about defining the time frame. When they brag about the number of books sold are they talking about a year’s sales or the life of the book? When editors and agents talk about books sold, we are generally talking about the first twelve months unless we specify otherwise.
There’s a difference between “Books in Print” and “Books Sold.” There can be a huge difference in these two figures, especially with mass market books. When an agent talks about a client’s statistics, we always talk about the actual number of books sold.
There are often mitigating circumstances. Some books— like reference books, textbooks, commemorative books and other special projects– may sell in very small numbers but they still meet the expectations of the publisher. I imagine when the first edition of Audubon’s Birds of America was published with 400+ double elephant folio plates, no one planned on a huge printing. And yet, what a success– a tour de force.
Julie holding a treasured gift, each of her books’ settings on the map of England.
So how can I know if the sales of my book are healthy? Let me give you a quick-and-dirty rule of thumb. If you earn back your advance before the end of twelve months you’ve exceeded expectations.
When your publisher offers an advance it’s rarely a number pulled out of a hat. They don’t get together in a meeting and say, “Let’s give him $20,000.00 because this is such a good book.” The editor or the team prepares a pro forma profit and loss analysis on your book. He estimates how many copies they can reasonably sell in the first twelve months. He looks at the royalty rate and estimates what your royalty income would be for that twelve-month period. That becomes the advance-against-royalties that you will be offered. There are always exceptions to the rule. Sometimes a publisher pays more for a book than they can reasonably hope to recoup in the first year because of a bidding war or an auction. Or perhaps they pay more to woo an author away from another house. Or maybe the book is one that fills a hole in their line. But for the most part, this rule of thumb will work.
Janet, Julie and Cynthia
If you want to set a definitive goal for successful book sales, here’s how to do it: Figure out roughly how much royalty you make per book. For our example let’s say your book’s cover price is $15.00. If you are paid on the net (the normal way it is accounted in CBA*) the store will probably buy the book for $9.00 (60% of cover price). Let’s say your royalty rate is 18%. You’ll make $1.62 on each book. If you were paid on cover price (the norm in ABA**) you’d figure $15.00 x 9% royalty (the royalty rate is different because it reflects cover price instead of net) and you’d come up with a per book royalty amount of about $1.35 per book. (In the real world, not all books will sell for full price but for for the sake of simplicity, we won’t complicate this.) So the formula would be: [Advance paid] divided by [royalty amount per book] equals [number of books needed to be sold to earn out].
Once you have your sales goal set, it’s time to get to work helping your publisher sell the book. And when you reach one million books sold, you won’t need to worry about how many books constitute success.
*The Christian Booksellers Association, commonly called the Christian market **American Booksellers Association, commonly called the general market
NOTE: The other day I happened across this blog post that I wrote in 2010. It struck me how little has changed since I posted these thoughts on publishing trends and counter-trends. Read on to see what I mean…
Years ago I recall reading a publishing doyenne’s comments about publishing trends. At the time, readers were buying inexpensive mass market books by the wheel barrel. Well, it seemed as if they were selling that fast.
Up steps the doyenne, who pointed out that, for every trend, there’s a counter-trend. Her point?
If the trend is toward mass market, that means there’s a counter-trend toward beautiful, expensive books.
I’ve kept that lesson in mind over the years, and it’s served me well as I’ve looked at manuscripts and authors. It’s kept me from saying, “Nah, no one is reading that stuff.”
If you’ve read the studies, you know that most books are bought by women, and most of those books are fiction.
What would the counter-trend be?
Books that appeal to men, nonfiction books.
What does this mean for the writer?
I’ve always advocated that writers should pay attention to the marketplace, but not to be driven by it. Listen to what the market likes with one ear, but incline the other ear to what your heart is saying. Never abandon your passion to follow the fickle market, but do find a way to express your passion in a way that the market is likely to respond to.
One writer who showed an awareness of what readers wanted is Dan Brown with The DaVinci Code. For those of you who have not read this book, let me say, it has some serious flaws. Really serious flaws. Yet what did the author tap into that made it work so astoundingly well? And, by going against the common wisdom of what makes a novel work, create a trend that started out as a counter-trend.
An author’s counter-trend
Dan Brown’s novel:
Consisted of short paragraphs. It literally was a page turner.
Contained short chapters. You could read for half an hour and finish off 10 chapters.
Set a breathtaking pace. The characters seldom slept or ate. It was all nonstop action–until Brown would stop to pontificate, which was a total snoozer. But, ultimately, the book delivered instant gratification for the reader who covered so much territory in so little time.
Now, the question for you is, what are the trends in the arena you’re writing in? What would the counter trend be? How could you adapt what you’re creating to give a nod to the market but be true to your passion?
How much attention should a writer pay to publishing trends? Click to tweet.
If a writer has a book idea, does it matter if the concept doesn’t reflect publishing trends? Click to tweet.
A multi-published writer mentioned in conversation with another author that she always makes the heroes in her books look like actor Harrison Ford. You know, the ruggedly handsome, Indiana Jones-type. She claimed that her readers never noticed the look-alike heroes. She chose to continue in this “rut” purposefully because Harrison’s a good-looking guy and none of her readers had ever written to her to complain.
I believe this is a dangerous way to write and I really don’t understand why she’d do it. By intentionally reusing a “rut,” believing that nobody will notice, she’s underestimating her readers’ intelligence and that’s not a good idea. Plus, Harrison (young or old) might not be everyone’s choice for a handsome hero. Variety is a good thing!
Reusing a “look” is probably not a huge mistake, but it’s the tip of the “rut-iceberg” for authors of more than one book. It’s always wise to be intentional about creating unique characters and books.
Have you ever read two novels by the same author and after you finish the second book you realize that the two plots are essentially the same? The same thing can happen with nonfiction. A nonfiction author is usually an expert on one subject, and it’s easy for the author to accidentally write practically the same book twice. I’m sure you’ve heard it said that every author only has one good book in them; I know for a fact that that’s not true, but I’m pretty sure that the saying is around because of these seemingly mass-produced books. Change the character names and title or reorder the chapters, and you have a “new” book. Be wary of this in your own writing. You don’t want to fall into this trap.
Are authors in too much of a hurry to produce books or is it laziness? Do editors want authors to write practically the same book again if the story sold well? Are readers too nice to point out to the author the strong similarities between plots? What do you think causes authors to essentially write the same book again? I’ve found that series that go on for many books (usually more than 6) end up reusing themes and plot-lines. How would you suggest an author keep track of what he or she has already written? How do you keep track?
And please don’t name names if you are going to mention a specific example. We don’t want to hurt anyone here!
Literary agents and agencies are not one-size-fits-all…not that anything bearing that label ever truly is.
We share common ground. We differ in specialities, connections, level of hands-on or hands-off involvement in our client’s projects, and approaches to a writer’s long-term career. Agents span a wide range of communication preferences–email only, snail mail only (there may be one or two agents somewhere in the world who prefer snail mail), calling periodically, calling by appointment, texting never, texting in emergencies, texting only in real emergencies versus what an author thinks qualifies…).
But although we still have detail and frequency preferences, most agents want to be kept informed. Editing that last sentence: We NEED to be kept informed. We don’t care what you had for supper last night (unless you’re willing to share the recipe), but we do care if it sent you into labor and we have to adjust your book deadline because the baby came a month early. And we care that you had your baby a month early!
Authors often struggle with knowing what constitutes a tidbit or seismic change worth reporting to an agent. The only way to know your agent’s preference is to ask. But these ideas might help form a baseline for the so-called average agent and his/her so-called average client.
Keeping your agent informed about what?
The author moves. Not, like, Zumba. But has an address change. Your agent and agency absolutely need to know to keep their records updated and so they can provide accurate information for tax purposes, mailings, royalty payments, and contract details. (Don’t get us wrong. We also like to know you’re moving to stay healthy, but it’s not an update item.)
The author gains a family member. Or two. Or ten. If you’re now foster parenting, adopting, expanding your family in any way, please let us know. We need to keep your bios updated, and it may matter how we space out your upcoming projects.
The author loses a loved one or close friend to death. When you’re able, let us know. We’ll join those praying for you, and we’ll work to adjust the expectations for your writing, publishing, and marketing timelines.
The author’s health dramatically changes. Don’t keep it a secret from an agent who cares about you and wants to help you figure out what happens to your writing while you’re dealing with the health crisis.
The author’s day job changes. Are transitions at work affecting your ability to respond to us in a timely fashion? Please let us know.
The author loses interest in writing. If you would kindly let us know sooner rather than later, that would be so helpful. Gracias.
Is that all there is?
Consider these other not-so-automatic reasons to inform your agent.
The author is involved in a legal matter, even if at first glance it doesn’t seem relevant to a writing career.
The author decides to switch genres. That’s the literary equivalent of changing lanes without signaling. Illegal in all fifty states.
The author hires outside help for rebranding or book coaching. Please let us know before it happens. We may be able to steer you away from an unwise business decision or toward someone whose reputation is impeccable. And we agents need to be involved in your branding or rebranding decisions, since they affect your writing career as a whole.
The author is invited to participate in a major media event. I can only post pictures of my cute granddog so many times. It’s helpful for the author and his/her agent to be able to spread the word about major moments. And it keeps the agent informed about the author’s marketing momentum as well as the publishing house’s marketing and publicity efforts.
The author leaves for an extended vacation. A contract stall or negotiation glitch can be prevented if we know you’re unreachable for longer than a few days.
It’s no surprise that an agent’s inbox overflows…and not in a lovely waterfall way. But staying informed about our clients is important to us–dichotomy. One of my clients has recently adopted a pattern that makes me feel better connected to her writing life and better equipped to respond if I see any red flags. She sends a monthly update email. This month she included topics like these:
Book progress–I’m sure she sees it as accountability, but it also helps me know how to schedule my time and how soon I can expect to pitch the project to publishers.
Other writing (guest blog posts, magazine articles…)–Showed her engagement with potential readers.
New information about upcoming speaking events she scheduled–Affected her platform and her proposal information.
Platform (built-in audience/her reach) progress–I could see what she was doing to make intentional inroads.
What I’ve said no to–My author may have thought this was an afterthought, but it revealed so much about how she was zeroing in on playing to her strengths and positioning herself for a yes from a publisher.
Other/Random–Here she offered the latest on her recovery from her unicycle injury (not making this up), a comment about a book she’d read that had an impact, and a significant change in her husband’s work schedule that might shift her writing schedule for the better.
One email, and I was caught up on a number of important elements for my author’s career, her current project, and our relationship-building.
Too much information?
Authors and their agents sometimes walk through seasons of far more frequent communication. Title discussions. Cover design questions. Contract information. Brainstorming. Some information must be communicated as it happens. But often much that might be helpful for an agent to know isn’t communicated at all. You had a dentist appointment? I don’t need to know. They pulled all your teeth and you’re booked for an interview on the Today Show Thursday? Worth communicating.
You and your agent will together establish a rhythm of communication that works for both of you. Maybe a monthly update email will help.
Final tip about keeping your agent informed
Ask if your agent wants or needs to be copied on communications with your publishing house.
No, seriously, the final tip for sure
Reserve agreeing to or getting excited about anything a publishing house asks of you or offers until after you consult with your agent. Love the title the publisher landed on? Wait to say so until your agent sees it. It’ll save you and your agent potential embarrassment or difficulty if the agent notices something about the title that you missed. Titles are often known by their nickname or filed by their acronym. You can avoid a sticky situation, like discovering Don’t Underestimate Mom’s Behavior is shortened online to D.U.M.B.
What questions do you still have about how much or little you need to keep your agent informed? What do you wonder, “Should I tell her or keep this to myself?” Looking forward to your comments.
Thomas Edison, in talking about inventing, is quoted as saying, “the first step is an intuition—and comes with a burst—then difficulties arise.”
To me this is similar to the bursts of inspiration and motivation we sometimes get when writing. The trouble is that the burst subsides and “difficulties arise.”
Edison is famous and became successful because he persisted through the difficulties. He never gave up just because the burst of intuition and motivation was gone. I think one of the ways we can do the same is to expect difficulties. To actively anticipate them, so that they don’t catch us off guard.
I sometimes joke that this can be thought of as “negative thinking.” I’m naturally an optimist, but when I “think negative,” I honestly assess the difficulties, challenges or obstacles that may be in front of me. I attempt to understand any potential risks or pitfalls in my path. Wherever I’m headed, whatever my goals might be, I can’t afford to be unreservedly positive.
There are several clear advantages to “negative thinking,” including:
When you’re focused on “thinking positive,” you may not be adequately prepared for the challenges of your journey, and therefore fail to meet them successfully.
Thinking through the negatives keeps you from being overly surprised or disappointed when things don’t go as you’d hoped or planned.
You are more likely to avoid magical thinking. (“I WILL meet my deadline, I will, I will!” As the deadline flies right by.)
If you can honestly acknowledge possible negatives and keep going, then you’re probably on a path that’s right for you.
When you’re realistic about potential challenges, you are often pleasantly surprised at the smoothness of your path.
If you’re “thinking positive,” you may be inclined to think your path is going to be easier than it really is, so you won’t allow enough time to accomplish the goal, and you may not have enough diligence or discipline to get it done.
There are countless ways to apply “negative thinking” to the writing life:
Instead of telling yourself simply, “I’m going to get published,” you realistically assess the obstacles and tell yourself, “I’m going to work hard, be persistent, and bust through all the barriers, and eventually get published.”
Instead of telling yourself, “I know thousands of people are going to want to buy my book,” you look at how many people publish books with little success, then determine, “I’m going to pull out all the stops marketing my book so that anyone who might like it will have the opportunity to buy it.”
Don’t get me wrong — I’m not disputing the value of positive thinking. I do it all the time! But the key to success is realistic optimism — what I’ve been referring to here as “thinking negative.” Bring reality into your positive thinking, for a much brighter chance of reaching your goals.
Do you believe in “thinking negative” sometimes? How can it help you in pursuing your goals?
One of the reasons you love writing is because it is a solitary pursuit, right? Aren’t most writers introverts? So why in the world do we have to connect with writer friends?
You’ve heard the word networking used and overused until it has made us all cringe. It’s all in the motivation. We writers need each other. In this day when authors are expected to shoulder a portion of the burden for marketing their books, we need each other more than ever. We need to connect with our writer friends not so much to get them to help us get the word out about our books but to see how we can help each other. Reciprocity! It’s much easier to talk up my friend’s book than it is to talk up my own book.
Go to a Conference. Meeting fellow writers is one of the most important things you will do at a conference.
Find a Local Writing Group. Check with your library, your local bookseller or Barnes & Noble. They will most likely know where to find the local writers.
Comment on Author Blogs. When you leave regular comments on writing blogs, you are becoming part of that blog community. Watch the other comments. When someone interests you, follow them to their blog or Twitter. You may eventually decide to connect.
Offer to Help Your Favorite Writers. Lauraine Snelling has a whole group of readers, writer friends and friend friends who help pass out bookmarks for her and get the word out about her new releases. I’ve watched this bestselling author reciprocate as well. She’s always helping debut authors get their start. Friendship is helping each other.
However you do it, now is the time to begin to develop the friendships that will last even longer than your books. How did you meet your writer friends?
Some authors choose to write discussion questions that will appear at the back of a book or to be available on the writer’s website. Having written a slew of such questions and having been trained in writing curriculum, I have a few thoughts to offer that will enable you to write relevant questions that actually result in good discussions.
Why Write a Readers Guide
A couple of motivations occur to me that make writing a readers guide a good choice.
The author wants to communicate that this book would make a great book club selection. Some books lend themselves well to being a book club choice. Most novels, for example, give club members plenty of fodder for discussion. Not all nonfiction would rank as viable for a book club–a denser, heavily footnoted title, for example. Or a humorous book on growing old. Ask yourself: What material exists in the book that would lead to a good conversation?
As a way to drive readers to the author’s website. By offering discussion questions on a website rather than at the back of the book, the writer offers the questions as an added benefit. Bonus material is viewed as more valuable than material at the back of a book–but not as many readers will make the extra effort of traveling to a website. The benefit to the author is that the reader might discover more ways to connect with the writer–listen to a podcast; follow on social media; ask the writer to speak at a gathering; find out about other books by the author; sign up for the author’s newsletter.
Discussion Questions for Fiction
Avoid questions that can be answered yes or no. Such questions don’t lead the responder anywhere but to a one-word answer. Ask expansive questions that the reader must ponder before answering.
For example, don’t remind the reader of the challenges the protagonist faced in the novel and then ask, “Did you sympathize with the character’s response to these conflicts?”
Instead, turn the question into an answer requiring more than a yes or no: “Which of the character’s responses were you most sympathetic with and why? Which were you most unsympathetic with and why?”
Be careful to phrase your questions in such a way that the reader is forced back into the story to provide an answer.
If, say, your book includes an exploration of a mother abandoning her children, don’t ask a question that focuses solely on the issue: “Have you ever felt abandoned in some way by your mother?” This query doesn’t push the reader back into the story; you want the reader to interact with the issue as told in the story.
A better way to phrase the question would be, “When Jerusha left her children, which child handled the situation in the healthiest way possible? Which one made choices that were most damaging?”
Ask open-ended questions that invite readers to express their overall impressions of the story. Lori Benton, in her Readers Guide for Many Sparrows, asks such a question: “The struggle over land between settlers and natives is a long one….What was the most interesting thing you learned about this pre-Revolutionary War period?”
Discussion Questions for Nonfiction
The same guidelines exist in nonfiction as in fiction, but the way to think about questions varies.
Avoid yes or no questions for the same reason as in fiction–you want the reader to probe the book’s content to come up with a more thoughtful answer.
Joanna Weaver, in your Study Questions at the back of Having a Mary Spirit, asks, “Consider the ‘good dog/bad dog’ story on page 35. How do you feed the good dog in your life? How can you weaken the influence of the bad dog?”
Make sure the questions push the reader back into the book rather than into discussing the book’s points with no reference to the book.
If you’re writing about a social justice issue, it can be easy to phrase questions to center on the reader’s experience or observations rather than to interact with the book’s content.
For example, the author could write, “In what ways have you encountered or witnessed someone encountering racial prejudice?” But the writer will push the reader back into the book by asking, “When you read about Rhonda’s encounter with the TSA employee, in what ways did she correctly perceived the subtle prejudices? In what ways might she have been hyper-sensitive?”
The Best Discusssion Question I’ve Ever Asked
The final point for nonfiction questions is to ask open-ended questions to give readers space to explain their overall thoughts on the book.
I recently lead a discussion for the book club I belong to when we talked about Salt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky. I had found it to be a maddeningly wonderful–and terrible–reading experience. The structure struck me as a mess, and he kept circling back to repeat himself. On the other hand, oh, my word, salt has influenced so much of human history, it’s mind-boggingly interesting.
So one of the questions I asked the other book club members gave them room to express their thoughts and feelings about the book: “What did you like best about the book, and what did you like least?”
Boy, howdy, did they have opinions! That one question led us to laugh, cry, and even high-five each other. Best. Discussion. We’ve. Ever. Had.
What do you think makes for good discussion questions? Which of the “don’t-do-this” types of questions do you tend to fall into?
Avoid these errors in writing great discussion questions for your book. Click to tweet.
Writers: If you don’t know what makes for great book discussion questions, this blog post can help you. Click to tweet.
Here are some verses that are wonderful for everyone, but I believe they can be especially helpful for Christian writers. I put a little line about when I think they could be helpful, but they could apply to other circumstances as well. I hope something here touches you today.
1) A verse for when you face discouragement or rejection: Colossians 3:23-24 “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ. (NLT)”
2) A verse for your book release day or for before author talks or book signings: Deuteronomy 31:6 “So be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid and do not panic before them. For the Lord your God will personally go ahead of you. He will neither fail you nor abandon you. (NLT)”
3) A verse for when a deadline is approaching and you feel overwhelmed: Philippians 4:6- 7 “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (NLT)”
4) A verse for when you are wondering why you write: Matthew 28:18-20 “Jesus came and told his disciples, ‘I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ (NLT)”
5) A verse for when you feel overwhelmed, fearful, or alone: Psalm 46: 1-3 “God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. So we will not fear when earthquakes come and the mountains crumble into the sea. Let the oceans roar and foam. Let the mountains tremble as the waters surge! (NLT)”
6) When you need to refocus: 1 Peter 4:10 “God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. (NLT)”
7) When you feel like you aren’t getting anywhere with your writing: Psalm 37:4 “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires. (NLT)”
8 ) When you are questioning your value as a writer or when you are facing financial struggles: Matthew 6:26 “Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? (NLT)”
9) When you are tired or weary: Isaiah 40: 30-31 “Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. (NIV)”
10) When waiting gets tough: Lamentations 3:24-25 “I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’ The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; (NIV)”
Did one of these verses speak to you today? Which one?
Is there a verse that’s not listed here that has been especially helpful to you in your writing journey?
Writers often live a good news/bad news existence, toggling from one to the other. A keynote speaker at a recent writers’ conference used the “Oh, that’s good. No that’s bad” children’s book format to talk about the Old Testament Joseph’s life story. His father gave him a beautifully colored coat? Oh, that’s good. No, that’s bad. His brothers were jealous. His jealous brothers threw him into a pit! Oh, that’s bad. No, that’s good. They didn’t kill him. Oh, that’s good. Well, no. That’s bad. Rather than kill him, they sold him into slavery in Egypt…
And so the story goes. What looked like a good thing was often a bad thing, on second glance. And vice versa. It was the entirety of the story–the mix of good and bad, the flip side of bad and good–that created the full picture.
Good news/bad news for writers?
How could getting a contract ever have a bad side? How could that good news (thumbs up on your manuscript) turn thumbs down? Consider these flip sides.
A writer discovered three rejections in her inbox on the same day! Oh, that’s bad. On the surface, yes. But she’d received three clear answers about where the book did not fit. Guidance. Where the book won’t fit can be just as valuable as finding out where it will. (Hard news, but true.)
You missed an opportunity to connect with the agent or editor of your dreams at a writing conference? Oh, that’s bad. Always? Not necessarily. The story about how you eventually connect may be the real story. Or the memorable one.
You heard from the agent you’ve been waiting on for twelve months. Oh, that’s good! No, that’s bad. The answer was a rejection. Oh, that’s bad. No, that may be good. Rejection is either direction or redirection. And you’ve grown in the past year. The next agent you approach will see a better, more mature, more polished proposal than the one you sent out originally…if you’ve done the smart thing and kept working and growing during the waiting.
Your idea–the one you’ve been working on for the past eight years–was just published by someone much more well-known than you. That stinks! Same title, even. Oh, that’s bad. It would seem so, wouldn’t it? But it may mean that your thought is touching on a reader felt need, although there’s now another book on the market that tapped into that need. Good news/bad news. But you’ve also been handed clear guidelines for how your book needs to be completely unique to that already-published approach. So when you do submit it, it will grab an editor’s attention, and it will be carefully crafted to fill any gaps left by that other writer’s book, which will no doubt be a best seller which is bad. Well, no. That’s good…for that “other” writer.
You have to get a day job to supplement the $1.50 you cleared on writing last year after expenses. Oh, that’s bad. No, that could actually be good. A faculty member at a writers’ conference said, “I was advised years ago not to quit my day job until I no longer needed health insurance.” More hard words. But day jobs also offer insight into the human condition, which often shows up on the pages of our books. Real life is all research. Mourn if you must. But then stay alert for ways that the day job informs your writing.
Thumbs up for writers?
As they say, “It’s all fodder.” Everything that happens to us and around us–for perceived good or perceived bad–is material that will do one of two things–shift our direction or shape our character. Or both.
So keep watching for the immeasurably good that’s hiding behind what starts out sounding like, “Oh, that’s bad!”