As it's the Halloween season, I thought I’d dig deep into the dark dark souls of published authors and extract our top 5 fears… and offer some advice on how to deal with them. So go fill your skull goblet up with wine the colour of blood and lock your pet bat away so it doesn’t disturb your reading. We’re delving into the dark side of authors’ top fears…
Your publisher doesn’t offer you a new contract
I thought I’d ease us in, ha! In all seriousness, this has to be the biggest fear for traditionally-published authors. Obviously, if you have an offer from another publisher on the plate anyway, the blow is lessened somewhat. But if it comes as a surprise and you have nothing lined up, it can be really tough. So what to do? Don’t give up, that’s what! The fact you got a publishing deal in the first place is fantastic. Brush yourself down, take a break then consider your options. If you have a novel to sub, which other publishers can you or your agent approach? If it’s the novel your previous publisher rejected, don’t write it off. Remember those rejections you’re bound to have had before you struck that first publishing deal? And yet you still eventually ended up with your deal. This shows you responses are so subjective. Use any feedback from your previous publisher to revise the novel then get back on the submission wagon. Another important bit of advice? Don’t be rude to the publisher who has let you go. They will have their reasons. There may be opportunities in the future with them, or one of their staff who moves onto another publisher. Stay professional!
Halloween Hero: One bestselling author told me about a very difficult experience she had with a famous publishing house. Editorial changes were forced upon her which she disagreed with and because of this, the novel didn’t sell well, readers pointing out the very same issues the author had expressed concerns about to her editor. Her confidence was destroyed and she gave up writing for months but then one day, she was inspired to start a new novel. This novel attracted several offers from publishers and hit several bestseller lists. She’s now with a great publisher and is happier than she’s ever been.
Your sales suck
Very common horror story. It’s a tough market out there. To make matters worse, publishers aren't hugely transparent about what they mean by 'good sales'. Sure, it's hard to say as so many variants come into play but we all know there must be some indication according to genre and more. In fact, I'm currently doing an author survey about sales to try to get an idea. Feel free to fill it out here and keep an eye on this blog for when I post an article about the results.
So, what if your sales clearly suck? First, make sure your publisher is doing all they can to pick up those sales. Price reductions. Promotions like Bookbub and Kindle deals. There may be something that can be done. As I always say, don’t be afraid to ask your publisher what they’re doing to increase sales… or ask your agent to get on the case with them. Some publishers are willing to go the extra mile too, changing the covers and even titles of books (this is obviously easier with digital books). There are countless times when authors I know have done this and ended up getting a sudden lift in sales. If this doesn’t work, write the next novel. Often, there is no rhyme or reason to why one book won’t sell well. The more books your write, the more of a chance you have that one or more of them will hit the zeitgeist.
Halloween Hero: Me! Oh come on, surely I'm allowed to make myself a hero considering this is my article ;-) My first novel The Atlas of Us sold a decent amount but not quite enough to have it deemed a debut success. I was disappointed and started to wonder if the writing career I'd dreamed of would really last that long. I thought about giving up but instead, I focused all my energy on my next novel, My Sister's Secret. That went on to become my best-selling novel to date, even hitting the Kindle and Kobo number one spots!
Your sales are on a downward trajectory
The market is pretty naff at the moment so a lot of authors are seeing a year-on-year reduction in sales anyway. But if you’re just not seeing any improvement at all and your publishers and agent are scratching their heads about what’s going on, it might be time to try a different approach, whether that be a different genre and / or pen name. This is difficult to stomach for someone who just can’t see themselves writing any other genre but don’t dismiss the idea straight away. Take a break, spend some time ‘playing’ with genres. You might find it’s easier and more exciting than your thought.
Halloween Hero: A great example of someone changing genre with huge success is the lovely Carol Wyer, author of current Kindle top 10 bestseller The Birthday. After her comedies didn't sell so well, she came up with the idea for a thriller, something totally different to what she usually wrote. It paid off: her series went on to sell hundreds of thousands and she's inked up a new deal. However, she would always advise authors to stay flexible. Should the tide turn again and romantic comedies become more popular, she will be penning a few more!
You’re getting terrible reviews
I always tell people, the more books you sell, the worse your reviews will be. However, it still evens itself out and you’re not stupid, you can tell when readers just aren’t vibing with your novel, especially if its average rating is a lot less then your others. So what to do? If you're brave enough, then dive into those reviews and see what you can learn. I don’t mean the silly one and two stars. You’ll usually find a better indication in your three star reviews. If you have an agent, ask for their honest opinion. Ask your editor too. Tell them not to sugarcoat it. We all see things different with hindsight and they should be no different themselves. Read the novel back yourself if you have time. Can you see where it could have been improved? Use that knowledge to inform your next novel. As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade… don’t squirt that bitter lemon into your eye for the sake of your ego.
Halloween Hero: I spoke to an author at an event recently who told me after publishing three books with great reviews, her fourth got terrible reviews across the board. When she read the reviews, she realised the main reason was that readers felt they'd been missold... the cover and blurb suggested the novel was a thriller when really, it was more literary fiction. This information allowed the author to ensure her novel was packaged properly next time and her latest novel is getting fabulous reviews.
You have severe writer’s block
We all get writer's block, especially after we're experienced any of the scenarios above. I recommend taking a break to inspire yourself. Don’t just read other books but binge some Netflix, go to the cinema, visit some interesting places. No point staring at a blank screen. Then read some books about plotting and fine-tuning your craft. I find this often ignites some ideas in me. Obviously, you can’t then spend a year doing this especially if you have a deadline. There will come a point where you’ll need to get back to the desk. When this point comes, take a different approach. Do you usually just write organically (a ‘pantser’?) Have a go at planning. Usually a planner? Then write from the hip.
Halloween Hero: An author I know had the triple whammy of below average sales and reviews, then being dropped by their publisher. A very common occurrence, sadly. It completely knocked him for six and when he tried to write a new novel, it was impossible. He decided to put his laptop aside for a month and spent that month doing all the things I mentioned above. In the process, he came up with a completely new idea. That idea landed him a new deal with a great publisher.
Are you a traditionally-published author going through one of these horror stories right now? Then join the Savvy Authors’ Snug on Facebook so you don’t feel so alone. We share plenty of horror stories there, but also the wonderful outcomes too.