Friday, February 20, 2015

5 Myths About Selling Your Debut Novel

Myth: As soon as my novel sells, I will immediately be sent a contract and a giant check for my entire large advance. 

First of all, congrats on that large advance. Because in spite of how we all hear about debut novels and seven figure deals and movie rights selling at multi-studio auctions, they are definitely not the norm. And the truth is, you probably won’t see any piece of your advance for a while.

After you and your agent get the formal offer from the publishing house and accept it and the announcement goes up in PW and you have champagne and much partying, you will wait. And wait. And wait. And several months later, you or your agent will get a contract which you will go over and sign and have much partying again. And then you will wait again. And wait. And wait. And several months after that, you will get the first part of your advance. Yeah, not the whole thing. Depending on your contract, you’ll get part of your advance up front, and another part of it upon acceptance, which is when you actually finish your edits and your publishing house says they like them. So don’t quit your day job right away.

Which reminds me…

Myth: As soon as I sell my first novel, I can/should quit my day job.

Chances are, your advance will not be large enough to actually quit your day job and live comfortably. If you can, awesome! Go you! But you don’t need to.

I’m a writer with a day job. Actually with two day jobs. Actually with two day jobs and some freelance work. And for a while, I felt sort of ashamed of that fact. Like I couldn’t be serious about my writing unless I quit my day job and dedicated myself to this and only this. But I don’t really want to be a full-time writer right now. First of all, I really like my day jobs.

Second of all, my day jobs make me use my writing time more effectively, because there’s less of it. It feels precious, and it also stays fun, since it’s a thing I choose to do after work, not a thing I do for work. My day jobs also get me out of my own head. I’m afraid I’d go crazy if all I thought about all the time was my writing.

So don’t plan on being to quit your day job immediately after signing that first contract. Also don’t feel like you have to. You can have a day job. It’s okay.

Myth: Once I sell my first novel, I am in and will never face rejection again.

True story: the day after my novel sold, I got a rejection letter from an agent I had queried over a year ago. And weirdly, it still stung a little. Selling your first novel does not mean your second novel will be headhunted by publishers. It does not mean you will never have to query again. It doesn’t mean from now on, everyone will love everything you write and publishing thing #2 will be easy. The rejection never stops, and it never really stops sucking. Also I am a right ray of sunshine.

Myth: I will be so happy to have my novel being published that I won’t care other people have bigger marketing budgets/publicity campaigns/print runs/tours/etc.

Before I sold my novel, I always thought I would be so grateful to be getting published that I wouldn’t care about what was going on with anyone else in my same situation. But jealousy is a green eyed monster that tends to start skirting around as soon as the high from the PW announcement fades. Because other people will have bigger advances, and more marketing money, and they will get big full-page ads in review journals and written up on NPR and picked for every Top Ten Best Novels of All Time Ever list and you will not. And you will smile and pretend it’s totally fine but really you feel crummy about it and then you’ll feel crummy for feeling crummy because you have a freaking book deal and you should be grateful and it’s a horrible cycle of self-hate that usually ends in Netflix and binge eating. Jealousy is going to happen. You have to just accept that. The point is to not let it eat you up, or stop you from making your own novel great, or think it is a reflection of the quality of your writing, or keep you from enjoying the fact that your novel is being published.

Myth: Selling my novel will make me feel like I know what I’m doing.

Oh what a beautiful world that would be.

I told myself this lie a lot for a long time, except there was always a new qualifier. Once I get an MFA, I’ll feel like a real writer….once I sign with an agent, I’ll never be anxious again….once I get a book deal, I’ll never feel like a fraud again….

The truth, in my experience, is that it doesn’t matter how big your first advance is, or if you sign with a big five publisher, or if you are written up in the New York Times for your first novel. You don’t stop feeling like everyone around you knows exactly what they’re doing and are doing it brilliantly and you are Leonardo DiCaprio on the Titanic wearing the tuxedo he borrowed from Cathy Bates, snarfing inappropriately large bites of your dinner roll and being very clearly out of place.

But don’t worry—you still get to snog Kate Winslet, so the ending is happy. Well, not really because…never mind, spoilers.

Mackenzi Lee is reader, writer, bookseller, unapologetic fangirl, and fast talker. She holds an MFA from Simmons College in writing for children and young adults. Her young adult historical fantasy novel, THIS MONSTROUS THING will be published on September 22 by Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins. She loves Diet Coke, sweater weather, and Star Wars. On a perfect day, she can be found enjoying all three. She currently calls Boston home. Visit her online at her website, blog, or Twitter.