Last week, I gave a presentation to my local writers groups with author, Marsha Hayles. The Rochester Area Children’s Writers and Illustrators group is a subgroup of SCBWI- such a great bunch of people! I became a member almost 15 years ago around the time I began working towards publication. Back then, I didn’t know anything about writing for children so I was absolutely thrilled to find like-minded people with goals and dreams like mine. I’ve learned so much from this group through the years and it was such an honor to be able to give back to them. But to be honest, it was also a little surreal. To think I have something of value to offer other writers is still mind-blowing!
The topic is one I chose myself, something that any writer who hopes to be published one day may find helpful. I hope that includes you!
Publishing Expectations vs. Reality
So why this topic?
Well, things are not always what you may think when it comes to publishing. Now that I have the benefit of hindsight, I wish that I had managed my expectations a bit better—especially in my debut year. I was way off in a lot of ways. My fairy tale image of what things would be like after my first book released, clouded my judgement a little. Okay, maybe a lot! Although every author’s experience is different, there are some similarities too. So, Marsha and I put together a list of nine publishing expectations and shared what the reality actually has been like for each of us. Below are my personal thoughts. Hopefully these insights will shed light on common misconceptions and give you realistic expectations while still leaving you encouraged you to chase your publishing dreams!
Before I share the list, let me begin by saying that mindset is everything. In order to understand where I was coming from in terms of these expectations, I think it would be important to disclose what my mindset was when my publishing journey began.
When I began writing 15 years ago, I drafted my first middle grade novel in three months. After proofreading it for grammar and spelling mistakes (notice I didn’t mention anything about revisions!), I immediately began querying agents. I expected my book would be the next big thing and like magic I would have a career in publishing! I was under the assumption that if I was determined enough to complete a novel and dream big, that would be enough…that getting my book published would be easy. I had an unrealistic view of what publishing was really like. But I learned quickly after countless heartbreaking rejections that I had it all wrong. Writing books for children is a serious business, not exactly a fairy tale—and a passion to be taken seriously.
I went on to study the industry, hone my writing craft, write another manuscript, and surround myself with a supportive writing community—which eventually led to the publication of my first novel. However, publishing is different than I once thought it was and my expectations have been shattered a thousand times along the way. For example, it took me 8 years to sign with a literary agent when I thought it would take three months. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been a worthwhile pursuit. Since I originally signed with that agent, I went on to traditionally publish three middle grade books, which is something my baby writer self couldn’t even dream of—let alone expect.
When creating our list of publishing expectations, we included a variety of things we both experienced but this list certainly isn’t indicative of what every author experiences. So, keep that in mind as you read the following nine publishing expectations vs reality…
Expectation 1: I’ve sold a manuscript. It’s going to become a book soon!
Well, soon is a relative term. If you’re expecting soon to mean 18-24 months, you’d be right… sort of.
My first contract was a two-book deal. That in itself exceeded my expectations. And the process, from signed contract to the release of the first book was 13 months—much faster than I thought. The second, a sequel, released seven months later. Again, much faster than I expected. Two years later, when I signed a contract with the same publisher for a third book in the series, I imagined that the process would be similar since my editor had planned another quick release. However, the imprint was sold to another publisher, my new editor left soon after, and the release day was pushed back twice. And then the pandemic happened. The time frame from signed contract to publication, even with all the delays, ended up being 22 months.
So, my reality exceeded my expectations with the first and second book but not with my third—even though it was still published within the industry average. All this to say, the time from sale to publication day will most likely not be quick. You will have a general idea when your book will be released but nothing is ever set in stone when it comes to publishing!
Expectation 2: My book could be a best seller!
There’s so much that goes into a book being a best seller—besides the book being awesome. Most will have incredible budgets and extensive marketing behind them. If your book has a chance to make the list, you will know it before release day. There will be big buzz surrounding your book. But honestly, it’s incredibly rare. Does that mean I knew any of this at the time my debut released? Absolutely not. Does it mean that I had illusions of my book miraculously making it? Absolutely yes! I’m the first to admit that I was a little devastated when it didn’t come close to becoming a bestseller—even though there were no signs at all that it might. Notice my fairly-tale mindset in action?
Expectation 3: My book will sell a million copies!
Your book will sell. But the number of copies may not be as high as you think. It’s important to have an honest conversation with your publisher and then manage your expectations. That way, you won’t be disappointed in the actual numbers. And if your book exceeds them, it will be a bonus. But also, believe the numbers that your publisher gives you. I remember my publisher telling me how many copies they hoped would sell. I had major illusions of grandeur and thought she couldn’t possibly be right. I thought for sure my book would sell many hundreds of thousands of copies! In hindsight, I should have believed her. Instead, my expectations were through the roof and I was often disappointed in the numbers that actually sold. There’s no way reality could have lived up to my expectations back then.
Looking back now, I realize that if I had managed my expectations better, I would have enjoyed the experience more. I would have appreciated the books that did sell instead of focusing on the ones that hadn’t yet. I would have felt more proud that some kids were reading my book even if all kids weren’t reading it. Because the reality is, if you’ve published a book, that’s a huge accomplishment even if it doesn’t sell a millions copies!
That’s it for today, friends. I don’t want to throw too much at you all at once. I’ll be sharing Part 2 of this topic next week. Until then, I hope you have a fantastic day. And as always, thank you so much for reading!