A big part of dealing with this business of publishing is managing your expectations. If your expectations are out of whack to begin with, your publishing journey will disappointing.
I realize there is so much information and misinformation out there that it’s hard to know what realistic expectations are. And when you first make the leap from “being a writer” to “learning about the publishing industry,” many of your expectations are immediately dashed. (Sorry about that!)
But there are many writers who hold on to unrealistic expectations long after reality should be setting in. This is an ongoing concern for agents, editors, and publicists who constantly find themselves not living up to writers’ expectations. In many cases (and yes, there are plenty of exceptions), the writer’s hopes and beliefs were simply too idealistic to begin with.
I don’t want to sound like publishing professionals are all perfect. We’re not! We make mistakes, we sometimes let things fall through the cracks, we sometimes don’t do the best possible job on some aspect of a book. But what I’m talking about here is the more common scenario: the publisher/agent/editor/publicist did the appropriate amount of work on a book, but the author thinks much more should have or could have been done.
We all need to keep our expectations in check. If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably trying to keep up with the industry, so you’re doing your part to learn what kind of expectations are realistic. Kudos! Here are a few unrealistic author-expectations I’ve dealt with lately:
“My book would be perfect in Wal-Mart.” Yes, it might be. But Wal-Mart makes those decisions, and they only choose a very few books, a tiny fraction of the books actually published. So it’s a long shot.
“I’ll go with the publisher who will commit to putting my book on the front table of Barnes & Noble.” I’m sorry to say that this is highly unlikely if you are a first-time author without a huge platform or marketing hook. Now, I’ve had clients whose books have been on the front table of B&N and other exciting places. But it’s more the exception than the rule, so enjoy it if it happens, but don’t expect it as a matter of course.
“I just know this book is going to spark an auction between publishing houses.” Despite what you hear and read in the media, auctions are relatively rare, particularly amongst Christian publishers. Whether there is an auction or not isn’t necessarily a good indication of how well your book is going to do.
“If I don’t see tons of print ads and reviews for my book, and I don’t get a multi-city booksigning tour, and I’m not on dozens of TV and radio shows, then my book didn’t get proper marketing.” The truth is that a good deal of the marketing and publicity budget for any given book is spent in places the author may never see—particularly, marketing to the trades (influencing retailers to stock your book and trade publications to review it). Another truth is that publisher marketing budgets are limited, and they usually know exactly how much they will spend at the time that they contract the book. There is not a lot anyone can do to change it. If publishers spent as much on marketing each book as the authors want them to, they’d be out of business in no time, because the ROI for book marketing is often not that great. This is why your own efforts are so important.
“If my book doesn’t sell to a publisher, it’s my agent’s fault.” I suppose this could be true in some cases, but agents have limited power. If they have a good reputation and good contacts in the business, then they can get your book in front of the right people, and follow up appropriately. But they can’t force a publisher to buy your book. Sometimes the book isn’t ready for the market, or the market isn’t ready for the book.
Of course, I could go on all day addressing unrealistic expectations, but I won’t. I don’t want to be a discouragement, but I want you to understand that if your expectations are impractical, and you are unable to change them based on reality, your publishing journey won’t bring you pleasure or fulfillment or excitement. It will instead be a disappointment at every turn and you will end up resentful and talking negatively about your publisher, your agent, and everyone you’ve ever met in publishing.
Many of us in the business have been on the receiving end of this, and it’s not pleasant. So keep learning, and keep being optimistic and positive, while not allowing your expectations to get out of hand. A fine balance!
(c) 2010 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent