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If your novel doesn't sell...

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1.  I'm afraid I'd be devasted if it didn't sell.  If you've written an MG (or YA) novel that didn't sell, how did you handle it?  Did you turn it into something else (short stories)?  How did you feel about all the time and effort you'd put into it?

I'm realistic. There are a LOT of aspiring authors. A lot of very, very talented authors. I expected not to sell-- and hoped for a pleasant surprise if I did. My last story/agent and I came very close with an amazing publisher-- but it was shot down at the board. So I moved on.

I've also continued writing and (I hope!) improving with each novel. Stephen King (I think?) wrote seven novels before he sold his first, Carrie. He then got a few of his older ones published. Some he did not return to. One had a great concept, so he rewrote it entirely.

Look how many he has in print now-- he's a prolific writer because he learned to 'crank them out', so to speak. And however devastated he might have felt, or however much time he felt he wasted after those first six rejections, he kept on going and it paid off.

This is also the case with the Blue Board's own Jennifer Lynn Barnes. I read in one of her posts that she wrote several manuscripts before she hit the mark with 'Golden'.

If it feels daunting writing one novel, and you're serious about moving onto longer books, then you probably need to start writing and keep writing until it doesn't feel daunting anymore. Force yourself to write 1k a day. If you do sell your YA novel, you might end up under contract for a second book-- and if the publisher doesn't like that second book and prefers you to write another? Same situation all over again, only with a deadline this time. Learn not to feel daunted by it.
#31 - September 07, 2009, 07:24 AM
« Last Edit: September 07, 2009, 07:36 AM by florkincaid »
S.J. Kincaid, INSIGNIA
(July 10, 2012, Katherine Tegen Books)


Coming from picture books, what scared me about a novel was the immensity of it. With a picture book, I often know the whole arc of the story before I put pen to paper. With a novel, I might have an idea for a beginning, or a character -- and an ending, maybe -- but that was it.

The key for me was hearing an author say "a novel is a collection of scenes."  The other key was realizing that I didn't have to write the novel in chronological or even logical order.  I just let myself play, writing down bits and pieces when and if they came to me. But eventually things began to gel, and eventually I could start to plan scene by scene how the story could be plotted. One thing I did was put a sentence or two summarizing a necessary scene on an index card.  Then I moved the index cards around to put them in a logical order.

So my advice is to stop worrying and start playing.  Let yourself write down scenes or bits about characters as they come to you.  At the same time, keep working on picture books. Let them fertilize each other. If you're meant to write this novel, then eventually you'll be caught up in it and you won't worry about whether you "should" do it or not. And even when you're in the midst of it, there will be times you need a break, or "off" times, and your picture book ideas can keep you busy.

#32 - December 17, 2009, 01:51 PM


I say follow your gut, but what do I know?

I think when we first start out writing a book we think wow... if this one doesn't make it, I'll never be able to do this again. But, then another idea will come along.

And, bam you're back to writing again.  :hair
#33 - February 20, 2010, 10:26 PM


Great thread. Like others on here, I can only offer encouragement. My first novel got me close to getting an agent with a number of agents, but wasn't good enough to go all the way. I spent five years writing and revising and revising that one. When I started querying it, I started writing my next novel. And I'm just about to start querying this one. Fingers crossed. :)

And, about moving from pbs to a novel, that's what KAthi Appelt did. The UNderneath was her first novel after loads of pbs, and it won awards -- after many many drafts, but that's the writing journey.

Ultimately, I think the important thing about writing a novel -- actually about writing anything -- is the passion. If you're passionate about the story, which it sounds like you are, jump in. Don't worry if it's good, bad, will sell, or anything. Just jump in and enjoy it. When you're done, celebrate for a couple weeks or a month, then start revising. That's when you'll make it great. It's not a quick process and it's not easy, but it's worth it if you love it.
#34 - March 10, 2010, 09:33 AM


Ditto on the advice already given. There are some wonderful craft books out there, too which I'm sure you know about. Also, even if the idea is super fresh and not done before, perhaps you can extract some themes from other books that are kind of similar? Just to get an idea of story ARC, pacing character dev. etc.

Good luck! :)
#35 - March 14, 2010, 04:31 PM


I'm curious to know how many first novels get to the point that they are ready to query. For a novel that eventually got trunked, did the writer realize that it won't sell and just started a new one without querying?

I'm revising my first novel and am working on getting it good enough to query. The first draft was total garbage, of course. I didn't even think about sending it off. But I don't see myself putting this away till I've run it through the querying phase. (Yes, the hope that this will be the exception is alive and well. :) )
#36 - June 03, 2010, 07:00 PM

I'm not exactly sure what you are asking, kposa.  Do you mean you are wondering how many first novels get picked up by agents or sold by editors, or if you are wondering if some first novels are never sent out on submission because they aren't good enough?

As for me, I wrote my first novel, which was a huge pile of horse manure, and then I polished the heck out of it.  And it was the book that landed me my agent.  It is currently on submission, but we have hope that it will sell.  So, yes, it is possible for first books to get attention from agents/editors.  I hope that answers your question.

If it doesn't, and if what you're really wondering is whether or not your first novel is "good" enough to query, that's a different story (no pun intended).  I do think even first novels CAN be ready to query IF the writer does all he/she can to polish it as much as possible.  It needs to be shown to a few critique buddies, or picked apart in a writing class, or taken to a conference critique session.  And you need to revise, revise, revise.  As long as you've done that, then, yes, your book is ready to query.

BTW, my second novel was shelved before I finished it because I knew it wasn't the story I really wanted to tell (or show my agent).  So, yes, some books never go out on submission either, in case you were wondering that as well.
#37 - June 03, 2010, 08:09 PM


I think it's pretty common for first novels not to sell. I'm not sure how common it is for authors to not submit them--although I've never shown my first novel to anyone (my brother has read it, but that's it). Most new writers submit prematurely, but I never had that issue. I never thought anything I'd written was good enough.

But it's not just first novels. I was chatting with a friend recently who has published 21 novels for adults and YA, and she told me she has at least ten more back at home that haven't sold--and she just shelved a brand-new project that she realized probably wasn't going anywhere.
#38 - June 03, 2010, 11:16 PM

is kooky.
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I queried my first novel two years ago to about 10 agents and got form rejections across the board. I realized my query letter was bunk, so I made the natural assumption my novel probably was, too. I've written a few more since then just to beef up my writer muscle, but I'm close to subbing my current WIP. I'm a firm believer that first novels are practice for most people. There's always an exception.
#39 - June 04, 2010, 05:54 AM
"The mind is everything. What you think, you become." ~Buddha   

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Elissa, I was wondering more of the percentage of first novels that authors never send out.

The fact that you landed your agent with your first novel is very encouraging. It gives me hope that, with revisions and polishing, first novels have a shot. Good luck with yours! I hope you get good news soon!
#40 - June 08, 2010, 07:30 PM


ecb, wow. 10 out of 21. Food for thought.

Aimee, were those responses you got from the 10 agents from the query letter or the manuscript?
#41 - June 08, 2010, 07:36 PM

is kooky.
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The letters. I had one request for a partial, but that got shot down, and looking back, rightly so.  :embarrassed2
#42 - June 08, 2010, 08:25 PM
"The mind is everything. What you think, you become." ~Buddha   

Blog -


I queried my first novel to one agent, the agent I thought was my be-all, end-all #1 top choice forever and ever. She read it, kindly passed, and I shelved it. I look back on that and I know how ridiculous it sounds, to give up after one rejection, but the bigger reason for shelving it was that my mom also read it at the same time the agent was reading it and my mom's reaction showed me it would be too painful to ever publish as is (the novel was about my family) and I had no idea how to deal with that or fix it. I didn't revise or work hard the way Elissa suggests above. I think I could have given it a better try, but I was afraid to hurt my family so I didn't. So I guess that's a lesson in not working hard enough and giving up too soon.

Then again, my second novel (both of these novels were literary fiction for adults) was queried widely, revised again and again, and I could not get an agent with it. My first novel for younger readers was published though, so maybe it's a matter of writing the right thing. I have no idea.

So, kposa, I don't know if one query counts, but I'm almost in the category of first novels that never even got sent out.
#43 - June 09, 2010, 07:56 AM

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kposa, definitely query it when you feel it's ready (and running it by a few trusted readers will help you decide that), because that's the only way you'll know.  But while you're querying, start something new.  That re-wires your brain, and if response to book one isn't stellar, having worked on something else will often help you see it in a new light and help you give it what it needs.

Good luck to you!!
#44 - June 09, 2010, 08:11 AM
The Leland Sisters series: Courtship and Curses, Bewitching Season, Betraying Season (Holt BYR/Macmillan)

Elissa, I was wondering more of the percentage of first novels that authors never send out.

The fact that you landed your agent with your first novel is very encouraging. It gives me hope that, with revisions and polishing, first novels have a shot. Good luck with yours! I hope you get good news soon!

Thanks.  I hope for good news, too.   :crossedfingers

I should mention, however, that I didn't just decide one day to pick up a pen and write a novel.  I had been attempting to write a novel for adults for about a decade.  But I never even got close to finishing a first draft (I usually gave up about three chapters in and then would start writing another idea) until I switched to writing for kids.  I wrote two or three terrible PBs to warm up, and then wrote my first novel. 

So I suppose calling it my first is a bit misleading.  I have MANY unfinished first drafts on my computer, all which precede my "first" novel.  None, however, are more than a few scenes or chapters.  (Okay.  One is about 20k, but the rest are less than 5k.)

So it still took a lot of hard work, and years of practice.  I didn't want anyone to think it was easy.  I'm not some writing genius.  Like ecb said, lots of first novels don't sell (or get picked up by an agent).  And I doubt my first novel would have caught my agent's attention if I hadn't been practicing all those years before I attempted to write it.
#45 - June 09, 2010, 02:15 PM


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