The Book I Love and Can’t Sell


The best book I’ve ever written hasn’t been published yet.  It hasn’t even been contracted.

This isn’t some lame attempt at metaphysics or inspirational tripe.  I mean this literally.  The book is written, and it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.  But I can’t sell it, and it’s driving me nuts.  Let me back up briefly to correct something in that first line.  The book has been contracted once, but the publisher went under before the book saw light of day.  It was a small press, sort of.  Certainly it was far smaller than Tor, which has published the rest of my novels.  And we did manage to get the book rights back before the publisher folded.  But reselling the book has been difficult to say the least.

I’m writing about this not because the particulars of the business side of this saga are terribly interesting; really, they’re not.  Rather, I’m writing this post because there’s an emotional dimension to this issue with which I’ve been grappling.

I love this book.  I mean I really love it.  I believe it truly is the best book I’ve ever written.  The narrative just flies, the characters are dearer to me than any I’ve created for other books, the magic system is tremendous fun.  Most of all, I love it because it’s so different from my epic fantasy.  (It’s contemporary fantasy, with a mystery twist and a dark theme.   That’s really all I care to say about it right now.)

The thing is, that difference, which is so central to my feelings about this novel and the volumes I hope will follow, is also the source of my deepest fears about the book.  You have to understand, since my agent and I started trying to resell the thing it’s been rejected many times.  While I love the book, something seems to be giving editors pause.  And I’m starting to wonder about my own perceptions of the novel.  After ten books and several short stories, I’ve become pretty adept at evaluating my own work.  At least I have in traditional fantasy.  But this is . . . different.  What if I can’t judge this work properly because I don’t know the subgenre well enough?

I’ve edited and polished the thing until it shines (though I’ve taken care not to overwork it).  I’ve done one extensive rewrite that improved it quite a bit.  I’ve put it away for months at a time and then gone back to read it thinking that maybe when looking at it fresh I’d see its flaws.  I’ve done this twice, actually.  Upon rereading it both times I was struck again by just how much I love the book.  My agent has always liked the book, but has never loved it as much as I do.  She liked it a good deal more after the rewrite.  My wife, who never liked the concept of the book in the abstract loved it when she read it and agreed it was my best work.  And she’s usually a tough critic.

We’ve all heard the stories of authors whose work was rejected again and again and again until finally it found a home and then went on to be a huge success.  I want to be the guy in that story.  But when do the rejections outweigh my belief in this book?  When do I accept that even though I love it and remain certain that it’s my best work ever, no one else sees it the same way?  I’m not ready to give up on this novel yet.  I still believe it will sell, and I also believe that when it finally hits the shelves it will do well.  But my faith, in this book in particular and in my self-judgment in general, has been shaken by the experience.  And I fear that sometime soon, I’m going to have to let go of this dream.  

So, I guess I’m asking:  When does that time come?  When do I give up and accept that those editors who have rejected it know better than I what’s good and what’s not?  Have any of you faced similar issues in your own work?  Is it possible to love a book too much?  Could it be that in  making the book so special to me, I’ve made it less attractive to others?  I’d be grateful for feedback.


22 comments to The Book I Love and Can’t Sell

  • Oh. I’d have posted my impassioned response over here, if I hadn’t checked sfnovelists first today. 🙂

    Still! Never give up! Never surrender!



  • I agree with Catie’s reply on the other blog, sfnovelists. And I might add —

    The right product, to the right person, at the right time.

    Perhaps the editor who will eventually buy this masterpiece and make it a bestseller has not yet been hired at the house who will push it with the most fervor. Have…um…faith.

  • Give up? Accept rejection? I’m sorry, I do not know these words. But they smell terrible and they are not pretty to look upon. I suggest you cast them aside and find new ones.

  • Michele Conti

    Never say never unless you mean it enough to say it twice.

    So, never, NEVER, give up.

    Someone will buy the book eventually, and then you’ll have another known masterpiece under your belt. Teehee. It’s not like your fan base isn’t big enough. We could like…complain that we want to read it, so they have to publish it…otherwise they won’t make as much money…or something? 😛

  • Mark Wise

    You could ofer it free on your website. *smile*

    Seriously, stick to it. It could be years before the right circumstances come up. Keep it dusted off and the pages crisp, it will make it someday.

  • I’m with the other folks, that there’s never a time to give up. I wonder if this is one of those situations in which your reputation is keeping this book down – people think “epic” when they think of you, and can’t get past something different.

    Have you talked to your agent about submitting it under another name?

  • Chris Branch

    Maybe I’m being naive, but I would say there’s really no downside to keeping it alive, if for no other reason then that you’ve already done the hard part! Now it’s just a matter of periodically sending it around – I would hope that’s a relatively small investment of your effort in the overall scheme of things, so absolutely I’d say keep sending it out.

    As an aside, it sure would be nice if the rejecting editors would tell you what the heck they don’t like about it.

  • Thanks for the comments, guys. I can assure you that I’ve considered every option suggested here and then some, including the pseudonym thing, free release through creative commons or just on my website, podcasts, serializing in some magazine, small press, download sales, POD — everything. And nothing is off the table. I’ll probably exhaust the traditional routes first, just because that’s where I’m most comfortable. But the time is fast approaching when that option is gone.

    Chris, most of the editors have said the same thing: [paraphrasing] “It’s well-written and this was a tough decision, but it’s not quite what we’re looking for.” And truth is, the book is not an easy one. Dark themes, a lead character with a significant flaw in his personal life, crossover in terms of genre. I can see that it might not be easy to categorize or market. But, of course, that’s one of the book’s strengths as far as I’m concerned.

  • Mark Wise

    A lot of the best books don’t fall within the cookie-cutter genre system. To me, that would be an indication of something new and fresh that is abnormal. To me, if I was a publisher, I would eat it up.

    But that is just me… 🙁

  • Hmmm. Mark, I’m thinking you need to start a publishing house: WiseBooks, Inc. Yes, this has definite potential….

  • Why not see if publishers in a different country would be interested?

  • That’s a good idea, Natalie, and actually, given my connections in Oz, your country would probably be my first choice. Thing is, this is a contemporary fantasy set in the real world, and it’s a American city. I wonder if that would lessen my chances of making a foreign sale without an American publisher picking it up first. Not sure. But I’ll look into it. Thanks.

  • David said, “Thing is, this is a contemporary fantasy set in the real world, and it’s an American city.”

    Which could give it an exotic feel for a non-American market, and ramp up the sale possibility. 😀

  • Ah David, we’re always setting things in American cities, especially if something blows up *g* look at Godzilla, great storyline…. sorry Aussies always look at taking the mickey out of other countries, we (oh no I’m using the royal weeee) think you take yourselves too seriously.
    Allen + Unwin Publishers are looking at the moment. I’d throw a line past them.

  • Thanks for the tip, Natalie. And you and Misty are both right: the setting shouldn’t keep it from appealing to other audiences.

  • Frank

    I would be happy to read it for you, and give feedback. Just drop the original handwritten and signed manuscript off at my “office”. (you DID write it out in longhand, with a feather quill, on parchment,didn’t you?) You know where to find me.

  • Kim

    Give up? I’d give it the passion test, which is, “Would I have written this even if no one promised to give me a dime for it?” If you answer yes, then it’s good, and even better, you’re impassioned about it. You’re only having trouble finding the person who recognizes it for what it is and knows how to market it. If the answer is no, then you might want to think about shelving it until the market shifts. But I think I already know which answer you’ll pick. 😉

    Good luck with it, David. Timing is everything.

  • Thanks for the offer, Frank. And thanks for the kind words, Kim. You’re right: I’d have written this book for nothing. It’s like taking a great photo. I don’t care if I ever sell it. Being able to hang it on the wall and say “I did that,” is plenty. Same with this book.

  • Beatriz

    Please don’t give up on this book, if for no other reason than I’ve got to, got to, absolutely GOT TO read it once it has found the right home.

  • Thanks, Melissa. I intend to do everything I can to make sure you get to read it.

  • I’m actually glad you pointed this post out. When do you decide to hang it up? All I gotta say is, Dr. Seuss. Never give up on it. His first was rejected nearly 30 times before someone took a chance on it.

    Then again, if you ever become famous enough you can go the route of other writers and set up your own publishing company and bring it out that way. 😉

  • Thanks, Daniel. I haven’t given up on it yet. But I did decide to focus on more marketable work for a while. I plan to go back to this one soon, though.