It’s the oldest story in the world, boy meets girl, boy marries girl, boy gets a book published with a Big-5 publisher, publisher decides to pass on the sequel, girl tells boy maybe it’s time he got a job.
Maybe I should back up.
Back in 2014 Harper Voyager bought my dark fantasy novel, Beyond Redemption . It came with a fairly sweet advance (at least for an unknown author) and the book went on to sell translation rights to German, Polish, and Russian publishers. While I certainly wasn’t rolling in money, the book made enough that I could afford to work part-time and focus on my writing. As Beyond Redemption was bringing in amazing reviews (starred and boxed review from Publishers Weekly, rave reviews from BookList, the Library Journal, and a host of indie book reviewers) I decided to gamble and write the sequel.
In a twelve month period I wrote and edited two novels totalling over 270,000 words. The first was a direct sequel to Beyond Redemption, the second an unrelated story taking place in the same world. With all the amazing reviews I was confident the publisher would pick up both novels and I looked forward to another year of part-time work and more writing. In fact, if the advances on these two novels were the same as the first and both sold translation rights, it was entirely possible I wouldn’t need a day job at all. Things were tight but I had a plan and my amazing wife supported me chasing my dreams.
And then in late October I heard from the publisher that sales of Beyond Redemption were far lower than expected and at that time they were unwilling to make an offer on the next books.
Let’s talk numbers. The book was published June 16th, 2015. Between then and late October the book sold ~750 copies. The publisher wanted to see sales closer to 2,500 copies. Clearly I was well short of that. Harper Voyager suggested we reconvene in the new year and see how sales were then. At that point I went on a mad publicity drive doing guest posts, interviews, and Q&As anywhere that would have me. I’ve talked about this elsewhere so I’ll cut it short. When we talked again in January the sales were sitting around 1,700. While my publicity push had definitely helped, the sales were still well below what HV wanted. They passed on the two books I’d spent the last year writing, wished me the best of luck, and said they would be very interested in seeing more work from me (unrelated to Beyond Redemption) in the future.
It was a kick in the gut. All of a sudden I was sitting there with two written books and no income beyond a part-time job that wasn’t making nearly enough to live off.
The first thing I did was get extremely drunk. For about a week. Maybe longer. I just know that there was an empty 40 oz Jameson bottle in the recycling box every week for a while alongside all the usual wine and beer empties. Ok. It might have been a month.
I might be ‘new’ at this, but what that means is that I’ve only been writing for seven years. And in seven years any serious writer amasses a truly staggering amount of rejection. I collected over one hundred rejection letters before I sold my first short story. It was two years of chasing agents and publishers before I landed a small Canadian publisher for my first novel, 88. Was I really going to let this stop me? Hell, I’d sold a book to a big-5 publisher! Beyond Redemption wound up on fifteen best-of-2015 lists! Apparently I could write at a professional level!
Putting away the whiskey I had a chat with my agent. She said that while the other big-5 publishers would pass on my novels for the same reason Harper Voyager passed, there were a number of excellent mid-level publishers who might be interested in a sequel to book that had by this point sold over 2,000 copies. We spent a two months writing and tweaking proposals, and now we’re shopping both books to a list of about a dozen publishers. It’s early days (it’s only been two weeks) so it’s too early to know if there will be interest. In the meantime I’ve begun work on another fantasy novel that has nothing to do with Beyond Redemption.
Things didn’t go the way I wanted, but no one ever said this was going to be easy. If you’re going to fold the first time shit goes sideways, you’re in the wrong biz. If the mid-level publishers don’t bite, I’ll self-publish which will be a whole new adventure, one I must say both terrifies and excites me.
If I may be so bold as to offer one piece of advice: Don’t write your sequel until there’s demand.
If you’re curious to hear the next chapter, I can check back in a few months with an update.