The Long & Winding Road: Part VI - What Happens When Your Book Doesn't Sell

Recap: The Long & Winding Road is a multi-part essay about my endeavors to get an agent and publish my first novel. Part I discussed writing my first novel and seeking representation, Part II discussed "revision hell", Part III discussed talking to and landing an agent, Part IV discussed editing with an agent, and Part V discussed submitting to publishers.


So let’s just get to the heart of the problem. Independent of what we would or could do with my book that hadn’t sold, the most obvious thing to do was to move on to the next book I’d written. I should send that new book off to my agent, and at least get that new ball rolling while we considered options for the first book.

Except I had NOT written another book. Because I am an idiot.

In the year of revising the first book and the months of prepping it for sub and waiting for a response I had still not managed to write another book. I had written a detailed outline and some pages for a sequel to the book we now found we couldn’t sell (so in other words, that work was nearly worthless). I had some other ideas that I had been fleshing out and I had written a good 40 pages for one of them. But the bottom line was that I did not have another book ready to move forward with.

It’s just about the biggest mistake a writer can make if you ask me. As I said in a previous installment, the publishing industry moves at a galactically slow pace, and one of the only things you actually have control over in this regard is whether people have to wait on YOU. And I was making them wait. I had nothing else to put in the pipeline right away. I say again, I am an idiot.

And because I had nothing else to put in the pipeline right away, it affected the decision I made about what to do next with The Girl Who Would Be King.

Even though I had massive reservations about my ability (and desire) to go into another revision, I had nothing else ready, so that is what I opted to do. And so began another 13 months of revisions. However, because I was burnt out on the book and didn’t have enough distance from it, they were the hardest revisions I had ever done. They were also the most minor, took the longest, and ultimately were still not enough. More than a year later (we’re now at September 2011 if you're trying to keep track) I turned in a “final” revision pass to my agent.

He read quickly and really liked the changes, but didn’t feel they were enough to re-submit to the houses we had gone to the previous year. I didn’t disagree. I had hit a wall with the book. I either couldn’t see the forest for the trees, or disagreed and was unwilling to change things that I knew might make it more “saleable.”

I had hoped the changes would be enough that we could go out to some smaller houses, having convinced myself (perhaps through sheer desperation) that the book was "too bold" and "too risky" for the big houses. That we would be better off with a smaller, more independent publisher, more willing to take a risk on the book. My agent disagreed. Now, a year later, we were again faced with another tough choice.

#1. Table the book and move on to the next (I had finally become very excited about two new projects and had been writing furiously – I already had about 30k for one and 25k for the other completed).

OR

#2. Part ways with my agent, find a new agent, and continue searching for a home for The Girl Who Would Be King.

Since we were currently disagreeing on the right place for the book, I considered option #2, but all my research indicated that I would have to write a new book anyway. Agents would be hesitant to look at a book that had already been burned by the “big six,” and I figured the fact that my agent was one of the best around and hadn’t been able to sell it would not be encouraging to new, prospective agents.

At the same time, I was really hesitant to trunk The Girl Who Would Be King. I KNEW it was good, and even though I was sick of it, I had a lot of faith in it. But I had two shiny new ideas that I was excited to move forward on. I asked my agent if I could send him the first chapters for each of the potential new books to see if he was interested before we decided to move forward together. He agreed.

A week later he said he liked both pieces very much and saw a lot of potential in them.  And with that answer, The Girl Who Would Be King was officially trunked. It was painful, but it was also a relief. I was so tired of the project after working on it in some form or another for more than five years. The shiny new projects beckoned me, and some part of me was anxious (and frightened) to see if I could make it to “the end” on something entirely new.  But I didn’t want to slowly write the new project over years, because now I knew how much revision there could be, how long and drawn out the process could be. I was determined to write the first draft of this new book as quickly as possible. 

And that is how my second book became my “NaNoWriMo” project for November 2011. I wrote the whole (massive) thing in under 6 weeks (although I started with nearly 25k). Getting to the end restored my faith in myself as someone who could maybe actually BE a writer, as opposed to someone that one time wrote a book that actually got to "the end" by some miracle.  I kicked myself for not having done it sooner. Everything was better now. I did one solid edit and sent the new book off to my agent in December of 2011.

Sometime between January of 2012 and April of 2012 my relationship with my agent waned a bit. I didn’t feel his enthusiasm for the new book, and he didn’t seem to have time for me. I was anxious having already felt like I'd waited a long time (albeit for another project entirely), and knowing that my new book was very “on trend” I was worried about timing. When all was said and done, in late April of 2012 my agent and I parted ways. I began my search for a new agent for my new book (that search is still ongoing), but in the meantime I seriously considered self-publishing The Girl Who Would Be King.

Self-publishing, thanks to digital/ePubs, had really changed, even just in the few years that I had been working on my book. The stigma had begun to disappear, and there were even some crazy success stories out there. I had been, over the past four years (while not writing a new novel) been writing a lot online both for my own personal blog and for various freelancing gigs (CBR, Comics Should Be Good, here at LitReactor), and I had built up a reasonable little platform. Would those same people buy the book if I published it?  I had no idea.

I commissioned an extremely talented artist I knew to give me a professional cover, hired a writer friend to help me with copy editing, and I pulled together what I considered “the best” draft of The Girl Who Would Be King. This included all the great narrative and structural changes I’d made throughout the years, but added back in some of the violence (and awesomeness) that I’d pulled out in order to make the book more "YA Friendly." If I was going to do this myself, I wanted the version of the book I felt was the best – not the version that best fit some mold I wasn’t even sure was right for the book. Stepping away from the book for nearly 10 months gave me some nice clarity on it as well, and I found myself quite happy with the draft I sent off to be copy edited. 

On June 25th I launched a Kickstarter to both fund the costs (the print run, the cover, the copy editing, isbn purchase, etc.), and drum up interest and chatter about the project, rather than just quietly releasing it as an ePub on Amazon.

My “platform” totally turned up and I fully funded (8k) in under 30 hours. The Kickstarter is still going of course (through July 25th) and we’re currently hovering somewhere around 13k raised.  We’ve announced stretch goals and unlocked special one of a kind artist and writer rewards, and we’ve gotten amazing support via articles and retweets. Though I cannot speak completely to the experience since it is still ongoing, I have to say I have not had a single complaint thus far. It has been incredibly rewarding and exciting.  And though I certainly have no ill will toward traditional publishing and still hope to be a part of it someday (as I said, the agent search is ongoing!), the grassroots community feeling of doing it this way has been unexpectedly fulfilling.

I am also forced to admit that some of the wonderful coverage I’ve received would have been hard to get had the book been published in a traditional way. Thanks to the method of publishing, there’s an angle to the story of this book's journey that would simply not exist had it been published traditionally or quietly self-published.  I mean, sure, we all hope that our books will be a stunning success because people love them and share them with others and the books win awards and gets on top ten lists, but would I have been able to get a fantastic write up on Whitney Matheson’s Pop Candy without the angle that this is a book that traditional publishing couldn’t find a place for? I have trouble imagining it.

And so begins a NEW journey for The Girl Who Would Be King. One that I hope will be at least slightly less long and winding.


Thanks to all of you for coming along with me during this series. I hope it's been educational or at least intriguing to read one writer's experience with their first novel. There are so many different ways these things can go, I always find it helpful and reassuring, as well as a good reality check to read others experiences. If you have any interest in The Girl Who Would Be King, you can read the first ten chapters for free here (they're short chapters - you'll see why when you click - and I'm posting two new chapters every Tuesday and Thursday for the duration of the Kickstarter). You can also read all about the book at the website and Kickstarter, and if you like what you see I encourage you to pass it on. Social media is a powerful thing and it's impressive to see what it can do, even for small projects like mine. 

Here's a look at the cover I commissioned by the sublime Stephanie Hans. The most rewarding thing about all of this? Unlike so many writers out there, I am in complete control of my cover and the result was something stunning that people are responding to with huge enthusiasm:

Kelly Thompson

Column by Kelly Thompson

Kelly Thompson is the author of two crowdfunded self-published novels. The Girl Who Would be King (2012), was funded at over $26,000, was an Amazon Best Seller, and has been optioned by fancy Hollywood types. Her second novel, Storykiller (2014), was funded at nearly $58,000 and remains in the Top 10 most funded Kickstarter novels of all time. She also wrote and co-created the graphic novel Heart In A Box (2015) for Dark Horse Comics.

Kelly lives in Portland Oregon and writes the comics A-Force, Hawkeye, Jem & The Holograms, Misfits, and Power Rangers: Pink. She's also the writer and co-creator of Mega Princess, a creator-owned middle grade comic book series. Prior to writing comics Kelly created the column She Has No Head! for Comics Should Be Good.

She's currently managed by Susan Solomon-Shapiro of Circle of Confusion.

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Comments

Michael J. Riser's picture
Michael J. Riser from El Cerrito, CA (originally), now Fort Worth, TX is reading The San Veneficio Canon - Michael Cisco, The Croning - Laird Barron, By the Time We Leave Here, We'll Be Friends - J. David Osborne July 5, 2012 - 11:31am

I know nothing about you and your book, but I'll say this: awesome cover.

Also, you should change your bio. :D

In all seriousness, best of luck. It sounds like this has been a long road and I'm curious to read your prior articles about it.

Joshua Chaplinsky's picture
Joshua Chaplinsky from New York is reading Stories of YOUR Life July 5, 2012 - 11:38am

Yeah, the artwork fucking rules, and I'm so glad the Kickstarter was such a success. There's still time to contribute, people!

Blair's picture
Blair from Southern California is reading Needful Things July 9, 2012 - 5:21am

Illuminating. Thanks again, Kelly.

Pearl Griffin_2's picture
Pearl Griffin_2 from Portland, Oregon is reading Les Miserables July 9, 2012 - 10:11am

Thanks a lot for the perspective. I am starting on this road myself in the fall, so it's nice to know how the process goes. 

1979semifinalist's picture
1979semifinalist from California but living in NYC is reading Joe Hill's NOS4A2 July 10, 2012 - 10:28am

Thanks everyone. I'm glad you've enjoyed the series.

@Michael - good point about the bio! I've asked LR to change it.

@Pearl - One thing to remember is that this is just ONE possible way it can go. I know of many people who have had far simplier (less wind-y) roads, and others that still struggle somewhere on the twisting road behind me. Anything can happen. Good luck to you!

SammyB's picture
SammyB from Las Vegas is reading currently too many to list July 26, 2012 - 2:16am

Gorgeous cover. I look forward to checking out this book. I've marked the first chapters to read and am very excited to check it out. Best of luck to you!