My First Time Working With A Publisher Was A Complete Fail: Here’s What Happened

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You’ve written a book! It’s an amazing feeling, isn’t it?

After all the grit and tears and moments of euphoria, you finally have a finished product. If you’re anything like me, your next thoughts will be consumed with finding a home for that book. In other words, how will I publish this sucker?

Nowadays, there are so many choices and paths to publication. Should you self-publish or submit your work to traditional publishing houses? Should you search for an agent or go it alone? Should you roll the thing up, pop it in a bottle and toss it into the sea, hoping some kind person will find it and share it with the world?

It’s a tough decision, especially because there is no one right answer. What works for one writer won’t necessarily work for the next. I’ve been published since 2012, and if I’ve learned anything, it’s that I can’t replicate someone else’s journey. I have to walk my own path. I have to trust my gut when I put my beloved stories in the hands of a publishing professional.

This is a lesson I learned the hard way. I can honestly say one of my professional failures has been choosing the wrong home for one of my books. A disclaimer: The book I’m speaking about is currently in limbo, and in no way am I referring to any of my current publishers. On the contrary, this situation was one that happened early in my career, and I’m still dealing with the repercussions. I’m hoping my experience will help someone else make the right choices.

In my case, I’d finished writing a book that meant a lot to me, and I hoped it might resonate with readers. I was proud of this book and its message and I felt I’d done the best possible job polishing it.

Hoping to broaden my reach, I sought the advice of friends in the industry. I wanted to know if anyone had experience with a particular publisher. One of my friends reached out to me. She said she’d worked with this publisher numerous times and was thrilled with them. She urged me to submit.

On her recommendation, I did. After all, I was familiar with this woman’s body of work and knew she’d had success.

Lo and behold, the publisher in question sent me a letter of acceptance. They wanted to publish my book!

Well, mostly. You know, if I changed a dozen or so plot points.

The publisher then proceeded to list all the things they didn’t like about my book. The list was staggering.

I was taken completely aback. Don’t get me wrong. I am open to feedback and have never been averse to editing my work. I put a lot of stock in suggestions from editors and have never been the sort of writer to refuse to make improvements.

But, in this case, the feedback didn’t sit right with me. It festered deep inside, making me doubt. My gut was sending me warning signals, ones that flashed in colorful neon lights. It just didn’t sound as if they liked the book at all.

And, yet, they were making me an offer. Silencing my inner voice, the one that was screaming at me to think twice, I responded, saying I looked forward to working with them. After all, they’d done wonderful things for my friend.

Without getting too much into the nitty gritty, the experience with that publisher was a fiasco from start to finish. Communication was poor, enthusiasm was low and, at the end of the day, I realized this was a group of people who didn’t really believe in my work. Nevertheless, they continue to work well with many other writers in the industry.

I was forced to accept the fact I’d chosen the wrong home for my book. I’d jumped at the first offer, scared I might not get others. To this day, that book flounders. It feels like my own little lost cause, and I’d be lying if I said the experience didn’t break me a little.

I’d made a decision based on another person’s good fortune, never dreaming my reality would be any different. However, there were a few key items I neglected to consider. Firstly, my book was nothing like those my writer friend published. It was a proverbial case of apples to oranges and didn’t fit into the publisher’s catalog very well. Secondly, my writer friend had a well-established career. I was just getting started and probably lacked some insight, as well as the confidence to ask important questions. Thirdly, I took everything the publisher said at face value. I didn’t do as much homework as I should have.

Sorting out your path to publication is a daunting task. It’s a bit like a job interview. But here’s the thing about job interviews that many people forget. Not only does it have to be a good fit for the employer, it has to be the right fit for the candidate as well. When I have a job interview, what I try to keep in mind is the fact I am interviewing them, just as much as they are interviewing me.

As you search for your publishing home, I would urge you to find the best possible fit. If your gut wails in objection, listen to it, because the first offer isn’t always the best offer. By all means, be open to working with your publishers and editors, but think twice if a publisher isn’t excited to work with you. You deserve to work with a team who believes in your creations and who wants to see you grow.

Along the way, you may make mistakes and bad decisions. We all do. How did I get past my professional failure? I learned from it so I wouldn’t make the same mistake again. I ask a lot more questions now, and I know I’m entitled to ask them. Do I still look to writer friends for input? Sure, but I make sure I get opinions from several, rather than just one. I’ve done a lot more homework in recent years and it has paid off. That homework has enabled me to find some great publishers, ones who are proud of my stories.

I know you will too.

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