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When Your Book Doesn’t Sell

When an author and literary agent sign together there’s an excitement on both sides and a confidence that this is it, this is the book that’s going to sell. But every agent and many authors will tell you that’s not always the case. Many times that the first book doesn’t sell. So what happens next?

For every agent and author relationship, the answer is going to vary. At BookEnds, our goal is to take on clients for a career. This means more than one book, even if the first doesn’t sell, but the author also has to write that book.

I often say, an agent’s job is to sell the book (and manage the career), and the author’s job is to give us a book we can sell. As long as I’m getting that book, I’m happy to keep working at it.

No Guarantees

The hard truth though is that there are no guarantees. I’ve worked with clients for years, and many books, before we finally sold. I’ve had clients who became understandably frustrated after a book or two didn’t sell and chose to part ways. I’ve had clients who I have felt I had to part ways with when the next book had too many similar problems to the last. And I’ve had clients who after we tried one book, never wrote another.

Sadly we can’t predict how a relationship will play out whether the first book sells or not. We can never predict the future. That being said, this is an important question. It’s one you should absolutely ask the agent before signing. You should always ask, What Happens If….?

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9 comments

    1. Don’t be rude.
      Would you rather live in a fantasy world believe everything is going to work out? Even when it doesn’t?

  1. I always find I need to balance a positive, enthusiastic mindset with a realistic mindset. As a result, while I desperately hope the book I sign with sells, I am always reminding myself it might be the book that lands me an agent and the next one is the book that sells. Jus tin case.

    Really, if the book is good enough to have an agent fall in love with it, I can’t be upset.

  2. Jessica, this is a great point to bring up. I’m sure many authors and agents have to wrestle with this issue. What a challenge it would be for both parties. I’m a picture book author who is not yet agented, but I would hope that any agent I signed on with would view our relationship as a long one. Have you ever chosen to release a client and later regretted it? Has a client who has left you ever contacted you with a different and better manuscript, and asked you to reconsider?

    1. Caren I can’t say I’ve ever regretted releasing a client. Usually, there’s much more involved than just one manuscript. That being said, I have re-taken on clients after we’ve parted ways to much success.

  3. Hi, Jessica,
    2 questions for you…
    1) Is it common for a publisher or editor to reject a book brought to them by an agent, and if so, does the agent keep trying?
    2) Are previously self- published books a hard NO for an agent in terms of representation?
    Thank you for all your information , and candor. I’m learning a lot.

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