What happens after YES?

What happens after you've sold your first novel?


By Michelle Barker


It’s a writer’s dream: you open that email or get that phone call from a publisher or agent with the big news: they want to publish your novel. It’s actually going to happen. After years of heartache, years of relatives asking you when your book is coming out—and probably also carpal tunnel syndrome from so much typing.

That day, the day you get the news, is huge. You’ll probably cry. I did. You’ll probably think your life is going to change. I did. You’ll imagine people will recognize you on the street. Writing your next book will be so much easier. You’ll lose those ten pounds.

Ummm. No. Or, I should say, not entirely.

One thing that does change is the feeling of validation. Usually, by the time you get that yes, you’ve got a lot of rejection under your belt. I mean, A LOT. No gets heavy after a while. It doesn’t feel good to carry it around. No can sink you. In that way, the yes makes a huge difference.

But I would say—in that way only. That one yes does not mean you now have a publisher for life who will accept every golden word you write. Sorry to say this, but you’re only as good as the book you’re writing right now. Every time you write something new, you’re essentially starting over. What you’ve done before doesn’t matter, although what you’ve learned from it definitely does.

As your knowledge of the craft expands, you do get better at putting a novel together. But I would never call it easy. Or rather, it has never been easy for me. I’m able to see the flaws much faster and head them off at the synopsis stage, rather than throwing out hundreds of pages of work. But I’m not going to lie—I have thrown out hundreds of pages before and will likely do so again.

One pitfall to beware of is the tendency of authors to write the same book over and over again. Start book two and you’ll see what I mean. The plot points will be oddly similar to your first book. Even the subject matter might be similar. You’ll get halfway through and think, Damn. Here we go again.

Regardless of how well your first book does, there will suddenly be pressure on you for the second book that you’ve never experienced before. If the first book did well, you’ll feel pressured to measure up to that success. If it did poorly, you’ll feel anxious about improving so the publisher will take the next one.

There are things that happen after you get the phone call that other writers don’t often mention. The stress of the editorial process is one of them. Things move quickly, and you’d better be prepared to drop everything and meet your deadlines. By the time you proofread the galleys, you will be so sick of your book, you’ll never want to see it again. You certainly won’t want to read it again.

And then one night you’ll wake up in a sweat with the realization that this novel, which has existed more or less as a secret in your life, will be out in the world for ANYONE to read. You might think this is exciting, and it is. But it’s also terrifying. There will be reviews. Not all of them will be good. Or worse, there won’t be reviews. No one will care.

Chances are quite good that no one will recognize you on the street after your first novel is published. Movie producers won’t line up outside your door begging for the screen rights. The blank page will still be blank.

But… you’ve done it. Your name is out there now, and that’s powerful. You might wander into a random bookstore and see your book on the shelf. And there’s the value of experience. You’ll take what you’ve learned and bring it to the next project. That project will kick your butt all over again, but in a different way, and you’ll have something new to bring to the table for the project after that.

Is it worth all the heartache?

If you hesitated for even a second over that question, then the answer is no. There are easier ways to earn a living. But if you’re compelled to keep writing even if a publication deal never materializes, then the heartache is just another part of the process.

Michelle Barker, senior editor and award-winning novelist

Michelle Barker is an award-winning author and poet. Her most recent publication, co-authored with David Brown, is Immersion and Emotion: The Two Pillars of Storytelling. Her fiction, non-fiction, and poetry have appeared in literary reviews worldwide. She has published three YA novels (one fantasy and two historical fiction), a historical picture book, and a chapbook of poetry. Michelle holds a BA in English literature (UBC) and an MFA in creative writing (UBC). Many of the writers she’s worked with have gone on to win publishing contracts and honours for their work. Michelle lives and writes in Vancouver, Canada.

Immersion & Emotion: The Two Pillars of Storytelling

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1 comment

  • This was an insightful piece, but from my viewpoint, a partial take. If you are unfortunate with your publisher, (say they stop trading or the book warehouse burns down), you may wish you had not been published at all.


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