So here's the thing: I'm currently getting ready for BEA, which means I'm scouring the list of author events, signings, panels, etc for anything and everything I want to attend. In the process, I've come across quite a few BEA buzz books. For those of you who don't know, a BEA buzz book is a book chosen by its publisher (I believe the publisher chooses....correct me if I'm wrong) to be "featured" at the expo. Many of this year's buzz books are from first-time authors. After much Googling and stalking, I came to the conclusion that the majority of buzz book debuts got huge advances from Big 6 publishers. They sold in good, significant, and even major deals, usually for two or three books rather than just one. For instance, one of the buzz books has a first print run of 250,000 copies. These books also sold very quickly (as in, they had publishers interested within a week).
And as I'm reading through all these success stories, I can't help but feel jealous and resentful. I know I shouldn't; I know I should be celebrating other people's success. But I was young and naive when I entered this business and I think writers tend to view publishing as a very romantic process. The day I signed with an agent, I thought that was it. I thought being agented would automatically make my dreams come true. I heard all the stories about authors selling in days, for huge amounts of money, and I secretly hoped that it would be me.
Well, it probably won't be. Publishing is completely unpredictable, of course, but what I've come to realize is that both of my books, while hopefully good enough to attract the attention of a big publisher, aren't the type of books to earn huge advances and lead-title status. Neither book has series potential. One skews heavily toward the upper end of YA, making it less marketable content-wise, while the other is multicultural historical fantasy (definitely not the most commercial genre). I love these books, I really do. I love their characters and I loved writing them. But if/when they do sell, they're not going to sell huge.
But that's okay. It's okay to start out small, then build on what you have. It's okay to have a book that gets a 5k-20k advance rather than 200k. Having a mid-list debut doesn't mean you're doomed to wallow in mid-list obscurity forever. Hell, look at James Dashner. He published two series before writing The Maze Runner, and each series was more successful than the last....in other words, he built up to bestseller status. It didn't happen overnight. And having a smaller advance can be good in many ways. There's less pressure to earn out (because let's face it, earning out $10,000 is MUCH easier than earning out $200,000) and you're more likely to make royalty profits on your book. And earning out is super important if you want your publisher to buy your next novel.
My books aren't big, and this is something I've come to accept. I'm not going to debut with a million dollar contract (all Ally Condie-style). I probably won't be a lead title. But I write what I love, and I love these two books. With the end of revisions looming, I've started on two separate projects, each of which is the first of a planned trilogy. I love my new projects just as I loved the old ones, and both are more "commercial" than LIKE CLOCKWORK or AILLEA'S CARDS. So who knows? Maybe one of these projects will go "big".
I may start small, but I believe that hard work and persistence really do pay off. Someday, I'm going to get there. I'm going to have a book that generates buzz and sells for a hefty advance and goes on to do really well in the market. Perhaps this will happen soon, perhaps in ten years, perhaps in thirty. But the important thing is to love what you write, even if it doesn't incite every single NYC publisher into a cash-throwing frenzy.
My books are not "big", but I love them anyways.