When Your Book Doesn’t Sell: Separating the Writer From the Wannabe


“I’m so glad it is our first year here so that the pressure’s off to win an award. I heard you have to be returning to be in the running,” my friend Kim leaned over and whispered as we sat in the back of Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference’s auditorium last April.

“Seriously, right?” I said, slouching down in the pew and sighing. We were settled in for the final night of programming; awards, music, and a message from the great Liz Curtis Higgs, who, if I am being honest, seemed so inviting and encouraging that it took all I could muster not to walk over and crawl up in her lap.

The week in California had been a dream for this mother of four, prone to piles of laundry, homework with kids, housework, and therapy and doctor appointments for my two daughters with Down syndrome. One week by myself, ensconced with like-minded people, authors, agents, publishers, and writers with dreams of their own, in one of the prettiest parts of God’s creation.

So you can imagine my surprise when my bio was read and my name was called. I won the Ethel Herr 2012 Most Promising New Writer Award for submitting 25 pages of my memoir about giving birth to my daughter Polly, and her diagnosis of Down syndrome, while serving as a missionary in Ukraine. My friend and I jumped up and down, and I ambled to the stage. The bright lights made me dizzy. Liz Curtis Higgs gave me a huge smile. “Wonderful!” Ethel Herr (Ethel Herr!) gave me a hug. The award thrilled me, and embarrassed me. After all, I was just a mom, trying my hand at this writing thing.

I naively left the conference sure that I would secure an agent and a publisher for my book within minutes of walking in the door back home.

Yeah. That didn’t happen. I secured an agent, but months later, through a different writing venue. The manuscript garnered interest from publishing houses that even resulted in two frightening, sweat-producing face to face meetings.

But so far, my book hasn’t sold.

Here are three things I’ve learned from this experience so far:

1. Keep writing

Someone offered me sage advice once I completed my manuscript. “Start another one.” Diving right back into another book length project has been one of the best things I’ve done as a writer. I’m a writer, not a wannabe, because I want, no, I need to write, not just to be published. I am growing in my craft, and I am still having fun doing it.

2. Grow your platform

I’ll admit it, there have been days that I’ve wanted to curl up in a ball over my memoir not finding a publishing home. OK, there have been days I have curled up in a ball because my memoir has not found a publishing home. But I’m a writer, not a wannabe, because I get back up and keep trying. I am building my platform and brand through articles, speaking, social media, and blogging.

3. Trust God’s timing

As a person of faith, although my carnality wants what I want in my timing, this experience has been a great exercise in trusting God and his timing. I am called to write. And by God’s grace, he uses my words in other people’s lives, and in my personal pursuit to become more like Jesus. So I practice trusting him. If it is God’s will for my memoir to be in print, it will happen. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing.

I may not be a published author, but I am a writer, not a wannabe.

And today, that’s enough to get back to this crazy, exciting, challenging work of putting pen to paper.

23 Replies to “When Your Book Doesn’t Sell: Separating the Writer From the Wannabe”

  1. Thank you for this timely encouragement! I have published two books-and am starting to work on the “selling” part….I love to write, but oh there is a lot for me to learn about getting it to the people God intended.

  2. Gillian: Bravo. After nearly 40 years as a journalist and 20 as an author, perhaps the most profound lesson I’ve learned is that the writers who are most content are not necessarily the most materially successful, but the ones who enjoy the journey. And who look for their sense of worth not from people, but from God. The happiest author I saw at a writers conference this past weekend seemed to be a 75-year-old woman who’d self-published a children’s book on identifying rocks in the northern California region where she lives. Keep writing. And keep curling up in the proper laps!

  3. Thank you, Gillian, for another thoughtful post! Your experiences and the life you’re living seem to be part of God’s plan for you…the writer and encourager. 🙂

    I’ve never been to a writer’s conference at Mount Hermon, but I went to a family camp held at Mount Hermon (when I was seven years old). It was there that I heard Corrie ten Boom speak about her book The Hiding Place. I also remember shaking her hand. Even Corrie ten Boom…likely needed to be patient while she waited for her story to get published.

  4. One– congratulations on your award! That is a great accomplishment! Thanks for these encouraging words.

  5. Very encouraging, thank you! Have you considered self-epubbing? It sounds to me like you have a wonderful book worthy of being read. Our local writers group had a seminar on self-pubbing, and it really sounds like a viable alternative to slogging through the mire of trying to get an agent, etc. Especially if your book is well-written and otherwise ready to go. (I don’t advocate self-pubbing just to be published, too many horribly-written books are self-pubbed, but I’ve also read some wonderful ones, and would consider going that route myself if I could ever get my danged book finished! lol) I would love to read your book, so whatever route you choose, don’t give up!

    1. Hi Stacy, thanks for your advice. I have considered self publishing. It is definitely not out of the question. We’ll see what God does :). Your words are so encouraging. Thanks!

  6. Gillian,
    This is a great post! It’s very encouraging for those of us who haven’t gotten to that stage yet. I’ve read so many horror stories of people who haven’t been picked up by publishers and they have an almost defeatist attitude about it. You, however, are turning your negatives into a positive and that’s amazing. Just writing my book and editing it has me curled up into a ball, so I can only imagine. But you’ll do it! With that kind of positive mindset, I am positive you will do it!

    May God Bless You!

  7. Thank you for your words. We get so focused on the destination that we often ignore the journey. Writing is something we do , because we feel compelled to. It’s a joy regardless of whether we’re published or not.

  8. Somebody once said it took them twenty years to become an overnight success. Keep going and keep believing. I lost two agents and had many publishers reject my novel before I finally got the job done – and even then I had to compromise. But it’s a step up and maybe next year I’ll take another step until one day I’ll eventually reach the top of the stairs. It’s a hard climb. NED

  9. So right with all those points. I finally managed to get some serious chapters completed with my second MS, and that has validated me as a writer far more than anything else. It’s a challenging project and I’ve got quite a few loose ends that need tying up, but there’s always a way – part of the creative process.

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