As a book writing coach, I answer that question a lot when folks want to know how to become an author.
As strange as it may seem, even good book writing gets rejected sometimes. In the Western genre, for instance, the bottom has fallen out of the market. As a result, only the best of the best published authors, who have a strong and loyal reading audience, get offered contracts for Western book proposals.
The good news is that publishing is a cyclical business, and the success of recent movies, like True Grit and Cowboys and Aliens , has given Western writers hope that book editors will start buying Westerns again.
But what if you're writing a popular fiction genre, sales are booming, and you still can't find an editor to buy your book?
It's a lot harder to explain why book editors reject fiction writers who appear to be doing everything right.
One of my novel writing students falls into this category. She's writing Romance novels, which statistically outsell every other fiction genre.
She has taken a half-dozen online writing courses.
She has workshopped her manuscript with at least three published Romance authors (all of whom have praised her story and promised her testimonials for her book cover).
She has hobnobbed with book editors and literary agents at all the important writing conferences. She has even won an award as an up-and-coming (if unpublished) Romance author.
So why do book editors continue to send back her fiction proposal?
I have to admit, I'm beginning to think that her book writing isn't the problem. Call it Karma, call it Timing, call it the Will of a Higher Power, but she just hasn't been able to sell that book. I'm as bummed by her latest rejection letter as she is.
The frustration of my writing student has motivated me to write this article to illuminate the many personal and professional considerations that impact the book buying decisions made by editors and publishers.
For instance, book editors have to read your manuscript a minimum of 2 times (plus all your revisions) before your story goes to press. Mind-boggling, eh? If I were a book editor who had to read every blessed word in a 400-page manuscript more than 2 times, you can be sure that I would only purchase a story that I absolutely loved!
Here's another eye-opener:
In mega corporations like Doubleday Random House, fiction book editors don't make decisions all by their lonesome. If they fall in love with your story, they have to convince a whole slew of other publishing professionals (sometimes referred to as the Editorial Committee) that you're worth spending money on – and I'm not just talking about your advance against royalties.
Publishers have to hire an artist and models to pose for your book cover's illustration. They have to consider the price of advertising and promotion, commodities (like paper), and the commissions that they'll owe to their sales team for shopping your book to national distributors. In short, publishers incur a lot of operating expenses to print and market a book.
So you can bet that the book editor who is reading your story for the first time is not only evaluating your writing skills, she's weighing the business consequences of championing your fiction proposal to the Editorial Committee.
If your story should fail to generate revenue for her employer – the publisher – she'll have some explaining to do. And if that editor finds herself buying a few too many books that bomb financially …
Well, let's just say that book editors have career aspirations, too.
If you want to know how to become an author, here's my best advice: keep the faith in your publication dream, and write books.
In the immortal words of Irwin Shaw, "If you're a real writer, you'll write no matter what."