Huffpost Media
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Carol Hoenig Headshot

Too Quiet to be Commercially Viable

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

Fellow blogger Timothy Ferriss here on the Huffington Post recently wrote about his book hitting number one on the New York Times and Wall Street Journal business bestseller lists. First, a hearty congratulations to him, since that is no easy feat. Hours after having read his post, I was actually thinking about it while working on my third novel. This novel has been languishing for quite some time, and my excuse is that I have been busy promoting my first published novel Without Grace and then writing my just released book The Author's Guide to Planning Book Events. So I am trying to get a major portion of my third novel written before I begin doing events for my second book. However, while I was building the narrative dimensions in the lives of my characters, I wondered if the time and effort expended was really worth it. See, after having two high profile agents for Without Grace who couldn't sell it to a traditional publisher, I ended up just getting it out there by way of print-on-demand. I was told that if I tested the waters with going the POD route, publishers would take notice if it were successful.

Now, let me briefly interrupt and provide a bit of industry information: Approximately 2 percent of the manuscripts sent to agents or editors score a mainstream publishing contract. If there is a publishing contract, the average book in America sells about 500 copies, according to Chris Anderson in his book, The Long Tail. It doesn't take a genius to realize that one must be passionate about this writing gig in order to keep plugging along. Sometimes, however, the passion is given a good run for its money--or lack thereof, which is what happened while I was working on my third novel. While writing, I got an email from my agent who said that another major house turned down publishing Without Grace. This editor "found the writing solid and the subject matter handled well, but the story too quiet to be commercially viable." This seems to be the general consensus--with editors anyway. Here's what's odd: as of this writing, Without Grace has received some nice accolades:

• Silver Medal for Book of the Year, in the category of General Fiction by ForeWord Magazine
• First Place for fiction by the DIY Book Festival in Los Angeles
• Honorable mention by International Jada Book of the Year Awards.
• General Fiction finalist by the National Indie Excellence 2007 Book Awards
• Honorable Mention by New York Book Festival

Okay, so it's not the Pulitzer, but at least someone is noticing. In addition to these honors, I receive an occasional email from some stranger who went out of their way to seek me out to tell me how much they enjoyed my novel. So what is the deal? This post is certainly not intended to be an expression for whining, but I suppose it is in lieu of banging my head against the wall in frustration. And I'm not alone, by any means. If I were, there wouldn't be thousands of highly attended writer's conferences across the country.

However, I've done everything right, at least according to the "how to get published books." Besides writing a good book, I have a marketing plan, which is no easy task for fiction and I have many superb blurbs from "names." In addition, my novel has been the monthly selection for several book clubs. Moreover, without distribution, I've managed to sell over 1,000 copies. That may seem like a paltry amount, but when the average book sells only about 500 copies with distribution, I'll take it.

But here's the bottom line -- I have several characters who are nagging me to keep at it. They are rather animated now that I'm getting back to their story and will not leave me alone until it's written. I suppose they don't care whether it's bound and packaged for the world to read as long as I give them their due. So the only thing I can do is to keep writing; I just won't tell these characters that they aren't "commercially viable."