Tuesday, February 26, 2013

When You Don't Get What You Think You Want

By Marilyn Brant

You know that song by Garth Brooks,
"Unanswered Prayers"?
Or that famous one by the Rolling Stones, "You Can't Always Get What You Want"?

Yeah, me, too.

But I wonder how many times, when you heard one or the other of them on the radio, you thought about something in your life and said to yourself, "No, no! I really do want that particular thing ___(fill in the blank with your heart's deep desire). I don't wanna just get what I need -- I'm telling you* what I need, and it's the same thing that I want!"

[*"You," in this case, typically refers to one of the following: God, Mother Nature, the Unseen Forces of the Universe and/or your Magic 8 Ball.]

Publishing seems to inspire such moments more frequently than, say, almost any other less crazy-making occupation. And I'm not telling you that only because I've had some rather heated discussions with my Magic 8 Ball. But, if I'm being totally honest, I'll admit that in the nearly 13 years that I've been a fiction writer, my perspective on what's an actual blessing -- vs. what's a blessing in disguise -- has changed.

I remember finishing my first manuscript -- a women's fiction story that was (roughly) 625 handwritten pages long and (exactly) 509 typed pages in Times New Roman 12. I can now see countless flaws in it...but, back then, I thought it was a work of utter depth, brilliant pacing and staggeringly beautiful prose. Of course, at the time I wrote it, I hadn't yet actually read a single book on the craft of fiction or taken a class on the art of novel writing or, you know, even talked to a published author about...anything. So, my frame of reference for what constituted a "good" piece of fiction was rather limited and more than a little faulty.

This did not in any way stop me from desperately wanting a publishing contract with a NY house for that book. And Garth Brooks could croon on the radio all night long about how thankful he was for prayers that went unanswered, but I was convinced I was more perceptive than he was anyway and, seriously (!!), I knew what I wanted.

Turned out, I needed to dig a little deeper into that desire. Yes, I wanted to be a published author -- that part proved true -- but what I really wanted, more than almost anything at the time, was to have written a story that was a good solid piece of fiction. I kept wishing for a book contract for that first novel. But it was actually acquiring the novel-writing skills that would lead to a book contract that was my deep-down burning dream. (And I got the contract eventually, too, but only after I'd finished my fifth manuscript. No one, not even me, should ever have to suffer through that first one again... I remain ever grateful and relieved that it never got published.)

With the enormous changes going on in the publishing industry over these past few years, I've had conversations with dozens of writers about the books they've sold or haven't sold. About the dreams they'd once had for certain projects and how they thought it was the end of the line when those stories weren't picked up by a traditional house.
Many novelists put them away in a drawer or hid them on a flashdrive somewhere. They tried to forget about them, but there was always that lingering sense of disappointment.

And then digital publishing exploded onto the scene.

Authors who'd never found the right editor to embrace their work, suddenly had a platform to make thousands of sales, if they could reach their ideal audience. Books that didn't fit neatly into a publishing niche before, now had an honored place on the virtual bookshelves. I cannot begin to count the number of times I've heard in just the past twelve months, "Thank God my book didn't sell to ____ publisher!" Why? Because it gave the author the freedom to sell it to another house that did more for them marketing/distribution-wise or to publish it themselves and reap much greater royalties than they may have gotten under different circumstances.

In one instance, at least, that was true for me, too. I'd been very discouraged when Pride, Prejudice and the Perfect Match didn't sell to a traditional publisher several years ago. It had gotten so close! It made it as far as that final mystical roundtable of publishing people at a well-known house...and, at the last minute, they decided against buying it.

Honestly, though, that was the BEST thing that ever could have happened to that book! (And I'd hug Garth Brooks and Mick Jagger and sing their songs along with them both, if they were here, just to prove it.)

From a royalties standpoint, the story earned more in its first month after release than I would have made from that traditional publisher's small advance, plus, I got to keep all of my foreign/audio/etc. rights and I had complete control over selecting the cover design and choosing the release date. But, best of all, I got my deeper goal...which wasn't really to sell that novel to a NY house, but to connect that story with its right readership. I didn't have the online community network back then that I do now, and that's a large reason why I think I was able to help this book find its audience. Not selling this story too soon was, in fact, exactly what I needed...and, surprisingly, what I wanted as well. Even though I didn't know that until a few weeks ago. :)

What about you? Have you ever not gotten something that you thought you wanted, only to later discover that it was a blessing in disguise? As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Marilyn Brant is the award-winning women's fiction author of According to Jane, Friday Mornings at Nine and A Summer in Europe, as well as a #1 Kindle bestseller who also writes digital romantic comedies. She likes to sing everything from pop-country to rock-n-roll (but only when she's alone in the house), and she's very attached to her Magic 8 Ball.


  1. Marilyn, wonderful post! Thank you for sharing this. Your line about connecting with the right readership really resonated with me.

    Congrats on the release!!

    1. Jess, thank you for the congrats and for taking time to comment!!

      As for finding the right readership for our stories, I think there are some writers who instinctively know how to do that from book #1, and others -- like me, LOL -- who need years to fully grasp the concept... ;)

  2. Wow, Marilyn. What an inspiring post!! Between this post and Jess's post, I really wanna learn more about indie publishing. Thank you!!

    1. Thanks so much, Brenda!
      The indie experience has been really enlightening -- a lot to learn, a ton of work, but also very rewarding and fun. IMO, it's worth the time researching it!

  3. Marilyn, this much is certain in this uncertain new world order of publishing is that it's important that you found a way to get your voice (pen) heard.
    I enjoyed hosting this novel on my forum at B&N.com.
    And in everything the only constant is change right

    1. Deb,
      You are a true friend to all authors, but I always feel so lucky to have you in my life ;). Thanks so much for sharing my book with your readers on the B&N General Fiction Forum (I loved getting to visit!!) and for the supportiveness and encouragement you've given to me and to everyone! You're wonderful. xox

  4. Fantastic post, Marilyn. Not getting what we think we want is often a blessing--in publishing and life in general. The rapid changes in publishing have opened up a host of possibilities to writers, and readers. I'm excited to explore those possibilities.

    1. Reese,
      Thank you so much! I'm glad you liked the post and I agree with you -- it's not just publishing where this happens. Real life can provide a lot of examples, too, of blessings in disguise ;). And, yes! There are many fabulous new opportunities. I'm always inspired when I hear about the success stories out... Fingers crossed for you!!

  5. Enjoyed readig your post. I feel like my experiences are mirroring your own. I teach English here in the UK to 11 -16 year olds so, sadly, I have to do more marking than reading. Having said that, I've had three refusals for my book TouchStone for play and I'm about to publish through CreateSpace. The ICT stuff doesn't faze me, the marketing does. How have you got around that? Can you give me some creative ideas for getting it noticed and sold? Sydney.

    1. Sydney, I used to be a teacher, too!! (I had mostly 8 - 9 year olds. :) It's a challenging profession as well, and much more work than many people think, isn't it?!

      I'm no expert in marketing -- I'll readily admit that! -- but my advice for coming up with creative ideas, IMO, begins and ends with your story itself. Look closely at your manuscript and ask yourself: Does your story take place in a particular region of the world that people from that country or other areas might be interested in (i.e., London, the Mediterranean, Australia, etc.)? Is there an organization for people who do things that the characters in your novel do (i.e., knit, ride motorcycles, study sea animals, read Jane Austen...)? Does your story deal with a major issue that others have struggled with (i.e., loss of a parent, diet/fitness, divorce, and so on)?

      Whatever it was that created the passion in you to write your story is, I believe, a big key toward finding your readership. In my case, having a strong love of Jane Austen, I was already a member of an organization for fans of her work. It was easier to get my new book noticed there because I'm genuinely excited to talk about her writing and her life. And my book is a romance, and I'm a part of romance writers' organizations, too. Hope that helps!

  6. Thanks, Marilyn. I think all authors wrestle with this type of internal dilemma. And it's always such an encouragement to hear how other authors have navigated the same territory.

    I'm very grateful we don't always get what we ask for. It reminds me of the movie, Bruce Almighty. The screenwriters did such a great job depicting how catastrophic a "yes" to some of our prayers can be. We rarely understand at the time. But, boy, hindsight is one of those many eyeopeners that deepen our appreciation of blessings in disguise.

    1. Thanks, Crystal! I'm glad you reminded me of "Bruce Almighty" -- that's a great example, and Jim Carrey is such fun to watch!

      You bring up another good point, too, that this kind of thing is something most authors struggle with at one time or another.

      It's hard to know when to let go of something we want. There's that fine line between not wanting to give up too easily but, also, feeling we need to know when it would be wiser to quit or just take a step back... Part of figuring that out for ourselves comes from experience, I think. And the other part, I suspect, is a giant leap of faith :).

  7. And that cover is so beautiful! Thanks for an inspiring post.

    1. Oh, Karin, thank you!!
      I thought the cover designer did a lovely job with it. It was fun to get to work with her on its creation and go back and forth on ideas! Only problem is that I always want to go out for coffee after I look at it... ;)

  8. Great topic, Marilyn! And, yes, I think about the words to that song a lot and how it applies to my life.

    1. Kathy,
      Thanks so much! I'm glad you like it.
      And I'm also glad I'm not the only one pondering song lyrics during the day ;).
      Wishing you a wonderful weekend!