In 2014, I was in the middle of line edits when my publisher shut down the imprint publishing my book. A few months later, my agency and I parted ways. Everything that I had worked for over the past nine years disappeared. I hope nothing like this ever happens to you. But we’re all prone to disasters, big and small. Here’s how I got through mine:
- Remain Professional
Emotions are flooding through you. That’s 100% normal, but makes it really easy to flip out on your agent or editor. Don’t do it!
Screaming at your agent or your editor won’t change the situation. And that temporary release will have serious long-term consequences that hurt you because you still have to work with these people to get the next steps done.
All you have left is your agent and you need her to help you navigate these unchartered waters. Scream into a pillow. Call a friend and rally against the injustice of your life. But when you talk to your agent or editor, remain professional. To keep your emotional distance, have a pen and paper handy and take notes, or interact via email. You can edit the emotion out of an email—make sure you write a few drafts and never fire off your first one.
- Focus on the Next Step
Doing something is movement away from what just happened. Unfortunately, the next steps can take months to get through, so you want to get things set in motion as soon as you can.
If your book hasn’t been published yet, you need the publisher to give you back the rights to the book and deliver the most recent version of your manuscript to you. Emails have to be drafted. Documents require signoff. Your agent can take care of most of it for you, which is why #1 is so important. This process can take 3-6 months.
If your book is already published, the publisher has more work on their end including removing the book from sale on all the platforms, reverting the rights to you, and conducting a final accounting of all the royalties. That process can take 6 months to a year.
- Mourn the Loss Privately
Getting an agent and a publisher is like winning the lottery, so being this close to publication and having it all disappear is a huge blow.
Give yourself private time offline to process everything you’re feeling. Mourn the loss, be angry at the industry, feel betrayed by all you believed in. Vent about everything you’re feeling to friends and family—the people you trust. Don’t post anything online during this time because what you feel in this moment isn’t for public consumption.
The outbursts of emotion that feel so good with a friend, can haunt you online forever. Resist the urge to post your pain. If you want to write about it, open a Word document and pour everything into it, but don’t share it, not yet.
- Be Honest About What You Can Do Next
Can you start the query process all over again? It’s okay to admit you can’t. Maybe you need to take a break from querying. Maybe you need to work on a new project. Maybe you need a sabbatical from writing. Do what you can do.
If you love the book and believe in the book and don’t want to give up on the book, this is not the end. As long as you keep trying, there is always a possibility for this book. But you may not bounce back so much as slowly crawl out of it.
- Share Your Story When You Are Ready
When your emotions are under control and you can write a balanced post about what happened, it helps to share your story. Just wait until you are ready to field questions. People will try to be supportive, but sometimes they will say things that make you want to scream.
There is so much shame tied up in losing a publishing deal. But after you share what happened, author friends may surprise you by emailing their personal horror stories about agent and publisher losses and you realize you aren’t alone. It can give you the strength to push onward to the next bend in your publishing journey.
- Take the Knowledge and Use It
At first it feels like that time spent negotiating the contract and working on revisions with the first publisher was wasted. But it wasn’t.
You learned so much about the publication process and editing. You will take that knowledge forward with you. You will be better prepared when the next opportunity comes along. You know what red flags to look out for and what questions you should ask up front. You know that despite the best of intentions things can fall apart and now you know what to do if that happens.
In 2015, my line-edited manuscript ended up with a small press, which let me have cover input and gave me more attention than a big publisher. Last year when I was unable to work for two months because of severe vertigo, this same small press worked around my health issues and pushed back deadlines on Book 2 for me. I’m not sure a big publisher would have been willing or able to do that for me. I’m a firm believer than in the end, everything is okay. And if it’s not okay, you are not at the end.
What disaster have you survived? Have any tips for us?
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K.C. Tansley lives with her warrior lapdog, Emerson, and two quirky golden retrievers on a hill somewhere in Connecticut. She tends to believe in the unbelievables—spells, ghosts, time travel—and writes about them.
Never one to say no to a road trip, she’s climbed the Great Wall twice, hopped on the Sound of Music tour in Salzburg, and danced the night away in the dunes of Cape Hatteras. She loves the ocean and hates the sun, which makes for interesting beach days. The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts is her award-winning and bestselling first novel in The Unbelievables series.
As Kourtney Heintz, she also writes award winning cross-genre fiction for adults.
You can find out more about her at: http://kctansley.com