Are you setting your expectations too high?

If you are an aspiring author then most certainly you will have read the amazing story about writer Jessie Burton. Once a struggling actress, she is set to become a millionaire after landing an amazing six figure deal for her debut novel The Miniaturist.

The Miniaturist - subject of massive bidding war
The Miniaturist – subject of massive bidding war

Eleven publishers wanted the novel which Jessie, 31, wrote after a trip with her partner to a museum in Amsterdam. Two years later, after gaining a place on a creative writing course, she finished her manuscript and sent the first three chapters to literary agent Juliet Mushens.

The book – which revolves around a miniature doll’s house that the heroine was given as a wedding gift from her husband – was eventually sold to Picador where it is being published in 30 countries.

And the good news for Jessie doesn’t stop there. In the Mail On Sunday Claudia Joseph reports The Miniaturist is now being fought over by film producers who believe it has the makings for a blockbuster.

It is stories like this one – and of course the success of El James’ Fifty Shades of Grey and JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books – that keep authors going. Because no-one who writes a book doesn’t dream of it being a bestseller and earning millions.

But if you are writing a book or if you have written one, then try not to get carried away and think this will definitely happen to you. Unfortunately such success within the publishing industry is extraordinarily rare.

For while I would never suggest someone doesn’t write a novel – after all someone has to be the next literary star and it could be you – far too many people believe it is a certainty.

As a media agent managing peoples’ expectations is one of the hardest parts of my job. I cannot count the number of authors who come to me believing they have a book that will outsell all others. Some haven’t even written the book yet – or even sent it out to anyone else (apart from well meaning friends and family) and are yet still convinced they will earn millions.

One person representing an unknown author wrote to me recently that he wanted me to “Launch this author as a media celebrity who will be in demand by the media for many interviews and appearances.” The representative continued to gush: “This is a remarkable opportunity for you.”

And these claims are about a book that is self published and has so far sold just 17 copies.

But it is sadly typical of the sort of emails I get all the time.

This particular author might hit the big time but even if this book does turn out to be a bestseller, there is a long and difficult journey to navigate first. Even the most successful books do not become ‘overnight successes’ and sell millions within a few months.

Getting a book out there will involve rewriting it, editing it, marketing it, packaging it – it just isn’t the simple process of writing a book, self publishing it, sticking it on a website, tweeting a press release and selling it that people seem to think.

And even if you are lucky, land a top literary agent and even a deal, the job of getting your novel out there to the buying public is still to be done. I, along with hundreds of other editors in the national press, get dozens of press releases about new books every week. Many are from PR companies and press offices of huge publishing houses – all desperate to gain publicity for a new author. I am afraid to say most are just not sufficiently interesting for me to email back.

And these are a tiny handful of the books that have been published. A trawl through Twitter authors will reveal just how many people try write a book and self publish.

Most of these people will also be sending their manuscripts to literary editors and publishers who are inundated with wannabes.

Some authors will go on to make a decent living out of writing books, although they might still need to supplement their earnings with other writing work. But far more will end up making nothing at all or worst, by the time they factor in making a website and other costs, end up making a loss.

Very, very few authors end up writing books as a job and earning the sort of living that enables them to secure a mortgage from it for example.

So does that mean you should not write that book and follow your dream? Of course it doesn’t! But there are some dos and  don’ts! They are don’t give up your day job, don’t expect some massive advance (even if you get interest from a publisher they rarely happen these days), do your research (The Miniaturist is absolutely different from anything else ever written – it is not another Fifty Shades or Harry Potter book…), think of what your next book will be (Jessie Burton is already writing her second and publishers aren’t interested in promoting one-off authors), shelve ideas of becoming a media celebrity until you are at Jessie Burton’s stage (and she is far from a household name yet) and above all rein in some of your wildest dreams. There is a chance your book will hit the big time but the much greater chance is it will not – so don’t pin all your hopes on it.

Have you written a book? I am passionate about helping new authors gain invaluable publicity that can help sell copies and get them noticed by a literary agent or publishing house. Contact me for more advice.


Alison Smith-Squire

Alison Smith-Squire is a writer, journalist and media agent selling exclusive real life stories to newspapers, magazines and TV. She owns the sell my story website, which was set up to help ordinary people sell their stories to the press.

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