Caitlin Kelly

Writer and Editor



Take Good Care of Yourself
It Takes a Village
Someone's Life
Trust Your Gut!
Getting Fired
What It Takes
When the Going
Gets Tough
Intellectual Archeology
The Best Writing
is Rewriting
Use a Dictionary
Carefully Chosen Language
Running a Home-Based Business
Quality Control
Coming Up with Ideas
Selling the Story
Paying Attention
Play Dates
Getting It
  In Richard Bolles' job-hunting classic, "What Color is My Parachute?", a typical job search is described this way. It's exhausting just to read it!

My first book , "Blown Away" (Pocket Books, 2004), was initially rejected by many major publishers. By the time it sold, I'd given up on ever becoming an author.

(The author of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling, persisted through 55 rejections and look where she has ended up!)

Walk into your local Big Name Bookstore and you're surrounded by a sea of titles. How hard can it possibly be? Look at all the other people who managed to sell their books.

It took me four different book proposals - each a fully-developed 30-50 pages, complete with table of contents, chapter headings, sample chapter, marketing plan, etc. - and trying four different agents to finally sell my first book. I wrote each proposal on my own time, unpaid, with no clue if they would ever sell. That's what the market demands.

Here are some the lessons I learned about selling a non-fiction book...
- Finding an agent is like finding the right romantic partner - you may have to kiss a few frogs! I found mine through personal contacts, which is why networking with established writers as you progress in your career is invaluable. The first works for a major New York literary agency and has stellar credentials. I just never felt she cared about my success. The second two were the hottest agents in Toronto, my hometown, and came highly recommended by friends who had used them with great success. Same problem. I started to feel like Goldilocks, until I found my current agent.  
- Working with an agent is an intimate relationship that can carry undercurrents of envy, resentment, disappointment, hope. When my agent wins a massive six-figure advance for another author, I have to admit I'm a little jealous. But I hope my turn will come - after all, it's in his interest, too. Choose an agent who remains gracious and committed to you even in bad times; it's difficult when a book fails to sell, and it's easy to blame your agent. You need someone who truly believes in you and your talent for the long haul.  
- - The odds of finding an agent quickly or easily are slim. The odds the agent loves your proposal as-is are slim. Guess what? They look like a sure thing compared with the odds your proposal, even if read by dozens of top editors, will sell. They see hundreds of proposals a month and select only a few of them to develop further. What writers - who often live largely solitary lives or work in major newsrooms surrounded by people who sold their books --- sometimes don't realize is that an entire team swings into motion behind each book: sales/promotion/marketing/editorial/graphics/publicity. In order to truly commit all those energies to your book, your acquiring editor has to get everyone on board. If one or two of those players says "no", your proposal might not make it. The magic words are commercially viable and audience.  
  My best advice, paradoxically, is not to care too much whether your book sells. By this I mean - have a life! You really will not live or die based on your book sale; if it feels that way, get some fresh air and develop a few hobbies. While you are trying to sell a book, life goes on: family, friends, vacations, work, enjoying all the things that make you happy. (Because once you sell it, life gets a little busier!)

Books are based on ideas and some ideas are simply poorly-received the first time, or the 33rd time. If you have truly researched your market and competition, if you have found an agent you like and trust to do their best for you, then listen to them, listen to the market, hang in there and, until they tell you to do so, don't give up. I'm glad I didn't.