By Angela Slatter.
To paraphrase Jane Austen (poorly), it is a truth universally acknowledged, that once you’ve got a publishing contract, you’ll have a book coming out every year! Right?
Sorry, no. Wrong.
You might be one of the fortunate few who do have this sort of regularity in their writing career. But, it’s more than likely you’ll also have some years in between where the publishing field is a bit of a barren place – because this business has peaks and troughs.
This can happen for a variety of reasons. You’ve parted ways with your publisher. Your publisher has put the release date back because the book’s simply not ready or they think it will get a better reception at a later date. You haven’t been able to deliver the book on time because life has happened to you – family issues, day job issues, writer’s block, health problems, the dog has eaten your manuscript, etc. And just sometimes the new book simply isn’t there – the inspiration is lacking and you feel like you’ll never write again, and there are few sensations in the world worse than having to extrude an entire novel…
But it’s not all gloom and doom because there are some writing-adjacent things you can do that will help keep your career moving forward. These can also make you feel a bit better about what might seem like the worst thing in the world, but is generally just a gear change.
1. The big one is, of course, keep on writing
You’re a writer, it’s your job. I love how film critic, Roger Ebert, put it. He said, “Just write, get better, keep writing, keep getting better. It's the only thing you can control.” So, keep working – keep honing your craft.
Work on the next book because inevitably someone’s going to ask what’s in the bottom drawer, what’s percolating. If you’ve got a book circulating that still hasn’t found a home, then it may be that it won’t be the next thing you get published. That’s why you need to finish the next one (and the next one), so it can start doing the rounds. It might be more successful.
And you know what? A bit of a break from the other novel (“The Unloved One”) could just give you some much-needed perspective on ways to improve it. Or another publisher might decide that’s the very one for them. Quite apart from that, it’s better to have a new book waiting than to have to scramble and write it because you’ve been spending all your time on the fainting couch feeling sorry for yourself.
Do a workshopping course, like Novel Writing Essentials and Write Your Novel. It will give you a reason to start your next story – and give you deadlines to stick to (and keep you away from the couch!).
2. Find homes for reprints and translations of your already published work
This can give a story or article another life, and earn you a second (or third!) fee. Audio book rights (if those are still in your control) can do the same thing. See where other authors have their stories translated and republished, then approach those markets with your backlist.
3. Put together a collection
You may have been publishing short stories for a while – you’d be surprised how quickly they add up! – and never thought to put together a collection. You might arrange them into an eclectic group or gather them together according to theme. Depending on the publisher, your minimum word count is about 40,000 words – my advice is don’t go over about 50,000 words, because it doesn’t hurt to keep some aside for another collection. Also, a publisher might not be interested in a gigantic mish-mash.
If you’ve got some unpublished stories lying around – you just haven’t been able to find a home for them – then look at adding them to the mostly reprint collection as a ‘sweetener’. Traditional wisdom for the order is: best story first, longest story in the middle, and finish with a good strong story so the reader remembers it.
You might not have written short-form fiction before, so you might want to start exploring it. You can even upskill and learn the craft to writing compact stories – with the AWC's Short Story Essentials course.
4. Do some blogging
Not blogging about how your career is going down the toilet, but rather articles about writing craft for your own website. Do guest posts for other people’s sites if they’ll have you. Write about your hopes and dreams. Write about techniques for how you overcome writer’s block, how you plot and structure your novels. Talk about your previous work and what inspired it. Blog about why you love writing. Talk about the books you’re reading and enjoying. (Don’t talk about the ones you don’t like, and don’t give bad reviews – if you don’t like a book then just don’t mention it!)
It’s a way of creating useful and interesting content for your website and it also helps you focus on your craft, which can help you improve your own work.
I’ve distilled a lot of my more useful knowledge into a couple of instalments that form part of Brain Jar Press’s series of chapbooks on writing about writing.
5. There’s a writing community out there – be part of it!
Don’t hide. Go to conventions and writers’ festivals: do panels, do kaffeklatches (coffee and conversation), do signings for your books, launch other people’s books. Do library talks. Judge writing comps or awards – the Aurealis Awards and the Australian Shadows Awards call for judges every year. Network and stay engaged in your community – it will help. A great place to start is with the So you want to be a writer podcast community –find your tribe!
It can be disheartening to not have a book coming out – you feel like you’re failing, somehow – but you’re not. These are just the natural ups and downs of a writing career. So, remember that your job involves writing and writing-adjacent tasks – it’s not all just about the one or the next book. Don’t despair!
About Angela Slatter
Angela Slatter is an award-winning author of several books including All The Murmuring Bones and The Path of Thorns. She teaches for the Australian Writers' Centre, and has a PhD and MA in Creative Writing. She has written two instalments in the Brain Jar Press Writer Chaps series, You Are Not Your Writing & Other Sage Advice and What To Do When You Don’t Have A Book Coming Out & Even More Sage Advice.