Shutting the Drawer: What Happens When a Book Doesn’t Sell?

This essay, by Edan Lepucki, originally appeared on The Millions on 8/23/11.

In May, after my novel manuscript had been read and rejected by a healthy number of editors, my husband rewrote my author bio. It read as follows:

Edan Lepucki was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1981. He currently lives in East Bushwick.

As an American woman living in an uncool neighborhood in Los Angeles, I thought this hilarious. I also wondered — not entirely seriously, and not entirely in jest — if the revision might help my situation. My situation being that my agent had begun submitting my book nine months prior (not that I was keeping track), and it remained unsold. Admittedly, there had been close calls with two different editors, but, as everyone knows, almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. I was in the same place I’d been back in September. That is, unpublished. The waiting game was starting to char my soul; if you drew a finger across it and put that finger to your tongue, it would taste bitter. Joking with my husband (“Now that I’m nursing, I’ll send them a new author photo, cleavage and all!”) was one of the few coping mechanisms I had left in me.

Now that it’s almost September (“If anyone in publishing actually worked in the summer, I would’ve sold my book by now!”), the jokes aren’t as funny. The truth is, my novel isn’t selling, and it probably won’t. There, I’ve said it. Eventually, a writer must accept rejection, accept the death of her first true darling, and move on. Can I face that sobering reality? Can I put my first book into the drawer, and shut it?

Others have done it before me. There’s a long and rich history of successful writers whose first (second, third…) books didn’t see the light of day. I remember when Myla Goldberg came to speak to the Creative Writing Department at Oberlin. She explained that Bee Season was actually her second novel. “My first,” she told us wide-eyed undergraduates, “you’ll never read.” At twenty, I thought this terribly tragic. In the New York Times Sunday Book Review, Dan Kois wrote about novelists who abandoned books for one reason or another: Michael Chabon’s infamously unfinished tome, Fountain City, for instance, and the burned pages of Gogol and Waugh. But the differences between these authors and myself are important. Firstly, they all had dazzling careers, failed book or not. I can’t (yet…) say the same for myself. Secondly, these authors decided to kill their books, whereas my darling was murdered.


Read the rest of the essay on The Millions.

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