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The First Sale: Expectation vs. Reality

So you’ve sold your first novel. Was it everything you thought it would be?

Even if you haven’t sold your first novel, or attracted the attention of an agent or even finished a draft, you probably have dreams and expectations about that first sale ranging anywhere from “I just hope someone likes it” to “IT SHALL BE BIGGER THAN HARRY POTTER!”

I expect flowers.
In this two part series, I'll be discussing my own expectations and presenting those of some fabulous debut authors, followed by a second post on Tuesday, July 3rd relating the realities of life after selling that first novel.

I had expectations. I had them when I finished my first book, then my second. When I got an agent. When the book she signed me on didn’t make it into the world. As I watched by BFF writers go through similar processes with a variety of results, from success to disappointment and even, most commonly, a mixture of those two.

My expectations regarding publication changed along the journey. Not necessarily for the better or worse, but certainly for the more realistic. I grew to understand what could go right, what was important compared to what I’d once thought was important. Published in the “right” season? Less important. Great editor? Very important (and I got so, so very lucky with my amazing editor).

My expectations for myself changed, too. Oh, it was always, ultimately, my goal to be published, to see my name on bookstore shelves. But the hows and whys of writing changed for me. I dreamed more at one point about having a Big Book, then that faded and I cared much, much more about writing what was true to me in a way that conveyed my ideas about craft. Through it all, I became more humble, more grateful, harder working and, I think, a better writer. As my expectations changed, they also shrunk. The successes I have now feel bigger, more earth shattering, I think, than they would have even two years ago. Expecting less means I have more room for joy when great things do happen.

Our journeys in publishing vary so greatly that it’s completely impossible to nail down a universal experience. I love knowing this because it means I’m not going to compare myself to other authors out there on a personal level. I’m neither going to gloat, nor am I going to feel lesser than. Knowing this also means that I can’t say everything there is to say about this topic, so I’ve enlisted the help of some of my fellow 2013 debut kidlit authors from The Lucky 13s to chime in on the topic. Here’s what these friends had to say about their first book expectations.

Well, I tried hard not to think about all of it--if someone would buy my ms, and who it would be, and how it would feel to hold my book in my hand one day, and what people would think of the words I'd written. That seemed so...dangerous.
Rachele Alpine, CANARY
My expectation of my first book sale was the moment when I would be able to take something I love (writing) and have someone else believe enough in my book that they would want to help me put it out there into the world. I always pictured selling my book and celebrating in the fact that people would be reading it, talking about it, and (hopefully!) loving it. 
Before I sold my book, I think I was really too afraid to think about what my expectations might be. Because I was fearful it would never actually happen. Like most dreamy-eyed aspiring authors, I tempted thoughts of six figure advances and insta-fame. But that was more fantasizing than actual expectations.
Lydia Kang, CONTROL
I honestly thought my first sub would takes several weeks or months. I thought I'd have a few R&R's and that I'd maybe get lucky and sell during a second round of submissions. I never, ever considered that my book would go on a pre-empt with Dial within the first month. That was a wonderful shock.
I was very good at protecting myself from having too many expectations about my book sale. I hardly ever allowed myself to think about it, and just focused on working on the book and getting it finished. When I did think of it, I thought about it in extremes: wild success or total failure.
Justina Ireland, VENGEANCE BOUND
I thought there would be a parade in my honor, with unicorns and cherubs and glitter and a sash around my chest the said "PUBLISHED AUTHOR." It would be proof that I had finally MADE IT and the BIG THINGS were about to happen. I would get to quit my day job and live a life of authorly leisure, reclining on a lanai while my pool boy brought me fruity drinks and I hashed out my next bestseller. Okay, not exactly that, but pretty close.
 Elsie Chapman, DUALED
When I first sold, I actually didn't have any expectations. I really tried not to think about it, or even go there much of the time. In all honesty, I wasn't even aware that the Y/MGA writing community was such a huge thing, or a thing at all. I didn't have a twitter, I didn't blog, I just kind of kept my head down and wrote. So now, as things happen, each step is just really exciting, and I'm still learning as I go. It's an phenomenal thing, getting published!
Join us next Tuesday as the follow-up, First Book Realities, posts.

Happy Thursday!
~ Kristin Halbrook 
Kristin Halbrook

Kristin Halbrook is the author of the critically-acclaimed young adult novels Nobody But Us (HarperTeen, 2013) and Every Last Promise (HarperTeen, 2015). She likes many things.

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  1. Kristin, this is such a great post! Like you, I had lots of expectations. Like you, the book that got me my agent hasn't sold. However, I am learning to see everything as a blessing. The book that did sell has an amazing editor. The book that didn't is something I can come back to. There are always opportunities later, even if they feel like failures now.

  2. Thank you for this post! I'm an aspiring author myself and I'm absolutely terrified! Every time I write, I constantly fear that it will never sell and that nobody will like it. I really need to stop doing that and just write it, but it's so hard not to do that. I really look forward to the next posts.

  3. Love this. I told myself before I debuted that whether my book was received modestly, with a lot of interest, or with no interest at all, it should't change how I felt about the book or my accomplishment. This has been good to remember.

    All the best to all of you!

  4. Thanks for doing this post, Kristin. It sounds like a lot of us worked hard not to have any expectations. And low expectations are pretty much the key to life, I think.

  5. Great thoughts. Always love hearing this kind of thing. Waiting for the day I'm agented- fingers crossed. :)

  6. Thanks so much, Kristin! It really is amazing how everyone's experiences are so different. And in the end, we all just want the best for our books.

  7. Great post! The Lucky 13s are wonderful. :)

  8. Great post!I recently sold my first Middle Grade book and my plan all along has been to stay calm, keep focused and learn as much as I can from the publishing process,but sometimes I'll just bust out into a happy dance. :) Whether my first book sells tons or not, I'm so grateful that this story gets out there.:)

  9. What a great idea for a post! I love being a fly on the wall and reading/hearing about other authors and how they react in similar situations. I love all these and they're so eye-opening. Theone thing I wish I'd done before my debut was be a little more connected to other authors/writers/bloggers/reviewers. I kind of saved that for marketing after but could have used it before because the relationships I've formed are so much more than marketing! Great post!

  10. Thank you for sharing this, Kristin! I'm planning on querying next month and your post is rather timely for me. Right now, I'm not looking at expectations - just putting one foot after the other. :)


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Item Reviewed: The First Sale: Expectation vs. Reality Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kristin Halbrook