What if You Write a Great Book and the Publisher Doesn’t Buy It?

In the last year, I’ve had several writer friends and students send me samples of just fantastic novels that should have been snapped up by agents and publishers, but weren’t. In some instances, the author went to every major agent in the business, and none even wanted to see it.

At times like that, it’s hard to hang on to hope, to not feel rejected. And if you’re feeling down and alone, you’re not. Other authors have faced that, too.

For example, Charles Dicken faced it when he wrote A Tale of Two Cities.  What did he do? He found an investor, raised a few thousand dollars in today’s terms, and self-published. The book went on to become the bestselling novel of all time. It happened again with Gone with the Wind, which was rejected by more than twenty publishers and moldered in a dresser drawer for years before it found a home. It happened with Dune, which was rejected not only by every major publisher in the business, but by every minor one, too, before it became the bestselling novel in science fiction.

In fact, it happens so often, that when you write a startling, ground-breaking novel of high literary merit, you should probably just expect people to reject it.

Years ago, when a small publisher asked me to help pick a book to push big for the coming year, she sent me forty books, and I selected one from an unknown author named J.K. Rowling. When I told the publisher which book I thought she should push, she said, “That was my pick, too, but the marketing department hates that book. They think it is too long for a middle-grade audience.” When I recovered from my surprise, I said, “Yes, and it’s written three grade levels too high for a middle-grade audience, too, but that doesn’t really matter.” Then I explained why I believed the book would work, and we spent the next hour brainstorming an insane advertising campaign in order to push the book. Fortunately, the ad campaign worked and Harry Potter took over the #1 spot as the bestselling book of all time.

So rejection happens even to the best of authors, and it might happen to you. What do you do?

Don’t give up. There are a lot of successful strategies. Here are a few that I’ve seen work:

  1. Keep looking for a traditional publisher, if that is what you want. When Frank Herbert wrote Dune, he is said to have gone through over 40 publishers before he found a small automotive magazine that was thinking about publishing a book. Publishers are out there, but very often they are looking at books through “filters,” trying to judge what would be a bestseller based upon popular beliefs about what audiences want without really understanding what makes a bestseller for a given genre. Just because the editors and agents don’t love your novel, don’t get
    discouraged. Keep writing and gaining new skills.
  2. Self-publish. We live in an age where it’s easy to self-publish and make a splash. For many authors, that is their go-to option. You can find a lot of advice online about how to do it, and I’m tempted to talk about it for the next six hours, but there are a lot of successful strategies that work, and it might just be that you will find a combination of strategies that will work for you. But let me take an example from a new author who is struggling to make a name for himself.

Mike Rothman is a scientist who works for one of the largest computer companies in the world. He has over a thousand patents on his intellectual properties, and a couple of years ago, he showed me his science fiction novel Primordial Threat. Now, in many ways, I thought that it was perhaps the most exciting and interesting science fiction novel since Michael Chrichton’s Jurassic Park, so he sent it out to agents and publishers around the country, and to my surprise, no one bought it, despite some close calls. So Michael decided to get some ammunition. He sent the book out to various authors and scientists and book reviewers to get cover quotes, and got dozens of rave reviews. Here are some of them:


“With Primordial Threat, Michael Rothman puts the OMG back in Science Fiction! Fascinating characters, an Asimov-sized plot, and lots of intrigue. Michael Rothman delivers. Chilling Science Fiction from a new Arthur C. Clarke. Movie-ready SF from a new master!”
      – William C. Dietz, New York Times bestselling author

“Written by one who really knows the science, Primodial Threat zips along–a hard sf treat.”
      – Gregory Benford, New York Times bestselling author of TIMESCAPE.

“Michael Rothman’s Primodial Threat is a big disaster novel — maybe the biggest, with the end of the solar system in play. There goes the neighborhood! Filled with innovative science and big-scale action, it shows humanity in crisis, and humanity at its best.”
      – Kevin J. Anderson, New York Times bestselling author of BLOOD OF THE COSMOS

“It has been a long time since I’ve seen a novel with big mind-blowing hard SF ideas like this. It reminds me very much of Asimov, and that is very welcome indeed.”
      – David Farland, New York Times Bestselling, Award-winning Author

“Who says hard science fiction is dead? The field is safe and sound in the hands of Michael Rothman. Real science from a real scientist — and a thrilling page-turner, to boot. What more could one ask?”
      – Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo Award-winning author of Quantum Night

“Michael A. Rothman’s Primodial Threat is a beautifully-conceived hard science adventure, with totally believable characters and events, and a truly satisfying conclusion.”
      – Mike Resnick, 4-time Hugo Award Winning author

“Michael A. Rothman’s Primodial Threat leverages real technical expertise to find the human drama in a plausible near-future extinction scenario. This is gripping reading, one part Larry Niven and one part Michael Crichton!”
      – D.J. Butler, author of WITCHY EYE and THE KIDNAP PLOT

“The Primordial Threat is the Next Level in Extinction Event thrillers. Rothman deftly navigates actual science with a taut edge-of-your-seat tension that will scare you to death. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t already gaming Worst Case Scenarios for the White House.”
      – Nick Cole, author of The Old Man and the Wasteland (Amazon #1 in SciFi) and Soda Pop Soldier (Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review)

“M.A. Rothman has combined the high-frontier space realism of Kim Stanley Robinson, with the big ideas and cosmic scope of Larry Niven, and paced it all like a Michael Crichton adventure. A terrific roller coaster ride, which hits the reader on several levels. Highly recommended.”
      – Brad R. Torgersen, Multi-award winning Hard S.F. author

“… exciting sci-fi catastrophism … call it The Day the Earth Certainly Didn’t Stand Still…
Rothman (Perimeter, 2018), an engineer, tackles the hard-science/apocalypse trope of a ‘Very Bad Thing’ threatening Earth in the tradition of Philip Wylie and Edwin Balmer’s epochal When World’s Collide and Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s Lucifer’s Hammer.”
      – Kirkus Reviews


As you can see, Mike didn’t just show his novel to a couple of authors. He took it to many of the very best science fiction authors of our time, and he even paid out a few dollars for professional reviewers. In fact, the reviews were so great that he got hate mail from readers who said that they wouldn’t buy his book because they were sure that the reviews were fake.

Sigh. Unfortunately, there have been people who offer fake reviews.

So Mike released his book and tried to make some noise. It used to be that when you did this, you could tell all of your friends on Facebook about your new book, ask them to spread the word, and they’d re-post your news. But now the algorithms on Facebook are such that they will actually suppress your posts so that the book can’t go viral. Sigh again.

You can try doing it on Twitter and other platforms, but the truth is that when you have a new book out, advertising on most platforms is so expensive that you can’t recover your cost per customer acquisition. In short, you go bankrupt trying to advertise.

You can also put your book up on sale and try to sell copies, but that doesn’t normally work, either. The problem is that there are hundreds of thousands of people offering books for practically nothing, and so the world as a whole assumes that that is what they’re worth—nothing.

So here is the problem: how do you advertise?

Well, a lot of people make book trailers and put them up online, but they usually don’t get seen a lot. Mike tried that. Here is a link to Mike’s trailer.


Really, though, the ultimate goal for an author is to break on to one of the big lists, so Mike is trying to create a viral campaign in an effort to hit the New York Times bestseller list. So he’s put up a sale, is offering giveaways prizes and giveaways to people who re-post his novel, and is really doing everything that a smart author would do to try to promote a book that should have found a big publisher.

Will it work? Often it doesn’t. But in many cases the author does indeed make it huge. So let me just offer my two cents here. In this novel, Mike takes an old problem—the idea of something big colliding with earth—and amplifies it to mind-blowing proportions. Not only is the object that threatens to hit earth inescapable, but Mike’s solution to the problem goes beyond anything that any other scientist has ever imagined. That’s just freaking cool.

So, I’m hoping that you’ll post the link that I’ve given you on Facebook, and that you’ll share it with friends. You can buy the e-book for less than a dollar, and if you don’t like science fiction, give it to some nerdy person who does. They’ll love you for it! You’ll help that person have a very Merry Chistmas, a Happy Chanukah, or a Joyous Festivus!

Here is that link again: www.facebook.com/MichaelARothman/videos/2177338015867910/?t=30

Oh, and just by sharing the link, you will be entered into a drawing to win an Amazon gift certificate worth $50.

Now, at this point, I sound like I’m just trying to sell you a book. I can’t help it, I’m a huge fan of this book. I want to see it go big. I want to see it turned into a movie, or maybe even a television mini-series.

But that’s the most important lesson in this post. How do you as a new author take your unsold book and make it big? You go out and find fans who will help spread the word for you. These fans, often called “super fans,” will become vocal supporters for your work, and suddenly instead of finding that you are a single voice crying out in the wilderness, you’re a chorus that is joined by millions.


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