Three Things No Editor (or Other Living Person) Can Guarantee about Your Book

Photo by Wyron A on Unsplash

I’m living in a time of wild, beautiful uncertainty in my life as I wait for when baby Milo will decide it’s time for him to arrive in the world.  For a massive planner, early-arriver, rule-follower like me, being pregnant is an exercise in trust, patience, and letting go.  I am not mastering this exercise particularly well, I must admit.

But this season is giving me lots of compassion and a bit more understanding for people who cannot have control over their lives – those in oppressive situations, those with chronic illnesses, those with young children.  It’s also helping me see my “need for control” tendencies in lots of folks, particularly writers.  For people who are creative by nature and will, we writers sure do wish we could control a lot more than we can.

When Desire for Control Makes Demands from Others

I see this desire most often with editing clients. It usually manifests in a few ways:

  • Before I hire you, can you tell me how many books you’ve edited that have ended up on the bestsellers’ list?  This is the most blatant and unreasonable form of this question for a number of reasons. One, most freelance editors don’t know what happens to all the books they publish after they leave our hands. Our job is done, and unless the client comes back to tell us about the book later, we’re not clued in there.   But the question is also ridiculous for an even bigger reason: editing is just one part of producing a book, one important part but still just one part. When it comes to the sales of any book, everything matters – cover design, price, formatting, the book’s content itself. So there’s no correlation between editing and good sales. (Plus, bestseller’s lists are a fixed game anyway.)
  • How good is my book? Will an agent or publisher like it? This is a really loaded and huge question that we can only begin to pick apart in terms of audience, market, and personal preference, not to mention the definition of good. A good self-help book is not the same as a good fantasy novel or a great middle-grade biographical book. A good literary novel might be great for an audience of literary readers, but if it’s marketed to romance readers, it might not be considered good at all. Factor in the personal preferences not just of readers but of agents and publishers and you have a whole lot of elements that go into to deciding if something is sellable to a particular audience at a particular time.  That’s the question authors need to consider – not whether or not it’s good.  But even then, an editor can’t make any guarantees about the success of a book, i.e. its goodness.
  • Do you think it’s worth me investing more money in this book? In some ways this is the most practical but also the most difficult question for anyone but the author to answer. I certainly understand the question, but only the writer can decide whether the risk – and writing for the public always comes with risk – is worth the investment of more time or money on her/his part.  A writer has to decide how much they can invest, how they will determine success, if they are in this work for the long game – and then, s/he has to decide if it’s “worth it.”  That’s a very personal decision – one most editors are more than happy to talk about with authors but not one we can make for them.

What Authors Can Consider Instead

Rather than asking your editor, or your mom, or your best friend, or that publishing whiz you’re considering paying a lot of money whether your book will do well, ask yourself these questions:

  • How important is it for you to have this book in the world? 
  • How will you measure success? Publication? A certain amount of income? Number of copies sold? 
  • What will you do if your first attempts at publication fail? Will you keep trying? Go a different route? Put the book away? 

The truth of the matter is that only you as the author can decide whether a book is worth the time, money, concern, and effort that publication takes. No editor – or friend or mentor – can tell you whether you want to do this, and honestly, that’s the bottom line.  Do you want to do the work that publication involves, especially since there are no guarantees?  If you do, then great.  Surround yourself with people who get it, who support you, and who can give you sound wisdom.

If you don’t, then walk away with no regrets.  There are lots of ways of walking through this world that are important and hopeful and helpful.  Maybe writing isn’t your way, and that’s just fine.

Just don’t foist this burden onto the shoulders of other people because it’s not fair to them, and it really won’t tell you what you need anyway. Only you can make this choice.  I trust that you’ll make the best one for you.


The Early Bird Price for our Writers’ Retreat this June ends on Sunday, so if you’d like to get on that deal, be sure to register before Sunday, April 1 at Midnight EST.  Get all the details and register here. 

Writers' Retreat at God's Whisper Farm