Recently we had to send out the dreaded “OP” letter again. It goes something like this:
Dear Author and Agent:
We are writing to inform you that due to low marketplace demand for your book, we have decided to discontinue keeping it in stock.
“OP,” in other words, stands for “out of print,” and publishers send it to authors and their agents when demand for a book falls so low, the publisher can no longer justify keeping the book in their warehouse.
The ideal, of course, is for a book to stay in print forever. The first book Baker Publishing Group (the company I serve as an editorial director) ever published over seventy-five years ago, More Than Conquerors by William Hendriksen, is still in print. And if a book stays in print for twenty or thirty or fifty years, that’s nothing to sneeze at.
The cases that grieve me are when physical books go OP after just twelve months. These days publishers often keep the ebook version in print because it costs very little to do so, but in an OP situation the physical copies become unavailable. And it’s a sad day in the life of a book.
Here’s the thing I don’t want you to miss about authors whose books go OP that quickly: About two years prior they received what so many writers pine for—the Holy Grail of ambitious writers the world over, the great and mighty, the glorious book contract!
Unfortunately, if an author’s book goes OP in twelve months or less, it will be really hard for that author to get another book deal. So it’s just bad for everybody, particularly the author. In fact, one could argue that in a case like this a book contract is more of a curse than a blessing.
The Right Mindset
How can we writers stay out of this predicament? Great question, and the answer has everything to do with how you define success.
If you define success by whether or not you win a book contract, you are headed in the wrong direction. Now don’t get me wrong. Book contracts can be an important means to an end, but they are not the goal. They are functional; they are a tool, nothing more.
The right definition for success is to write a compelling book that goes out to thousands of readers. I know one author who defines success by selling 100,000 copies of a book in the first twelve months. That’s too high a bar for most authors, but my point is this author is aiming in the right direction.
So how do you make sure you write a great book that sells thousands of copies? You write a great book that sells thousands of copies by doing the day-in, day-out work of craft and generosity.
You write a lot, and you share a lot. You keep writing until you become a good writer, which just about everyone can become. And you share what you’ve written—over and over again. You love on your tribe. You serve readers. You help them with the real needs they really have, which might mean addressing a felt need first so that eventually you can address a deeper one.
Finally, you decide that you’re in this for the long haul. If you make up your mind to stick with it no matter how long it takes, you’re all but guaranteed to succeed.
The Really Good News
So that’s it. No magic formula. No silver bullet. The recipe for success is deciding to show up day after day to become a better writer and to serve people.
The really good news here is you have a lot of agency in whether or not you succeed. You don’t get to decide whether a publisher picks up your book; that’s not up to you. You do get to decide whether you show up and do the work. And as long as you keep taking up that challenge, you really can’t lose.
And consider this: How would you rather spend your time? Fact is, if you’d be happier doing something else, cut your losses and go for it. Most writers I know wouldn’t be happy doing anything else. The human heart was made to do the work of its calling, and if you’re a writer, your calling is to write and serve people with your writing.
It is a sacred vocation, worthy of your best efforts. Do your best to enjoy the journey.
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