Knowing this many writers say, well, I won't write past a partial then because why waste my time on a book that will never sell. This is a self made trap. Why? 1) It used to be you could sell your second book on partial, but the business has changed so that nine times out of ten even midlist authors must write the entire book before a contract is written and the book sold. 2) If all you do is write beginnings, you miss out on the practice and perfecting of the middle and the end of stories. You miss out on knowing where your personal pitfalls are and how to deal with them.
Other writers write entire books, for example: I average three books a year. In today's economy many paying publishers are buying one book a year. Even if you sign a three book contract those books will usually come out one a year. (Unless you are working with a company whose business model goes with three books in one year such as Sourcebooks or Harlequin.) The point being that many prolific writers have mounds of inventory-remember on average 80 percent of their works are not published. This can lead to desperation and attempts to fling that inventory at editors and agents as fast as you can. Okay so you rejected that one, here's another. This desperation leaks into the work and the industry's perception of you. I know, you would think that an agent would want to sell every book their author writes, right? Editors should want to publish every book their author writes. Fact: this is a false assumption. Agents and editors want to sell books they think they can make the most money on and will not even try to sell books they think they can't market. Remember publishing is a business. Publishers, editors, and agents are in it to make money. They are your test market. No matter how clever the idea, if the agent can't get an editor to bite, if the editor can't get their marketing department to take a risk, then they have wasted their time and efforts. Fact: sending an agent four different books in one year is a waste of their time--no matter that the rejection letter said they would be happy to see your next work. Unless the concept is really happening, fresh, and now, you need to wait at least three to six months before you query with your next work.
Some authors think. Fine. I know my inventory is good. Why should I wait? I will publish it as an e-book. There is nothing wrong with this, especially if you have years between paying books. But you have to understand the simple truth about e-books. They are a dime a dozen and, unless you work really, really hard on marketing, your book will be lucky to earn you more than $50. (I made $0.73 last quarter on my two Wild Rose Press romantic suspense books.)
So what is a writer to do? Relax. Keep writing. Look at the 80 percent of books that don't sell as hours of practice. Keep reading craft books. If you find yourself getting frustrated or desperate, stop. Live life. Try something new. Most importantly don't beat yourself up for books written but not sold. Don't curse your agent or editor for rejecting 80 percent of your work. It's how the average writer's journey goes.
For those of you out there who will say these facts aren't true. Who will say that you write and sell every book and sometimes three or four books a year, I say, good for you. You are on the other side of the bell curve. You are not average. It doesn't mean you are better than an author who publishes only 20 percent of their work. It simply means you are either a) working with a publishing model that plans for more than one book a year; or b) you are able to repeat marketable ideas and themes for your publisher; and c) you don't need to read this blog which is meant for the average writer.
As for the rest of us, I'm not writing about the 80/20 rule to discourage you, but to encourage you. To help you relax and not feel so desperate that you send a new book out to agents every six weeks. To help you understand that the 80 percent of your work never read is not wasted effort to grieve over, but fun, joyful practice that allows you to craft great stories for the 20 percent that sell. Remember it really is all about the journey, no matter where it takes you. Cheers~