"Writing quite good, but this isn't the story to launch an author with. For me this means that the writing is good but the story is not different enough to stand out, or that the writing is good but the story is much, much too risky and controversial for a writer to be able to maintain that level of complexity and/or shock value going forward."
I remember when that happened to me. I was fortunate enough that the editor who told me this stuck with me long enough to see what I could produce and then finally made an offer, but I remember thinking "What does she mean I wrote a good second or third book?" My snarky mind came back with, "Well, silly me, I must have written them in the wrong order!" But what she, and Nephele, meant was that the book was not strong enough to make a name for a debut author. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, what makes it different from all the *other* ducks out there? Career mediocrity. No future, there. And that makes sense, which is the blessing of hindsight, but at the time it hurt my head that I'd written not one, but three manuscripts that were all "okay" enough to be published, but not cool enough to be my breakout book. Bummer. I had to dig deeper.
Stephen Covey's Habit #3 in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is: "Put First Things First." The priority wasn't simply what story did I want to tell, but how could I tell it in a way that was uniquely "me"? How could someone read this book and know that it was mine? "What do you want to be known for?" my editor asked me. We talked about it and I got my own platform: I write dark, quirky, and sometimes humorous speculative fiction. (The "humorous" bit I hope to show in later books – don't look for any snarky silliness in SKIN & BONES!)
When I focused on that, I got the offer.
I'm going to keep going and I hope to get more.
I'm taking my own advice from #kidlitchat and pushing my envelope; writing ideas that I thought were for "other people" who were "better at this sort of thing" (like steampunk), I'm researching things that I thought were somehow "not my niche" or "outside my range" (like historical revisionism) and attempting to jump into plots that push my own buttons, risking my – or other people's – comfort zones, which is as confronting and daunting to me as any personal protest line. I'm stretching like a cat in as much sunlight as I can grab.
This time, I'm trying to write my first book first.