New Year, New Blog Post... New Book?!
New Year's Day. For some, a time of reflection. For others, an exercise in maxing out dosage ratio of ibuprofen to body weight. For my cats, it's naptime, just like every other day.
For me: a new blog post!
Before we go on, I must clarify this newfound "blog posting" action is NOT a resolution or harbinger of things to come. I wrote exactly one blog post in 2018, and I have guilty, sheepish feelings about that statistic.
It's not that posting lots and lots was a profound goal of mine, or that it's some marker of social media success (technically, it's consistency, not quantity that's key -- so here's to posting exactly once every year for the next ten years!). It's just that I'd hoped that after my last post about querying agents, my next post would be about, well, The Next Step.
You know the one I'm talking about... getting an agent? Getting published? Cashing my generous $1.5k post-tax advance check into $2 bills, throwing them into my bathtub, then literally bathing in my success?
|Notice that his swimsuit has pants on it, which is the only time Scrooge McDuck wears pants. Were they worried about coins getting lost up in his duck bits?|
None of that happened. Rejections trickled in. Hopes fizzled. And by December, I had to admit that I am a perfectly average first-time writer experiencing a perfectly normal first-time-writer querying experience, and that was simply NOT ACCEPTABLE.
Intellectually, I know rejection is a statistical fact. All of us novice writers expect rejection. We read it a thousand times in blogs, Twitter posts, advice columns: "Don't expect overnight success." Nearly every successful writer has stories of rejection and failure that preceded their fame. Sure, there are some who stumble into success like two perfectly good-looking, normal, well-adjusted people boop-ing into each other in an adorable meet-cute rom-com, but I think I speak for us all when I say those writers can go fuck right off.
Soooo yeah, we get it, okay? Agents get thousands of submissions each year and actually sign like, twelve.
But................come on. We're not like the other writers, our little hearts whisper. Our writing is good! Our plot ideas are unique! Sure, other people are doing what we're doing, but obviously, we're doing it better.
Deep in our heart of hearts, we know we're **SpEcIaL**
Well, boy, does the publishing world have news for you: you ARE special -- and it doesn't matter. After some serious soul-searching -- and some serious Twitter-stalking of agents -- I came to the conclusion that failure in getting traditionally published/agented is 99% because of two reasons:
- Your concept isn't what's selling right now (and by association, it's just not what agents you submitted to want to rep right now)
- Your writing isn't good enough.
- Your book is perfect and well-written, but your query is garbage and you spelled the agent's name wrong, or you're a handful of entitled neediness and no one wants to deal with all your goddamn drama, PATRICE.
- 10 outright rejections (the fastest one was a 1 hr, 3 min turnaround from Nephele Tempest at the Knight Agency)
- 1 request for a 50-page partial from Kurestin Armada of PS Literary (still outstanding)
- 1 request for a full manuscript from Ann Leslie Tuttle at Dystel (rejected)
- 5 queries still outstanding (many agents will only respond to the "yes" queries, so outstanding queries after 3 months are generally considered a "no" in the majority of circumstances)
|Actual close-up of my query list.|
I'm fairly sure I spelled agents' names right, and my query is by no means perfect, but it's solid B+ material. No, the issue is my actual manuscript, and I'll tell you exactly why.
My Concept Isn't What's Selling Right Now
I read every agent's #MSWL (Manuscript Wish List). The book I'd written didn't fit well into the kinds of "wishes" I was seeing. I wrote a paranormal romance about a half-fae assassin and a dragon sorcerer. I pitched it as a fairytale retelling because it was inspired by Beauty & the Beast. This is an issue because:
- Paranormal romance is a niche market. It got really big during the Twilight era and has only recently started to come back from the "vampires/were-shifters/demons" era, but it's still not as easy to sell as say, contemporary or regency romance, which will never go out of style. But based on my completely unscientific polling of conventions, Twitter, and local romance writing chapters, there are a lot of aspiring paranormal/fantasy romance WRITERS. So the competition is fierce.
- Books about fae and dragons have been done before. Even if mine is "different," it's not like I was seeing these things listed on specific "wish" lists because that's not what's selling right now. Agents want "fresh, new" paranormal (fae/dragons aren't fresh and new, so if you're going to write that genre, your plot idea had better be unique as all hell -- and fairytale retelling does not scream "unique.") Agents are skimming queries, looking for keywords and ideas that stand out to them, and if a plot isn't clicking with the exact thing they are passionate about pitching RIGHT NOW, some of them aren't even going to read your actual writing.
|"Okay, when we said 'unique,' we didn't mean shifter erotica, but with more obscure animals. Or did we?"|
My Writing Isn't Good Enough
I'm not saying I'm a bad writer, but I'm self-aware enough to know what I'm NOT good at. Here are some of those things I suck at (but I'm working on!):
- Being concise. My manuscript was 125,000 words -- rounding down. And that's after editing it to pare down to what I considered the "bare bones." That's... hella long for a debut paranormal romance (60-90k is a reasonable range, says the internet). Other evidence here:
- I regularly trash Twitter posts because I can't meet the word limit and give up
- Have you read this blog?
- My fellow restaurant manager and good friend Virginia once told me, "Oh my god, when I saw an email from you I just wouldn't bother reading it because it was too long."
- I didn't plot out my book until I was halfway done with it. I first started writing original manuscript in my Fort Greene, Brooklyn apartment in late winter, 2014. I had a "seed" or a plot idea, and from that I started writing with no blueprint in mind. Then I moved back home to Portland, got a 70-hr/week restaurant managing job I loved, and stopped writing for three years. When I finally quit that job so I could have a personal life again and focus on writing, I picked up where I'd left off three years prior. Around that same time, I started going to writing conventions and local chapter meetings, where I slowly began to learn HOW to write a book. By the time I'd learned I needed to plot my book, it was too late to save it. I finished it, realized it made no sense, and then fully revised major plot points -- twice. I thought I'd fixed it, buuuut...
- When I got my rejection from agent Ann Leslie Tuttle's full read of my manuscript, it was very kindly worded like this: "Thank you for the opportunity to consider THE MERCENARY’S KISS. Although you have an intriguing premise, I’m afraid I didn’t connect as fully with the plotting as I’d hoped. For this reason, I’m going to step aside but I do wish you the best of luck in finding the right agent and publisher for your work. I hope you have a lovely Thanksgiving."
And you know what? That's fine. That's GREAT.
It's honestly the best thing that could have happened to me. Because if I'd never gotten a request for a full and gotten that subsequent rejection, I'd have just labored on, fruitlessly revising my first 50 pages and query until kingdom come. I'd have just thought, "Oh, maybe I just need to wait until the market changes and fae books are in again!" I'd have thought, "I can revise this into a pulp, edit until I want to puke, and only when I despise every single sentence will this manuscript finally be READY!"
Instead, I used the opportunity to give my manuscript The Talk. You know the one: "It's not you, it's me?"
Except it IS you, manuscript. You were my proto-baby. I will remember you fondly for being my first. I'll never forget all the time and sweat and tears I poured into you. I made so, so many mistakes upon your pages. You made me a stronger writer and taught me everything I should never do again. And now I'm lighting you on metaphorical fire and releasing your manuscript soul into the ether, where you may forever live in a folder in my online Dropbox as an homage to all I was before. Perhaps, some day, we will meet again. Until that fateful day...
In October, I started writing a new book. A book I plotted out before I started writing it. A book that I'm excited about, because it's still a fresh idea and not one I brewed up four years ago. And you guys... it's... it's so. much. better.
Because I've plotted it out, I'm also writing it much faster. It's almost done. I just might get it done in time to edit it and submit to the final RWA Golden Heart Contest.
Because I've learned from my mistakes, the writing is better, too. It's more concise. It'll be easier to edit.
And because I'd already experienced what it was like to fail and realized it wasn't so bad, I threw caution to the wind and said, "fuck it, I'm going write what I WANT." You want "different," agents? Okay, I have electric dinosaurs! I have Star Trek, but instead of space it's Waterworld, with all-female pirates! I have a race of vampires that are light-sensitive albino humans who live underground and have evolved to feed off dinosaur blood! It's all weird and ridiculous and borderline absurd, and I love it to pieces, and I think when you love what you're writing, it shows.
At first, I was ashamed to be "giving up" on my first manuscript. Especially with some queries still out, I didn't want to jinx its potential success by throwing it under the bus like I did just now. I quietly began writing HUNTRESS OF THE DEEP with the loose goal of finishing it by the end of the year, "just for fun," to keep me busy while waiting for query replies on THE MERCENARY'S KISS. But now, I love my new MS and I don't want to keep it in the dark anymore. It's awesome and deserves the spotlight.
So here's to 2019; to new books, more consistent blog posting, and not feeling ashamed of things we suck at as writers.
I want to explain the reasons why, going forward, my blog is going to be a little more specific and honest about interactions, experiences, and challenges I'm encountering as I try to become a published author.
When I first started writing this blog, my goal was to make the process of becoming a published writer transparent. I felt the online romance-writing scene -- colloquially known as "Romancelandia" -- was a whole bunch of glossy, overly-positive, marketing-friendly bullshit.
For the life of me, I couldn't find blog posts or narratives that gave honest, detailed, specific advice. Bad authors, bad writing, and bad agents aren't identified or quoted, because that's not a good look. You don't want to be That Bitch who calls out other people's writing when it sucks. You don't want to get blacklisted because you called out an agent for being flaky. So if you want any real, juicy deets about the industry, you have to go to conventions and chapter meetings, make connections with other authors, and whisper industry gossip to each other in private.
For example, here is one conversation I had with a fellow writer at one of my chapter meetings. She and I were both in the same stage of querying/pitching. I trusted her enough to show her my list of agents I'd submitted to and the query status.
Her: Oh, don't feel bad about getting rejected by that agent.
Her: I pitched to her at RWA and she was really condescending.
Me: How so?
Her: She said, [condescending thing].
Where else would I find that information aside from either pitching to that agent myself? And that's what sucks -- we're all little fishies in a dark, cloudy pond full of predators (my metaphorical stand-in for Mistakes), and we only have each other to rely on.
That's great and all, but what if you're an introvert with social anxiety and you're terrified of having real-life interactions with other writers? What if you can't afford to pay hundreds of dollars for convention fees and lodging and travel? What if you're disabled or care-taking a loved one and can't leave your house? What if?
Are you just doomed to learn though your own experience? It feels like it. And that's... that's not fair! I don't accept that. Don't you tell me how to do my career. ("Kitt* has problems with authority and status quo" - 3rd grade teacher, loosely verbatim. *Except instead of "Kitt" she used my real name, which is not Kitt.)
To that end, I decided I wanted to write my own blog as honestly as I could without outright imploding my own career by being excessively negative or mean. I don't want to make anyone feel bad. So, if I use names or identifiers, I will make a point to be as objective and factual as possible without passing judgement. This is really hard and I might slip up, and I hope people will call me on it if I do so I can correct it.
So instead of saying "this agent is flaky," I'd say something like this made-up example: "This agent posted that they'd reopen their queries on October 1st, but it's now December and they haven't done so, nor have they followed up on Twitter with an update." My personal read is negative on that behavior. My values are such that when I work with someone, I want to trust in their word. Obviously, things come up. Maybe that agent had an emergency -- who knows. It's not missing a self-imposed deadline that bothers me, it's the unapologetic lack of communication about it. It shows respect for future working relationships when agents are open and responsive when shit comes up. But if I'm going to name that agent, I won't include my personal judgement, rather, I'll just put the facts out there.
Conversely, I can say positive things like, "I queried Jim McCarthy at Dystel, and he responded within 24 hours to my query and passed it onto another agent, Ann Leslie Tuttle, who requested a full of my manuscript." That's a really positive interaction that I'd want people to know about.
Before I go on, I want to highlight that there is some anonymous "real talk" out there if you know where to look:
- QueryManager comments can reveal insights about agents' response times and courtesies (but I do think you have to pay for premium for the really good juice)
- Query Shark is written by an anonymous agent who savages self-submitted queries
- #TenQueries on Twitter lets agents explain their thought process for a random selection of ten queries
- There are invite-only Facebook groups where writers can be slightly more open about agents/publishers, etc. Ask around on the Twitters and social media feeds.
- If anyone has any other ideas/links, please share in the comments!