You should read Betsy Lerner’s The Forest for the Trees: And Editor’s Advice to Writers.
Indeed, an editor enjoys nothing more than being startled awake by a particularly witty or moving letter or reading the fresh pages of an extremely well-written manuscript and finding that the world receded as she becomes more deeply involved in the pages. …
Too many writers, in trying to secure the services of a literary agent or publisher, simply do not do their homework. The best way to get an agent’s or an editor’s attention is to write an intelligent and succinct letter. And then send it to the right person.
… Many writers becomes agitated, and some turn hostile, as if those of us in the corridors of publishing were deliberately trying to sabotage their careers. Granted, nothing is more frustrating than waiting for a response for weeks or months and then getting only a form letter. However, a form letter is all that any agent or editor owes you.
In school I did my homework and got mediocre grades. I was an average student. Quite possibly I am mediocre at writing a query letter and finding the right person. I check Preditors & Editors, author websites, agent websites, google, Writer’s Digest, and Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents. I haven’t gotten an agent. We can conclude that my homework skills are not what they should be.
No one suffers as much as the rejected writer. If he isn’t beating himself up, he is expanding a fair amount of energy feeling slighted and neglected and in some cases downright robbed when a writer of similar age or background makes it. He doesn’t stop to consider that the other writer may be worthy; the very fact that others are able to get published is like salt in the wide-open wound of a writer’s psyche.
I read agent blogs and they seem like nice, smart people who love books. They’ve got to make a living too and taking on books that won’t sell doesn’t pay the rent. It isn’t their fault if my book isn’t marketable.
I’ve read 45 books on writing & publishing. I’ve spent years writing and rewriting. Maybe I can’t write a marketable novel. Just saying. All that salt pouring aside, maybe the industry isn’t the problem.
What books on writing & publishing do you recommend? How much can these books actually help?
10 thoughts on “Please pass the salt. I’ve got a wound over here that needs some.”
I think the post about the editors trying to decide what’s “chic” drives what agents are going to accept; I think the industry is the problem, and I’ve no reason to be bitter over rejection. I haven’t submitted yet.
I don’t know if my homework skills will be any better than yours, but I’ve read your sample chapters, and your writing isn’t a problem. You’re good at that. Is your novel marketable? I haven’t read it all, but I’ve read books in print which weren’t as well-written, interesting or even solvent.
No, junk makes it to the shelves, period. Good stuff languishes in the slush pile, period. And those mistakes can’t be placed on the authors; they lie squarely on the shoulders of agents and editors and the publishing industry.
Take heart. I know you can do it. I don’t know you well, but I believe in you.
At this point I’ve done so much homework I can’t think straight. There are good and bad books on the shelves, and like we can’t agree on movies, we might not agree on those books either. Nonetheless, the industry has its problems. Since I’m not in it, I probably don’t understand most of it.
I didn’t think you’d been subbing that long. Surely does get frustrating, doesn’t it? But Knyt’s right, it’s not your prose that’s keeping you from getting an agent. It’s more likely that luck hasn’t yet intersected with preparedness yet. I’m more convinced than ever that it is some magical coincidence which propels one person onward while another of equal talent lags behind. You have to get the right book to the right person while she’s in the right mood and the market is hungry for what you’ve got, along with other, unknowable variables.
And while there IS crap on the shelves, I think another problem with getting noticed is that in a literate, electronic society, everyone’s a writer. The sheer numbers mean a lot of decent writers are vying for the same slots. A lot of static. You haven’t hit that one, right person with the one, right project. Please don’t lose heart. It only takes one yes to erase all previous nos.
Of course, then you start accumulating editors’ nos, and … Well, shoot, I was trying to stay positive.
Oh those numbers. My natural impulse to believe that anyone who wants to be a writer ought to pursue that dream conflicts with my desire to be a published writer. Hey, pick me not that other guy!
I’ll keep trying after I dust myself off and coddle my wounded ego. Gotta work on toughening the skin.
A book that really helped me in practical ways is Elizabeth Lyon’s “Manuscript Makeover.” She answered some structural questions I hadn’t even been able to articulate well enough to get help on from other writers. Good stuff. The other book I love is Jane Smiley’s “13 Ways of Looking at the Novel.” She talks about the mentality of a novelist in a way that resonates with me.
Don’t despair. And take a break from the damn industry. I don’t believe we can out think or outguess what we need to do as writers to make publication happen, beyond the basics of queries and contacts. All we can do is write, and send it out, and let it go. The gift of creativity is in the process. It’s like trying to force falling in love with the right person. Being yourself and following your passion is the surest way to profound relationships, not going to bars and practicing pick-up lines. And even if Mr. or Mrs. Right (or agent or publisher) as we envision him or her doesn’t call or text or twitter or they send us a form letter- at least you were being yourself and following your passion. And who knows who, or what, else might show up along the way?
I think of writing and publishing as being like religion. Reading or listening to what others say about what God is or isn’t, about rules, dogma, theology, Christology, etc. doesn’t get us any closer to the actual experience of a numinous presence, just as reading agent blogs and books on writing has nothing to do with actually writing. If anything, all that stuff gets in the way. All we can do, beyond the actual prayer/practice of writing, is pay attention to what’s important in life, open our hearts, say our truth, and trust the outcome.
Even if a publishing contract doesn’t materialize, something more important will- the magic of connection: with the muse, with the life force, with our own selves; with someone who reads our work and is moved by it. Trust that.
I don’t know Lyon’s book but I’ll take a look. Smiley’s book is on my list of books to read. The excerpts I’ve read have been great.
Your comparison of finding Mr. Right and finding the right agent really ring true. I’ve been making that comparison in my head. Actually I’m going to print this comment out and pin it yo my bulletin board to remind me of the important thing about writing.
If you want old school Dorothea Brand takes some beating. Natalie Goldberg always gets me thinking. Julia Cameron is pretty good at patching up a wounded writer’s ego and making you remember what it is that drives you to do this in the first place.
Agree with comments above – you’re a great writer. Hang in there. Take a break from subs if it’s killing your belief in and love of writing. Get your passion back, write work that pleases you – and if you still want to submit, you’ll be confident in what you’re sending out.
Francine Prose. Reading Like a Writer. Beautiful, slow, and succinct.
I know all about the rejection part. 120 queries now. 30 or so requests by agents. About 4 close calls.
That’s for this round. In 1998 I had an agent (got one on my 10th query). He failed to sell that book. I quit writing, busy with having babies, only taking it up again in 2004. I started subbing again in 2006 and discovered email has made it much more difficult to get heard. It’s just too easy to fire work out there without researching, hoping to hit something, like buckshot. Anyone can do it, and does.
If you take the chance and self publish,you can establish a name for yourself. You have the ability to control your own work. This may sound self appeasing and it is,but it’s worth all the effort. You can build your confidence and continue writing for online publications
Just finished my own blog on this subject, and I feel the pain… Seriously though, all writers are marketing themselves as well as their work and unfortunately a lot of luck goes into getting something published. Agents have a right to reject a book, but my anger is directed at those particular agents who don’t bother to read any part of your manuscript before rejecting it. How would Charles Dickens sum up Oliver Twist, or Larry McMurtry sum up Lonesome Dove. You have to read the damn thing, agents!