It really fucking sucks.
I’m so fucking over it.
Listen, get this into your fucking head. EVERY PATH TO PUBLICATION IS UNIQUE. DO NOT COMPARE YOURSELF TO STEPHENIE MEYER.
Need some evidence? Here. You. Go.
So let’s get to the meat of the problem. You have talent. And that makes your path infinitely more complicated. It just does.
If you spend half your day thinking you’re going no where, are going to die before your book ever gets published, or would have a better chance getting your book published if you were dead already, trust me, you’re doing something right.
Your talent is supposed to scare the fucking shit out of you. That’s the piece of the puzzle that you need to understand. If you aren’t scared shitless, you’re doing something wrong and maybe this isn’t the path for you.
Ask yourself this: In my heart do I really believe that I’m not good enough? Or am I just putting resistance in my way because I’m getting closer to realizing my dream?
Here are some thoughts that bounce around my head almost every hour of the day:
- I’m going to die before my book gets published
- My book is only going to get published if I’m dying already
- I’m not good enough
- I’m going no where
- Maybe I should give up on this book and start writing something else
- Maybe I should give up and get a real job
- I don’t deserve to be a writer
- I’m never going to have a NYT bestseller
- I’m going to end up living under a bridge
Alright… get the picture?
You will notice more and more thoughts like these occurring to you the closer you get to finding an agent, or a publisher, or a mentor, or anything. That’s just how it works. The reason this is the road less travelled is because, it’s long, it’s winding, and every single time you take a step forward your brain and everything around you starts to drag you back.
Above you will find all of the rejections I have gotten for the current manuscript I’m querying. I have fifteen rejections in all. Two form letters. Seven personal rejections. Eight implied time constraint rejections.
And fifteen… that’s nothing. Don’t start complaining until you’re to forty and even when you’re at forty, you’re only half-way there.
But there’s a little light in my tunnel, I picked up a mentor along the way. Someone whom liked my manuscript enough to work with me and help me get to publication. This woman is a SAINT. And I wish more people had her. And that is precisely why I am writing this blog post, because I want to help you guys like this woman has helped me. I don’t want you to feel alone.
So, let’s dig in shall we?
I’m going to talk about ALL the things an aspiring author needs to know, so stick around.
If you are not apart of the writing community on Twitter, get a Twitter and make yourself a part of it. It is so simple and you will never find a better group of people to surround yourself with.
Do not stew alone.
If you get a rejection, don’t just print it off and stuff it in a box and then let that box haunt you, talk about it, let us be there for you.
You can follow me on Twitter here: @cmremwrites – if you want help following the right people, tweet me letting me know that you read this post and I will introduce you personally.
Let’s talk genres. The QUICKEST way to get a form letter rejection is labeling your manuscript with the wrong genre.
I thought that my genre was just simple New Adult Fiction.
I write New Adult – Women’s Fiction with trace philosophical and literary elements.
It’s okay, everybody has trouble labeling their manuscripts. Sometimes you think your manuscript is high fantasy middle grade fiction and it’s actually Twilight. It happens to the best of us.
Figure out your genre with the Genre Map
Don’t query an agent who only accepts YA with your NA Fantasy. She doesn’t want it, so why are you sending it to her. Furthermore. If the agent accepts NA but only in romance, then don’t send her your NA Fantasy either. And if she accepts NA but doesn’t like books that revolve around rape, mental illness, or cancer, WHY ARE YOU SENDING HER YOUR JOHN GREEN FANFICTION?
And if you’re querying agents who like Women’s Fiction your Women’s Fiction with a great query letter and nobody’s biting… It’s possible you labeled your genre wrong.
Which leads me into titles. Please for the love of god name your book something good. Here’s an exercise to figure out if you have a good title or not:
Come up with fifteen nicknames for your book, send your favorites and your current title to a friend, critique partner, or whomever, see which one they choose.
If it’s not your title, change your title. You want to hook the literary agent, I know you’re attached to Sally’s Summertime Love – but just face it… it sucks. The title is the first thing your reader reads… Let that sink in.
Back to Twitter.
There are several contests that every querying writer needs to know about. These contests aim at giving querying writers a chance at landing an agent. Utilize them. They’re here to make your life a whole lot easier. And if you don’t get selected for the contest, as you might not, typically the odds are under twenty percent, you will find critique partners, and get helpful feedback.
If you don’t get selected, don’t be a dick. The creators of these contests don’t have to continue doing them, remember that. The writing community is generous but if you’re sending them hatemail, they may lash out at you.
Click on the links above to learn more. You have already missed the window for the first two but PitchWars is coming up.
These contests WILL help you. And how did I find out about them? Twitter. Get your ass on Twitter. Even if you’re seventy.
Next, social media, how to use it to your advantage.
FOLLOW EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THE LITERARY AGENTS YOU QUERY. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. AND DON’T YOU DARE UNFOLLOW THEM IF THEY REJECT YOU.
Despite what some people think, literary agents have it bad too. They have to reject countless authors, weed through people who send them unsolicited bullshit, and still manage to do it with smiles on their faces. They want to find their big break too. Respect the process.
Some literary agents host mini contests on Twitter, and some of them want you to contact them on Twitter. They post about what they do and don’t like. Do a little more research.
How NOT to use social media:
For the love of god, don’t post who your dream agent is. Don’t drop any names under any circumstance. If you’re grumpy and want to have an online pity party so your Twitter followers can coddle you for a minute… do it. But heavens to god, don’t say [INSERT LITERARY AGENT/AGENCY HERE] SUCKS LET’S STONE THEIR OFFICE BUILDING.
Don’t be a psycho. Literary agents do their research too.
Maybe send a literary agent you’re interested in a quick tweet: hey I write Harry Potter Fanfiction, can I send it to you?
Hey, I saw in your agency profile you like high fantasy adult fiction, would you look at my low F YA?
She might say yes.
Use your brain and be respectful.
Don’t query before you’re ready.
I mean it.
Don’t do it.
If you don’t have at least three drafts of your query, you better not send it anywhere.
Have a critique partner look it over. You don’t want to blow your chances with a great literary agent that would be perfect for your project just because you send her a stupid fucking query.
Here’s a quick list of what should NOT be in your query
- Rhetorical questions – will Sally find her one true love? STOP WHAT THE FUCK.
- Sob story #1 – No. No. No. Don’t tell your literary agent that your dog just died and you need a break
- Sob Story #2 – Stop saying that you’ve queried fifteen other agents and they all said no, or that an editor ripped you off, or any of that shit. NO. Don’t. They don’t need to know any of that. Focus on your story.
- More than four paragraphs – NO. You’re doing it wrong
- Misplaced future-based enthusiasm – my book would make an awesome movie. Cool, really excited your unpublished book with zero fan base would make an awesome movie. Don’t. Do. This.
Here’s a quick list of what SHOULD be in your query
- Word count – doesn’t have to be perfect. But do your research. If you wrote a 300,000 word erotica, you need to go sit in a cold shower for six years.
- Genre and sub-genre – narrow it down as far as you can, it helps the literary agent. If it looks like this: YA high fantasy character-driven romantic literary fiction… you’ve gone too far
- Qualifications – even if you didn’t go to college or haven’t had a short story published in the New Yorker, you are still qualified to be a storytelling. Tell them why you’re qualified to write your book. Maybe it’s because it’s inspired by your life, or you mom, or your dad, just make them understand why nobody can tell the story better than you
- Stakes – seriously. The query letter is not the time for the synopsis, it’s the time for you to explain what your main character is up against and what will happen if she doesn’t succeed.
- A BRIEF summary – 250 words tops
- Main characters – why does you query mention sixteen characters? What are you doing? I don’t care about anybody but the main bitch I’m gonna be reading about.
- Like language – Your query should read like your book. Is your book funny? Okay good, your query should be funny too. Let your main character’s personality shine through in the query.
- Hook – You need to hook the literary agent
- Why you chose this agent – tell them why your project works for them. Even if you’re saying something as simple as: you mentioned in your agent bio that you like books with complex characters, my main character is very complex
Here’s a great site to help you polish your query letter: https://janefriedman.com/query-letters/
When your query is ready, read the submission guidelines for each agency and literary agent. Some agents don’t even go along with the submission guidelines for their agency. The submission guidelines may say: submit a one page query with the first ten pages and a synopsis all in the body of the email. The agent that you’re querying from that agency might say, send me the first ten pages, the synopsis, and the query letter in that order in an attachment. Put QUERY in the subject line.
You will get a form letter rejection or no response at all if you send her five pages and a synopsis in the body of the email with the word “SUP” in the subject line.
Synopsis. Let’s talk about the synopsis. I know you’re doing your synopsis wrong because most people are doing their synopses wrong. Here’s how you structure it, straight from my mentor to me to you.
Pinch Points – structure your synopsis around your pinch points. Odds are you are missing the actual pinch points because you don’t evenknow what they are. Now you do. Get to work.
Here are some resources for Word Counts. Make sure your word count falls into the suggested word count for your genre… ESPECIALLY if you’re a first time author. And lower is always better than higher, but don’t fall below the line, that’s just dumb.
DON’T be backstory top heavy. I made this mistake myself and my entire manuscript dragged because of it. You know when you’re reading another book and you’re flipping ahead to see when they finally kiss or how much longer until your main character is back, you don’t want you reader to do that while reading your book. So cut down on the back story.
Read other books, especially in your genre. If you’re not writing, you should be reading. I read close to eight books a month. And even that feels like too little.
Show don’t tell. LOOK THIS UP ON THE INTERNET AND FIGURE OUT IF YOU DO IT OR NOT. IF YOU DO. STOP QUERYING AND START WORKING ON ANOTHER DRAFT OF YOUR BOOK IN WHICH YOU DON’T.
Here’s an example of showing vs. telling:
Telling: I turned off the lights.
Showing: The lights went out with a flick of my wrist.
See the difference? Which one are you likely to respond to? If it’s the first one you’re reading too much Kody Keplinger.
I love Kody, smart girl, but that first book, a lot of telling.
Passive voice. Look for words like as, when, while. I know, you have some beautiful sentences that look like this:
And as I watched him rise, the whole world shrunk and his head was suddenly in the clouds.
But get rid of them. Once every so often this is okay. Once on every page? Perhaps not.
This is another thing that if you do too much of it, you might consider starting work on another draft.
Dangling modifiers. This one is confusing and sort of difficult to spot, here’s an example, the dangling modifier is the word “they”:
And they shimmered in the dark, the whites of his eyes like stars in the night sky.
You’re gonna confuse your reader if you do a lot of this. You know how much rereading paragraphs sucks, so skip it.
Adverbs: words that typically end in -ly and are attached to verbs.
He walked slowly.
She says exhaustively.
He mutters grumpily.
A few are fine, but know when it’s too much. Your reader isn’t an idiot. If your characters are fighting, it’s possible that “he shouted angrily” is going to offend your reader as much as the character on the receiving end of the OBVIOUSLY angry shout.
Wordiness: It’s okay every so often, all in moderation I like to say. Most likely following a few five-word sentences to make it beautiful.
She moves slowly towards him, the stars colliding in the sky above, their fleeting trails reminding her of the future, how timeless it is, how quickly it escapes you if you try to hold on, and his fingers snuck under her shirt, igniting a fire under her damp skin, which had begun to perspire with the intensity of the moment, which had arrived finally, and with one chance look back at the night sky, his mouth closed on hers, and she sunk, deeply, truly, and wholly, into the denseness of the nighttime air.
Congrats, your reader is brain dead.
Adjectives: Use them with this in mind: less is more.
Break your paragraphs up! Here’s how and why it’s effective:
It was all so new to her. The smell, the people, the big wide open spaces. She thought for sure she’d have settled in by now, but the clouds still felt foreign and the air still felt heavy and nothing felt normal at all. So with a delicate sigh, she turned the key in the ignition. The engine roared to life. And so did she.
It was all so new to her. The smell, the people, the big wide open spaces. She thought for sure she’d have settled in by now, but the clouds still felt foreign and the air still felt heavy and nothing felt normal at all. So with a delicate sigh, she turned the key in the ignition. The engine roared to life.
And so did she.
Find a critique partner, again, follow me on Twitter and I will find one for you. You can learn a lot about your work from beta reading somebody else’s work. You’ll notice that the constant use of “I” this and “I” that gets repetitive, and you might notice that it is a sign of telling instead of showing, and you might notice that you have a lot of it in your own manuscript. GREAT! Keep going! Offer to critique as many like manuscripts as you can, they WILL repay you.
Last thing I want to talk about: don’t take your rejections seriously. Only after you’ve reached rejection 160 should you decided to set the manuscript aside and move on. We all have different tastes. I think Jonathan Tropper is the greatest author on the planet. Most of the time when I say his name people are like… who?
Somebody out there is going to appreciate your work, don’t forget to appreciate it yourself. You wrote a fucking book. A FUCKING BOOK!!! HELLOOOOOO. Give yourself some credit. Even if your book does nothing in this lifetime, it’s still a book. From me to you, I am proud of you.
If anybody wants their queries critiqued: I’m talking the whole lot, query letter, synopsis, first chapter, first fifty pages, first three chapters, first ten pages, send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Any questions? Send them to the above email too.
It’s been a pleasure kids,