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What’s the point?

It’s been months since I’ve written anything for this blog. The reason is, there’s not much to say. As far as my writing goes, I’m in a bit of a slump. For several months, I just can’t seem to muster the energy or focus my concentration. First, there was the quintuple bypass operation I had in October. And then my dad died in November (coronary artery disease), which, despite his advanced age (93), came as a surprise. And then our tiny dog died in December (kidney disease). The last few months of 2018 kind of sucked for me.

I’m feeling much better now, with just a few lingering minor medical annoyances, but getting back into my daily writing routine is proving difficult. I suspect I may be suffering from a mild case of ‘What’s the point?’.

I was very excited when an agent asked to see the full manuscript of my novel Troubled Space back in September. I sent it to her immediately, of course, but I haven’t heard back. I sent a polite follow-up a few weeks ago. No response to that, either. I don’t know why. Maybe she didn’t get it. Maybe she’s backlogged and hasn’t yet opened it. Maybe she didn’t like my manuscript and lacks the common courtesy to let me know. Whatever the reason, it’s kind of depressing, and it’s probably the main cause of my current deficit of enthusiasm.

But I still think Troubled Space is a great novel, so I’ve sent a query to one of the few reputable publishers who accept unagented submissions. They want three months to look at it before I send it to anyone else. So, until the end of May, my queries are done. I expect no more replies from agents, not even from the one who asked to see my manuscript. I do expect a reply from the publisher, and I’m hoping for the best, but I expect another rejection.

Advice to prospective authors: Writing is not a good hobby to take up if you need positive reinforcement to maintain a sense of self-worth.

But getting back to my current case of ‘What’s the point?’. Well, for me, the point is that I enjoy writing stories. Yes, I wish other people would enjoy reading them, and I can’t say that’s not important to me, but it’s not the main point. I simply like creating stuff….

Speaking of which…. At some point in the not-too-distant past, my dad decided he wanted to take up painting as a hobby. He bought paint, brushes, easels, and canvases, and, in the course of three years, he produced one small painting. When he died, I had to decide what to do with the unused canvases and art supplies. It seemed a shame to waste them, so I tried my hand at painting. I’m not very good at it, but it’s a creative hobby that I find I enjoy in the same way I enjoy writing. One advantage it has is that it takes nowhere near as long to complete a painting as it does a novel.

Query Status ~ Week 4

It’s been a slow week for query responses, although I did get a couple more rejections. The score now is:
Queries sent: 36
Reply stating “closed to new queries”: 1
Rejections received: 15
Full manuscript requests: 1
Still awaiting replies: 19

So, nineteen more agents still have a unique opportunity to ask to see my amazing new manuscript. 🙂 Of the one who already has, I’ve heard nothing more, although I know this can take quite a while. I remain hopeful.

In the meantime, I’ve been working on revisions for new editions of my Warden novels. I recently republished the first of these in digital format. A new paperback will be following soon. It will be less expensive than the original because I changed the size from 5″X 8″ to 6.14″ X 9.21″. The pages are larger, so there are fewer of them, which means less cost. I hadn’t known this before, figuring the cost of the larger page would balance the cost of having fewer of them. Not so, apparently. This puts the cost back to something I would consider reasonable. The eBook edition will remain free until the publisher objects.

Here’s the new cover. I think it came out well. The other five books set in the same world will receive similar treatment in the coming months.

Query Status ~ Week 1

Over the course of three days last week, I sent queries to 36 literary agencies. I am happy to report pretend that most of them are still seriously considering my latest book. Sadly, nine others must have illiterate monkeys with absolutely no taste monitoring their emails because they almost immediately sent back rejection letters (one within only a few hours of me sending the query).

Okay, that’s unfair. Perhaps they’re not actually monkeys, but they clearly don’t realize what a unique opportunity they’ve just denied themselves. (Listen, lying to yourself is something an author has to do in order to keep writing, so it’s either disparage the good taste and wisdom of some unknown interns at a few obscure literary agencies or curl up into a fetal position, drool into my bellybutton, and admit that I’ve wasted the last seven years of my life.) Regardless of who or what caused those rejections, I am sure that my latest manuscript could find a large and appreciative audience, if given a chance. It’s good. I mean, really good. It had me laughing and nodding my head when I proofread it, and I knew what would happen next.

Which makes me wonder….

We’ve all heard stories about how many agents and/or publishers rejected queries for books that later went on to being bestsellers and were sometimes even mangled into blockbuster movies. The current favorite anecdote is about how J.K. Rowling received ‘loads of’ rejections before she finally found a publisher for her Harry Potter books, and she is far from the only writer with a story like this.

A moment on Google led me to this site, which lists several:  http://www.litrejections.com/best-sellers-initially-rejected/ It’s not the only one like this out there, and it mainly focuses on rejections from editors, but the point remains valid. Now, you may not agree that all of the listed books are good or even readable, but the fact is that each and every one of them did find an appreciative audience. The agents and publishers who rejected them missed out on amazing opportunities.

So I have to wonder. Are there consequences? There are for the authors, obviously. The snap decisions made by agents and editors can substantially change their lives. But what about for the people who made those decisions? Did those who rejected Rowling’s queries all keep their jobs? Do they still sleep well? Do their peers make fun of them? Do they look in the mirror every morning and see an idiot?

I don’t know. They may not even remember whose queries they’ve rejected among the thousands they get each year. I have a feeling, and I’m not sure I’m right, that agents are more afraid of taking on a book they can’t sell than they are of rejecting one that later goes on to be immensely popular. There are consequences for the first. If nothing else, they’ve wasted their time. But rejections might be safe. If the author doesn’t keep a record of these and disclose it afterward, who is going to know?

Somehow, this just doesn’t seem fair.

But, for now, 27 agents still have a chance to appreciate the opportunity I’ve given them. I do hope they don’t screw up.

Submissions are Futile

I write something every day. Most of it is work on my next novel, but I also write ten or so (normally short) book reviews for Goodreads every month. What I don’t often write are blog posts. After all, why should anyone care about the idle prattle of an unknown indie writer? Other indie writers might, I suppose, but even then, I can’t offer them any advice about how to achieve fame and fortune. I haven’t.

Still, there’s no point in having a blog if I don’t write something for it, so here’s an update on my attempt to turn my writing hobby into a vocation. In my last blog post, I told you that I submitted queries for my ninth novel to 28 agents. Ten of them have replied. I don’t expect any more will. All the responses were generic rejects. None of those 28 agents, not even the ten who had the courtesy to respond, ever read my manuscript. I doubt they even read any sample chapters. They based their rejections entirely on my query. (I’ll put a generic version of the query letter at the end of this post as an example of how NOT to write one. I’d loved to tell you what’s wrong with it, but I can’t. I don’t have a clue.)

I sought an agent first because very few traditional publishers accept unagented submissions. Some do, and I submitted queries to two of them. I waited six months. Neither of them responded.

So, my ninth novel will be indie published like all my others. That’s not so bad. According to reports from Amazon, downloads of Kindle editions of my books have been increasing steadily. They’re now up to 500 per month worldwide. That may seem a lot, but most of those are freebies. My books are also available from Apple iTunes. As best I can tell, they add another 30 or so downloads per month. Since most of my ebooks that aren’t free retail for 99¢, my monthly royalties seldom total over $10. That would be depressing if I was doing this for the money.

Of course I haven’t just been waiting around this year, hoping for agents and publishers to notice me. I’ve been working on my tenth novel. The protagonist of this one is an indie writer. I figure I know something about them.

~*~

*This is the query that did not work*

Dear AGENT (get the name right, and tailor the introduction and concluding paragraphs for each agent),

I hope you will consider representing my latest unpublished novel, The Elsewhere Gate, which combines elements of contemporary science fiction in an urban fantasy setting with likable young characters and a unique magic system. An underlying theme of wealth disparity provides real-world relevance. The novel is complete at 90,000 words.

Hurled from a private laboratory in Florida to a world where magic is money and airships fill the sky, a young man with dreams of college, together with the sensible daughter of a quirky professor, must flee a covetous moneylender who is convinced they hold the key that will open new worlds for him to exploit. Tom and Amanda don’t know where they are. It’s definitely not Florida. It’s not even Earth. It’s a place of magic, which is dangerous to use if you don’t know what you’re doing. Tom’s first attempt lands him in the care of three witches who run a soup kitchen. They help him recover and then hide him and Amanda from Lord Wilcraft, grandmaster of the moneylenders’ cartel and leader of the Syndicate, the closest thing to government this place has. Its sole purpose is to promote business and increase profits. Under Wilcraft’s direction, the Syndicate is building its own Elsewhere Gate. Wilcraft believes Tom holds the secret that will finally make it work and sends his enforcers to capture him. Failing to do so quickly, Wilcraft turns his unwelcome attention to those who have helped him and Amanda. Tom is determined to save his new friends, but the leader of the Syndicate has extreme wealth, unrivaled influence, and powerful magic. What can a poor college freshman from Elsewhere do?

I am the author of eight independently published novels, which have had several thousand readers across all books and outlets. These stories continue to receive excellent reviews, enjoying average ratings well above four stars on Goodreads as well as on U.S. and U.K. Amazon sites. My writing style is distinctive, but the tone and mood are similar to that of John Scalzi with considerable influence from Sir Terry Pratchett. It appeals to readers who appreciate Scalzi’s Fuzzy Nation and Redshirts, the work of Jasper Fforde, or the last twenty or so Discworld novels.

I am providing … (Some agents allow you to provide sample pages or a synopsis, which I invariably did whenever permitted.) Thank you for taking the time to read my query.

Write, learn, edit – just stick to it

  This time I’d really do it.  No more abortive attempts.  No giving up after one reject of a short story I took all of a month to write and thought was pretty good.  No, this time I was serious.  This time I was ready to be a fiction writer.  After all, I’d read a lot of it.  And I wrote as part of my paying job: correspondence, reports, studies, guidance, briefings, and things like that.  Okay, so it wasn’t fiction, not intentionally anyway, but it was writing.  It still had to present a point clearly and have decent spelling and punctuation.  Yep, I had everything to finally realize my ambition of being a published fiction author.

So when a major news story gave me an idea for a great plot for a novel, I decided now was the time.  I started working in my spare time on the idea and quickly did an outline, a rough synopsis, and timeline.  I wrote character sheets based on those I’d done for role playing games for all of the major and most of the minor characters.  And I started writing, doing a bit here and a bit there whenever I could make time–weekends, vacations, even during lunch breaks on those few occasions I could afford to take one.  After a few years, I had a couple hundred thousand words written of what I felt certain would be an instant breakthrough novel.  All I had to do now was get an agent and let them run with it.  I didn’t really care much about making much money from it.  I just wanted it to be read.

This is when reality hit me in the face in the form of two almost instant rejects from agents.  What was wrong?  I had done my homework.  I got a book from the library on how to submit a manuscript and I followed the standard format and even wrote a kick ass query letter.  The rejects were form letter emails and I wasn’t quite sure what they meant.  One told me simply that the project was not right for them.  The other said it didn’t meet the current needs of their list.  WTF?  I had a great and clearly unique novel and they didn’t even want to see it?  Okay, no problem.  Just a bit of polishing, right?   Maybe I should do a bit of research about the publishing industry first though.  Just to make sure.

I should have done this before I started writing.  Traditional publishing, I soon learned, is a highly competitive business and arguably in decline.  Agents reject over 99% of the submissions they get from new writers.  They know, statistically anyway, that the work of new authors needs more editing and is harder to sell than that of established writers.  Not only do new authors need a great first novel, they need something to make it and themselves stand out from all of the other great first novels.  I didn’t have a clue how to do that.  And the more I read about the industry, the more I suspected my great first novel might not actually be all that great.

But I had told myself that this was the time and I wasn’t about to give up so easily.  So I read even more about writing and publishing.  Some of it seemed contradictory but I learned a lot.  I joined a critique group.  I learned I needed a Twitter account to keep up with what agents and publishers were saying.  Did that.  I needed a website to get my name “out there.”  Did that too.  And I kept writing.

With my new insights, I went back to my original manuscript with a better ability to see what was good and not so good about it.  I reviewed my work as objectively as I could.  I realized I had made some common mistakes and had avoided some others.  All in all, I still had a pretty good first draft in my admittedly biased opinion.  Nothing I can’t fix.   I’ve made time for this, I’ve long wanted to do it, I’ve got things to say, and this time it will happen.

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