There are a lot of reasons writers quit writing, but this is perhaps the deadliest.
A conversation in a local coffee shop the other day sent my mind in a whimsical flurry back to where I was a handful of years ago. The point that nearly broke me as a writer, and it had nothing to do with finishing a first draft.
I was talking to someone about my off-grid cabin, the conversation slipped into my novels and content creation, and he mentioned a friend of his who had thrown in the writing towel fairly recently. The reason that person had quit struck me directly in the feels, because I've been there.
If you've be an advocate of self-publishing from the start, this might not resonate so much, but anyone who has tried to land an agent may know this devil in the details far too well. If you are a budding novelist, please take in the entirety of this article and let it simmer. Come back to it again if needed. This one mistake will most certainly sink any hope of a writing career, and you don't want to make it.
So the Story Goes
Many people think the first draft is the hardest part of writing a novel. The truth is that draft is the first in a series of hurdles that will continue for the rest of your life. This isn't a 100 meter dash, it's a steeple chase...that never ends.
My new friend recounted the story something like this:
A friend of mine wrote a book.
He spent a long time working on it. I don't know how you guys normally do things, but he was trying to get an agent and pitch the book to big companies. He finally ended up tossing in the towel.
Sound familiar? Let me quote you another little passage:
After pitching it to over 100 agents, ... I cut the sequel short, and had a lapse of "writer's block" for three years. Strike that, I let myself fail, for three years.
~McConnell - Finish the Damn Book!I had gone through exactly what this guy's friend had, and it took a pretty fired-up poker to get my butt back in the writing chair. I don't know if this young writer will experience the same, but I plan to meet with him someday and educate him more about the process.
The Little Dragon of Writing
Among a lot of other advice, one thing I was told over and over again in the early days of novel writing was that the first book is just that. The same root that causes this "writer's block" nonsense in the drafting phase (The seed of doubt, or the dragon's egg) spawns something far darker and scarier in the editing phase. Looking back on your own words after writing 100,000 is pretty daunting. But even that is nothing but the hatching of a baby dragon that will learn to breath fire as you enter the querying phase.
When you start to query, if you're smart, you'll have your query letter torn apart by other writers. They will question the merit of your story as an agent would. They'll drill you about the stakes, the plot, and how dull you make the whole thing sound. They'll stab at your ability with hopes that the book isn't as boring as your query letter
But all of this is good. You hammer down the query and perhaps revise a few things in your manuscript. You probably put in another round of editing just for good effect, and you're ready to face the dragon that is rejection.
My first novel was rejected over 100 times, mostly on the strength of the query letter alone. Without sending a response, these people told me that my story sucked without ever reading it.
This has happened before, and it'll happen again, maybe to you! I can think of one blog follower that's reading this right now with her eyes sharpened to my every word. For you, I'll drop a little hint here: Be ready for rejection. Expect it. Welcome it. Write the next book.
The cloud of darkness during the submission process can be daunting. Ask me how many of my stories have been tossed out by almost every literary mag that exists before I got a tiny spot in an upstart mag for the second year in a row. Not exactly a Nobel Prize, but it's a little feather in my cap.
By the time you've worn yourself out sending matched queries to agent after agent, been torn apart by your peers, and look upon your shiny new script with scorn, a little piece inside of you will die. An alchemist would call this step putrefication or calcination. A phoenix can only rise from dead ashes.
Rebirth, New Life, New Stories
So the dragon gave you a good roasting. So what?
Even before I got back into writing again, I encountered a ton of good advice to supplement the bad. It wasn't enough, but I'll share some of it with you now, just so we're on the same page.
It would be wrong not to paraphrase my favorite Steven Pressfield story here. After his first movie hit the theaters, the reviews came in, and it sucked. He even drove out of town to see how it was playing in other theaters. Same result.
He asked the guy at the ticket booth, "How's King Kong Lives?" (did I get that title right? Doesn't matter) The register jockey gave him a big thumbs down and replied, "Miss it, man. It sucks."
After talking with his mentor, he was given the option. Take a few knocks and keep writing, or quit. Thanks from all of us, Steven, that you kept writing.
We all get crushed. We get hard knocks. Our egos get beat down and withered. Those hi-toned authors at the last con may dress themselves with a confident facade, but trust me, they have plenty of skeletons and monsters in their closet too.
One friend of mine landed a deal with a publisher, through an agent, and his book went out of print a year later. Writing is the kind of job where you face rejection and harsh words all the time. The more successful you are, the more people there are in the world that hate your work. It goes with the territory.
The silver lining in all of this is that you aren't standing on the sidelines, or shouting from the nose-bleeds. You're down there in the mud, bleeding your heart into something you love. So screw the haters. You have two choices. You can keep writing. Or you can quit.
Greatness courts failure.
~Tin Cup Actually, I encourage you to look up that scene on YouTube. There's a lot of wisdom in very few lines... here you go:
How to Carry On
Keep writing. It's that simple. If you have to shelf the first novel, or second, or tenth, then who cares? Some of us put our work on WattPad. Some self-publish. Some start their own media companies, or do freelance work for a while. Some of the best shit that I've ever written doesn't have my name on it, and I made less than minimum wage writing it. But it's out there in the world, helping people live their lives while helping others build their businesses. The goal of every story is to last, to be told and heard, to be repeated, and to live on.
Some stories stay small and local, others go big time. It's not a mark against you. It's just what the market is shopping for that day. Don't be let down by rejection slips, failed queries, and all of this other nonsense. Start writing another story. If you played the agent game and got burned, then welcome to the fucking club! You're doing what you're supposed to be doing. You didn't fall for a predatory publisher, and you finished a freaking novel. Give yourself a pat on the back, and start on the next story.
I don't recommend framing your first story as a trilogy, even if it has the potential, for that reason. You're first story is akin to your first painting, your first gig as a musician, your first marathon, or your first day at a new job.
Yes, writing a novel takes a while. Editing takes longer, and marketing is a frickin' nightmare. Embrace it. Keep telling stories, keep honing your writing, and get on the path that YOU are meant to be on. Don't worry so much about the cookie-cutter professional publishing thing. You can always submit new books to new agents, and perhaps one day you will land one, but keep telling stories. If you stuck it out through one novel, you can write another one, and the next one might be better than the first.
Keep learning. Keep growing. Drive your own plot.
I had a family member to give me the kick in the ass I needed to write the Incorporated series, which led me to the original publisher for Viral Spark. Don't count on having that. If you need to be kicked in the pants, I'm here, and I have a heavy pair of boots. Shoot me an email. But it's far better for you to realize that getting kicked in the teeth is part of the game. So what? Move on. You have other stories to tell, and if you don't, the world will never see them, and they'll die. ... or quit. But understand now that quitting will be your own choice. You can't unread this article, and now you know that this is something that ALL of us go through at some point. Slaying these little dragons is part of the job.
Martin McConnell, author of Finish the Damn Book!, holds a Physics degree from SIUE, and when he isn't writing speculative fiction, he's motivating other authors, stargazing, reading, or playing Kerbal Space Program. He avidly encourages everyone he meets to seize control of their dreams by driving their own plot. You can find him at his website writefarmlive.com.
You’ve written your first book or your tenth book, the amount doesn't matter—how do you get your book in the hands of readers? Book signings? Pitch to local bookstores? Libraries? Social media? Advertising on social media or on Amazon?
If you’re counting on social media, you could be banned in an instant. Recently, you may have heard on the news several prominent users with millions of followers were banned from Facebook and Instagram. If you were to be banned from social media would you still have a way to communicate with your readers? You can’t count on social media, but you can count on your email list that you’ve built by sending out blog posts (a.k.a., newsletter, articles, updates).
What’s the first thing you see when you go onto a website? It’s that annoying “Sign-up for our email/newsletter/list” – it pops up or swooshes in from the side or it takes over the screen. Sure they want you to receive their content, but more importantly, they want to know where they can reach you.
I’m signed up to receive emails from some big-name authors. Yes, even the big names want your email address so they can still reach you if something goes awry with any or all other marketing channels. The email list is golden.
How do you get an email list? Blogging from your website or a blogging platform (many how to videos on YouTube, look for recent videos as services change). Email services are typically free until you reach a certain number of subscribers. I began blogging before I published my first novel, everything I’d read said blogging was a must. It’s a conundrum for authors—with nothing published what would you blog about and why would anyone sign up to receive something from you? You have to start with friends and family.
Blog about what inspires you. Something drew you to write in your genre; think hard, what inspires you? Is there a specific era or event? Maybe there’s a location? Paris, France has been the inspiration for many romance novels.
Let’s say you write historical romance inspired by Paris. You could blog about Paris and drill it down to specifics. What was happening in Paris during the time period you write about? Was there a street you fell in love with when you vacationed there? In my case, I write in the mystery/thriller genre. Because I worked in public education, school crime inspired me. I blog about my school crime research. Blogging about research is fun and most authors have a plethora of research.
How about zombie apocalypse genre? You may have pondered what if people in Chicago, Illinois, were infected with a virus that turned half the population into zombies? Actually, that may have been Bird Box. Okay, let’s use Bird Box as an example of what to blog about. You could write about the city setting which inspired the city in the story, and the same for the grocery store, the bird’s behavior, the river, the cabin, the bird sanctuary, etc.
A word of caution—when you do blog, keep it relevant to your books. If you write war stories, blogging about your passion for cooking will not help you get your war stories to your target audience.
Here’s where I’m guessing you feel like this is too much. There’s a bonus I didn’t know when I started blogging—your writing will improve because it doesn’t matter if you’re writing novels, articles, or blog posts, it all helps to improve your writing.
Lastly, run your blog posts through a grammar and spelling check the same as you would for your full novel (or have Word Refining proofread them for you). I use Grammarly for blog posts and love it, here’s a link to the free version (I’m not an affiliate – I just love it). Grammarly
So to blog or not to blog--YES! Blog and be consistent and cohesive. If you say, you’ll send out your blog post every Saturday, stick to it. Steven King sends out an email about every six months or when he has news.
Email me if you need help deciding on what you should blog about or how to blog in general. We can figure it out together—authors helping authors—with no strings attached. Robin@RobinLyons.com
About Robin Lyons, Author
Robin Lyons writes mystery/thriller stories based on disturbing reality.
The concept for her School Marshal series came about after a beloved school principal and friend in her hometown was gunned down in his office by an employee. The loss felt by the school district and community was tremendous. The tragedy changed Robin's view of life in a small town.
Check out the Research Blog where she shares information from researched cases, true crimes occurring at or connected to schools.
Twenty-nine years working as a school employee and six years as an elected school board member provided plenty of inspiration for her stories. www.robinlyons.com/
#blogpost #blogging #blogcontent
No matter what kind of author you are, querying agents can be a pretty arduous process — especially if you’ve never done it before! You’ve probably heard different bits of advice here and there, so you may not be sure what the correct protocol is. After all, a query letter is supposed to perfectly encompass your book in such a way that agents will be squabbling to take it on — a tall order for what should only be a single page of persuasion.
That’s why I want to help you get this process exactly right. Here are five tips and tricks for querying agents that will start you down a path to success.
1. Keep your synopsis short and snappy
When trying to fit a lengthy book into a page-long query letter, it’s hard to know what to include vs. leave out. You might be tempted to dive deep into your book: covering not just the main characters, but the secondary characters, subplots, and underlying themes you feel are important.
But your query synopsis is not the place to do this! When querying, it’s crucial to keep the summary of your book as short and snappy as possible. Otherwise, agents may not even read it — or if they do, they probably won’t remember it. And nothing’s a one-way ticket to an agent’s “reject” pile like an unmemorable synopsis.
When crafting your own, remember that there are three parts to a great query synopsis: the hook, the key plot points (read: not all of them), and the wrap-up, all of which should take up about a page. You likely already have some idea of what a hook is: it’s the most exciting or original aspect of a work, the thing that makes it stand out from the crowd. For example, if you were Alice Sebold writing a synopsis for The Lovely Bones, your hook would be, “Narrated from beyond the grave, this book tells the story of Susie Salmon, who’s killed by her neighbor but can still see him — and all her friends and family — from heaven.”
Following this would be the key plot points, which should be 3-5 sentences at most. You’d round it off with some kind of resolution, which I’ll talk about next. And bonus tip: if you can convey your writing voice in your synopsis, that’s even better. Just make sure you’re not doing so at the cost of brevity (which is the soul of wit, after all).
2. Include the ending
One of the most common misconceptions about querying is that you shouldn’t include the ending of your book, because you want to “always leave them wanting more,” as P.T. Barnum supposedly said. But, just like that quote being misattributed, the sentiment isn’t exactly sound when it comes to querying.
The truth is, most agents don’t care about story endings being “spoiled” for them — in fact, it’s encouraged, especially if you have a great ending. After all, agents who don’t have the time or patience to read through a long-ish synopsis certainly don’t have the time to read your entire manuscript just to find out your ending and decide to represent you. So even if you have the best twist ending in the world, don’t use it to bait agents without telling them what it is: just reveal it outright in your synopsis.
3. Use effective comp titles
On top of your hook and ending, another great way to sell agents on your book is to use comp titles. What are comp titles, you ask? Well, you’ve probably already used them: if you’ve ever described a book, film, or other piece of media as “[Thing A] meets [Thing B],” then you’re a regular comp title connoisseur!
As you can surmise from this, comp titles compare something relatively unknown (or unknown to the party being addressed) to things that are well-known or successful in their field. So if you’ve written a magical adventure novel that takes place on a desert island, you might pitch it to agents as “Earthsea meets Robinson Crusoe.”
However, there are two critical things to avoid when using comp titles to describe your book. The first is choosing comp titles that are super-famous and popular today — it would set expectations way too high. For example, you wouldn’t want to compare your book to Harry Potter and Divergent.
The second is that you usually don’t want to compare your book to two other titles that are very similar — e.g. “Robinson Crusoe meets Swiss Family Robinson” — because it doesn’t provide a particularly notable take. You’re basically just saying, “My book is part of this genre, same as these other two books,” which the agent should be able to figure out by themselves anyway.
Remember that your comp titles should make your book seem unique, yet identifiable within the literary canon. Moreover, if you use comp titles really effectively, your agent might even pitch your book that way to publishers — and your publisher could use those same comp titles to attract readers down the line! So think carefully about your comp titles, because they may end up going a long way.
4. Query selectively
If you’ve ever written a book (and if you’re reading this article right now, I’m guessing you've at least gotten started), you know that the finished product takes some serious blood, sweat, and tears. In fact, it’s like a child to you at that point — and you wouldn’t let just anyone take care of your child, would you?
By that logic, you shouldn’t let just anyone handle your book. You want someone who will actually care about it, and who has experience with your genre or subject matter— just as you would want someone with previous childcare experience to look after your child. (At least, I hope you would.)
So when you’re deciding how many agents to query, and what conditions they should meet, keep quality over quantity in mind. If you really do your research into each agent’s mission statement, the books they typically represent, their greatest past successes, and their current demand, you should be able to find a small but superlative pool of agents to contact. Personalizing your query letter accordingly would be your next step.
Trust me, this will lead to much better results than sending out a mass query to every agent’s email you can find! If you put the work into your research, you’ll get someone who’s actually invested in your work, and you’ll be that much closer to getting a publishing deal.
5. Follow up
Finally, if you don’t hear back from an agent who seems like they’d be a great fit for you and your book, follow up with them! Of course, sometimes agents take a long time to sift through their emails, and their not getting back to you might simply just be a product of that. But if it’s been a couple weeks and you haven’t heard anything, you’re well within your rights to send a brief follow-up email. That follow-up could be the difference between an agent you settle for and an agent who’s your professional soulmate.
If querying doesn’t go well, or you’re getting frustrated with how long the traditional publishing process takes, don’t fret: you have more options on the table, like self-publishing (which Clayton also details in this post). Or you can go back and revise your book for another round of queries — especially if some agents offer you feedback to that end. Basically, don’t give up on your dream of publishing your book: no matter what path you ultimately take, there’s always some way to make it work.
Desiree Villena is a writer for the Reedsy blog, where she covers everything from story structure to book writing software. In her spare time, Desiree enjoys reading contemporary fiction and writing short stories. She's very passionate about independent publishing and hopes to help as many aspiring authors as possible reach their dreams! If you have any comments or questions for her, please leave them below, or you can reach her via email.
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