Severe writer’s apathy

For the past couple of months, I’ve taken a few tentative dips into the boiling acid oceans of literary agent querying. If I’m being honest though, it’s really more the equivalent of French-kissing a dementor and may very well be the reason boxed wine was invented in the first place. Unfortunately for me and my enormous hydrogen-filled ego, I haven’t even gotten into the meat of it yet, querying agents is just the first bit. Apparently, it gets a hell of a lot harder – the book still has to be picked up by a publisher! In any case, even from this point, I’ve still managed to collect a few observations.

First off, over the past couple of months I’ve spent all of what would normally be my writing time on rewriting synopsis, query letters, and researching agents. The ‘best’ advice I’ve received on this process is keep at it, someone will eventually be interested. In the mean time, keep writing. – What? Keep writing? With what time am I going to do this?!

Second, don’t ever tell a writer this: ‘Even J.K. Rowling was rejected 3.75 million times before finally getting published.’ THIS is supposed to make me feel better? The one thing I know for a fact about my book is that it’s not the next Harry Potter. If it practically took an act of god to get Harry Potter into print, there really isn’t any hope for me.

When I started this process, I loved Wine Bottles and Broomsticks. I enjoyed the characters, the writing of it didn’t take much time at all (comparatively), and I was chomping at the bit to start a sequel. It’s literally been a couple months and I’m starting to really hate the book. Not because I suddenly think it sucks (which it probably does by the way. See fig A.). No, it’s more like having been savagely attacked and left for dead by a beloved pet. The reason for this is that for each hand-crafted form rejection that comes through within minutes of having sent out the query, I am forced to face the real possibility that what I’ve written falls into one of a few categories:

  • This work is brilliant and nobody can see it
  • This book sucks
  • Nobody will ever buy this book
  • There is not, nor will there ever be a market for this story
  • I’m a terrible writer and should spend more time playing video games and programming

On the whole, the last category might be the easiest for me to take because I like programming and playing video games. Perhaps not as much as writing, but I will never be querying an agent for how well I cleared that dungeon.


Yet another observation is that many agents ask for a bio and past writing accomplishments. I don’t have any previous writing accomplishments. Loads of past writing, but nothing that could be called an accomplishment. As for the bio, someone very kindly informed me that the bio is more about you as a person, rather than your writing-specific experience. I tend to think this is, at best overly optimistic thinking, and at worst the equivalent of telling me that even J.K. Rowling was rejected so many times she had to be reincarnated before she could get published. Publishing is a business. What they want to know is: Will this book sell? and are you the sort of person to participate? My lovely bio is excellent for research or might be an asset if I were writing books about Alaska. I can not, however, bring myself to believe that it is helpful to point out that I have more hobbies than a craft-store and once seriously investigated cooperage as a hobby because it sounded interesting. As a hiring manager for a number of years, I didn’t care that much about someone’s history unless it told me something specific about how they were going to do the job. I’m (obviously) not an expert at publishing, but when it comes to business and making money, irrelevant skills are actually a huge distraction that tend to gloss over the fact that the applicant has no relevant skills. On the whole, I think my distinct lack of writing accomplishments seem to cover that ground pretty well. So, with all of that non-accomplishment burning a hole in my back pocket staring at an agent profile requesting a query letter, the first 7 ½ pages, a bio, and all past accomplishments along with the advisement that she only takes best-sellers, I’m really not super-motivated to continue.

So now, where does this leave me? We all know there’s a fine line between stupidity and stubbornness, though really it’s less of a line and more the phrase “well that didn’t go as expected” written in blood. As I haven’t discovered that point just yet (I think) and I haven’t yet spent half the life-age of the universe querying, I suppose I need to keep on it. Some folks say they get advice from agents, I have yet to get more than silence & form letters, but hey, even J.K. Rowling got published right?



22 thoughts on “Severe writer’s apathy

  1. Gabe Penn says:

    Further than me, man! I’m still writing the last draft. Kudos to you for getting your stuff out there. You’re still making laps around all the people who never got past a first draft or even finished a draft. And if you’re as far as you are, I don’t doubt you’ll get yourself published. It may take some time, but you’ll get there.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Not sure if my comment went through, but a word of encouragment – you’re not lacking in finding a publisher due to any lack of hard work. You did it, you actually wrote a book. And that means you’re lapping every person who never finished a draft of their novels. So you’ll get your shot into the big leagues, I don’t doubt it. Just keep pressing on, and you’ll get yours soon enough! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Nico Smit says:

    Good luck man! And thanks for documenting your process here, it helps those of us who still have to go through it.

    On a side note… if you can’t get through with traditional publishing, what about self publishing? I’m still thinking in my head that, if I don’t get into traditional publishing easy, I will try to self publish and make some sales. That way I can show agents/publishers in my achievements/bio that my book has the ability to make sales (and get good reviews) – then maybe they will think twice.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! I have thought about self-publishing. It would certainly be something to put into a bio/achievements section. It might eventually get that way. What I like about having an agent/publishing house is that there are professionals involved who can help make sure everything is done well. In any case, I haven’t ruled it out, I just want to go down this rabbit hole first – as painful as it is. I have absolutely no sense of disrespect for folks that just say ‘you know what, I’m just going to self publish’. I feel like that’s a totally legitimate angle. Overall, I think the bottom line is that this is a tough business and it doesn’t really matter how you try to tackle it.


  4. I once read an article in which a literary editor was quoted saying something to the effect of:

    -Don’t feel bad if your work isn’t published, because it doesn’t mean your work isn’t good. We decide not to publish good stories all the time, for a variety of reasons.

    That summed up the absurdity of the publishing business for me.

    If you wrote a book and are happy with your work, then you should be content. If you find a way to make money from the work, all the better, but one look at the best-seller list will tell you the publishing business isn’t about good writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. jessmbaum says:

    Dude submit some short stories to some publications, that’ll up your writing creds and give you more appeal to agents 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  6. jessmbaum says:

    Duotrope is a great place to up your acceptance ratio for stories, if you want.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Oh man, I completely understand your discouragement. It’s been a couple months since you posted this so I don’t know if you’re still querying, but it really does take a long time – for every author – so that time is not necessarily indicative of a bad or unsellable book. It’s totally normal for this process to take a looooong time.

    I hadn’t thought about the JK Rowling thing that way before, but I see now how it can feel demoralizing. The reason why I’m comforted by it is because it shows that persistence is key, and it proves that rejections do not mean a lack of talent.

    As for the lack of experience, maybe try to publish short stories for awhile? Small indie mags are a bit easier to get into than, say, The New Yorker, so they’re very helpful for building cred. I second Jessica’s recommendation: Duotrope!! Amazing database of lit journals.

    Now that I think of it, I believe you mentioned that you were publishing your book serially on Chanillo, is that right? So this comment might be moot. Or not, if you decide to try trad. pub. again in the future!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m still querying, although I can’t say I’m further than I was two months ago, I’ve got a few out there and I’ve got a list to query, but none of them seem like particularly good fits for the story. The #1 best fits, looking from this side of the table, rejected very quickly, I mean within a few days. The last set of query letters I sent out have produced radio silence, and some of them are aged almost beyond the ‘You will absolutely get a rejection by this point’ dates. It’s becoming difficult to put more out because I see stuff like ‘biography needed’ and really vague explanations of what the agent likes.
      A lot of folks have recommended shopping around short stories. I actually spent some time on that and found as both a reader and writer, I actually don’t much care for the format. One that I wrote and worked on took me about a year to draft and polish, and I found all of one possible market for it, which rejected it. Granted that was about ten years ago, but it made me re-think my strategy. I decided to focus on the novel after that. Takes me just as long to bang out.
      That said, I like flash fiction stories of a few thousands of words, they tend to work out as more of a scene, but it doesn’t strike me as the sort of thing you could get published.
      I did do the serial thing for a while at Channillo, and had very little traffic – I even invested a bit in advertising. The main problem is that it was a difficult site to find, even when searching directly for it, and the subscription fees were too high for most folks. I also came to the realization that it put my prospects for traditional publishing of the same work in some serious trouble, so I pulled it.
      In the end, I’ll submit to the end of my query list and when I get my final rejection, I might try a direct submission, but more likely I’ll just scrape together enough capital to get an editor and self-publish.
      Of course, I did take the next few days off. Maybe you’re giving me a reminder to get back on the bicycle and spend this quiet time to run down my agent list and submit a pile of queries. Maybe I’ll get some rejections or something. That would at least make me feel as if I’m making progress.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve received a ton of rejections too. It’s tough, but it’s all part of the gig. That’s meant to be encouraging, not discouraging, because it means that a big ol’ pile of rejections is normal, and not necessarily a reflection on you. A few months is a very short time to be querying. But I understand the frustration of running out of options. Where do you find your agencies to query? Writer’s Digest and Query Tracker are good online sources, plus there are books out there with directories.

        But hey, if querying’s not your thing, that’s okay! Self-publishing’s a valid choice too.

        I think flash fiction is limited at 1000 words. Anything above that is considered a short story. If you’re writing tales of a few thousand words, then boom – you’ve been writing short stories! But there are definitely markets for 1000-word flash fics too – most of the journals I’ve researched accept both flashes and shorts, and there are some mags that are flash-only! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • I always took short stories to be in the realm of 20-30 pages, but if we’re looking at 3-4K words, that’s a good format for me.
        I don’t mind doing the research or the queries, it’s receiving the rejection in the span of 12 hours with little more than a ‘no thanks’ I really don’t know what it means. Does the concept suck, the writing or is there simply no market for it?
        I’m using Query Tracker and Good old-fashioned Twitter stalking/sleuthing to find agents to query. I’ve got a list of around 100-150 agents that take projects similar to the book I’m pushing at the moment.
        After your original comment (thank you for that BTW), I got back after it hard and submitted like 10 queries. I don’t like having that many out there, but if I don’t submit, there’s no progress. Since then, I’ve gotten 2 new rejections and, oddly enough, a journal article co-author rejection too. That one was hard on the author because dude is smart and his article is awesome. Anyhow. I’m off to do some research. I’ve got a short that might be marketable, may be worth polishing if it looks like there may be a home. Thanks!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I know how you feel about the lack of feedback. 😦 That’s been really hard on me too, not knowing WHY something was rejected and thus not knowing what to improve. I definitely feel you on that one.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Boiling acid oceans is a very apt analogy. Why don’t you submit to rambunctious ramblings publishing? (aka RamRamPublishing) they always give you real feedback

    Liked by 1 person

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