Friday, April 21, 2017

is it possible I'm a good writer and agents are still rejecting me?

 I've been in the writing game for a long time (specifically, I've written ten novels over the course of ten years) and, to be frank, I've had hardly any success out of hundreds of queries sent to literary agents (basically, only a few minuscule nibbles and a solitary full manuscript request, ending in a form rejection). At this point in my career I can't help but be confused, since I have an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction, have been meticulously mentored by small a press editor and several authors of big six publishers, and yet my success rate has been truly abysmal.


Over the years I've also heard many agents and editors say that based on my type of track record, that means my writing is just not at a high-enough level to gain the interest of agents. However, every once in a while I also hear about success stories in which an unagented writer who claimed to have almost zero agent interest in a novel submitted that novel during a large publisher's open-submission period and - viola - they not only got a deal but their book sold well.


So this makes me pause. Is it sometimes possible (perhaps albeit not so frequently) to actually be writing at a very high, publishable level, but still be hardly getting any agent requests or interest over the course of a few years and countless queries? Or would you say the writer is still not up to snuff and may not even be talented enough to make it in this insane, shark-infested business?

It's entirely possible to be a talented writer and not get any interest in the books you write.
In addition to talent, you need skill. Generally you'll build your skills with practice, but practice without coaching isn't useful.

The coaching you're getting though (the MFA, the help from other writers etc) might not be doing the job. I'd suggest you get some from the people you're querying: agents.

If you have some cash to invest, you might consider one of those "I'll critique your novel for a charitable donation" kind of thing that crop up periodically.

The other reason that well-written novels fail to catch an agent's interest is they're not books we want to read.

I see well-written books that are non-starters all the time. There are a couple reasons for this: the novel feels like something out a 70's TV show; the characters are people I wouldn't want to ride the subway with, let alone pay $25 to invite into my lair; the topic bores the sox off me.

On the other hand.

It's entirely possible that you're writing something agents don't want to read but other people might. To that end, open submissions at publishers are a great idea. Another good one is posting to platforms that get your book in front of readers (Wattpad etc.)

I have a client who is prolific and published. He thinks about one in eight of his novels are publishable. I'm not sure that's accurate but I do know I've read more of his novels than I've sold.

That means you need to pick which novel you think is your best work for this critique/open submission/Wattpad. If you don't know or can't decide you'd probably do well to choose the most recent one, given I hope you're improving with each new book.


And my best tip on how to assess your own work is to write out a novel you love.

If you love Jack Reacher novels, pick your favorite. You'll inhale his rhythm and syntax without thinking about it.  You'll see where he turns a reader's expectations upside down. You'll see where he surprises his readers.  (If you're not surprising your readers, you're going to start boring them.)

This is a really difficult problem and you should expect to spend some time and effort analyzing it. There's no quick solution.

41 comments:

Gigi said...

I just read a book by an author who wrote 10 books (one per year) before one was published and she said one of the early issues she had was plot. She was a good writer. She had characters and setting. But the plot - the thing that moves everything forward - was often missing.

I've been reading tons of other people's queries lately and that's something that's jumped out at me more than one. Someone has a really interesting idea they want to explore. Sometimes they're a good writer. But the plot, the driver, the thing that moves everything forward and ties everything together, just wasn't there.

So sometimes perhaps that's the problem as well.

Theresa said...

OP, you'll find a lot of support and sympathy here. It must be so frustrating to be doing all that work and not getting very far with it. Janet's got great suggestions, and I think Gigi's is another one. Hopefully something will click soon.

MA Hudson said...

Getting an agent to critique your work sounds like an excellent idea at this stage of the game.
I'd also check out Donald Maass' books on taking your work to the next level. In particular, Writing The Breakout Novel Workbook.
Good luck. You've obviously got the grit and staying power to make this work.

Oh, and check out this open letter from David Barnett to an unpublished writer.
https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2017/apr/05/do-two-unpublished-books-make-you-a-failed-author-no-youre-a-quitter?CMP=share_btn_tw

Colin Smith said...

I completely get where you're coming from, Opie. I'm not a bad writer, I don't think, but I have yet to offer anyone in publishing something they consider publishable, whether novel or short story. If I can at least get one of my shorts published, that might give me a bit more confidence to think my work is worthy of print, but right now, I have my doubts. Sorry--I'm swimming the same waters, so I'm grabbing for the same lifeline Janet's throwing out. All I can offer you is the comfort of companionship: you're not alone. :)

Colin Smith said...

MA's link: https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2017/apr/05/do-two-unpublished-books-make-you-a-failed-author-no-youre-a-quitter?CMP=share_btn_tw

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I think we’re floating on a similar wavelength. I just wrote about the same thing.

“And my best tip on how to assess your own work is to write out a novel you love.”
This line is a great advent for all of us.

We get one shot at life, live it by loving what you do.
If your life and your job are in the toilet, then your writing can be the vase of flowers sitting on the tank.
If your marriage makes you cry and your kids piss you off, writing can be your escape.
If the world-order scares the crap out of you, writing can be your foxhole.
If agents set aside your best efforts, then learn how to do what it takes to have them lean your way.
Writing what you love can save your woodland creature sanity. It has kept me in the game since my first published piece in August of 1989.
Keep at it and believe.

MA Hudson said...

Colin - thanks for that.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

OP, you are in good company. I think there are many writers out there who spend years doubting themselves prior to getting an agent or a book deal. Many give up. Some self-publish.

The writers you meet on the bookstore shelves persevere. I have written many books myself, only queried three over the years. The first two were miserable attempts and two decades passed without ceremony before I queried a third. It was one I finished but that was its full qualification. It got a bit more attention than first two. I finally mastered the first ten pages. Still, there remains more work to do. I pray my current WIP is the one.

For me, and probably for others, being able to get good and well-thought critiques really helps. Indulge in a workshop- there are affordable ones offered online. Take Janet's advice and put your pages in front of professional eyes. Take one of those query and first ten pages feedback offered up through Writer's Digest and the like. Then, before entering the trenches, get a good editor (one that does not know or like you) to make sure your characters are drinking beer and not bears and your participles aren't dangling uselessly,

Then find 2-5 good beta readers, honest ones. Have them tell you where your story drags, what works, what is compelling, and what is not. It takes time, yes, but I feel like it will help. At least, I hope it will as this is the process I am undergoing for my latest book.

And keep writing. The bones of disregarded manuscripts might evolve into hidden gems in ressurection in later iterations. Good luck, OP

Matt Adams said...

Opie, while I haven't read your books, your problem is more likely with premise than it is with writing or plot. Premises are the unspoken part of this process, because a great premise can almost always garner interest and a bad one almost never can. None of us like elevator pitches, but you might try creating one for your favorite of your books and see whether you'd be interested in reading it. Try writing a cover blurb for it, and see whether you think it could catch the eye of a guy walking through B&N.

In an MFA program, they have to read you. If you're paying someone to mentor you (or if someone has agreed to mentor you) they have to read you. Agents don't. Editors don't. You have to give them something not just readable, but an idea they want to dive into. So, while I am usually against talking to anyone about your book ever, try doing that. Talk to some pals about your plot -- your basic one -- and see what they do. Do they smile? Are the intrigued? Read their faces honestly, and that will tell you a lot. Don't get into a plot synopsis or any details that you have to explain -- just start with the basic telling of what your book is about, and see how they react.

We've all read bad writing; we've all read plots that fell apart. But what I can't really remember is reading a book without an interesting premise. The premise makes your query; the premise gets you read (or bought). And from what you've described, I think your issue lies with having premises that people want to read.

Your writing may be great, and you may tell your stories very well. But they may not be stories anyone wants to hear.

That sounds harsh, and I don't mean it to be. You've got a lot of the hard stuff down. So, if you end up thinking my premise :) is correct here, play the "what if" game? Get big with your ideas and see what happens.

Of course, I could be wrong. But you've got a degree that shows you at least understand the basics of writing. So the issue probably rests somewhere else.

Eric Steinberg said...

If you're getting few requests it can also be the query, not the novel. Writing a query and writing a novel are different skills and it's possible to be good at one and not the other.

Peggy Larkin said...

Matt Adams, that's great advice.

OP, I'm intrigued by MFA in Writing Popular Fiction. I'm off to Google that. One of my hesitations in pursuing an MFA is that I spend most of my mental/emotional energy at work (urban high-poverty high school teacher, of English, which also means I have trouble reading outside of what I have to read for work), but another is that many MFAs seem to be focused on Literary Fiction (capitalized because you can hear the all-caps when they say it, haha). I went to a lovely workshop for teachers who were also writing at Bard College, where everybody else was working on literary fiction and/or their literary memoir and I was doing YA cli-fi action/adventure. (My opening chapter involves a kidnapping, flying motorcycles, and a sassy AI.) It was very "And now, for something completely different!" and while they were all interested (genuinely, or at least politely) about it, I know that the feedback they offered me wasn't relevant to my goals (publishing genre fiction). They were focused on the artistic elements and not the commercial; they were down at the sentence level but weren't seeing the forest for the trees, if you will.

I recommended to all of them that they come swim over here at the Reef, but I haven't recognized them here if they did.

I suspect that even in a program focused on Writing Popular Fiction, there may be some space between what gets praised and encouraged academically and what gets snapped up by agents for sale to the general population. Of course, that's based on one workshop and not an entire MFA!

lamandarin said...

OP I feel your pain, but I think what it does tell you is something's not working. It could be as simple as bad query letters or it could be more complex--plot, characters, cohesiveness, etc.

I think Janet's suggestion to get it in front of readers if you can is best and the less they know probably the better. It could be that you're right and readers love it, but there's something about it that's difficult for agents like it's a cross-genre bumblef@$k in which case it may make sense to try your hand with publishers, but even so, getting more eyes on your work is a good thing. Sometimes 9 people can say they love it but the 10th points out something that the others didn't see...

Good luck!

Amy Johnson said...

Opie, I feel for you too. Hope things turn around for you soon. Looks like you're getting lots of good advice here today. :)

It's a rejection-on-a-full morning here. Does anyone else ever feel like you want to apologize to an agent who rejects requested material? Like you got their hopes up, then failed to deliver? Back to work on the new one.

Julie Weathers said...

OP,

Over the years several writers who are stunningly beautiful writers pop up and we all think, "Ohhh, I can't wait to read a book by this person." Then nothing ever happens. We never hear their name again. Of course, there are also the ones we see on best-seller lists frequently. I remember when Jo Bourne was plotting her first spymaster book there. Heavy sigh.

In Far Rider, the kindly agent who finally gave me some advice I could use narrowed it down to "ten pounds of story in a five-pound bag". Then went on to give me some more useful advice. I sure wish I'd had that a lot sooner.

Years ago I did a story on a young groom and have probably told this story before, but it bears repeating. He bought a yearling filly in a sale no one wanted even though she was, literally, royally bred. She was from Princess Kawananaakoa's farm. I don't recall the filly's name, but it was Royal something, they all were. The filly was singularly unattractive and, according to the trainer didn't have any twol egs that matched, but the young groom had $600 and bought her.

He'd quit school and gone to work to help his widowed mother who was trying to support a large family and keep from losing the family ranch. She'd already been forced to sell off bits and pieces of it to pay massive medical bills from the father.

Anyway, the filly, as unattractive as she was, and she was, everyone was making fun of the kid for wasting his money, started winning races. She might not be pretty. She might not look like she could run, but somewhere deep inside, she had the heart to run. She wiped out all the northwest campaign. Err ooo? Will you take lots of money for your ugly filly?

No.

Here, Mom. Go buy back some land.

She went on to win several championships, filly of the year, and Mom bought back all the land she'd been forced to sell. The kids eventually went back to school and retired his ugly filly to broodmare.

He wasn't a writer with an MFA or a college education, but he knew how to write a gripping story even if it was done all wrong according to the experts. Sometimes it just comes down to the story.

The only way to find the missing component is to get some expert eyes on it, as Janet says. I have a tendency to pack too much story into the package. I may be dong that now, so I'm going to have to make sure I tie it all up in a neat little bundle or cut out the beginning all together.

You're written ten novels. What dedication. You have an MFA in popular fiction. My stars, I am green with envy. You've been mentored. More envy. You are tremendously dedicated to the craft. Good for you. I have no doubt your writing shows this.

It's may be something very small that an agent can pick out and give you that aha moment.

Good luck.


BJ Muntain said...

Oh OP, I am so there with you. I've been in the querying game for quite a while myself, though I don't have the MFA or the coaching you've received. My writing skills have been honed by conferences, workshops, online groups, and many critique partners. I've been told I write well, but something 'doesn't work' for the agents.

I did submit to one of those publishers' open submission periods last year. It looked very hopeful. They went through three rounds of assessment. My manuscript went to the third round. Unfortunately, I got a (very nice personalized) rejection letter, telling me how good I write, how exciting the story seems to be... but it didn't 'connect'. They were very encouraging, telling me to keep shopping this around, but it's a bit disheartening, anyway.

I don't know. Maybe science fiction just isn't selling well enough these days (I don't know what genre you write, but I write SF). I've heard that science fiction writers are doing well self-publishing, and that competition is making it hard to sell it to traditional publishers. Readers seem to buy more self-published science fiction. I don't know any of this for fact. I've just heard it in the groups I'm in.

Julie Weathers said...

Amy

A few years ago at Surrey when the B&W gang had taken over a corner of the bar and I was cranked back with my hat on drinking beer and relaxing. I may have been quite relaxed, but my hat was still on straight. A friend dragged two ladies over.

I've told this story before also. I'm in an old lady mood today and telling stories over and over.

A friend drags two women over. "Julie! Julie! You have to listen to this woman's story."

Now bear in mind this is not long after I walked away from a house I had gutted and rebuilt. A house I loved and was going to be carried out of feet first. I walked away from my horses and most of my horse good horse tack as supposedly it had been stolen before we could divide it up. *rolls eyes* And all the money in the account was gone. Imagine that. So a sob story about ex-husbands wasn't high on my sympathy list.

Anyway, Lisa insists I listen to this woman's story and try to figure out why no agents want her. She starts in. Her husband had cancer she nursed him through it like an angel of mercy from the brink of death. Then after all that after 35 years, he decides life is too short to live with an old fat woman and dumps her for a young chick.

Devastated, she sells everything and goes to Indonesia to help out after the tsunami to help in the relief efforts. She winds up staying and helps women make paper from elephant dung. They make beautiful paper and then set up cottage industries to produce these gorgeous note cards with water colors to support their families.

But her lying cheating husband, can you believe what he did after 35 years? blah blah blah. My husband! I was such a good wife and he done me wrong. cry cry cry. moan moan moan

Me, drink drink drink.

Moan moan moan.

"Another beer, please, Make it two. Maybe some whiskey."

More moaning.

"So, Julie. Why do you think the agents keep turning down her story? Don't you think it's great?"

"No, one cares, hic, about he done me wrong. Your story starts with the tsumani. Give a page to you turning around and looking back at what you're leaving behind, and then launch into the story."

Gasp! "But, after what he did to me. I think women everywhere will identify with it."

"Women everywhere go through it every day. No one cares. I've got a friend who drives race cars because her husband deserted her when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. By a miracle of God she didn't die. She wanted to drive a race car before she died and decided to keep driving when God let her live."

BJ Muntain said...

Amy: Some rejections do feel like that, don't they? The agents are kind in their words - "You know, I really like the premise/idea/something, but it just didn't connect for me." And you feel like you've let them down. Don't feel that way. As with any other rejection, it's not personal.

Have you ever picked up a popular novel, that many people have bought and enjoyed, then just couldn't get into it? Should that author apologize to you, when they've obviously done something right? Of course not. It's your personal taste. And the same goes here. No apologies. If you can find something helpful in the agent's response, use it. If not, then shrug and understand that it's probably her personal taste. Or maybe just her personal circumstances.

I own a couple of Bill Cameron's books. I let my mum and sister read them, because they both like reading mysteries, and they both have similar tastes. They share their books back and forth all the time. My mum really enjoyed Cameron's books. My sister only read one, and didn't like it. But it includes a character who is dealing with cancer, and my sister's very good friend and hubby were both on their own cancer journeys. It was too hard for her to read.

A person's circumstances will interfere with their publishing taste, if the emotions are strong enough. And if the agent didn't go into details about what didn't work for her, then it could very well be her own personal circumstances that got in her way.

BJ Muntain said...

Julie: Hell yeah. The real story is her time in Indonesia. She can explore her feelings about her ex as she's regaling the reader with the trials and interesting tidbits that happened over there, but the story isn't about her ex. That may be the biggest problem many people have after breakups - separating themselves from their ex. No one really cares for a real-life revenge story (save those for the thrillers and such). Her life is what happened AFTER her ex.

I have an ex. It wasn't a messy breakup or divorce or anything, though it could have been. Just 11 years together, buying a new house, and soon after moving in, "It's not working out." Yes, my life was very much affected by our time together, and by our breakup, but I don't even write the ex into stories as a villain or a victim, although I sometimes threaten to. Nah. Exes just aren't that important, no matter how much anger, sadness, frustration, or anything else they made you feel.

John Davis Frain said...

Even heading out on vacation, this was tough to read. OP, you came to the right place, so you have intelligence in your corner. That'll help you develop any missing skills you need. I'm only showing up to wish you good luck and to say let us know how it goes writing out your favorite novel.

I'm serious there. That sounds like a tough exercise, but I'd love to hear someone who has done it and can talk about an epiphany.

It makes sense to me because I've had it happen while READING a novel, so it stands to reason it would be more pronounced while taking the time to WRITE that same novel. Plus, it would certainly demonstrate that you're serious about your craft.

Good luck!

Craig F said...

I have a confession to make. I am addicted to reading. I am also very prolific at it. So prolific that I have, on occasion, brought home works of Literary Fiction.

I regret, sometimes, that I finish reading very few of those works. The biggest problem, I think, is in the pacing and rhythm of those books. I have also found quite a few of them that started in the wrong place.

I am not the kind of person who can read through the first thirty, immaculately written, pages of a girl playing in a meadow. Maybe something big happens on page forty or fifty but I haven't the time or patience to slog that far into a slow book while the writer tries to wow me with how well they can write.

It has gotten so that I check the autobiographies of new authors I pick up. If it says MFA in Writing Popular Fiction I will put it back.

Check on your timing and rhythm. Find beta readers who are not also MFAs in Writing Popular Fiction. Expand your horizons and get your hands dirty.

Boris Ryan said...

OP, if you consider the amount of dreck that gets published you'll come to the conclusion that getting an agent and/or being published is nothing but timing and pure luck. Think FIFTY SHADES OF GREY.

Assuming your writing is of publishable quality, you are in the same boat as thousands of unpublished who query their writing, most never to grasp the brass ring. Being rejected by an agent or editor can be as simple as they just worked on a ms with a MC having the same name as yours. Or that the assistant has a migraine while opening your query email. None of this is a reflection on your writing talent, and all the research in the world isn't going to change it.

It was said that breaking into publishing is like an upside down pyramid. The most difficult part, getting the initial break is the narrowness of the tip. It gets easier as you go along moving upwards with the help of agents and editors and publishers.

Look at it like winning the lottery. You can't win if you don't buy a ticket. Just because you didn't win this week, doesn't mean you won't win next week. And, naturally, there are many who purchase a ticket who will never win.

Good Luck.

RosannaM said...

Julie, I like 10 pound story in a 5 pound bag. (and your drinking story!)

OP What frustration! I have nothing to add to the great advice already found here.

Sometimes I think you can be a great writer, as in you know how to properly construct a sentence, and you might even have some sentences that are beautiful and lyrical, but the whole thing is missing something, some spice, some zing, some life. Kind of like eating at a hoity-toity restaurant where every morsel has been placed in such artistic perfection...and then you leave starving and craving a street taco.

I just heard a chicken conniption coming from the back, and I looked up expecting to see the neighbor's dog again. Nope. It was a coyote! And the chickens were all running toward me (they are now hiding in the woods). I ran out into the fog, stood on the damp deck in my socks. The coyote stared at me, I stared at it. And then I clapped my hands and he ran off.

Rio said...

It can easily take ten years, or even 20 or 30, to master a craft. I'd guess most of us here have been writing at least that long. So hang in there, OP. You're a work in progress. We're all WIPs here. And wouldn't you know it, every so often one of us goes and gets published.

Joseph Snoe said...

What a depressing, frightening, and discouraging blog today.


I panicked and was almost brought to tears on each and every entry.

It seems like there are a lot of us on the Group W bench. And there are many talented writers here.

The "practice without coaching isn't useful" sent the most shivers.

Donnaeve said...

OP, this truly sucks worse than one hundred sets of puckered lips working over a a truckload of lemons, BUT, there are a couple things that stuck out to me.

As I'm sure you've heard over and over, and have likely read, TONS of bestselling authors have been rejected, likely more times than you, although at this point it may not feel like it. You ARE in a good spot because you're sort of soul searching at the moment.

These are the two things that stuck out:

1) Ten novels in ten years??? I haven't read your stuff, so I'm simply giving you my gut reaction thoughts here. Yes, you have an MFA, and have been under the tutelage of authors at major publishers, yet this sort of thing still makes me think about you writing one novel per year, then chucking it to the side and beginning another. Sort of like that spaghetti way of submitting an ms. You know, when an agent sends out an ms to a bunch of different editors just to see if anything sticks?

2) Many famous writers (not all) wrote only one, or less than five stories when they were finally accepted after years of rejections. Most of us know the backstory of J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, and yes, E.L. James, so I won't got with those, but here are a few more...


THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett (queried this book for five years)
THE TALE OF PETER RABBIT, Beatrix Potter
THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, J.D. Salinger
THE PRINCESS DIARIES, Meg Cabot (queried this book for three years)

Other's made great points. Could be the query as one Reider said - except this means you'd have written ten queries by now, yes? Read Query Shark, I assume, yes?

Could be the writing, but who knows? It's a conundrum, but I really like the idea of Wattpad. You need eyes on it who don't know you from Adam. See what they say. Most of all congratulations because you definitely are prolific, and have the tenacity it takes.

Sam Mills said...

In my early 20s I started submitting short stories. The personalized reactions I got were vital for me, and they all boiled down to the same thing: "very good writing but the story didn't grab me."

Partly, I'm more tuned to novels than shorts. But they were right: I had character, I even had plot, but I had nothing I was trying to say with it. Cool, but not much point. Fast forward 8 years and I've been reading voraciously, writing my book-a-year (almost!), and frankly, growing up. I'm ready to start submitting again. I have more to say. It's very possible I'll find I'm closer but still not quite there. In which case, back to the drawing board!

Kate Larkindale said...

Today's topic really resonated with me. I've written 14 novels now, had one published by a publisher that went out of business, had an agent and published numerous short stories all over the place. I know I'm a good writer. I just can't seem to get my books published… So I keep writing more, hoping the next one will be THE one.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Our writing lives are as individual as we are, of course... but I'm not sure I could just keep churning out one manuscript after the other. For ten years. I think I would feel compelled to circle back to some of my earlier work, much sooner than ten years passing, and try to hone in on why it hasn't sold, what isn't working. Do a whole bunch of rereading, revising, running it past betas/critiques, and all that. If I really loved a particular story, I'd feel inclined to keep at it.

I have three manuscripts sitting in a cyber-drawer. Just recently, I took aspects of ms #1 and gave them new life in ms #4 (which is now finished). I now consider ms #1 dead and gone, and rightfully so. I've always sorta known it was crap, but there were parts of it I loved. I feel certain that reevaluating it, and putting a spit-shine on those parts I loved, made me a better writer.

All the best to you, OP... Perhaps a "circle back" to earlier work might be helpful.

Julie, Will you please come sit on my porch? I have cold beer. In fact, all of you are welcome. Party At Proud Spirit! For those of you watching, we are delighted to report that the little emaciated filly is showing signs of survival.

RosannaM said...

Melanie, Glad to hear your filly is doing better. I'm more of a wine girl myself, but I'm definitely a porch girl. I'd be delighted to sit for awhile with you and the others.

kdjames.com said...

I wasn't going to comment on this, because there's already so much good advice here. But I keep coming back to the phrase "meticulously mentored." It sounds stifling and, honestly, it makes me cringe. I get a visual of those sheets of ruled paper from elementary school that we used to perfect our penmanship, writing rows and rows of the same letter until we got it just right. And that was a necessary part of the learning process. But there comes a time when you've got it down pat and maybe it's time to branch out into calligraphy or something. To turn craft into art.

OP, I'm convinced you know the rules. Maybe you're adhering to them a little too closely? Maybe it's time to break a few? The elusive writer's "voice" is made up of who you are and what you've experienced, but I've come to believe over the years that a good deal of it is simply self-confidence. Confidence in your command of the language, in your ability to write coherent sentences, in your ability to tell a compelling story from beginning to end. I'm not sure how much confidence a person can develop if they're still being "meticulously mentored" by an editor and several successful published authors. Sounds to me like a recipe for feeling intimidated and uncertain, although I'm sure that's not their intent. As comforting as I imagine it is to get that kind of feedback, maybe it's time to break free of it. Write without them leaning over your shoulder, without the pressure of their expectations or editorializing. Write something you have no intention of letting them read. Break a few rules and have fun doing it. You might surprise yourself. Best of luck to you.

Barbara Etlin said...

I agree with Matt. Because you aren't getting many requests, the problem is probably the premise. If it's not that, then it's the query.

You could be a very talented writer, but not many professional (agent) eyes are getting a chance to judge your novel.

julieweathers said...

I'm at my son's doing laundry and baking an upside down cake. A person should always leave a cake when they borrow another person's laundry room, methinks.

Anyway, whilst I wait on both to finish, I'm pondering this question again. KD mentioned "meticulously mentored" and that kind of niggles at me also. Craig mentioned something that has come up before. We've had some people show up with the MFAs who had all the mechanics down. The writing was lovely, but it just went on and on and after a while readers got tired of the lovely, eventless road trip. Now, obviously some of these stories sell. Look at the best seller lists.

I'm just wondering if the OP has had their voice or story meticulously mentored to death.

Sometimes it's better to just ride hellbent for election and see where it goes than mosey down the garden path. If you go off a cliff at least it was an exciting ride.

Karen McCoy said...

I agree with Matt too. And yes, get those pages in front of professional eyes. I was lucky enough to get a face-to-face with an agent recently, and it totally blew my face open (in the best possible way). I finally understood where the story needed work, and exactly where the holes were. I'd built the story's flesh without giving it a skeleton--and now I'm going to outline that skeleton before I go into another round of edits.

I'm curious--of those ten novels, how many would Opie consider polished? I've drafted eight, but there are only two that I've put significant editing into...this is all a process, and it's good to know what the story bones are (and if they're there).

Good luck, Opie. We are in the same boat, and are cheering for you!

Steve Stubbs said...

Some comments:
(1) It takes about 10 years to learn to write. You may finally be coming up on the learning curve.
(2) If you are writing arty farty stuff that is not commercial, expect a zero acceptance rate even if it is brilliantly well written. There are numerous ways this can happen. The most common is, most people who want to be writers are very emphatic about they want to write their autobiography. The ones I have spoken with are unable or unwilling to accept the fact nobody is obsessed with them except them. The second most common is, people who listen to conservative media want to write political rants. The third is, they want to write poetry without plot, what is known technically as character driven and not plot driven fiction. Sorry, but plot driven talks and character driven walks.
(3) If your query is not getting responses, it is not working. There is a super lady in New York who runs a great blog called Query Shark. Read the whole thing. If you want to lay out a few bucks, Writer's Digest has a query critique service. It is very inexpensive. Things get expensive when you want a whole MS critiqued. THAT GETS EXPENSIVE. I will crit it for free if you send it on.
(4) As they say in academia, those who can't do teach, and those who can't teach, teach teachers. Someone else had a much better metaphor in ancient times about the blind leading the blind.
(5) Ms. Reid is right as usual. Read Lee Child's THE KILLING FIELD. Prepare to be astonished.
(6) You've got stick-with-it-iveness. Good luck.

AJ Blythe said...

Couldn't read all the comments. Have the time, but I'm not having a Pollyanna day today so just skimmed.

Opie, don't give up. I have two sayings stuck to my computer and they get me through the tough times:

Never give up! Never Surrender!
The most painful thing to experience is not defeat but regret.

We all have moments of doubt, especially when the slog totals years, but I firmly believe those of us who are dedicated will all get there in the end. Remember the 3 Ds of success... determination, dedication and discipline.

Craig F said...

A part of what I meant to say earlier was this. No matter how well crafted you query is, you still have to impress with pages added to that.

You need those to start with a bang. This is even more important as a new writer. You enticed an agent with your query. Now zap them with some killer pages.

That is what is meant by starting your book at the right spot. A lot of the flowery stuff can work just as well as backstory.

Consider:

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

My diary was my best friend until I turned it in as evidence.

The missiles came from the west at brillig.

That last is how my sci-fi thing is going to start.

Writing a great query and not sealing the deal with a great start to your pages is worse than a medium quality query. My queen is a wondrous thing and Query Shark is a marvel but you writing has to keep pace.

Megan V said...

OP—All I'm going to say is this: You are not alone.

Today's post hit a sore spot. And when I get grumbly, I've learned to keep my yap shut.

C M said...

Joseph Snoe, don't be discouraged. I've read this blog every day for years (although I very rarely post) and I'm having my novel published this year by a big US publisher. You have to believe in yourself, even when the odds seem insurmountable.

Don't give up. It might seem like a platitude, but whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right.

Joseph Snoe said...

but yeah CM, that's easy for you to say since your writing is
“A gorgeous blend of dreamy folklore and gritty reality."

I'm being silly.

Don't worry about me just yet. I will finish revising Escape From Brazil, and it is looking good -nice feeling. But there are so many excellent writers here, there and everywhere that the mountain sometimes looks so high to climb.

On a related topic, I learned yesterday why it's a bad idea to discuss your writing with non-writers. A fired always asks how I'm doing on my book. Her son is a plumber who also wants to be a writer (He was an English major in college). He was working on my home's plumbing. I found three drafts of one of my recent chapters, I gave them to him to show his mother why it's taking me so long. After he left I found a fourth version.

Yesterday I saw his mother. She told me her son had not given her the pages yet. I told her i had a fourth and probably more of the same chapter. She said in all sincerity, "If you're having so much trouble with this book, why don't you put it aside and start another one." She didn't understand that's how I write. That' i'd go through the same turmoil on the next book. I'm slow and inefficient and yet somehow the job gets done.

Karen Duvall said...

Wow, there's a lot of great advice/comments/feedback here for you, OP. Not sure I can add much. I have an agent, I'm traditionally published, but it took a while for me to get there. You're probably getting tired of hearing "it's a marathon, not a race," and though ten years may seem like a long time, someone else here mentioned that it takes about ten years of writing to hone your craft. It's been over 20 for me and I'm still learning. And I do a fair amount of experimenting, too. Writing novels has become a lot more interesting of late.

The road to publication was long for me, and I took a lot of detours along the way. Here's what I recommend:
1) Join a writers organization for support and commiseration
2) Take online workshops
3) Join a critique group
4) Use beta readers for your completed work
5) Attend writer's conferences (they have more than just workshops, believe me. The networking you can do!)
6) Enter writing contests for unpublished writers (the feedback you'll receive can be invaluable). One of the best writing contests in the country is open for entries now until June 1, 2017: http://www.rmfw.org/contest

Not all good writers are good storytellers. Not all good storytellers are good writers. It's challenging to do both well. Keep on keepin' on! :)

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Oh, Opie, I feel you. So very, very much.

I'm nearly to the end of all the agents listed in QueryTracker that handle my genre. Most are form rejections or NORMANs. Those very few who did personalise rejected for reasons of personal taste (theirs), not skill (mine).

At least we live in the 21st Century, where indie publishing is a viable and respectable option.

That said, I'm nearly done with MS #22, which will go on the query train as soon as it's ready. I've got another 50 years to go for my career, though I'm hoping something will happen before then.