Desperate Writer Query Template

From Electric Lit:

Esteemed Agent,

I’m seeking representation for my [300,000-word rhyming memoir novel-in-grocery-coupons famous literary graves calendar**] which is a cross between [Maid and Green Eggs and Ham / a bag of Halloween candy and that novel-in-texts you just sold / an apple watch and a mortuary pamphlet]. I was referred to you by [my cousin, who babysits your three incorr—admirably independent children / a writer you represented until you discovered his historical novel was actually The Diary of Anais Nin / Stephen King, if by referred you mean escorted off his property by security]. I thought of you for said [memoir / novel / calendar] because [I once saw someone who looked like you reading Angela’s Ashes in the Strand / you represent authors? / given the direction of publishing, I figured you’d get excited about something featuring famous authors, even dead ones]. 

Slogging away in this hair shirt they call a profession for fifteen years, I’ve racked up some impressive publishing credentials: [My work has appeared in the literary magazines Wish We Could Pay You and About To Fold and are forthcoming (I think) in Didn’t We Ghost You? and on my memaw’s PC / Last time I was querying, my prose poem “Shoot Me Now” went viral on TikTok / My Writer Affirmation Calendar sold out after Christo used the entire run to wrap a bookstore in an installation titled, “Despair”].

(Describe your memoir’s arc here. If it has no arc, use lyrics to an Adele song.) / (Describe your novel’s plot here. If it has no plot—wait, your MFA cost more than the Hope Diamond, and your novel has no plot?) / (Describe calendar images here. There’s no way you’ll be able to license those photos, but first things first.)

I look forward to hearing from you [in a few years when technology changes have rendered my manuscript file inaccessible / after I’ve given up and painstakingly published the book in a series of sand paintings / Is tomorrow good for you? I’ve canceled all my appointments and await your call].

Link to the rest at Electric Lit

What we gain from independent publishers and bookstores

From Nathan Bransford:

The antitrust trial over Penguin Random House’s proposed acquisition of Simon & Schuster is now in its third week. There’s a whole lot of coverage and smaller bits to chew on, and if you want a deep dive, Publishers Weekly and Publishers Lunch ($ link) have comprehensive coverage.

Just two of the eyebrow-raisers yesterday came when agent Andrew Wylie testified that he doesn’t do auctions, and when author Charles Duhigg asserted that authors don’t want advances higher than they can possibly earn out. (Um, yes they very much do).

But I also wanted to touch on two articles that discuss the impact on authors and the independent publishing ecosystem. Bookseller Richard Howorth argues in the NY Times that industry consolidation threatens the number of quality midlist books that get published, and Nicole Chung writes about the need for independent publishers to survive so they can nurture authors.

. . . .

It’s not personal, but it can really feel like that sometimes. Jillian Medoff talks about breaking up with her agent.

Link to the rest at Nathan Bransford

Lots of links in the OP.

The Dreaded Synopsis

From Writers Helping Writers:

Many authors would rather write a whole new novel than cram the one they’ve already written into a five-hundred-word summary. If I wanted to write a short story, I would have written one. Right?

The reason we hate writing synopses is because they’re hard. The reason they’re hard is because, more than any other tool available to us, they show us what’s wrong with the novel we’ve labored over for months, if not years.

The synopsis is the equivalent of a house inspector—that man or woman who walks around with a clipboard and goes through the house you thought you were ready to sell, pointing out all the structural issues you either didn’t know about or pretended weren’t a problem: roof damage, termites, a saggy bearing wall, you name it. You can do all the fancy writing in the world. If there’s something fundamentally wrong with your novel, it will come out in the synopsis.

            That’s why we hate them.

            That’s why most agents ask for one.

Reading a synopsis is the quickest way to know if a novel will work or not. It’s also the surest way to find out if the author knows what they’re doing when it comes to things like structure, causality, story arc and characterization—you know, those critical developmental issues you hoped wouldn’t matter.

Guess what? They do.

If your plot is anecdotal, it will show up in the synopsis. If your protagonist doesn’t have a goal that they’re actively pursuing throughout the story; if there are no stakes, a weak antagonist, a plot that’s bursting with too much superficial business and no depth—yup, the synopsis will reveal all of that.

If you, the author, are willing to see it, the synopsis will be that heart-sinking moment of truth where you can no longer deny that this house is not ready to sell, not by a long-shot. It needs help. It might even need to be razed to the ground.

Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers

Agenting Changes

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

This past week I got one of those letters. Someone wrote to me to tell me how great his agent is and what a great deal his agent got him. Not for his novel, but for his movie option.

I get “my agent is great” letters all the time, but usually they’re about book deals. If someone feels the need to write to me about how great their book deal is and how I don’t know anything about traditional publishing anymore, more power to them.

I figure someone who feels the need to write to me about this stuff is actually hearing me, and is writing to their future self. Some day, that letter will come back to haunt them.

But this one, the one with the movie deal, made me feel sad. This guy was very careful to tell me that he was indie published with his books, that the agent reached out to him because his book is so good, and the agent got him the best deal ever.

I have no idea if the agent got him the best deal ever. I do know that the option sounds weird or maybe it’s the way the guy communicated it. There are four payments involved. Until this week, I had never seen an option agreement broken into four payments, the way that a book publishing agreement is broken up. This week, I heard of two such deals.

Let me focus on the email guy first. Maybe the guy didn’t understand what he was seeing (which is likely). Maybe he misunderstands that the first “payment” is actually for the option and its term, the second “payment” will be to seal the actual deal if there is one, and the third and fourth “payments” are due and owing on things like principal photography or distribution or something.

Or maybe the guy got a new kind of option, one that might be coming out of what I’m going to write about below.

I really don’t know, because, as I said, I’m speculating. I don’t want to see his deal. I really don’t.

The reason? He’s a new writer with an agent who approached him and who got a deal that paid, in the new writer’s words, “a lot of money.”

Generally speaking, “a lot of money” in movie terms equals a major loss of rights. For all I know, this guy got tens of thousands of dollars up front…and will not be able to license any part of his book until this option ends (or, in some cases, even past that. Yes, these deals can be bad).

Why am I concerned? Because of two things that hit the trades recently.

First, the Association of American Literary Agents changed their Canon of Ethics. For those of you who don’t know what AALA is, it’s a loose organization of literary agents. Unlike many organizations, AALA has no real teeth and honestly, no one really cares about them.

I’ll bet those of you once had literary agents didn’t even know the organization existed. It used to be AAR (the Association of Authors’ Representatives) and back then, its president was the agent who embezzled from me and half the science fiction field. So excuse me if I think little of this organization, even now.

However, I’m telling you about it because the organization changed its code of ethics…ostensibly so that it can diversify its membership. Publishers Weekly says that the change came “in the wake of an anti-racism workshop and a retreat taken by the board of directors.”

If they had simply said that they were trying to diversify by bringing in younger agents (read newer agents), then the change wouldn’t be as insulting as it is. But think about this for a moment: If this was only about younger (newer) agents, then nothing would have happened after the anti-racism workshop. But the idea here, which is so very New York publishing, is that the standards had to be lowered for people of color.

. . . .

Anyway, that’s not the most head-shaking part of these so-called ethics changes. The other head-shaking part is buried in the middle of the press release.

While AALA continues to advocate for a future where commissions on royalties and advances will sustain an agent, many literary agents currently struggle to support themselves by agenting alone.

Lookie this: “agents currently struggle to support themselves by agenting alone.” Yep, that’s right. Traditional publishing deals have gotten smaller, the terms have gotten worse, almost no one earns royalties anymore, so AALA has decided that an agent is now

any individual employed by a literary agency–including members of contracts departments, accounting departments, and other teams within agencies engaged in the support of author care.

And…an “agent” can now provide “editorial services for a fee” to any writer who is not a client. If that writer becomes a client, then the agent must refund the fees. Of course, there’s no timeline on the refund. If you want to see how the AALA is negotiating this bit of garbage, look at the flowchart at the bottom of the Canon of “Ethics.”

These aren’t ethics. This is an organization that’s trying to continue to get its dues and to provide some people whose job no longer has relevance with cover.

The point that I really want you to see here, though, is this.

Agents struggle to support themselves on agenting alone.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

PG has mentioned this before, but will do so again.

There are no qualifications or licensing requirements for literary agents. None. Someone can walk out of prison one day and start working as a literary agent the next day.

If an agent acts unscrupulously, serving the agent’s needs and benefits at the expense of the author/client, nobody can make the person stop being an agent.

There is a remote possibility that an author could persuade law enforcement authorities in New York City investigate the agent’s behavior as a crime, but PG wouldn’t advise holding your breath while waiting for that to happen. The New York City Police Department just released crime statistics for the city which indicate that it may not be prioritizing literary agent misconduct:

Overall index crime in New York City increased by 31.1% in June 2022 compared with June 2021 (11,073 v. 8,448). Six of the seven major index-crime categories saw increases, driven by a 41.0% increase in grand larceny (4,467 v. 3,168), a 36.1% increase in robbery (1,548 v. 1,137), and a 33.8% rise in burglary (1,279 v. 956).

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

To Nail Your Memoir’s Beginning, Stop Looking in the Wrong Direction

From Jane Friedman:

You’ve been told the first fifty pages of your memoir can make or break your publishing dreams. . . . So, you’ve active-verbed the hell out of your sentences, sharpened your imagery, and made sure every period is correctly placed.

But when the queries aren’t answered, or they’re answered with an unhelpful “thank you for submitting, but it’s not right for me,” you wonder what’s missing from your manuscript.

The beginning of every memoir must hook the reader, establish the setting, and reveal the situation and stakes. Most writers work tirelessly to develop these elements. But spending all your time at the beginning of act one might mean you’re looking in the wrong direction. Instead, try studying the end of your manuscript. Your closing pages shouldn’t just reflect all you’ve learned, or the triumph you feel—they must reveal your story’s resolution.

Once you know what you’re resolving, you can establish a clear path for getting there. This is essential because most openings are revised to death in an exhaustive line-by-line edit. The tedium of this process can cause you to rush through the rest of your manuscript, resulting in a middle that sags and an ending that flags.

Even if your opening pages light up an agent’s enthusiasm, that fervor will quickly wane if the writing that follows seem like it’s not going anywhere specific. Sadly, beautiful sentences can’t hide this issue. That’s why you must know your destination, no matter how your memoir is structured.

In artfully rendered manuscripts, the opening and closing pages give the story a sense of symmetry. Screenwriter Blake Snyder . . . says, “[The opening image] sets the tone, mood, and style … and shows us a before snapshot of him or her.” The before snapshot is the narrator in full problem mode, well before they’ve figured things out. “The final image is the opposite of the opening image. It is your proof that change has occurred and that it’s real.”

. . . .

In The Glass Castle opening, Jeannette Walls avoids the homeless, dysfunctional parents she ran away from at eighteen. By the end, the entire family eats Thanksgiving together, showing that her shame has morphed into acceptance.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Or, you could format your well-written and polished memoir, hire a freelance cover designer to make a terrific cover and publish it on KDP and never worry about trying to impress a name-dropping New York agent.

And keep all the money.

The Pleasures and Pitfalls of Changing Genres

From Writer Unboxed:

You may know me as Greer Macallister, bestselling author of historical fiction, but lately, I’ve taken on another identity. I have a new book out (you may have heard of it) and as the author of Scorpica, my identity has shifted in two key respects: my name on the book jacket is G.R. Macallister, and it’s not historical fiction, but epic fantasy.

All in all, the genre shift has been a pleasure. I wrote something ambitious, complex, and satisfying, proving to myself I was capable of something entirely new. As to the less-pleasant aspects, I went in with my eyes open. I knew that putting out a new book in a new genre, different from the one in which I’ve established myself, would require flexibility and patience. Of course that’s what’s needed as an author in general, but the genre switch put extra pressure on both of those character traits, to say the least.

Do I regret changing genres after four books (while reserving the right to switch back at any time)? Not at all. But do I have advice for those thinking about making the switch? You bet.

If you’re an author with an established readership in one genre looking to publish in another, here are three things to watch out for:

Don’t underestimate the time that it takes. Maybe if you’re shifting between subgenres this might not be an issue, but in my case, making the move from writing historical fiction to writing epic fantasy wasn’t just about writing a different book. It was about learning to write a different kind of book, almost from the ground up. Reading up on current fantasy was a fun task to assign myself, but it was a task nonetheless — hours and hours of reading, to fit in among all the other reading I do for work and for fun. So that’s a bunch of time up front. Plus there’s…

You might need to shake up your team, which takes even more time. The agent who has sold all of my historical novels is fabulous and wonderful, but she doesn’t represent epic fantasy, and the publisher who published those books doesn’t really do adult fantasy either. Which meant it wasn’t just the writing itself that was different, but every other aspect of managing and selling this new book. My incredibly kind agent gave me the go-ahead to connect with a separate agent just for my fantasy work, and my agreements with both were written to accommodate the other, and it’s been a dream so far. But making that dream happen through querying and negotiation took an extra half-year on top of the writing work, and without extraordinary luck it could have been much worse. Other friends shifting genres have had to leave old agents and find new ones, or strike out on their own with self-publishing ventures, and both of those are even more time-consuming. And on top of that…

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Crave Rejection? 7 Never-Fail, 100% Guaranteed Tips for Raising your R-Score.

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

Here’s some advice for those who feel they are missing out on one of the basic building blocks of a successful author’s career: Rejection.

For those who feel they are not paying their dues.

For every writer who is not receiving an adequate, soul-satisfying number of rejections, try these pro tips to help you pump up your pathetic, wimpy R-score.

1)  Embrace the Jackalope.

From the gory, surgical details of a tummy tuck to the onslaught of grammar Nazis and an attack by vicious sabertoothed cave rats, you must heed the advice of everyone in your crit group.

By all means pay attention to advice from “experts” who know almost nada about your book or your genre.

For example — the James Bond fan who wants “more action” in your sweet, sensitive romance about disabled teenagers looking for love.

Or the James Patterson reader who wants shorter chapters in your elegant, carefully-considered literary deconstruction of Finnegan’s Wake.

Be sure to give in to the devastating ego destroyers whose nasty tone and censorious delivery cause you to go to bed for a week and even contemplate suicide. They must know what they’re talking about, don’t they, these hit-and-run drive-by “authorities” who aim right for your confidence?

Heed the amateur shrinks who want to know “motivation” of every character including the guy behind the counter at Dunkin Donut who serves a Double Chocolate Donut instead of the Boston Kreme Donut your adorable but scared alien from another planet ordered.

The counter guy must be suffering trauma cuz he screwed up the order. Or is he enduring an unhealed childhood wound? Or did he just get fired from the rotten job at DD he needs to pay the rent?

And what about the adorable but scared alien? Where is his family? His parents or grandparents? Does he have siblings? If so, where are they? What happened to them? If not, why not?

To guarantee producing an unreadable mess, and sure fire instant rejection, be certain to pay attention to every comment and your dreams of infinite rejection will come true.

. . . .

2) Write the Best Horror-Thriller-Mystery Ever Created — and Send it to the Wrong Agent.

Your villain makes Hannibal Lecter look like a pussycat.

Your victims are so vulnerable, defenseless and forlorn they will make a stone weep.

The prose sparkles.

Your grammar is of such flawless perfection a revision of Strunk & White is being published at this moment to acknowledge your excellence.

The whole manuscript has been edited so scrupulously it contains not one single typo.

Your use of the Oxford comma and the activating hyphen are impeccable.

You’ve worked for years, neglected your spouse and children, let your dog go hungry and unwalked.

You’re survived without food and sleep.

The time has come at last for submission.  Which lucky agent will get first look at the best horror/thriller/mystery ever composed in Word/Pages/Scrivener?

Still determined to bulk up your wimpy stack of rejection slips? The answer is obvious. What you want is an agent who specializes in — Ta Da! — Romance.

However:

If you might just conceivably be interested in getting the best horror/thriller/mystery ever written actually published, why not do some research first?

Find out which agent(s) specializes in your genre. That agent will be up on all the latest developments in the market you’re trying to break into and will have close contacts with the editors who are looking for exactly what you write.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

How to Close the Racial Pay Gap in Publishing

From Publishers Weekly:

As an immigrant woman of color, I wouldn’t have considered negotiating my author advance (and, indeed, didn’t in 2015, when I pitched my first book without an agent). Five years later, when I went through an auction for my second book, I was lucky to have an agent represent me. But as I reflect on the process—and talk to white author peers with similar professional backgrounds as mine—I imagine that having a young woman of color represent me could also have led me to receive a lower offer than my white peers. Many of my white peers could—and did—take years off to write their books, funded by their advances alone. I wrote my manuscript in the depths of the pandemic, while managing an out-of-school three-year-old and continuing to work on my business full-time to pay the bills.

I’ve dedicated my life to creating inclusive workplaces, so facing bias and exclusion in my own career feels particularly painful. It’s no secret that the publishing industry is very white: 85% of acquisitions editors are white and nearly 90% of books published are by white authors, according to a 2020 New York Times piece. Author advances are opaque, and publishing expert Maris Kreizman says deals are made on “mostly a gut feeling.”

How much of a gut feeling? Well, in June 2020, the viral social media campaign #PublishingPaidMe revealed just how inequitable author advances can be.

L.L. McKinney, a Black woman, urged other authors to share the sizes of their advances. The results revealed staggering disparities between the advances offered for debut books by women of color authors and those by white authors.

Two-time National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward, a Black woman, tweeted she had to “wrestle” her way to a $100,000 advance after winning awards. By contrast, Chip Cheek, a white man, tweeted he received an $800,000 advance for his debut.

Advances in publishing illustrate how, like in any industry, those who are given more money are expected to perform better; they’re given the resources to succeed. These advances reflect what sort of authors publishers think are “worth” taking chances on.

. . . .

  1. We urgently need more transparency about how author advances are decided. What are the metrics used to make these decisions? What if each publisher could create a range of how they’ve paid authors in the past and use this matrix (or update it) for future decisions? This would greatly help every author of color—and their agents—come in on equal footing and advocate based on a shared understanding of how decisions are made.
  2. Each publisher must perform a regular review, using demographic data (on race and gender at the very least, and as much other data as is available), of authors acquired and the advances paid. The data doesn’t lie, and as many of my corporate clients have found, even well-meaning organizations that believe themselves to be progressive are shocked to see the racial disparities when comparing the data. It is only when more acquisitions editors face up to the existing challenges that they can meaningfully make progress.
  3. Removing negotiations altogether would create more equity. When there’s transparency in numbers, there is a better shot at bias being removed from the equation. Don’t believe me? A study in the corporate sector found hiring managers were likely to offer Black candidates lower starting salaries if they felt they were negotiating too hard. As a woman of color, I’m often expected to be grateful for what I’m offered and have been penalized for asking for more. Negotiation as a practice favors those who are already (over)represented in the industry and workforce.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Yet more evidence that traditional publishing is a racist, sexist mire that all decent people should avoid like the plague or toxic effluent or pimples or Covid.

To Everyone Who Wants Me to Read Their Writing and Tell Them What to Do

From Jane Friedman:

Every year, countless people attempting to write their first book will reach out to me directly and ask if I’ll read their work and tell them what to do next.

The request is perfectly natural, especially for those who know me in some way. I’ve spent 20+ years in the writing and publishing community, and my name gets around as an expert. Yes, I can often read something and know exactly what a writer should do.

But here’s the real superpower: I often know what writers should do without reading a single word of their work.

Here is what I say, assuming it’s someone’s first book.

Maybe your loved ones have told you to write this book, or you’ve long wanted to give voice to a story or an experience—or share your expertise. Possibly you’ve been holding onto a story idea for years and now you finally have time to realize it on the page.

But as you get started, uncertainty creeps in. It’s hard to keep moving forward, alone, as innumerable questions arise. Questions like:

  • Is this any good? Am I any good?
  • How do I know if this is worth my time?
  • Should I continue based on what I have?
  • Am I wasting my time? Does anyone care about this except for me?

You might be seeking a verdict on your effort or validation of the idea, or even permission to continue. Maybe you don’t know much or anything about writing and publishing and feel it’s better to secure guidance before making any further investment of time and energy. You don’t know what you don’t know, and you want help. Hopefully encouragement.

Here’s the tough part.

You’ve just taken the first step in a long journey. Right now, you’re likely at a delicate stage, where I could either crush your dreams or provide that encouragement.

To write, to create something, then open it up to the judgment of others, requires courage. I hope you continue, but at the same time, I have to be straight and honest that most people’s dreams of what will happen with their book do not come to fruition because they give up early in the process. At some point, the criticism (both constructive and not-constructive), along with rejection, arrives. And what so often determines success is what you do in response. Will you shut down and stop, or will you grapple with the challenge and grow?

If I were to tell you today that your project is a waste of time, would you abandon it? If so, perhaps it’s best that you did. To keep writing in the face of rejection is required of every professional and published writer I know. I can offer encouragement and tell you it’s a wholly worthwhile endeavor—and that will be true—but to achieve results that spell success (especially on a commercial level) requires more than my blessing or validation or permission. It requires an inner drive that pushes you forward no matter what feedback you receive. In the end, I believe it requires enjoyment of the writing process in and of itself—to see that as the reward.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Find Your Topic, Not Your Voice

From Jane Friedman:

In setting out to become a writer, you must strive, above all, to discover your unique voice. At least, that’s become the conventional wisdom, taught in MFA programs as well as in more casual settings, from writers group meetings at Starbucks to free classes taught in the stuffy backroom of your local library. Yet there is so much wrong with this advice that, if you spend even one full minute giving it serious thought, your eyes will roll heaven-ward all on their own like Where even to begin?

Still, we must begin somewhere, so here goes.

How can you know what your tone will be when you don’t yet know what your topic is?

Where exactly do we think voice comes from if not from subject?

Which is the right cart and which is the right horse?

Sure, your unique sensibility may account for a large part of your hot takes, but would you write about muffins and genocide the same way, or Fords and fjords? And are we really so sure that voice trumps all other aspects of a piece of writing?

Finally, who is responsible for advancing this damnable, now-inescapable sick logic, and what is their address, because I’m thinking I might like to T.P. their house?

Maybe that seems a tad aggressive. But you have to consider the real damage this advice has wrought. All over the world, people’s drawers bulge with unpublishable novels, essays collections and memoirs in which there’s plenty of voice, yet no story, no real through-line, no sense of one’s audience beyond the assumption that they’re there. That’s the problem. This overemphasis on voice puts the focus on the writer and what they want to say and how they want to say it, ignoring more pertinent questions. Namely, considering how there’s Mare of Easttown to binge on HBO, why should anyone spend hours poring over your writing instead?

It also ignores the credentialism involved with the few novels and works of nonfiction that get acquired, more or less, because of voice alone. Publishers are a lot less apt to value your unique voice if that voice doesn’t come with degrees from Harvard or Iowa, or if you’re not reading this article while lounging on the terrace at Yaddo. It’s just a fact. There are exceptions, of course. The overall picture is, however, about as clear as any close-up of Kate Winslet, though not as pretty.

I rant like this from firsthand experience, from the wish I could time-travel back about 15 years and tell myself all this. My own writing breakthrough, the one that got me a book deal after a dozen years of trying, came from focusing on topic ahead of voice. Your writing struggles and goals may well be different. You are probably miles ahead of me, much less dense and much quicker to learn. But considering the prevalence of the conventional wisdom, let’s turn it on its head a minute.

What if you were to put the primary focus on your topic?

It might just help you land a book deal, climb some lofty bestseller list, scale those Everest-like Amazon ranks—and what’s more, the process is simple, no matter if you’re writing fiction or nonfiction.

  1. Pick a topic that fascinates you, or learn about a topic until it fascinates you.
  2. Lead with research. Google your subject to see what’s out there. Begin to gain a sense of whether an audience already exists.
  3. Bring that topic to the world.

This strategy can lead to more interesting writing, and interesting is what you need to be, considering you and I and everyone else we know are all working inside a full-fledged, entertain-or-GTFO attention economy. Few of us occupy such exalted positions that we can take audience for granted. This is all the more true if your goal is to eventually sell a book—again, fiction or nonfiction—because first you must prove to agents and acquisition editors that there’s a crowd of people eager to pay for it.

Your topic could, for example, take any of the following forms:

  • Things that interested you as a child
  • Ideas you can’t get out of your head
  • Places that have become your personal obsessions
  • Or some such B.S.: weird jobs, strange headlines, cultural trends, etc.

And your audience may pop up in such places as:

  • Facebook fan groups dedicated to your subject
  • Publications and other outlets (from podcasts to YouTube channels) dedicated to your subject
  • Reddit boards about your topic
  • Other writers who’ve covered this same subject, plus their audiences.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG hasn’t decided if he needs to establish a quota for the number of articles he posts that include a discussion about the difficulty of getting a traditional publishing contract or not. He’s happy to receive suggestions on this topic in the comments.

As he was thinking about this quite common trope, the thought occurred to him that the consistent appearance of such stories might be evidence of some sort of common cognitive error or mental disorder that seems to plague more than a few would-be authors who wish to be traditionally published. He’s not certain if an MFA is a contributory factor to contracting this condition or merely a symptom of it.

PG needs some help in understanding what’s going on here.

Note that PG is not disparaging mental health professionals or the great benefits they can provide to those who are genuinely mentally ill or otherwise emotionally impaired. Nor is he ridiculing those, author or non-author, who have genuine mental, emotional and/or cognitive problems.

He’s simply providing the many intelligent laypersons who visit TPV and who may have observed the anguish and anger exhibited by many authors who are frustrated with the arbitrary and unfair treatment traditional publishing and it’s enablers visit on them, particularly when those authors have other avenues for getting their books in front of readers.

Per Positive Psychology, here is a list of common cognitive errors AKA cognitive distortions:

1. All-or-Nothing Thinking / Polarized Thinking

Also known as “Black-and-White Thinking,” this distortion manifests as an inability or unwillingness to see shades of gray. In other words, you see things in terms of extremes – something is either fantastic or awful, you believe you are either perfect or a total failure.

2. Overgeneralization

This sneaky distortion takes one instance or example and generalizes it to an overall pattern. For example, a student may receive a C on one test and conclude that she is stupid and a failure. Overgeneralizing can lead to overly negative thoughts about yourself and your environment based on only one or two experiences.

3. Mental Filter

Similar to overgeneralization, the mental filter distortion focuses on a single negative piece of information and excludes all the positive ones. An example of this distortion is one partner in a romantic relationship dwelling on a single negative comment made by the other partner and viewing the relationship as hopelessly lost, while ignoring the years of positive comments and experiences.

The mental filter can foster a decidedly pessimistic view of everything around you by focusing only on the negative.

4. Disqualifying the Positive

On the flip side, the “Disqualifying the Positive” distortion acknowledges positive experiences but rejects them instead of embracing them.

For example, a person who receives a positive review at work might reject the idea that they are a competent employee and attribute the positive review to political correctness, or to their boss simply not wanting to talk about their employee’s performance problems.

This is an especially malignant distortion since it can facilitate the continuation of negative thought patterns even in the face of strong evidence to the contrary.

5. Jumping to Conclusions – Mind Reading

This “Jumping to Conclusions” distortion manifests as the inaccurate belief that we know what another person is thinking. Of course, it is possible to have an idea of what other people are thinking, but this distortion refers to the negative interpretations that we jump to.

Seeing a stranger with an unpleasant expression and jumping to the conclusion that they are thinking something negative about you is an example of this distortion.

6. Jumping to Conclusions – Fortune Telling

A sister distortion to mind reading, fortune telling refers to the tendency to make conclusions and predictions based on little to no evidence and holding them as gospel truth.

One example of fortune-telling is a young, single woman predicting that she will never find love or have a committed and happy relationship based only on the fact that she has not found it yet. There is simply no way for her to know how her life will turn out, but she sees this prediction as fact rather than one of several possible outcomes.

7. Magnification (Catastrophizing) or Minimization

Also known as the “Binocular Trick” for its stealthy skewing of your perspective, this distortion involves exaggerating or minimizing the meaning, importance, or likelihood of things.

An athlete who is generally a good player but makes a mistake may magnify the importance of that mistake and believe that he is a terrible teammate, while an athlete who wins a coveted award in her sport may minimize the importance of the award and continue believing that she is only a mediocre player.

8. Emotional Reasoning

This may be one of the most surprising distortions to many readers, and it is also one of the most important to identify and address. The logic behind this distortion is not surprising to most people; rather, it is the realization that virtually all of us have bought into this distortion at one time or another.

Emotional reasoning refers to the acceptance of one’s emotions as fact. It can be described as “I feel it, therefore it must be true.” Just because we feel something doesn’t mean it is true; for example, we may become jealous and think our partner has feelings for someone else, but that doesn’t make it true. Of course, we know it isn’t reasonable to take our feelings as fact, but it is a common distortion nonetheless.

9. Should Statements

Another particularly damaging distortion is the tendency to make “should” statements. Should statements are statements that you make to yourself about what you “should” do, what you “ought” to do, or what you “must” do. They can also be applied to others, imposing a set of expectations that will likely not be met.

When we hang on too tightly to our “should” statements about ourselves, the result is often guilt that we cannot live up to them. When we cling to our “should” statements about others, we are generally disappointed by their failure to meet our expectations, leading to anger and resentment.

10. Labeling and Mislabeling

These tendencies are basically extreme forms of overgeneralization, in which we assign judgments of value to ourselves or to others based on one instance or experience.

For example, a student who labels herself as “an utter fool” for failing an assignment is engaging in this distortion, as is the waiter who labels a customer “a grumpy old miser” if he fails to thank the waiter for bringing his food. Mislabeling refers to the application of highly emotional, loaded, and inaccurate or unreasonable language when labeling.

11. Personalization

As the name implies, this distortion involves taking everything personally or assigning blame to yourself without any logical reason to believe you are to blame.

This distortion covers a wide range of situations, from assuming you are the reason a friend did not enjoy the girls’ night out, to the more severe examples of believing that you are the cause for every instance of moodiness or irritation in those around you.

In addition to these basic cognitive distortions, Beck and Burns have mentioned a few others (Beck, 1976; Burns, 1980):

12. Control Fallacies

A control fallacy manifests as one of two beliefs: (1) that we have no control over our lives and are helpless victims of fate, or (2) that we are in complete control of ourselves and our surroundings, giving us responsibility for the feelings of those around us. Both beliefs are damaging, and both are equally inaccurate.

No one is in complete control of what happens to them, and no one has absolutely no control over their situation. Even in extreme situations where an individual seemingly has no choice in what they do or where they go, they still have a certain amount of control over how they approach their situation mentally.

13. Fallacy of Fairness

While we would all probably prefer to operate in a world that is fair, the assumption of an inherently fair world is not based in reality and can foster negative feelings when we are faced with proof of life’s unfairness.

A person who judges every experience by its perceived fairness has fallen for this fallacy, and will likely feel anger, resentment, and hopelessness when they inevitably encounter a situation that is not fair.

14. Fallacy of Change

Another ‘fallacy’ distortion involves expecting others to change if we pressure or encourage them enough. This distortion is usually accompanied by a belief that our happiness and success rests on other people, leading us to believe that forcing those around us to change is the only way to get what we want.

A man who thinks “If I just encourage my wife to stop doing the things that irritate me, I can be a better husband and a happier person” is exhibiting the fallacy of change.

15. Always Being Right

Perfectionists and those struggling with Imposter Syndrome will recognize this distortion – it is the belief that we must always be right. For those struggling with this distortion, the idea that we could be wrong is absolutely unacceptable, and we will fight to the metaphorical death to prove that we are right.

For example, the internet commenters who spend hours arguing with each other over an opinion or political issue far beyond the point where reasonable individuals would conclude that they should “agree to disagree” are engaging in the “Always Being Right” distortion. To them, it is not simply a matter of a difference of opinion, it is an intellectual battle that must be won at all costs.

16. Heaven’s Reward Fallacy

This distortion is a popular one, and it’s easy to see myriad examples of this fallacy playing out on big and small screens across the world. The “Heaven’s Reward Fallacy” manifests as a belief that one’s struggles, one’s suffering, and one’s hard work will result in a just reward.

It is obvious why this type of thinking is a distortion – how many examples can you think of, just within the realm of your personal acquaintances, where hard work and sacrifice did not pay off?

Sometimes no matter how hard we work or how much we sacrifice, we will not achieve what we hope to achieve. To think otherwise is a potentially damaging pattern of thought that can result in disappointment, frustration, anger, and even depression when the awaited reward does not materialize.

Per WebMD, here is a list of the most common categories of mental disorders:

Anxiety disorders: People with anxiety disorders respond to certain objects or situations with fear and dread, as well as with physical signs of anxiety or panic, such as a rapid heartbeat and sweating. An anxiety disorder is diagnosed if the person’s response is not appropriate for the situation, if the person cannot control the response, or if the anxiety interferes with normal functioning. Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and specific phobias.

Mood disorders: These disorders, also called affective disorders, involve persistent feelings of sadness or periods of feeling overly happy, or fluctuations from extreme happiness to extreme sadness. The most common mood disorders are depression, bipolar disorder, and cyclothymic disorder.

Psychotic disorders: Psychotic disorders involve distorted awareness and thinking. Two of the most common symptoms of psychotic disorders are hallucinations — the experience of images or sounds that are not real, such as hearing voices — and delusions, which are false fixed beliefs that the ill person accepts as true, despite evidence to the contrary. Schizophrenia is an example of a psychotic disorder.
Eating disorders:Eating disorders involve extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors involving weight and food. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder are the most common eating disorders.

Impulse control and addiction disorders: People with impulse control disorders are unable to resist urges, or impulses, to perform acts that could be harmful to themselves or others. Pyromania (starting fires), kleptomania (stealing), and compulsive gambling are examples of impulse control disorders. Alcohol and drugs are common objects of addictions. Often, people with these disorders become so involved with the objects of their addiction that they begin to ignore responsibilities and relationships.

Personality disorders: People with personality disorders have extreme and inflexible personality traits that are distressing to the person and/or cause problems in work, school, or social relationships. In addition, the person’s patterns of thinking and behavior significantly differ from the expectations of society and are so rigid that they interfere with the person’s normal functioning. Examples include antisocial personality disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, histrionic personality disorder, schizoid personality disorder, and paranoid personality disorder.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): People with OCD are plagued by constant thoughts or fears that cause them to perform certain rituals or routines. The disturbing thoughts are called obsessions, and the rituals are called compulsions. An example is a person with an unreasonable fear of germs who constantly washes their hands.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD): PTSD is a condition that can develop following a traumatic and/or terrifying event, such as a sexual or physical assault, the unexpected death of a loved one, or a natural disaster. People with PTSD often have lasting and frightening thoughts and memories of the event, and tend to be emotionally numb.