Home » Agents, The Business of Writing » First, You Have to Write the Damned Thing.

First, You Have to Write the Damned Thing.

4 May 2019

From Medium:

I have a strategy for blogging that involves checking out Quora to see what questions people are asking.

I checked Quora this morning and saw this.

Good answer, Orson Scott Card. Good answer.

. . . .

It’s not even a chicken and an egg thing. You cannot publish what you haven’t written.

You can publish what you haven’t edited. You can publish what you haven’t tried to sell to a traditional publisher. You can publish long. You can publish short. You can publish poetry, blog posts, picture books, and 500,000-word tomes that would make literary agents insta-delete your query letter.

You can publish late — long after you should have just shipped that thing.

You can publish early — before your work is polished well enough to avoid being ripped apart in Amazon reviews.

You can publish pretty much anything.

But you cannot publish it until you’ve finished writing it.

. . . .

Let me say that another way. You cannot build a literary career out of files on your hard drive that you never let anyone read. Or out of half-finished stories that get abandoned every time a shiny new idea bites you in the ass. Or out of completed novels that you never feel are good enough for public consumption.

. . . .

If your goal is traditional publishing, then this isn’t actually a simple yes or no question. Being published is out of your hands. Or it will be, once you get brave enough to put your work out there into the hands that can get it done.

You’ll need to write a query letter and send it out to literary agents. Not one or two. Not a carefully selected list of ten. Once you know your letter is doing it’s job (it’s only job is to get an agent to request your work), then send that sucker out wide. To everyone.

Last summer I needed a new agent. Once my query letter was bringing in a ten percent positive response (one in ten agents asked to read the manuscript,) I sent it to more than 140 agents. I had seven offers to represent me. Which is mind-blowingly awesome. For a couple of weeks there, I felt like one of those movies that’s up for all the Academy Awards or something.

But the hard truth is that I had more than 130 rejections, too. I was getting rejections after the agent I went with sold my book.

. . . .

If you’re planning to go indie then you are the publisher. Publishing is 100% up to you. Which means you have the responsibility of creating the most professional work you can. It’s your job to hire an editor and a cover artist. It’s your job to position your book in the market place.

Link to the rest at Medium

When PG read the OP, he wondered how much time the author spent selecting 140 agents, preparing at least semi-personalized packages for each and reviewing responses which, hopefully, involved careful vetting of the agents who were interested in seeing her manuscript.

PG has received more than one agent horror story recently, so he’s particularly sensitive to that potential problem. Without going into detail, agents and literary agencies can and do change over time. An excellent agent from ten years ago can be a far less than satisfactory agent today. If the agent is receiving checks that include money the agent should be promptly forwarding to the author, “less than satisfactory” can make the author’s life extremely difficult.

Agents, The Business of Writing

3 Comments to “First, You Have to Write the Damned Thing.”

  1. I share your caution and I don’t think there would be that many agents in total to approach in the UK. I have my own horror stories including my last agent (some ten years ago) who literally disappeared: from his office, from everywhere. Fortunately he didn’t owe me any cash and he and I had parted company just before he was spirited away, possibly by little green men, but I knew young writers who persisted far longer than they should, hoping for his return. I’ve made a few desultory enquiries of other agencies recently, because I have foreign/translation/dramatisation rights on quite successful books that I’d like to try to sell, but I’ve given up on that one. It seems such a waste of precious time. I do have some sympathy with the ‘finish the book’ notion though. I remember doing a talk to a class of Creative Writing students at a Scottish university and asking them what else they were writing – and reading. The vast majority of them were doing their prescribed coursework and nothing else.They didn’t even seem to be particularly interested in books and writers. It shocked the lecturer who had invited me!

  2. Fortunately you don’t even need an agent for foreign/translation/dramatization rights either. In fact, you’re probably better off without them. Kris Rusch had a post about it last year: https://kriswrites.com/2017/10/11/business-musings-subsidiary-rights-for-indies/

    Good luck on selling the rights and keeping the money away from the agents.

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