Monday, February 19, 2018

Is it you? Is it me? Should we just blame Obama?

I've been writing fiction for nearly a decade. I've been published with independent presses who have great credentials, that have won awards, for example.

However, every time I pitch agents there's silence and no additional work is requested. I have had my works nominated for awards as well. I'm also a horror writer.

What is it? Am I destined to be an indie author for the rest of my life? Is it that my writing, voice, topics I write about are just not mainstream enough?

I've doubted myself, my writing, my purpose, and I just don't know what to do anymore.

I have multiple novels I've written and shelved. I'm working on another but so far the reception by agents is similar to what I have seen in the past.

I know everyone says be resolute, you only need one yes, and so on, but when I see people getting agented who are newly on the scene I just keep noticing my greying hair and my increased doubt.

So, all in all, I don't know if it's my writing, my genre, me or something else at this point, and I'm completely confused as to next steps.

I was hoping you could offer some insight.

I assume when you say "pitch agents" what you mean is you're sending queries. And do you really mean you're hearing zip? Not even form replies?

Horror is a tough field for major presses. Not a lot of them publish it. (Don't everyone point to Stephen King, please. He's an outlier.)

And horror is VERY hard to query, particularly cosmic horror.

And querying with a publishing history with small presses means you've got a sales track record that will need some fancy footwork.

This is the point where you need to plunk yourself down in front of an agent at one of those miserable pitch sessions conferences seem to like so much, bring out your query letter and get some
as-close-to-honest-as-we're-likely-to-be feedback on what's going on here.  I'll be at one of those on April 20-21 in Minnesota.  There are lots of conferences; pick one you can afford where there are agents who've sold stuff (not all conferences vet their agents)

Since you're published my guess is you've got some writing chops so it's not bad writing.

My guess is that horror and a query letter that isn't doing the job are what's to blame here.


Bonnie Shaljean said...

[Gosh, can't believe I'm actually first]

When you say "I've been writing fiction for nearly a decade… I'm also a horror writer" do you mean that you write in other genres too? Or is that final line just further clarification? Because if you do produce work in non-horror fields, it isn't clear in your letter.

Other thought: If you don't manage to touch base with Janet in Minnesota, what about sending one of your rejected queries to Query Shark? It would be instructive for us (we're very sympathetic and supportive, as you probably already know) and she'd get a nice tasty lunch to chew on.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

When I was almost thirty, single and without romantic prospects, my mother said, “The right partner is out there, you just have to find/meet him and be open to possibility.
When my daughter and her husband recently put their house on the market, dozens walked through her door but no offer. My husband said, “Don’t get discouraged because there’s an ass for every seat.”

OP, from one gray-haired to another, don’t get discouraged because the right one is out there. And never forget, there’s an ass for every seat.
I’ve been married for 38 years and my daughter’s house is under contract.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

Janet's coming to Minnesota? *a fangirl moment* But seriously, wow. I was just checking out the line up of events and agents. I'm excited. Need to comb through my budget.

Opie: You have serious writing skills. How great! In addition to sending off to Query Shark, as Bonnie suggested above, have you had beta readers/crit partners read through your query? Because writing queries seems to be a whole 'nother animal from long-form fiction writing. And most novel writers struggle with queries.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I’ve never been to Minnesota. An oversight I am sure.

This is another post that will keep me on the agent search for my debut. It sounds like the OP has 2 obstacles to overcome - genre and not a debut author anymore. I have read here and on numerous other agent forums that it is much easier to work with a debut author than one that is previously published.

Also, if the genre is problematic but OP has an audience from previous books published at these small publishers, this might be one of those situations where self-publishing might be a good option. Others here can speak better to that than I can.

Julie Weathers said...


Janet will be in Minnesota and I am in Wisconson. I wish. Perhaps I will pop over with an offering of cheese and a hug.

I had this self-doubt and over the hill discussion last night with my former editor who has been put in a very precarious position due to thankfully gone ex. She's won untold awards for her editing and writing and still said, "I don't know. At my age, where do I go from here?"

"I don't know, but we can't sit still. Even if you're on the right track, you're going to get run over if you just sit there. Have to keep moving."

What else are we going to do, watch soap operas?

My great aunt and uncle used to sell hay to a man because he thought they raised the best hay in eastern Montana. He would buy only the best hay for his old black horse. People would ask him why he thought so much of the old horse and why didn't he get rid of him. Well, years before he and a friend had been surprised by Indians. The friend's horse stumbled and he grabbed his friend up. Black outran the Indians even with two riders. People were amazed. He said, "Well, what else are you going to do? You can't give up and Black didn't give up so I won't give up on him."

There's still a mural of this in the Sidney bank today unless they've torn it down.

Back on topic.

Figure out what the problem is. As Janet said, if you can, go to a conference. At the very least it will charge your batteries and you'll network.

Queries are a whole new beast. We've been going round and round with a few on the Litforum with a few to try to get them to go. It took me several attempts and lots of help to get Far Rider to go. I hates them I do, Precious. Maybe there will be a workshop at a conference.

Unknown said...

If "An Ass for Every Seat" was a book title, I'd buy it without reading the back cover. Same for "You'll Get Run Over If You Sit There."

Now, ahem, OP and anyone else who mentioned age. STOP IT! Writing skills get better with age and life experience (and writing experience). No one knows how old you are from your query. Janet says, "go to a conference," but doesn't add, "dye your hair and get a face lift first."

Telling yourself you're getting too old to write or publish is defeatist and not true. Every one of you has a gifted voice. Stop doubting and use it!

Joseph S. said...

I feel your frustration, poster.

2Ns, Momma said there were plenty of fish in the sea, but I'm still single.

KariV said...

Ditto to the other commenters. You need to narrow down whether the problem is your query or something else.

Janet in Minnesota?! My April is free. Too bad Minnesota is so far away from Texas.

Unknown said...

I have an out-of-the-box idea that might spark something for OP, but I feel that it's a little off topic for this blog.

OP, if you'd like to hear it, please email me ( or private message me on Facebook
Here's my FB page:

I have no clue if you'd be open to my suggestion (no, I won't get a single solitary penny from it--ever!) but there IS a place for a really cool horror writer. And you clearly have the writing chops to make it work...

Jennifer R. Donohue said...

OP, when you say " I'm working on another but so far the reception by agents is similar to what I have seen in the past." do you mean that you're querying your unfinished novel? Because that is something that, from my understanding, isn't how Things are Done and could account for some silence?

Colin Smith said...

Have we talked sales? Wouldn't "published by independent presses with great credentials" be as good as "published by all the Big 5 publishers" to an agent if your books aren't selling? Often, when talking about getting an agent after self-publishing, Janet talks about the need to show a solid sales track for your prior publications to be of interest to an agent. Would that not be true in this case, too? You may have great sales, Opie, but the fact you don't mention them, only the quality of the publisher, makes me wonder if either a) you're not selling enough to turn heads, or b) you're selling loads of books and forgetting to mention that.

Whatever the case, keep plugging away, Opie. The fact you have published novels shows you have ability. It may well just be your query, or perhaps not finding the right agent at the right time.

That conference looks like it would be cool... if only I had the $$$... and a novel ready to query... :)

BJ Muntain said...

OP, I've been writing and submitting for nearly 30 years now. Folks say I write well, but I keep getting rejected. I finally got a short story and a non-fiction article published last year. I'm still trying, though.

Doubt is normal. Fiction writing is a very subjective occupation. There's no 'Yes, it works!' instant gratification like there is with engineering or certain types of science. Even being published isn't a guarantee that anything else will be published, or that you're going to get an audience.

As I understand it, self-published horror is doing better than traditionally published horror. I've been told self-published science fiction is the same, though not to the same degree. I don't know if that's the way you want to go, but it's something to think about.

Take care. You'll find what works for you.

John Davis Frain said...

You do write horror. That's a scary post. Is there a true horror category like there is true crime? You've got your first chapter ready. Limited audience, of course, made up of writers who will be quaking in their writing boots.

I'm gonna strap mine up now and edit a short story. Editing is a whole other sub-genre of horror.

I only have one thought for you: why not take a stab at a different genre?

Regardless, congratulations on your success so far and on your perseverance to come. Good luck.

Colin Smith said...

John: why not take a stab at a different genre?

Oh, very funny. :)

Lennon Faris said...

So these seem to be the options for our OP's nebulous issue:

1) Problem is writing? - conferences, beta readers, hire someone to look over query/ pages, and of course the ol' read more, write more (ten years is not necessarily a long time. Who cares what other people are doing)

2) Problem is previous sales/ reviews? - If you published at independent presses, I've heard a lot of the marketing is up to you. You could work on getting those numbers up (too many suggestions to write! but Janet has posted on that before)

3) Problem is genre? - self publish, or pick another category just for kicks. Who knows, you might love romance! Or be positively enchanted by fantasy, or kill at writing thrillers.

Anyway, I feel for you. I hate not knowing why something's not working. Rooting for ya!

Karen McCoy said...

Opie, please let me know if you would like me to critique your query. I've gotten a full request, and I have helped someone else get one too. Writerlibrarian (at) gmail (dot) com. Also, I volunteered at a conference this past weekend, and saw some authors bring the hard copies of their indie books...the agents' faces were, in a word, not favorable. Just bring yourself, and be ready to answer questions. Hope this helps!

Theresa said...

Our Queen will be within swimming distance when she's in Minnesota in April! (I'm in WI, too.) That's exactly the kind of event I'd target if I was getting ready to pitch. OP, if that time and location don't work for you, maybe a similar event elsewhere?

One Of Us Has To Go said...

I too feel for your frustration and doubts about yourself/your writing, OP.

(And I'm also sorry for Joseph Snoe :(. )

I doubt myself a lot as well. My writing skills.
I would LOVE to go to a writing conference. To Minnesota. But if I did, I'd have to be so very careful about what I'd want to say.

As soon as I'd open my mouth, the agents will hear that I am not American, nor English, Australian and so on. (I don't sink zat I actually have a German accent but I don't have an American eizer. So vot can I do...)

I could destroy everything with one sentence (the more I'm nervous and under time pressure, the more I get word orders wrong).

Each time I tweet something, it's like "don't make it too complicated, don't betray yourself". If I stayed away from it all, I'd not help my efforts either, I suppose.

I send you a big Reider-HUG, Opie. Chin up!!!!
And a big hug for Joseph πŸ˜ƒ!

Jerry said...

Blame Snowball. That’s what he’s for.

John Davis Frain said...

Haha, Colin, you caught me. I have the subtlety of a peacock some days. (And those are the good days!)

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Joseph needs to walk a puppy in a local park (if the weather is warm).
Love will be in the air. But watch where you step.

Steve Stubbs said...

Carolynnwith2Ns said...
When my daughter and her husband recently put their house on the market, ... my husband said, ... ôthereÆs an ass for every seat.â

Um, not necessarily. It is a basic fact of business that you have to have a willing buyer AND a willing seller. You have to tailor the product and the price so the market will accept it. If I started a sandwich shop selling turd sandwiches for $100 a taste, I might find myself staring into Marketing Hell.

When I sold my house I had people asking me how much I would pay THEM to take it off my hands. That despite the fact I spent a fortune having it re-done. My real estate agent spent a fortune, too, listing it and showing it.

She finally found an investor willing to take it for free. That taught me an important lesson.

Ditto with the romantic marketplace.

If OP is not finding buyers, he needs to lower the price or change the product offering. In publishing lowering the price makes no sense unless he wants to give his work away the way I did my house. Romance sells well. Try this: Horribly Disfigured Mutant Zombie with Rabies Takes His Song and Dance to Several Singles Bars. People who have seen the single world in real life would find that completely believable. They probably saw it several times last weekend.

Lennon Faris said...

One Of Us Has To Go - "(I don't sink zat I actually have a German accent but I don't have an American eizer. So vot can I do...)" - haha! I'm guessing your sense of humor about the situation will take you exactly where you need to go.

Steve - "Horribly Disfigured Mutant Zombie with Rabies Takes His Song and Dance to Several Singles Bars. People who have seen the single world in real life would find that completely believable." - that made me laugh! And yes I would prob. read that.

One Of Us Has To Go said...

Thanks, Lennon 😘😘😘.

Germans don't have a sense of humor (according to the British - not sure what Americans say ;) ...) !

But, ze exception proves ze rule πŸ˜€.

Craig F said...

I am in the midst of a horror story of my own, but it is real life. If this is choppy, please be accepting.

I find that kids today like horror as much as any other generation of kids did. I guess many agents think of those horridly graphic horror stories.

It might behoove you, <b<OP</b< to look up the agents of F Paul Wilson, John Connelley, Graham Masterson and such. Then query those agents, they have a market for it.

If you can afford to, pay for a snazzy cover and put it on Wattpad for a while. That way you will have some solid numbers to work with. Wattpad has also been know to generate offers, for that matter.

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

Dear Agent,

Would you be mine, please? I am previously published. My sales figures are low not because I'm a bad author, but a bad marketeer. If I could do everything well, I wouldn't need you. But I acknowledge my human foibles and recognise that I am stronger with a team, and would dearly love for you to be a part of it.

Meanwhile, here's a kickass book.

Love, me.

Colin Smith said...

OneOfUs: Thankfully, writers are known for the written word, not the spoken word. Most writers, like myself, are far more comfortable communicating when they can take time to think about what to say, and carefully choose their words and construct their sentences. This is our art. It's neither debate, nor stand-up comedy. So no-one should care about your accent, or where you put your verbs or any other part of speech when you speak, as long as your books sing to their hearts.

And here's proof positive that Germans have a sense of humor:

That song made number 2 in the British Singles Chart.

One Of Us Has To Go said...

Awwww, thank you Colin, you just made my day! Thank you.

True, it's a lot easier to write (in English) when you have time to think.

Oh. My. God, that song from the 80s??? Well if that worked in the UK, then my writing should definitely too. I hope that even MY English is more literary than the English-da-da-da-counterpart.

Colin currently helps me a lot with learning more about the writing world and revising my novel. I send him chapter by chapter. OP, you should definitely take the offer from Karen. Getting other eyeballs on your work is so important.

Elissa M said...

About age.

My grandmother turned 73 the year I was born. She lived another 34 years, and for at least 33 of those years she was 100% functioning on all eight cylinders (just you try to trip her up with a quote, especially anything Biblical).

We have no idea how long we're given on this earth. If you decide you're at the end of the trail and stop, you'll never know how much further you could have gone.

Anonymous said...

I didn't think I had anything to add to this discussion, not being a reader of horror [shudder], but then I read this post from Alexandra Sokoloff today:

In it, Alex makes a point I've heard many times before, but perhaps OP has not. Or perhaps not in these terms:

"Beyond that, I’d really rather not use the word “horror” to describe even my four supernatural novels because I think the genre has been brought to a very low, base level by torture porn. I find it disgusting and harmful. It doesn’t deserve to be listed with the true psychological horror of Jackson, Lovecraft, Shelley, King, Poe – the great explorers of the dark side. I don’t write torture porn and I won’t read or watch it, either."

I've read a couple of her scarier (supernatural) novels and they're right up there in terms of psychological horror. She knows of what she speaks and she's damn good at it.

OP, I don't know whether you're a woman or a man. I don't know what you write. But perhaps consider that any story where women are used as gratuitous examples of torture, given the current awareness of women being victimized and harmed in real life simply because they are women, might not go over well right now in the publishing world or with readers.

If you give that possibility serious consideration and find it's not true of your work (and hooray for you, if not), realize that most genre readers are looking for some kind of escape from everyday life. And that when real life these days is already filled with so much horror, depending on your perspective I guess, it's not surprising that people shy away from it in fiction. Based on that alone, I'd suggest writing something more along the lines of a thriller.

Genres come and go. When horror comes back into prevalence, and I'm sure it will, you'll be way ahead of the game with an extensive supply of material. Good luck to you.

Anonymous said...

When I said, "Genres come and go" what I meant is, "Popularity of genres comes and goes." Genres don't actually ever go anywhere. Not even the ones you wish would.

Can you tell I'm having one of those super picky editing days? One of those days when I'm making insufferable pedantic comments to myself. And irritating the hell out of myself in the process.


Bonnie Shaljean said...

Thank you kdjames for the heads-up about Alexandra Sokoloff. I’ve just bought one of her books after seeing your post, and it looks to be a lovely juicy read. Which of hers are your favourites? I wanna know! (Janet would probably be delighted at how many books I buy based solely on things I see in her blog. My wallet... not so much.)

One Of Us, your Englsh comes across as perfectly clear - I hadn’t known it wasn’t your first language until you mentioned it above. One thought does come to mind: Be sure not to be so careful and concerned about it that you obliterate your “voice”. Voice is one of those things that’s difficult to describe, but - like Sinatra’s singing style or a painting by Turner - you know it when you see or hear it. If you’re not clear what I mean, google something like “Voice in writing” or “author’s voice”. Perhaps the folks here can suggest examples, both of good essays on the subject, and titles.

One Of Us Has To Go said...

Bonnie, thank you so much for your nice words :). Makes me feel good.

You've explained 'voice' very well! I didn't know that this even exists in writing, so thanks again for teaching me! I've learned something :).

Anonymous said...

Bonnie Shaljean, you're welcome! I hope you enjoy Alex's writing. I've only read two of hers: BOOK OF SHADOWS, which wasn't *too* terribly scary (more just spooky), and THE UNSEEN, which gave me nightmares for a solid week. Yes, I'm a wimp. I really can't read horror. My imagination picks up where the book leaves off and it's not a good thing. But my absolute favourite is her non-fic writing book SCREENWRITING TRICKS FOR AUTHORS. Her story breakdowns of movies are just epic and the best learning resource about story structure I've ever encountered. Highly recommend.

Bonnie Shaljean said...

THE UNSEEN was what I picked yesterday! Haven’t started it yet... bedtime readng, LOL. I’ve just now been back to the mighty river and bought her screenwriting books - thanks for the heads up. I don’t do film scripts, but find the highly-crafted narrative discipline that movies require is a very useful foundation on which to build.