Tuesday, November 19, 2019

"The money isn't the issue." ...oh, yes it is.

Ok, so this might be an odd question, but I’m genuinely curious.  By trade, I have been a video game developer and teacher of video game design for thirty years. Last year, I finished my first novel (a YA Urban Fantasy). I tried querying 4 or 5 dozen literary agents, but 70% never responded at all. The 30% that did respond, sent a form letter rejection.

This is probably to be expected. I have no track record as an author, no educational background in writing, and don’t have a massive twitter following. I get it.  By virtue of those unknowns alone, the chances of getting the time of day from an agent are close to zero. (1)

That being the case, I self-published my novel. For a brief moment, my book climbed to #4 in its category on Amazon. But of course, I know absolutely zero about marketing or PR, so after the launch spike died out, sales did too. I sold 400 in the first two weeks, and another 100 or so in the ensuing 4 months).  Interestingly, I have 22 reviews on Amazon (I had closer to 35, but Amazon has some oddly draconian rules about removing reviews for a variety of reasons). Either way, the reviews I have left on Amazon, most of which are from total strangers, are all 4 and 5 star reviews. This leads me to believe that the book couldn’t have been horrible, and that the lack of sales might plausibly be attributed to my non-existent marketing skills. (2)

So this leads me to today. The next book I write, I’ll have to find a way to connect with an agent. I get it that I still represent the exact same risks I did before. However, it also seems to me that given the Return on Investment calculus of the average agent, I might have considerably more flexibility than the average author. I have a good job that pays the bills. I am pragmatic enough to recognize the tradeoffs of business. In my position, since I don’t actually need the money from book sales, I’d happily exchange revenues for name recognition.

The typical agent fees (as far as I’m led to believe) hover around 15%. Given the risks I represent, that undoubtedly looks like a poor bet. But I’d cheerfully give the agent 50%, 60%, maybe more. The money isn’t the issue. At this stage, it’s about getting some level of recognition.

How would an agent react to that sort of offer? I’m just curious.

You've made some key errors here.
(1) your chances of getting an agent have nothing to do with track record, education or social media. It's about the writing first, and whether I can sell the book second.

Urban fantasy is not a growing category.
In fact it's shrinking.

Unless you are spectacularly fresh and new, have turned the category on its ear and your writing is breathtaking, this book is a hard hard sell.

(2) Don't ever assume the book isn't horrible by the number of starred reviews on Amazon. A lot of people have really terrible taste.

Check out some of the one-star reviews on books YOU like to see what I  mean.

And books that are "terrible" often do well: The DaVinci Code;  Fifty Shades of Gray; Left Behind series.

As to your actual question: people who offer me more money to take on their books are insulting me.
It's as though I am a maitre d' and you'll get seated faster when you wave a $20.

I don't want to work with people who think they can buy their way on to my list.

Nothing earns a rejection faster.
Not even fiction novel.


Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I think it's telling that today's news is filled with individuals who bought their was to recognition. More than a few are behind bars.

Sorry OP but your arrogance is showing. Money does not replace effort, ability or talent.

Kate said...

It always saddens me to see writers pointing to lack of publishing credits/social clout/industry connections as a reason for why their book is rejected, because that's something that even a cursory amount of research would disprove.

It saddens me more that this belief is so prevalent on writing forums - to the point that a lot of writers out there honestly believe 'slush' is a dirty word.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I tend to agree with 2Ns. I usually do. You can't "buy" your way into respectability in publishing. You have to write and keep writing. Then revise until it hurts. Engage beta readers who will be brutal with you.

I am off to hospital. My mom is going into surgery. Her chances of survival are quite low. However, it's to the point, if the doctors do nothing, she will be dead within a couple of days. How fragile we all are.

Mister Furkles said...

OP, how many times did you rewrite your first novel?

Micheal Crichton once said "Books aren't written, they're rewritten." He mentioned that after seven drafts his novels had serious flaws.

Hemingway rewrote the ending to "A Farewell to Arms" 47 times. Hemingway also said "The first draft of anything is shit."

Did you make at least a dozen drafts of your novel?

Take very successful writers' novels and pull them apart. Ask how they handle scene description, dialogue, action, tension, and suspense.

The first draft is fun and after that it is painful work work work.

Katharine said...

Given that OP didn’t get any further than a form rejection from agents, isn’t there a good chance that the problem was the query, and agents weren’t even getting to the book? That’s why most agents recommend sending out a few queries, then revising based on the response (or lack of response) before sending out more.

Aphra Pell said...

I don't have anything to add on the original question, but I just wanted to send love to E.M and her mum. I have everything crossed for you both.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

E.M. Goldsmith
My heart is with you and your mom today. Hang in. Fragility breeds strength my writing friend. Stay strong.

Jill Warner said...

E.M. I'll be praying for you and your mom.

Fearless Reider said...

I'm speechless... almost. Whenever I feel overwhelmed by the current publishing landscape and the cacaphony of voices bellowing about the need for publishing credits, writing credentials, and a massive social media following, I come back here for the voice of sanity and reason. It's about the writing. The writing? Yesssss! I have some control over that. The market? Not so much. But the market for poignant, topical MG coming-of-age novels is BOOMING, right? Right?! Sigh.

EM Goldsmith, I'm so sorry your mom is facing such difficult odds. My thoughts are with you both.

Colin Smith said...

First of all, I have to presume OP is not a regular here otherwise OP would not have said what OP said. Anyone who has absorbed the pearls of wisdom on this site for at least a year or so knows that you don't pay for agent representation. In fact, we are constantly warned to avoid agents who ask for money in return for representation. Agents work on commission. They get paid when you get paid. Which means they only take on projects they believe will sell. Which comes down to a number of factors, none of which have anything to do with the things OP seems most concerned about.

The fact that it doesn't appear to have crossed OP's mind that OP's writing might need some work (I notice no mention of beta readers, editorial services, etc.) is a warning flag to me.

It's good you have a day job, OP. In fact, I think most writers should have a day job. Not only does it mean you're not dependent on your writing to pay your bills, but it also means you can afford to invest in editing and artwork services for your self-published work. It also means you can buy books on writing and maybe attend some conferences where you can learn more about the craft, editing, the publishing industry, etc. It's money well spent if you want an agent.

And on that point. If you are not good at marketing and have no interest in running your own small business, DO NOT self-publish. You won't do it well enough to be successful. Write an amazing novel and get yourself an agent.

Elise: I'm praying for you and mom too.

Brenda said...

OP, I hear your frustration. Congrats on the sales you made, and on the reviews. From my little bit of research you are ahead in the self-publishing market.

In my view, there are advantages and disadvantages to authorial financial independence. You can (and for tax purposes probably should) blow the advance on promotion, or on conferences, courses and memberships that will help your career.
The disadvantage is equally clear. There is no financial motivation to finish projects. Many authors have honed their craft on financial need and you won’t have that impetus. Instead of trying to change the system, change your skillset.

Move forward to write a better book, perfect it’s query, and thank your stars and martyrs for agents who will look at authors who’ve previously self-published.

And before we all get too judgemental, who here hasn’t dreamed of ways to cut to the front of this queue?

If there are agents who can be bribed, OP, they aren’t the ones you want.

EM, go gently today. May you and yours have peace. Our prayers are with you.


Theresa said...

E.M., my thoughts are with you today.

I hope OP has the opportunity to carefully read through all of Janet's very informative blog posts about how to craft a strong query and to find workshops or classes to help improve their writing.

K. White said...

OP, as others have said so eloquently there is no quick and easy shortcut to publishing success. If it could be bought we all would have mortgaged our souls long ago.

EM, sending good thoughts your way.

Claire Bobrow said...

EM - I am thinking of you and your Mom today.

Selerial said...

EM - thinking of you and your momma. I hope she beats those odds.

Casey Karp said...

E.M., best wishes and hopes to you and your Mom.

As to Opie, not a whole lot to add to what's already been said. Just, take a good look at your novel. Step outside your own head and ask yourself two questions: "If I wasn't me, would I want to read this?" and "What makes this book different from the last three books I read in its category?" If you can't answer those questions in a good way, neither are agents--and readers.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Powerful, important input from Janet, as always.

It sorta does sound as though OP has not spent much time educating him or herself about the road to getting published. And clearly hasn't been reading this blog. I do, however, agree with Brenda re: "before we all get too judgemental."

Elise, You're in my heart and on my mind.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Thank you, everyone. Mom's surgery has been delayed until 4 PM EST. Her heart was not cooperating this morning. Now, they are having trouble getting an operating room for the 3-6 hours the surgery will take. If either of procedures scheduled before her run long, they will have to delay until morning. She has multiple-system organ failure so it's a lot trying to get this done. However, she seems to be resting comfortably at the moment which is great. They are hoping the additional quiet rest will make her stronger to endure the surgery. She's been in a lot of pain this last week so it's good to see they at least have that under control.

Thank you guys again for the support. I really appreciate it.

Barbara Etlin said...

Sending lots of hugs and good vibes to you and your mom, E.M.

Elissa M said...

I feel that the OP did what many writers do: jumped into this publishing thing without looking first.

OP, one thing that would easily garner you rejections is word count, especially a high (or too low) word count on top of a difficult-to-sell category. As others have mentioned, if your query is poorly written, agents will reject within the first few sentences. Not fair, perhaps, but that's how it is.

My personal suggestion is for you to read through the archive on this site and on query shark (address is in the left hand sidebar on this site--along with links to other helpful query information).

You finished a novel, OP, and sold several hundred copies. That's more than many would-be writers accomplish. Good for you! Now, do some research and you have a reasonable chance of making this writing thing a career.

EM my hopes for a good outcome are with you and your mom. I've had a very recent family loss, and it breaks my heart to think of others suffering the same.

Katja said...

"Don't ever assume the book isn't horrible by the number of starred reviews on Amazon. A lot of people have really terrible taste."

OMG, THANK YOU for this!!! Because I have been SO puzzled, at times, about how certain books get some 30 reviews and ALL, yes ALL of them are 5 stars. I've spent a lot of time in recent months, 'researching' these stars and reviews...

I often read the look-inside button material of these excellent reviews, and then I'm like "WHAT?". It has been SO puzzling.

I too have a few 5-star-reviews on Amazon and more so on Goodreads. Only a couple are total strangers to me though. Oh, and one of them gave 4 stars. I was almost grateful for that, oddly enough.

Another thing that is maybe linked to this topic (lots of 5-star-reviews but still terrible books) is the awards. I've been almost devastated in the past by all the fantastic author bios on Amazon: multi-award winning author.
I started to look at these awards. Readers Favorite, American Book Fest Best Book award. Does anyone know these?

A 'twitter friend' told me (TWICE), "You should enter your book! If you earn a medal and can put a sticker on your book, it's great for marketing." I investigated. Under Readers Favorite, I found there are 70 categories. Medallists range from gold medal to silver medal, to bronze, to runner up, finalist or something like that.
The article said that EVERYONE who entered the competition came home with an award. So, for 89$ or 98$ (I can't remember), you can BUY an award???

Last Thursday, same 'twitter friend' tweeted their book had won "finalist of American bookfest best book awards". I couldn't hold myself back and researched: 100 categories (one hundred!), almost every category had six finalist plus one winner.

I'm NOT going to enter my book anywhere (I did at The BookLife Prize but that was the only one and it's by Publishers Weekly - no medals or stickers to win but a critique and a score).

This drove me so crazy, I couldn't bear another tweep's posts on Twitter with a BATTERY of medals on their books. It did intimidate me. I clicked on 'unfollow' a la bitch ;).

My book will stay naked, without medals and awards. And maybe without lots of 5-star-reviews.
The go-and-buy-yourself-a-medal-award-thing almost makes me think that I would rather harm my future work's chances if I did decide to try and find an agent for my second book. If an agent saw I had decorated my first book with a bought award, wouldn't that look cheap?!

Lennon Faris said...

OP, there are other options I don't know if you've considered. There are marketing companies out there that can be hired legitimately for self-published authors.

The traditional publishing world is different because you have to prove yourself first. To garner interest, you have to be THAT GOOD. But that hurdle is partially what makes more people notice a published author.

If you really are serious about this whole traditional publishing thing, I like what a lot of others here have recommended, about reading the archives here. Based on your question, I can tell you haven't immersed yourself yet. That isn't a dig, just a fact. If you're serious, immerse yourself. All the readers here have all kinds of occupations and income, nationalities and backgrounds. The only thing we really have in common is a passion for writing. So, we immerse ourselves in learning all about it.

Anyway, questions are good too, so good job on asking. Best of luck.

Casual-T said...

Considering that I’m unpublished, struggle ferociously with stringing even just a few words together in a sensible fashion, and often get my novel’s protagonist stuck in situations I don’t know how to write him out of (For a week now, he’s been lying unconscious in a musty cave, with the antagonist gloating over him. What now?), and definitely don’t have an extra $20 to slide the maître d’ at Burger King, I may not be the best person to give advice on this topic... But, as far as I can tell, there’s really only one thing an author (of any skill level) can, nay, MUST do: Get that shitty first draft onto the page, and then rewrite and revise until your pencil bleeds. A manuscript without bloodstains is like grits without cheese – No damn good!

PS: On a more serious note – E.M., I know your pain. As Brenda said, go gently, and take the day as it may come.

Lennon Faris said...

EM, wishing you and your mother peace and no pain. That is so hard.

Mister Furkles said...

Think I should start the Peace and Harmony’s Outstanding Novel of the Year literary contest?
Then my book--if ever finished--gets first place and all other entries ($10 fee paid) get finalist.

Would that look good on a query?

"My novel was first place in the PHONY award."

Megan V said...

Elise Hoping for the best, but here for you if the worst comes to pass. Keeping you in my thoughts today.

Jen said...

E.M. I am so, so sorry. My thoughts and prayers are with you today.

Jennifer Mugrage said...

E.M.: adding my voice & thoughts to the others.

I agree with Brenda that OP isn't necessarily arrogant. Most industries don't work like publishing, and perhaps elsewhere that kind of negociation would not be insulting, but OK.

MA Hudson said...

OP - Even if you found an agent who would accept a bigger cut, what happens from there? What incentive would you offer publishers to take on a book whose writing alone didn't get it onto their desk? Any higher percentage you offer the publisher would impact on the agents income and incentive too.
Better to write an awesome book and prove its worth by jumping through all the usual hoops in the publishing industry. I'm sure it would give you a much greater sense of satisfaction too.

EM - sending you calming vibes during this stressful period.

Kregger said...

My heart and wishes go out to you.

Irene Troy said...

Sorry, OP, but yes, your arrogance does show, meaning to do so or not.

If agents only expressed interest in those lucky authors whose work has already proved out, I suspect they would not last long in the business. From what I've read/heard, the business revolves around discovering new talent. This means accepting that any new writer is unlikely to have connections and most don't have a degree in writing or experience in publishing. Sure, some come along with loads of credentials, but I suspect that is rare. What seems to garner agent interest is work that is compelling and a query that clearly spells out the story in a way an agent can easily understand. Rejection is the bane of any writer's existence. I console myself by knowing that even the very best have faced rejection. OP, if you have not already, I strongly recommend enlisting the help of a fellow writer to read and critique your work prior to sending it out into the world of agents and publishers. There is nothing like getting sincere and insightful critique from those who know and understand the process.

AJ Blythe said...

OP, I don't think you were meaning to be arrogant as some have suggested. I think it is more a lack of understanding of the business. Paying anyone to take you on is why sites like "Writer Beware" exist. As Colin suggested, if you haven't already, find yourself some critique partners and beta readers. Find out how your writing really stands. Unfortunately, the sale numbers you have won't be of much help in attracting an agent so you have to let your writing stand for itself. Good luck with your next book!

EM, I have no idea when your Mum's surgery is, but I am sending my prayers across the waves. (((hugs)))

Katja, I've no idea about those particular contests you mentioned, but you might want to read about what to look for in a contest at Writer Beware: https://accrispin.blogspot.com/2015/06/awards-profiteers-how-writers-can.html. Hope that helps.

KDJames said...

I've said this before and still think it's true: writers are a "charming" mix of towering arrogance and crushing insecurity. All of us. It requires unusual amounts of arrogance to even write something with the expectation other people will enjoy reading it, let alone putting it out in the world. No finger pointing from me on that topic.

But it is also true, OP, that you need to better educate yourself about the business of publishing. What's considered a reasonable approach in one industry can be, as you have discovered here, ineffective and insulting in another. Read the archives of this blog and of Query Shark, plus any of the many agent and writer blogs out there. Keep asking questions (google is your friend) and you'll find plenty of resources designed to help writers figure things out. Best of luck to you in your journey.

EM, I know words are inadequate. Sending virtual hugs and thoughts of peace and strength for you and your mom.

Craig F said...

Elise: my thoughts are with you

OP: I am sorry but I want an agent that sees value in my work. If they can see that it will make them money is a bonus, not the meat of the pie. I too have a wondrous collection of rejections. Some were from a thriller that just wouldn't settle into a query properly, possibly because it was too late in the game for a new thriller writer.

Now I have work of sci-fi in the trenches and I actually really like the query. I just have to hope the pages also hold up, they don't lend themselves to any good comps.

If that doesn't work, I'll try again, I am a glutton for punishment because of the reason I am trying to get published.

Katja said...

Elise, I sent you a DM via Twitter for your mum. xx


Linda Shantz said...

Thinking of you, EM.

And what a bang-on post. Thank you.

Panda in Chief said...

Nothing new to add that hasn't already been said to the OP. All good suggestions.

EM, I hope your mom was able to go into surgery, and that it is all over and has gone well. I'm thinking of you and sending good wishes into the universe.

NLiu said...

E.M. that sounds heartbreaking. Hope you are okay. Let us know how your mum gets on with the surgery. All thinking of you here xx

Brian Wells said...

OP: Agents won't take on a book they know they can't sell. So offering them 60% instead of 15% of a book they can't sell isn't going to get you anywhere. Not only is it insulting, it's just plain pointless.

That said, stick to self-publishing. You're actually doing quite well at it.

EM: Please accept my sincerest wishes for the best possible outcome for your mom. My heart is with you.

The Noise In Space said...

Oh, EM, I'm so sorry. Keeping you in my thoughts today.

LynnRodz said...

E.M., my prayers are with you and your mom this morning. I pray all goes well.

OP, by your comments and question, I think you're not far along in your research on what it takes to get published, otherwise you would know it's the writing that counts.

LeeNire, congrats to your daughters. SamaraG's story was one of my favorites, 11 years old, first try, one of the finalist...I don't know whether to applaud or cry. Maybe both.

Sunnygoetze said...

OP-I am new to the game, like yourself but I have been given this advice, which works
-write for the reader, not yourself. You may think the reader wants or likes what you write and they may not.
-Take a workshop-Peers critique your work and you see yourself as a writer through their eyes. They may not see a sentence or paragraph as important, you may see it as clever & neccessary, but peer review ties into writing for the reader
-writing short stories and essays-It's a way to sharpen your teeth in the craft, a way to practice what you learn in workshops
-Read, Read, Read- Study the craft through your favorite author. Watch how they link words, ideas, settings and characters. Study how the sentences move the story.
-You have income use it wisely. I can't tell you how many bestselling authors I met through workshops, who took the time to teach me, give advice, crtique my work and now they know my name. Put your money where your pen is...

Danae McB said...

I'm in the query trenches, so I feel like giving the OP the benefit of the doubt. Janet said the category, YA Urban Fantasy, is a hard sell right now. She has said many times that agents reject well-written books because they don't think the market is strong enough. So we shouldn't assume that the OP's book isn't well-written, just because nothing was mentioned about the editorial process. The advice that no one has given is, write another book in a different genre, one which IS selling well, and query that one instead.