Monday, 17 October 2011

If it were a year ago I'd be bawling my eyes out thinking I've failed ... But today I refuse to. Here's why ...

I don't really know if I've spoken to you all about my hunt for an agent. Actually, I don't think I have. So I'm going to bite the bullet today and let you know what I've been up to ...

I've queried about 70 agents for my second novel Bitter Like Orange Peel. Probably about half of these agents have replied, the other half ... total silence. Of the half that replied I got four partial requests and one full request. I've now heard back from all these agents and I'm afraid I've had no luck. I'm not really upset about this. But it does somewhat scare me. Here's why ...

Not one of these agents disliked my writing. In fact, I even got a few rejection letters that told me how much they appreciated my talent and creativity, and how they believed I had a strong future ahead of me. You know what else is even scarier? I can tick all these boxes ...

  • I have a kick-ass query letter (thank you Matt and Dawn for your help with this). And for literary fiction, I think that can be quite difficult to master.
  • I have a good platform. Blog following, Website, Facebook, Twitter ...
  • I have previously published works. A novel by a traditional press, a poetry book, short stories and poems in anthologies and literary magazines.
  • I've won a poetry award with Writer's Digest.
  • I have interdisciplinary skills. I'm a musician, and I've taken advantage of that skill to give my debut that little bit of extra drive. This means that I have another way to market myself. Double-whammy.
  • I'm not a one-hit wonder. I want a career out of this. I'm currently writing my third novel. And I don't plan on stopping there.
  • I have wonderful relationships with published authors and aspiring authors alike. I have one of the best support systems I could ever ask for.
  • Almost 100 blogs have signed up to participate in my blog tour for String Bridge, during November 1st - 20th. That is not a number to laugh at.
  • I have proof that I'm a good writer from all the amazing reviews I've received so far from my target audience on Twisted Velvet Chains, and String Bridge. I'm not afraid to say that. No, some people may not be a fan of my work, and that's to be expected, but others are, and I'm proud and thrilled to have achieved that. Let me say that again. I'm proud of my work and I believe in myself. There's nothing wrong with having confidence.

So what am I doing wrong? Nothing. That's what. So, I shall continue the Small Press route and strengthen my base of readers gradually. (Unless some sort of miracle happens between now and January.) The harder I work, the bigger my fan base will grow, I know that. And I'm willing to put in the effort. But you know what I'm worried about now? I'm worried about YOU.

Yes. YOU. All of you who are just starting out and dreaming to make it big. I'm not saying that this isn't possible. Of course it's possible, and some people are just super lucky and I'm TOTALLY happy for those of you who have achieved that dream ... 

But what about all of you out there who are a little bit like me? A little different in their approach to writing? Those who write in a genre which isn't likely to hit the bestseller shelf, or can't be pigeon-holed? I'm worried because I don't want you all to think that you won't make it, or that you can't write because you keep getting rejected. I don't want you to think that you aren't GREAT. Because you are. You are just different, and I think you should embrace that. I mean, for goodness sake's, take another gander at my bullet-pointed list up there! If it's difficult for me to get an agent with all those achievements, I hate to imagine how hard it is for those with even half of them.

What I'm saying is, having an agent isn't the be all and end all. Okay? Having an agent is just one of MANY routes you can take to have a career as an author. And most of all, I want you to believe in yourself. If you believe in yourself, you can make anything happen. It may not be the Hollywood ending you dreamed of, but it might be a step closer to that Hollywood ending, you really never know.

Can you believe that a year ago today, I didn't even have ONE of those things in that list up there? So yeah. I'm proud of myself and I'm standing tall and flaunting it.

So my message to you today is ...

Be proud.
Stand tall.
And find another way to make it happen.

Over and out ...


  1. Thanks for sharing your struggles and keeping the positive attitude. Don't forget that authors like Elana Johnson queried their book about 200 times before finding an agent, so don't give up.

    I'll be gearing myself up for querying after the first of the year and trying to grow thick skin. I try to follow the mantra from Galaxy Quest "Never quit! Never surrender!"

  2. Thanks Natalie :o)

    The things is, there aren't that many agents who accept literary fiction. Elana is lucky to have written in a genre that sells like hot cakes! :o)

  3. I'm going to take a guess its the economy. They're not willing to take a chance on a not sure thing.

    Maybe time to think about self publishing?

    Barry Eisler has had some good posts on the subject.

    You might or might not have found that helpful, but it might be a way forward?

    I mostly just skimmed those posts, so how much useful info in there I'm not sure.

    Just a thought,

  4. Love this. And it's so true. They say break in all those ways but really it's all about writing a project that agents think they can sell. I'd like to say it's about great writing and I'm sure that helps, but I also think it comes down to the bottom line, not all the other stuff! And we can't all write the same way. Thank God!

  5. I'm sure sell-ability is huge. The MS I'm querying now doesn't fit easily in any one market. And I'm running into walls but hey, if it doesn't work out, I'll just query my next MS.

  6. I struggle with keeping at it or letting go. More than anything I have age against me...

    But, what the heck. What else do I have to do, so why not keep trying?

  7. YES! Fantastic post, Jess. There are many different ways to be successful and achieve our dreams; we don't all have to follow the same route. That's been the biggest lesson I've learned over the past year.

  8. There are more ways than ever to be succesful in this business, so you're right about agents not being the only way! Nowadays, you can define success for yourself and achieve it more independently if you want, or if necessary.

  9. Considering agents may be a dying breed, it's not the end all! Nothing wrong with being with a small publisher. Even Stephen King bailed on his big publisher and went with a smaller one years ago.

  10. Amen, Jess. I think you hit the nail on the head. Literary Fiction may be a hard sell, but that doesn't mean your writing isn't amazing, because it is.

  11. Great post, Jess! It's heart-warming to know you're remaining true to yourself. My father used to say that going with the crowd meant getting lost in the crowd. I read where there are only about 400 licensed agents in the U.S. With the print market like it is (way to go Border's *gnashes teeth*), agents fear making a mistake and shun new talent. Counter-image, I'm not sure this is all about the economy. Prada sells a purse for $48,000 and can't fill orders fast enough.

    Would "For Whom the Bell Tolls" have an agent today? Probably not. Sad!

  12. I think you can be proud of yourself. You've created two awesome books (that I've read) and I can't wait to read the third. I heard that agents are having a hard time right now because writers are choosing to go at it alone. So, maybe these agents you queried are not taking more clients because their jobs are coming to an end.

  13. Love this post, Jess. Your positive attitude is precisely what will keep you going. Thank you for sharing this nibble of morning inspiration. You rock.

  14. You better be proud of yourself! Next month is going to rock!

  15. Thanks for sharing your experience. You are so right, there are many routes an writer can take to publication. They need to hold on to their dream and never give up.

  16. Thanks so much for sharing this, Jess. And you're absolutely right -- there's no one way to do this. We each just have to figure out which is the right way for us. I love your attitude about this, and you should be proud!! You've accomplished so much already and you're a truly terrific writer. :)

  17. I think the fact that you've had so many MS requests is a great sign. That agent you're looking for is just around the corner!

  18. That's my Rock Star buddy! You geaux, girl! And you're absolutely right. These days, having an agent is just ONE of the many ways to find the writing success you seek.

    And LOOK how much you've accomplished! You are awesome~ :o) <3

  19. It makes me feel better reading this. Not because I'm glad you haven't found an agent, but because it reminds me it's not just me. With each new story I think, "this is the one." But it never quite happens. And quite frankly, I'm weary of trying to impress agents. Now, I'm all about trying to impress readers. Everyone's path is different. And you're so right... there are other ways to get there.
    We really have to embrace how far we've come and use the resources we already have. Agents don't want to go to bat for a story they don't absolutely feel passionate about. I've gotten the same kinds of rejections you have. So as my friend Liz Fichera says, "if you can't find an open door, kick down a window."
    And your career is just beginning... so exciting!!

  20. I've beta read a number of brilliant YA books that are only met with rejection when agents read them. It makes me so angry when I've loved the books more than the published ones I've read lately. But fortunately tradtional publishing isn't our only choice nowadays. :)

    *hugs* Jessica. I'm glad you're not giving up.

  21. It is like we are twins Jessica! I am living that same life. HUGS. And your attitude is inspirational!

  22. I can sympathise completely. My books aren’t exactly flying off the shelves and I’ve not even published the more literary ones. I’m nothing less than terrified about the reviews I’m going to get for Milligan and Murphy when it comes out because I’ve seen the kind of reviews much better writers that I am have received when they’ve published metafictions. But you – at least I, and I suspect you too – can only write what you can write. Some people loved my first book – I had one woman in tears at the end – others not so much – one girl couldn’t even finish it. A book is a collaborative exercise, never forget that, and if the reader can’t or won’t do their part then that doesn’t mean you have written a bad book. String Bridge is a good book. It didn’t resonate with me like your poetry did and both you and I have to accept that and move on. You and I are unfortunate in that we have started publishing at a very bad time in history. It’s an historic time without a doubt but the dust won’t settle for years yet and I, at least, expect to be dead and gone by then. Fifty years ago we would both have agents and book deals and not have to worry about all this self-promotion malarkey: we would be writers, full stop. I, for one, am immensely impressed at your attitude and your approach to your writing and I’m glad to see, even at this stage in your career, you can attract such a following. As you say, 100 blogs in your tour is not to be sniffed at. Didn’t realise mine was the first mind.

  23. It's good to look back at achievements once in a while. I'm sure you feel even more successful, knowing that you did it all by yourself. Thanks for the inspiration!

  24. Thanks for all your comments, folks. I'm so glad we have connected. I couldn't find the belief in myself without you all.

    And thanks, Jim. Of course, I totally respect that people aren't going to like my book. I don't feel bad about that at all. I know who I am, I know what I write and I feel comfortable in that skin. If others don't, then really, that's no skin off my nose because it's not going to make me stop being me. It is a shame that the publishing climate is what it is today, but you really have to ask yourself, no matter what the circumstances, would you stop writing? I wouldn't. Thanks for your comment!

  25. Great post, Jess. And such an inspiration! Ever since I've known you, I have been shaking my head wondering why you DON'T have an agent. But something you said the other day rings true, "I think I was destined to make my own success." Few people can say that and believe it - you can. If anyone will be successful at this, it's you. I am proud of you - and proud to be your friend. xoxoxo

  26. What a wonderful post!

    I can't say any more than that as everyone else has said it so much better.

  27. You are absolutely not doing anything wrong, you are doing it right. There are posts all over the internet right now about how the agent route is losing fans FAST, for so many reasons, and one of the biggest is that this path takes too darn long! And some genres just aren't being looked at much by agents. Young Adult is still big for agents, big publishers and bookstore sales (which is what they're all judging marketability by) but many other genres just won't stand a chance at agent acceptance regardless of how good and polished the writing is.

  28. Like you, Jess, I have queried and received positive rejections. The great thing about this year is that the author can be published and read without heartbreak. Self-publishing is an accepted route that it can help bring dreams true. You have had a fantastic year and I wish you many more. x

  29. Jessica, I can't believe anyone has passed, but regardless you are doing everything right and are way ahead of the game. From what I've read, it is hard to get an agent to offer rep on a literary manuscript, and yet if you check out their profiles, they all say it's the number one thing they want. Don't take it personal and keep doing what you're doing! I'm truly amazed by how prolific you are.

  30. Thanks for sharing and giving us all a positive outlook on the future.

  31. Some very knowledgeable writers like Dean Wesley Smith are advising writers to avoid signing with an agent for the next couple of years until things settle, so this may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. I'm so glad to see you putting a positive spin on the situation, and yes, you've accomplished a lot. There's more than one path to success, and I hope you find the right path for you.

  32. This post speaks to me very personally. So thank you for courageously posting your journey. I have gone through similar struggles as you for quite a number of years. I stopped querying agents awhile ago b/c I think I am close to running out of them. Like you, I absolutely believe in my work and refuse to give up. I am glad you refuse to give up, too.

  33. I know all too well the angst that goes with the agent hunt. The publishing world is reeling from the eBook revolution and shrinking profits.

    I gave up on agents when I realized that somehow what I had was something that did not shout certain profits : if they do not want your autograph, they do not want your manuscript.

    I have gone the eBook route. I am still in the jungle with it.

    I toy with tossing in the towel. I have the post written and the photo of Hibbs (the bear with 2 shadows) walking off into the sunset with me.

    I am a bit like Mel Gibson in the 1st LETHAL WEAPON toying with that bullet every night.

    Anyone can give up. Not everyone can continue on in the face of opposition. If we do not believe in our dreams, why should we expect others to?

    A great post as always, Roland

  34. I've come to the conclusion that agent need depends HUGELY on genre these days. I think the genres selling hugely and published by big publishers--mystery, romance, thriller, YA--are best addressed with agents (YA especially, as the category is SO broad and different publishers like different things). But you're right--anything that doesn't fit tightly in a specific box is probably going to require that slow build. We've got your back, and we have anyone's who doesn't skip steps in the process--if they are networking and improve their work so a publisher takes it... even self published, if they've hired a good editor and really gotten it ready for prime time...

  35. I love this post, Jessica! So many writers NEED to hear stories like this. Hope is such a fragile thing. Your story is hope-building!! :-)

  36. You have done amazing work on setting up your career in one year!
    Thanks for sharing this part of your journey. I have yet to find an agent although I have been requested fulls and partials. What I lack is a good good storyline---I know that and hope maybe my 6th book will be the one because like you,I have that bullet list as well but for me, my problem is a good story I think:(

  37. hi miss jessica! wow! cool post! i been your friend for a pretty long time and i saw you back when you got not so much believing in you. now just look where you are and how youre a big encourager for everyone. wow! how cool is that!!! :) im just real happy i could know you and we been here fore each other.
    ...loads of love and gigantical hugs from lenny

  38. I'm all kinds of in-love with this post and I'm pretty dang sure you are an amazing writer.

    So, is strange and weird and all twisty in some places and we all arrive where we need to somehow, someway, and I guess...SOMEDAY.

    But in the meantime you are doing all the right things to build your professional platform while continuing to impress the HELL out of all of us!!!!

    *bows down to you, lovely lady*

  39. This was fantastic! Believing in yourself and not giving up are really what all published writers have in common. You're right- having an agent isn't the end all-be all. I totally feel you on the query trenches. I'm confident my stories are worthy but they just haven't found the right hands. Querying sucks. Especially in today's climate. Keeping a positive attitude and knowing what you're capable of and worth is such an important attribute.

  40. Yes. Keep moving forward. Thanks for sharing about your journey. :)

  41. You rock Jessica! This is a great post. I loved what you wrote about being worried about us. I love your honesty & seeing the hard work that I need to put in to reach the same goals. It is a huge accomplishment what you completed in ONE year!!! Very inspiring.

  42. I really appreciate this post because it's true--you can do everything "perfectly" and that doesn't mean you'll get an agent. Frustrating. At least there's different options. I'm glad that you're persevering.

    Make you own path!!!!!

  43. Thank you, Jessica.

    I try not to think about how dismal my chances are in this business. The way I see it, I can't not write, so I might as well submit.

    I'm cheering you on from here.

  44. Thank you so much for sharing your story! As someone who jumped in with an indie publisher, blog, twitter, all of it about six months ago I appreciate your words of encouragement and am also rooting for you right back!!

  45. Thank you for your honesty!
    I've queried a bit, with some fulls and partials but no yes yet. And I'm wavering if that is what I want anyhow... I'm going back and forth whether I want to traditionally pub or self pub. I'll query a bit more, but the best part is either way, I know it is good enough (with a bit more editing) and will be published either way.
    Good luck!

  46. Thank you for a truly inspirational post, Jess. What an amazing list of accomplishments!

    While I'm fortunate enough to have an agent, I honestly feel sorry for her. No editor/publisher wants non-formulaic, literary mysteries. Concept trumps quality of writing at present - maybe it always has. It's a difficult reality to swallow when one's been told over and over that "it's all about the writing." It's not, and many of us find ourselves having to choose between our creative passion and writing for the market.

  47. this was a great post! I'm always amazed at how much can change/be accomplished in a year's time

  48. This is TH most fantastic post ever!

    You have every right and reason to stand tall and be proud.

    "Different" is a very good thing, indeed.

  49. You should be proud, Jessica. You have done a lot in the past year. Finding the right agent just takes time. If they are not choosing you, it's because they don't think they can serve you well enough. Finding the right one is more important than finding one to sign you... You know what I mean?

    The right one is just around the corner...

  50. ...“I don't want you to think that you aren't GREAT. Because you are. You are just different”

    Indeed, we are all “different”, but unfortunately, we are not all “great”. That’s why the vast majority of us ain’t gonna have writing careers.

    Every so often you run across that very rare individual who will give the straight dope to all the Wannabe Writers out there [link]: METHOD WRITING: How To Improve Your Writing And Get Thyself Published.

    Let’s hear it for the unvarnished, the non-sugar-coated truth! Let’s hear it for the multitude of mediocrity and all the sawers of wood! There’s no shame in sawing wood – it’s honest work and it provides a needed service.

    Let’s hear it for ME, the necessary antidote to “sweetness & light and the giving yourself a ‘I Am Special’ hug crowd”!

    ~ D-FensDogg
    ‘Loyal American Underground’

  51. I can't think of anything to add but yes, you got it.

  52. Forget the agent...I'd be happy with just one of your bullet points! :)


“I'm using my art to comment on what I see. You don't have to agree with it.” ~John Mellencamp

“Allowing an unimportant mistake to pass without comment is a wonderful social grace” ~Judith S. Marin

“I don't ever try to make a serious social comment.” ~Paul McCartney

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“Probably what my comment meant was that I don't care about the circumstances if I can tell the truth.” ~Sally Kirkland

“We're not going to pay attention to the silliness and the petty comments. And quite frankly, women have joined me in this effort, and so it's not about appearances. It's about effectiveness.” ~Katherine Harris