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About Writing Right: The Blog


That's not exactly a unique feeling in the literary world today, particularly when it comes to newbie authors. One such writer wrote me recently, saying he'd sent his book out to tons of agents without any positive results. Here's what our exchange looked like.

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Okay, here's what I think. First, if you sent your manuscript to 500 agents as you say, you sent to roughly half of all literary agents currently working in the United States and not three-quarters, as someone misinformed you. Still, that's a lot. That means you shot-gunned them. Instead of looking at each agent's requirements for genres, submissions procedures, and the like, you mass-mailed them. That's going to get you a lot of rejections from the start because agents can smell a mass-mailing from a mile away.


Second, if even ten percent of those agents didn't mind or didn't catch on to your mass-mailing technique and still turned you down, your product isn't any good. By that, I mean your book isn't marketable. At least, it's not to those agents.


Third, you say your "beta readers" love your book. But, in the real world, beta readers amount to zilch when it comes to an objective and realistic appraisal of a property's worth in a publisher's eyes. Most beta readers I've seen are in it for the free reads or the thrill of having a title. (You know, Beta Reader First Class.) While there may be a few exceptions, you're not likely to find worthwhile voluntary readers for your project, and even if you did, no beta reader is familiar with all literary agents' "wish lists" and requirements. In the end, that means you may find someone who knows what he likes, but you're unlikely to find anyone who knows what the marketplace will like or what changes you need to make to the book to make it marketable (i.e., publishable).


Fourth, if you think your work is a "masterpiece," and half a thousand agents passed on considering it let alone offering to represent it, you're fooling yourself. Think about this for a second: A mass murderer never considers himself a mass murderer exclusively but, rather, someone fulfilling a need within himself or in society. Similarly, a bad writer never considers himself a bad writer exclusively but, rather, one who hasn't yet found that single intelligent literary agent/publisher in the world intuitive enough to recognize his work's genius.


Fifth, if you haven't considered self-publishing, what are your alternatives? It seems as if you believe they comprise writing to Quora to ask for help in finding your book an agent. The implication is that all those idiots you pitched don't know a damned thing about great literature, but you do, of course. You and a few amateur readers know instinctively that your book is a masterpiece. After all, agents have only read a few thousand books in their lifetimes to learn from experience which are and which aren't publishable. Note the word publishable and not masterpiece, which I've never heard a professional agent use to describe a book he represented in my half century in the business.


Sixth, well, okay. You've got me on this one. I'm out of points. But, seriously, if you want to know the answer to your question, quit deceiving yourself. The proof is in the pudding. Or, in this case, in the writing.

Now, let me ask you a question or two:


First, have you hired a professional, experienced, multi-book author/editor to evaluate your work? I'm not even going to guess at this one because, if you had, you wouldn't need to ask your question.


Second, are you a professionally trained author capable of objectively evaluating the quality of your own work as well as that of others? If you're still calling it a masterpiece after all those rejections, I doubt it.


Third, have you spent numerous years in the trenches, working as a literary agent, editor, critic, or publisher, so that you're qualified to judge quality material—no matter whose it is—when you see it? I didn't think so.


Bottom line: It's time for a reality check. And that starts with writing a better book. After that, you need to learn how to query literary agents, one agent at a time, just as nearly all literary agents recommend. Then you need to understand that, no matter how good a book is and how meticulously you studied and approached the few agents whom you pitched, your book may not be marketable in today's social and economic climate.


On the other hand, if that were the case, at least a few of the 500 agents you pitched would have taken the time to tell you so. And they didn't. Follow me here? Humility, where self-evaluation is concerned, is not easy to find or accept. But it's mandatory. My suggestion to you: Dig a little deeper into yourself.


And exchange some ego for a little bit of honesty. Do the footwork required, and then enjoy the fruits of your labor. There are few shortcuts in publishing today. Quit looking for them, and get down to reality. Meanwhile ...


Smoke if you've got 'em.

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D. J. Herda is author of the new eBook series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. You can check out his weekly column, "The Author-Ethicist," at Substack.com.


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