Tuesday, January 27, 2009

It Just Sucks . . .

I received the following question with the subject heading that I’m using as the post's title. Since I think it probably reflects the views of so many writers no matter your age, I thought I should post the letter verbatim. . . .

It sucks trying to get an agent. I think my work is good. I know it's good. I've shown it to a wide variety of ages and all of them enjoyed it. At least 1/3 of those people I don't talk to often and I asked for brutal honesty. They all liked it.

I just don't know where to find an agent who'd even think about taking on a 17 year old writer.

I sent it in to one agent whom I thought would enjoy my work. They didn't. Which honestly left me a little sad and frustrated but I'm going to keep going on anyway because I love to write and others will eventually come to like it too . . . or at least I'd like to believe that.

Is there any way I can find an agent?


Yep. Sometimes for all of us it just sucks. Trust me, I know. I have authors and books that I have absolutely fallen in love with and refuse to give up on, but for one reason or another I can’t find a publisher to get behind it. Publishing is not an easy business, and unfortunately for all of us selling a book is a lot more than just finding 100 or so readers who enjoy it. Selling a book means finding thousands of readers who can find your book and pay money for it. Two completely different things. I know there are people out there who think the publishing industry is a mess and I’m not going to argue with you there, but where I will argue with you is that no one in publishing knows how to buy a good book. A good book is more than a good story and more than good writing, it is a variety of things, and making a successful book is sometimes none of those things. Publishing is a business and making it in any business means a lot more than just creating a good product. You can make a really beautiful necklace, but selling that necklace to thousands of people is a totally different process. I believe that to have success in publishing, you need persistence, you need to not give up, and you need a willingness to learn and change throughout, to edit your book, alter your process if necessary, and even explore new areas.

Yes, there is a way you can find an agent, you just need to keep plugging away and keep writing.

Jessica

42 comments:

Purple Clover said...

Hmm, this may seem mean, for lack of a better word, but are you telling/showing your age when you have others critique your work? It's possible you will not get an honest answer because no one wants to extinguish a youth's dreams.

I would consider sharing it anonymously with a forum or web-based writer's group and let them read it before knowing you. Although even then sometimes age comes across in the word choice.

Then again, you could be an excellent writer and just facing the same rejection as some of the top sellers faced before they got their books pub'd.

It Just Sucks...

Word Veri: comma

Anonymous said...

"I sent it in to one agent whom I thought would enjoy my work. They didn't. Which honestly left me a little sad and frustrated"

The author got ONE rejection and is sad and frustrated? Is that right?

Go to Absolute Write's rejection and dejection thread and see how many rejections writers get before they land an agent. You can also get great feedback there, from people who really are brutally honest.

LIke Jessica said - you have to have persistence. Plus thick skin. And good grammar.

josephrobertlewis said...

I see this sort of story a lot on Rejection Collection. Writers are baffled and dismayed when one agent rejects them. I don't know how to convey to these people that there are hundreds of agents receiving tens of thousands of queries per year and cracking through requires a magical mixture of talent, timing, and luck.

Anonymous said...

Somehow I have trouble believing a 17 year old kid can write well. When I was 17 I thought I wrote well too and wrote pages of angsty poetry which I find more funny than moving now.

Its entirely possible for really gifted writers I guess, like Jane Austen who wrote Love and Friendship as a kid. But writers like her are rare. He has plenty of time to improve though. There's no reason for him to publish now. If some kind soul had published my horrible poetry when I was younger I'd be really embarrassed now.

Connie said...

It's very, very hard to get rejections. But publishing can't be the reason you write because there's no guarantee you'll ever get published. You have to write because you love it, because you can't not write.
I wrote a novel that an agent told me he loved. The story was great. But the agency ended up not representing it because they didn't think it would sell enough copies to make it worth it for them to represent. Those are the realities of the world of publishing. Does it mean my novel was a waste? No. I write because I love it, and I'm thankful that I wrote a good book. I can be content with that. But I'll keep writing and keep trying to get published. If I do, that will be fantastic. And if not, at least I'm doing what I love.

spyscribbler said...

You are so lucky! Not many writers had a completed novel at 17. That shows something special.

Of the writers I know of who sold in their early twenties, the majority spent their college years writing multiple novels and short stories.

Query widely, and never buy into the negative mindset about NY publishing. Many people have made it before you, and there's absolutely no reason why you can't, too. There's always a way. If you believe otherwise, then you've been defeated before you've begun.

Study the roads others have taken to publication. Educate yourself, and then find your own path. Trust your instincts, be prepared and in position for luck to give you a leg up.

And always go the extra mile. Find what others are doing and work smarter and harder. That will get you ahead quicker than anything else.

Kate Douglas said...

Anonymous 9:04, you've said a mouthful. It's a rare writer, who, when still young, has the life experience to create a believable world on the page that will draw readers and hold their attention. This business requires a whole slew of components for success--talent, luck, voice, persistence, and a willingness to continue working and improving, among others. As I've said before, it took me twenty years, but who's counting?

Juliana Stone said...

Writing is not for the faint of heart. You need a thick skin, you need to believe in yourself, you need to accept criticism, you need to...the list goes on and on. Basically, if you want it, you need to perservere. It will come. A 17 year old pursuing the dream is an amazing thing. I wish this young writer all the best.

Michael Devers said...

There's a lesson I learned from playing poker that I think applies to both the publishing business and the music business (do you know how many times both Stephen King and the Beatles were turned down before they found the right match?) - luck is a big factor in the short run, but is insignificant in the long run. If you keep working at your craft and constantly striving to better yourself there, the rest will take care of itself and come with time.

Merry Monteleone said...

I'm not holding their age against them - SE Hinton was what? 16 when she published The Outsiders?

My writing when I was 17 wasn't nearly publishable - but I'm not the benchmark and it really doesn't say anything about what this author is capable of.

For the author:

The best advice I can give you is the same advice that was given to me. Find a critique group - not friends who will read your stuff for you, but a group of serious writers. If there's an arts college near you, see if you can enroll in a fiction writing course there. There's a difference between the feedback you'll get from a friend/ or even an avid reader, and the feedback you'll get from a writer or industry professional. While reader feedback can be dead helpful, it's often less specific and doesn't notice things like active/passive writing, plot holes, etc.

You've gotten your first rejection - huzzah, you got it out of the way early. There will be more of them. But the more you improve your writing, the close you'll get to the one that says, "yes".

Anonymous said...

It doesn't sound like the 17 year old writer has queried much. So that's the best advice: write a great query letter, send it out widely to well-researched agents, prepare for rejection, and wait. I do believe the cream will rise, and if your writing is good, it will find a home. And if you are mentioning your age in your query (and is it indeed only ONE?), stop it. Being 17 doesn't matter; being a good writer does.

Devon Ellington said...

Persistence, honing one's craft, and a strong work ethic all count.

I still learn with every piece I write. I hope that never stops.

I kept at it for years until I could make my living as a writer. It's still hard, it will always be hard, but it's worth it.

benwah said...

One rejection?

Remember that overnight sensations aren't. Everyone piles up rejections.

The other thorny thing is that at 17 you don't have a lot of the life experiences that enrich your writing. For example, you may understand the idea of love, but teenage infatuation and heartbreak are nothing next to the depth of emotion that comes with serious loves and losses.

Keep writing, keep querying. Your work will progress and mature as you do.

Dara said...

The writer is only 17 and he/she still has a great deal to learn. But that being said, they are only 17, so they probably don't know that much about the industry yet. Heck, I'm 24 (not that much older) and I am continually discovering new things about the publishing industry every day.

I probably would've have written something similar at that age. He/she just needs to keep working at it.

Not many can write a full length novel at that age. I know I didn't write anything of substance until just recently (I did handwrite a "novel" when I was 12--80 something pages front and back of typing paper--but I don't really count that). So they just need to do a little more research and keep working on their craft.

DebraLSchubert said...

17? Dear, God. May I please be 17 again? (Or, maybe not!) Here's a line from one of my songs:

"Can I go back and take along the wisdom that is mine?"

Not that getting older helps lessen the sting of rejection. If you think it's rough getting rejections at 17,just wait until you're 40!;-)

Jessica said...

That's right! Don't give up.
Also, I think the poster shouldn't worry about their age. And don't put in your query letter! It's not anyone's business unless they contract you.
I would suggest to this poster that he/she enter a few contests. Anonymous feedback is so much more honest than what you'll get from people you know.
One rejection is nothing. :-) Keep going!

Vivi Anna said...

Hey if this author is writing YA, it would be a perfect fit.

There are a few stories about young authors that have gotten published. It's not impossible.

Write a kick ass query letter and send it out to your top 10 agents. Then while you wait the long wait, write another book. Don't stay idle.

Rejections happen all the time. I'm a multi NY published author and the second time I was looking for an agent, I received a couple of rejections before finding my perfect fit. So it happens to everyone regardless of the circumstances.

Robena Grant said...

Some years ago, my eighteen year old daughter, home from college for the summer, convinced me to take a college extension course titled Writing Your First Novel.

We shared our work in class and critiqued as a group. There was a young man, also in the first year of college, and of the 20 students the two youngest people were the best writers, had fantastic world-building skills, and had the strongest voices. So age has nothing to do with anything.

Oh, and the thing of importance that I learned: writing "the end" on the manuscript doesn't mean it's ready to be seen by the public. It means you still have to revise, rewrite, revise and rewrite again.

Be proud of your accomplishment, join an objective group who can honestly critique your work. Look for people who are ahead of you in the game and learn from them. Then when you know your manuscript is absolutely the best you can ever make it, put your query letter out to agents in batches of five at a time. Moniter the comments from your submissions, contests, and critique groups, and build on and improve what you have, but only change those things that really resonate with you.

It's a long road to publication for most writers. In the meantime, start something new, keep writing, and keep moving forward.

Anonymous said...

When I was 17, I was on the school newspaper and Student Council and working part-time--plus doing lots of fun things that a teen does during high school.

You have the rest of your life to write and sell novels. Maybe it's time to enjoy beeing a teen and let it go for a while...

Elissa M said...

Most people here have already said it. Keep writing. Keep submitting.

I will bet you everything I own, the novel you just finished will never be published in its current form (unless you pay to have it published). If you don't believe me, you have tons to learn about the business.

When you have a hundred or more rejections, you can feel frustrated. Even then, if you're really a writer, you'll keep writing.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who thinks being 17 makes it impossible to write a novel, does not know the same teens I do. A seventeen year old has a much or better shot of communicating well writing YA than us old people do. Why would anyone think teens want to read about finding their true love. Teens want to read about the very thing real teens care about, and if infatuation is what they feel, as someone said, then that is what they relate to.

As for finding a critique group of writers, I have to disagree there also. One of the things everyone complains about is uniqueness, which you can lose unless you are very conscious about it. It may be that the seventeen year old author is being babied by their friends, but we do not know that. Anonymously, find you a group of your target audience, give them a sample of your book. Ask for their opinion, possibly through a survey. Also have someone unrelated to the book industry edit for grammar only (but remember there are times when for the sake of content, grammar is over ridden.)

Oh and one rejection is nothing, when you get two hundred then you can worry.

Heidi C. Vlach said...

Heh, I had pretty much the same problem shopping my first novel around when I was 19. Everyone who beta-read parts of it told me it was really good (although they often added "for a 19-year-old" like that's a compliment). Then I submitted to five agents and got five form rejections. I was confused and frustrated and wished someone would just tell it to me straight. I suspect everyone who told me my book was good was mentally adding, "for a kid".

The thing is, if it's your first completed novel, it's probably not great, no matter your age. There are probably wonderful parts in it, don't get me wrong. But there are probably also major flaws. Looking at my first novel nowadays makes me wince, and I can see why people patted me on the head and told me it was good, kiddo.


The first time you knit an entire sweater, it's an achievement to be proud of, and it's probably a decently warm sweater. But it's not necessarily attractive or high-quality enough to sell. Writing is a learning process. Keep practicing. Start another book. Read published books and learn from them. Try your hand at short stories, to learn efficiency of words. Maybe come back to your completed novel in a few months, and see if you can improve on it.

If you're looking for honest critique, I'd suggest downplaying your age. Don't reveal it at all, if possible. People mean well, but going easy on a critique because the author is young doesn't help that young author improve to publishing calibre.

Anonymous said...

I find a lot of these comments cruel. This seventeen year old author might be the next greatest thing.

Anonymous said...

Everyone here keeps telling the 17 year-old writer one rejection is nothing, but are you all so jaded you don't feel a thing when you get a rejection? To the 17 year-old, I will not invalidate your feelings about that rejection. Whether it's the first rejection or the 100th, it still sucks. Keep writing. It's the one thing you can always control and enjoy. Best wishes to you.

linda hall said...

I'm not sure anyone is putting the 17 year old down, to me it feels like the comments above are meant to help not hinder.

To the 17 year old the mere fact that you're willing to put yourself out there is great. Seriously. This is a business and things like feelings rarely come into play when an agent rejects your work. I'm sure most would like to send a personal note with each rejection saying why they rejected it, but with the sheer volume of queries they receive each day would make it impossible for them to do so and keep afloat.

Try not to take rejections to heart (and I know that's hard, but that's what each successful author must learn), also realize what doesn't work for one agent may resonate with another. Look at Stephanie Meyer for instance..she queried 10 places and only 1 accepted her. (I believe that's the story, anyone feel free to correct me if I'm wrong) Look at her now. Did that mean the other agents didn't see her talent, no...but it did mean they recognized they were not the right person for that project.

There's a saying amongst us writers. Basically it takes 60% skill and 40% luck to not only get agented but get published.

Just hang in there, and most of all have fun. :)

Although R's do suck, so big (((HUGS))). I've gotten several over the course of my career and quite honestly they never get easier, but then again I write because I love it, so regardless of an R I'll still write.

Anonymous said...

We're not trying to be hard on the 17-year-old. We do know what it's like to be rejected. I'm a man. I've dated. I KNOW rejection. (bada-boom!)

What we're trying to convey is this: that it takes faith in yourself, hard work, and persistence.

It's a hard pill to swallow; but swallow you must, if you want to get published. If you don't, then quit now. Enjoy doing something else instead.

Here's an example. I was recently signed by an agent for a non-fiction book project. This is the first time I've seriously gone after publication, although I've made half-assed attempts before.

I sent 40 queries. Following Miss Snark's advice, I had intended to send 100 before quitting.

Here's what happened:

Half of them rejected it. Fourteen never responded. Five asked for the proposal and two called to talk about it.

Of the agents who called, one was number 9, and the agent I signed with was number 35. If I had stopped at eight, the project would have failed.

Before, I had written four novels that were not worth going to an agent. The nonfiction proposal took several months to write and rewrite, and it underwent two more rewrites with the agent's help before the agent agreed to represent it.

After all this, the book has to be sold and (god willing) the rest of it has to be written, and then comes the marketing.

Your mileage may vary, but this is what it takes to get a project moving. And it has to start with you. If you don't believe in yourself, nobody else will.

Jennifer Roland said...

I see writing as like acting: You will be rejected, even when your work is flawless. You just keep on going until you find the right agent, editor, moment, whatever needs to align to be the right time for you and your work.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure the two of you don't mean anything disprespectful by your comments, but...

Anon 1:21's Comment: "...A seventeen year old has a much or better shot of communicating well writing YA than us old people do..."

Vivi's Comment: "...Hey if this author is writing YA, it would be a perfect fit..."

These comments imply that writing YA is somehow easier or it would be easier to craft if one were young. Becoming a YA author requires just as much dedication and focus as it does to become an "adult" book author.

I'm published in YA. The market is crowded, and it's very hard to break in right now. Even agented, previously published YA authors can't land a book deal. YA is not "easy." And just because the writer in question is 17 does not mean it will be any easier for her to get published. Why would it be?

I wish the writer the best.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

Hey, 17 year old...

When you're older, grown some hair on your ass and have put in a decade or so... then you can complain!


Haste yee back ;-)

Allison Brennan said...

I started writing young, but I never finished anything until I was over 30 (unless it was for school, and that doesn't count!) I think it's absolutely fabulous that at 17, this aspiring author is seeking an agent. When I was 13, I wrote to Stephen King after I read THE STAND (my first book written by King) and told him I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. He wrote me back. "Writer's write."

My advice to the 17 year old and anyone else: writer's write. Keep writing. It took me five books before I found an agent and sold. Five books is pretty standard. I know some who've sold their first; others who sold their 12th manuscript. I know authors who first sold when they were 19, and authors who first sold when they were in their 80s.

Practice, practice, practice -- and keep submitting. Good luck.

LCWright said...

I've had people read my work... what's my age?

Look, for whatever it's worth, writing at any age is something to be commended. Getting published, at any age, is difficult.

Look at it this way: Finding a good agent is like finding a good spouse. To some they'll tell you the good ones are already taken. To the good ones, someone is always trying to take advantage of them so they become a little jaded and leary. Those of us in a relationship may wonder if they have the right one. And the spouse can't seem to understand why the jerk looks around. The truth is, if you have something worth reading and published, fight for it. That doesn't mean become obnoxious. It means to constantly put it out there and make sure that when opportunity and preparation meet some day, luck will take you where you want to go.

Anonymous said...

Don't give up and don't let anyone tell you different. I believe you can write--there's no reason at all that a 17-yr-old can't write. The rejection is probably harder on you than it is on us, though, b/c you haven't lived thru as much of it as we have (with writing or otherwise). You're "paying your dues" as they say, and learning a valuable lesson in life: so much of ti is harder than we expect but learning that and then learning to cope with it will help you tremendously in life. I hope I don't sound like a preachy adult. I'm on your side and I wish you the best!

jimnduncan said...

Keep writing. If you have the dedication and commitment to complete a novel at 17 you are already ahead of the game compared to most writers. Keep writing. The next novel will be better than the last. The odds of finding an agent are slim, even for good stories. It's such a subjective business. You have to have not only skill, but luck and timing too. A lack of interest now might be different a year or two down the road when the market changes. Keep writing. It can take a long time in this business to achieve success. Most will never find it. If you write because you love to write, and make the commitment to keep doing it, your chances of success will continue to grow. Talent and skill are only part of the equation. Getting rejections is just part of the game, it does not mean you aren't good. Keep writing. Age can be a factor. I would not give out your age at the point of querying. If you get someone interested in representing you, then that information can come out. Your writing is what matters, not the age, so don't put it out there as a factor to consider. Just keep writing and putting it out there. I'll keep my fingers crossed for you. Best of luck.

J. Duncan

Anonymous said...

Why don't you try publishing a few short pieces first, like short stories, articles or poems? Trying to get a novel published now--with or without an agent--is a daunting feat for anyone at any age.

AstonWest said...

Everyone here keeps telling the 17 year-old writer one rejection is nothing, but are you all so jaded you don't feel a thing when you get a rejection?

Unfortunately, yes...

Angie Fox said...

It does suck. Finding an agent is hard. But if the author of that email is reading this, I have to tell you how impressed I am that you've finished your first novel at 17.

When I was your age, I was still writing quick little stories starring my high school friends. I'd never even dreamed of writing a whole book.

So from what I can see, you're ahead of the game. Sure, you might need to write more books in order to sell (I sold on my 4th) or the next agent you query might be the one (some people do sell their first book). Either way, kudos to you for getting out there, for admitting it's hard and for keeping at it all the same. With that kind of drive, there's nowhere to go but up.

Jenna Anastasi said...

Spot on, Jessica. I started out writing when I was 18 and I was constantly told that my age was going to work against me, no matter what. Well, nine years down the track I'm still not published (and damn that person who told me I'd be lucky to get published before 30 might end up being right!) but I'm still here. And I believe my work only gets better the more time goes by and the harder I work. I don't plan on giving up until I've achieved my goals! Persitence it is.

Juiana Stone said...

Anon 3:06 I don't think Vivi's comment means that it's easier for a 17 year old to break into YA. I'm fairly certain she means that if this author is talented, YA might be a road for her to explore, especially if her young voice strikes a chord with an agent and/or editor. It just might be a better fit.

mewriter said...

Two things.

"I just don't know where to find an agent who'd even think about taking on a 17 year old writer."

I think it's not age but the idea and the writing that decides an agent on who they'll take on. I wonder if any of the people the work was shown to are involved with publishing? It is worth getting feedback from an established mentor or editor. I've had appraisals where I've sent in 20 or 50 pages, and then had a meeting. It is usually between about $40 and $60 and at a writers conference. I always learn a lot from these, and can see my own progress.

Otherwise: keep writing, keep writing, keep writing, the more you do, the more you see where you are.

Anonymous said...

Keep trying. DON’T stop after one rejection! I am a 16 year old writer looking for an agent, and I have gotten my fair share of rejections, but I have also gotten requests for partials and fulls. If your work is good, someone will want to take a look at it – you just have to keep working on your query letter and keep sending it out to people who work with your genre. Good luck!

britmandelo said...

Don't tell them your age. *g* Do it later once they've already asked for the full and spin it as a PR opportunity.

Trust me, I started this game when I was 17 too. Just don't mention it. Since I ended up going into romance, and it was a little awkward to go saying my age, it's still an unknown factor.

Just have confidence in yourself.

(Also, no less than 100 rejected queries is a failure.)

Nemil said...
This comment has been removed by the author.