You’ve done it! You’ve written your first novel/screenplay/article/porno, and you want to share it with the world. You’ve got the pages ready, and you’re about to start looking for an agent! Congratulations!
But wait…the first issue hits, and the second. Sooner than you realize, you’ve got yourself a ticket to Wait City, and the bus isn’t planning on leaving anytime soon. Still, you keep muscling along, because after all, they’d be crazy not to want your work, right?! You’re awesome, and everyone is going to want to pay you to read your book.
1. You will have to pay people to read your book.
The hardest reality about writing a book is realizing that no one wants to read it. After all, they have no idea what your capability to write is—and they have no clue if it’s any good. Apart from (maybe) knowing the main character’s name and the genre of your book, no one is even going to remember that you wrote something—until you’re stinking rich and famous.
Until that moment happens, you will practically be begging friends, teachers, writing groups and even random strangers on the internet to read what you’ve written. You will shamelessly plug your work every chance you get—at parties, work, get-togethers, strip clubs—wherever you hang out, you will become a menace. Everyone will find out you’ve written a book, and no one will read it. Many will claim interest, even say they’ll read your work, and then never do it. It’s just some of what you have to overcome on your way to getting published.
“Maybe if I kill off all of my characters—people seem to like that.”
The problem is that you desperately need people to read that work, so they can tell you if it’s any good. Eventually, because you’re desperate, you’ll start looking to people who can read it with a critical eye, and those people will charge you money—lots of it. Typically, most editors that you pay (not to publish your book but to clean it up for a query), charge somewhere around $25-$50 per hour—and $25 is the very low end of the professional spectrum. These people will practically be knocking down your door to read your story—if you agree to pay them for it. However, that’s another problem because…
2. You will have no money.
Regardless of whatever reasoning you have behind writing your book, you’re eventually hoping to get paid to do what you love. You can convince yourself that you’re in it for the art, for the fun, for the hot cosplay sex at conventions, but at the end of the day, if you’re not getting any money, you’re not succeeding.
This makes it even more difficult that you’re about to have to spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars on getting people to read your work, and creating business materials that make you appear more professional. This can include business cards, social media sites, self-promotion, and even publishing, if you’re doing it yourself. You have to shell out money to promote a book that you don’t even have representation for yet.
You may not have a job, or you may be a student—me, I’m a full time student and I have a full time job, and sometimes it feels like I’m living off of cup soup, $5 pizzas, and day old bread. In order to be able to write, I accepted a position that is lower in pay but frees my schedule for both school and writing. Some days it feels like three full time jobs, but that’s the price of choosing to work in this industry. Many people have to work a full forty-hour week or more, and then work on the weekends. Some people quit their jobs all-together in order to write full time, but it’s a risky move that most of us can’t afford to make.
All of this is going to be a shot in the dark, anyway, with next to no certainty of returns. This is because there’s a limited number of people who will have read your work, barely any others who know your name, and even less who actually care that you can string together various words into a complete sentence. You’re still going to have to convince people that you’re not a total waste of space which is going to be interesting because….
3. Literary Agents do not have any time to give to hopefuls.
When I say this, I mean it in the most literal way possible. Literary agents receive hundreds of manuscripts, queries, pleading letters—and even hate mail a week. Sometimes up to one hundred thousand per year. They spend their time sifting through never ending piles of work from people who may or may not be worth their effort. Michael Bourne writes in an article on The Millions that he once watched an agent power through nineteen queries in fourteen minutes and reject eighteen of them. That’s unfortunately fairly standard, and knowing that, you work hard to make a query letter that will bowl over an agent. You use every awesome word in your vocabulary to try to woo them with your prowess…but is it enough?
A well-thought out query letter can make or break your literally career, all in the five seconds it takes to read it. The agent’s mood may decide the fate of your status as a represented author—is it fair? No, but them’s the breaks, kid. Whenever they finally get around to your email or physical query—and you’d better read up on whichever one they want sent in—they could skim your letter, decide, “Meh,” and put you in the reject pile. Who knows? Maybe the agent just broke up with their significant other, maybe they just got some bad news—maybe they just started their period that day.
“If I have to read one more crappy fanfic there’s going to be a bloodbath.”
You may have worked and created an entire world with interesting characters and a kick-ass plot, but you have one page—about three paragraphs to introduce yourself, your book, and butter the agent up enough to make them like you. What’s crazy is the hardest work you’ll have to do is after you write the book, when you try and make people aware of your existence.
As for thinking that you can take a short cut to the top of this ‘ho’-pile and send them gifts, think again. Most literary agencies inform you on their submissions page that if you send them baked goods, tickets to the game, or even money, they will throw your manuscript out without reading it and keep the presents. Gifts will only say bad things about how well you write. It’s fair to say that they are a sign that you don’t think your work can stand on its own. Still, they’ll have no qualms about keeping whatever you send, cause hey, free stuff, amirite? This is not to say they are heartless, but you need to prove that your work is what they’re looking for. Bribery is not a way into this industry. Everything might feel like it’s designed to keep people out, because then…
4. Even after you get an agent there is no guarantee anyone will publish your work.
Let’s say the finish line is in sight—you’ve got your agent and you’re ready to go with a traditional publishing house. You figure you can’t lose! If Stephanie Meyer can spend four books describing her characters undressing each other with their eyes and then one of them tries to commit suicide after her vampire boyfriend takes back his mix tape and leaves her mopey butt, then anyone can right?
It’s a well-known fact that publishing houses and literary agencies are fickle to a fault, and asking God to miraculously cure cancer, and AIDS simultaneously would probably be easier than submitting a book and receiving approval from an agent and a publisher in one take.
“Sorry guys, I’m too busy playing Satan in Earth Risk. He keeps fortifying Australia. What an ass.” –Jesus
There are articles and stories all over the internet about famous authors who got rejected not once or twice, but about twelve times before someone would agree to publish their soon-to-be famous shit. In that same example of rejection, the author was even told to “…get a day job because (they) have little chance of making money in children’s books.” Who was that author, you might ask?
Oh, it was just J. K. Rowling, aka, the woman who wrote the Harry Potter series. That’s only one instance. Dan Brown got told that his book was “…so badly written”, and went on to sell eighty million copies of The Da Vinci Code. Beatrix Potter had to self-publish 250 copies of The Tale of Peter Rabbit and now it’s sold 45 million worldwide. Margaret Mitchell was rejected a record thirty-eight times before she found someone to publish one of the most well-known and prolific stories of all time—Gone With the Wind.
This isn’t to say that people want to keep you out. Publishing is risky for everyone involved. Just like it’s a career move for you, it’s also a career move for the house that takes on your book, for better or worse. They have to be careful, or they’ll find themselves out of work. They won’t get fired for rejecting someone.
5. There will be thousands of people who can’t write flooding the market.
Remember when I said that literary agents get about two hundred queries a week? Well, meet your competition. It doesn’t mean it’s good competition, but they are there nonetheless, vying for that ever-important clear space on the desk of the agent, and they are not going anywhere.
For every person who is trained on how to write, goes to school, and works hard to read thousands of books and take notes, there is also a…less than capable individual that writes a little story and someone has the genius idea to tell them that they should write for a living—and so they do. There is a reason that only a small percentage of material that crosses an agent’s desk gets a good reception, and it’s largely thanks to people who never try to improve how they write and no one ever told them to calm right down with that noise. I’m not talking people who honestly try, here.
I have spent about three years in a creative writing degree program, busting my buns to become a better writer and write things that people will actually read. At the same time, there are also people in my class who can’t spell the word “breathe” properly. Unfortunately, I’m not kidding.
After a conversation with a friend about this, I had to satiate myself with the knowledge that they won’t be any competition to me after graduation, but they totally will be—just not in the skill department. These are the people who are going to be vying for the same coveted position and totally messing up the agent’s mood before they get to my work. These are the people that fail at traditional publishing and flood Amazon.com with self-published nightmares.
All of these issues lead to a pretty difficult attempt to get published but we just have to keep on trying despite that. There’s nothing better than knowing at the end of the day that your hard work and diligence paid off and you’re finally doing what you always wanted to do. Plus, there’s nothing better than being that guy who just sits back and rakes in the royalties.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t try to do it–rather that you should just be aware of your situation beforehand, and go into it armed with knowledge. The only way to win this game is to keep going despite all of the odds against you, and hope that your diligence pays off. After all, people get accepted by agencies all the time–and someday soon, it could be your name on that next new bestselling book!
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