(Full disclosure as of 4/10/2019–while I did write this for important updates, I obviously got a bit worked up in the process; I’ve tweaked or removed 3-4 sentences which aren’t reflective of my thoughts when level-headed. If you’re coming back to this and remembering it as moderately less reasonable, that is why.)
“I’m sorry, but your work isn’t a good fit for my list at this time.” A paraphrase, perhaps; the form rejections are usually tailored to a be a little stiffer. As if making the blow less personal makes the wound easier to bear–I think we’re all well aware this just as easily works the opposite way. A few agents did offer me specific responses, and I thank them from my final reserves. I hope some day I can explain to them how much those little acknowledgments did to convince me I wasn’t going insane.
Well, more so.
I understand this is part of the process. I know that it’s industry convention. And yes, I know expecting agents to spend time custom-tailoring query letters is just ridiculous. Rationally, I know this; feeling it is another matter. I’ve read that some writers receive no response for a year or even years before suddenly hearing back. For myself, though? The only thing that consistently irritates me about feedback is that I never receive it quickly enough when I ask for it or get quite as much to work from as I’d like. I hate stagnation more than anything else. I can and have harmed myself solely to create some semblance of change.
Theoretically, a constant urge to refine and move ahead with my stories should be much healthier than cold steel on scarred thighs.
I don’t think I can properly express to all of you the awful dissonance, the scalping frustration, caused by receiving passed-on thank you notes for my scriptwriting feedback, receiving accolades from writers whose work I cut apart, having that nine-page teaser for my book vastly outperforming most of my other posts here–and yet after more than a year of querying, revisions, revisions to my queries, and constant reexamination of myself and my book alike to have received not so much as a manuscript request.
Searching for possible reasons takes me little time. Maybe the title makes them think it’s a D&D-inspired story; maybe it’s not “punchy” enough. Maybe the latest marketing data says it’s a bad year for necromancers (it’s always a good year for necromancers, but marketing departments and reality are distant acquaintances by definition). Maybe they don’t like my mild experiment in opening the book with a briefing document–and that is mild; I’ve enough editing experience by now to know it’s neither outlandish or genius.
Maybe it’s just not that good; though, if it’s not that good after dozens of developmental and line-editing revisions, you can see this would have to mean I’m completely hopeless as a writer. I hope that if you’re reading this, odds are high you agree that can’t be the case. I don’t consider myself a master, but I can say with confidence that I consistently write well. Not always brilliantly, and I should provide you the list of writers who do:
Good list, isn’t it?
Maybe I didn’t personalize the letters enough. Maybe word has gotten out about the mad Aspie and his manuscript which won’t go away, and agents mash the form-rejection button when they see it in their email without reading a word of it. Maybe I have such terrible luck that only the ones who hate all my book’s elements have actually seen my emails, and the ones who would love the book just happen to have missed it. Maybe I sent my queries too late in a given day–this seemed more likely until I factored in timezones and emails from non-U.S-based writers. Maybe agents just hate that I tend to open the queries with “Dear ____” as I’ve been taught to do all my life.
You see the core problem: “I’m sorry, but your work isn’t a good fit for my list at this time.”
This is carefully meaningless. It conveys nothing, no hint as to where I might improve or what I’m doing wrong. I’m not that bothered that it’s impersonal; being born Autism-Spectrum means I’ve been forced to prove to neurotypical people that I’m worthy of their attention from day one. At least none of these agents have seen my face, right? No, I’m angry because it’s useless. There’s nothing specific here, no core flaw I can hurl my zeal against. Even a sentence telling me what turned them away would help–I don’t expect paragraphs worth of explanation from agents who have to sift 2,000+ queries a year, but my work must be at least good enough to deserve a sentence. Right?
The answer could always just be, “I’ve never heard of this guy, so I don’t see how he can be any good.”
All this brings us to 2019. We’re four months in, now. I’ve held back and bottled up so many other stories while waiting on these agents. Without malice towards them–with perhaps one exception–I can’t keep doing this. I can’t keep hacking out side-projects and distracting myself with experiments and half-hearted networking attempts. From the moment I chose to pursue Creative Writing at GVSU to the day I received my diploma by mail, I had a single purpose: write genre fiction novels. Write fantasy and future fantasy.
I’m able to support myself via other endeavors now. I have no need for the pipe-dream of self-sustaining authorial triumph. At this point I want my novels published. Whether they find broad commercial success or not, I no longer care. I won’t say I gained nothing by the delays; my skills as a writer have skyrocketed over the past fourteen months. I hope someday I’ll be able to release the earlier drafts–let any who wish see the The Necromancer and the Revenant V1.0, a lovable little trainwreck!
Now, however, it’s time I made an end for it. The current draft is excellent, but not flawless; it’ll never be flawless. It was the best draft I could write at the time I wrote it, and I remain proud of it, but the best draft I could write in December 2018 isn’t the best draft I can write now.
Let’s put this out in the open: for now I still have a few agents to burn through, but I’ve exhausted most of the online-approachable ones who accept fantasy queries. I’ll send a few more queries throughout April and maybe some in May if I can find any other prospects. When this fails, however, come June 1st it’s time for The Necromancer and the Revenant: Platinum Edition.
This will be, at minimum, the 18th major round of revisions to the novel; I still have every version file, though the changes are hard to chart sometimes since I didn’t always renumber them at each round’s start. I’ll accept many criticisms, but I’ll also strike anyone who dares say I didn’t bleed for this book.
My first novel currently rests easy at 115,665 words. It was 115,666 for a while. Yes, this was the actual count, and no, I didn’t massage the document to achieve it. So far none of the agents seeing the most recent queries have noticed or asked if I was fucking serious.
This leaves me easily 3 chapters worth of leeway at roughly 4,000 words per chapter before I hit the 130,000 word soft-cap for adult speculative fiction novels. As it happens, this is exactly what I need to ease structural and pacing concerns, offer more time to shine to characters who richly deserve it, and tighten up the worldbuilding.
Also, my third eye has opened and I’ve decided that since the book is already violent as all hell, there’s no reason I shouldn’t cap the romance subplot with actual erotica. You’re welcome in advance… or alternatively, I’m sorry for my sins. Not for writing smut, mind you. I just don’t want to write bad smut!
Once this draft is finished–what then? What then for a writer who refuses to quit but can’t entice an agent? I think you know the answer already.
I admit I wanted an agent and a publisher’s resources. It would’ve been wonderful, just once, to have the assets behind me which seem to fall into other writers’ laps. I know it’s not actually that easy. I know that’s unfair to my peers. But after everything I’ve done to attain, well, nothing, it’s hard not to feel cheated. I don’t live in a part of the U.S. where I can easily attend conventions ad nauseum to make connections and hawk my book face-to-face. I wouldn’t want to even if I had easy access. I cannot state this viciously enough:
I do not want to do a million other tasks rather than write. I want to improve my writing. I want to develop my skills, apply them to my work, and benefit from the feedback loop this creates. I would rather have a masterpiece read by fifty people than a passive scrawl read by fifty million. I might enjoy a convention’s socializing, but it wouldn’t be productive in writing terms. I know said socializing is key to success in just about any U.S. career field. I don’t dream that I’ll beat the system or achieve much beyond obscurity at this point, but I don’t think I ever had a hope to do otherwise.
Perhaps it’s a little cowardly or just too plain cynical, but I’ve made connections before. Dozens of times. You wouldn’t know because nothing came from any of these meetings. Others told me they’d like to work with me… then they didn’t. I’m at a point, presently, where I can muster the energy to put my book out there or try to recruit help, not both. I’m choosing the option which doesn’t depend on others keeping their promises to support me. I’ve yet to see any of those promises kept.
I can’t change that my work’s fated for burial; it always was. With my disorder, with my family’s nomadic lifestyle conditioning me to believe that making more friends just meant losing more friends, with simple bad luck despite all my efforts, I was always going to catch hell in the modern writing industry. Knowing somebody is everything, and I’m nobody. I cannot keep my work visible; with what power remains to me, I can only burnish it and hope it’s still golden if it should ever be dug from the valley’s depths.
So, it’s self-publishing for The Necromancer and the Revenant come June. I hope at least some of you honor me by buying a copy at that time.
Meanwhile, with the same fatal determination that’s seen me this far, I’ll exhaust my remaining agent options. I’m curious to see whether I can get up to 60 rejections–if I can never win, perhaps I can at least be remembered for surviving so many defeats.