After my experience with the #PitchtoPublication contest, I firmly believe that breaking into the writing industry takes a perfect mixture of hard work, ruthless editing and a bit of talent. But not only that, but you need a damn good amount of luck, because the industry’s foundation is built upon perception and/or interpretation.
In the P2P contest, I was so lucky to have three different editors read my query and the first five pages of my manuscript. Then, they all tweeted their responses, keeping it hidden as to which authors they were talking about. But, if you embraced your inner Sherlock well enough, you could figure out which one was yours. Amongst the editors I submitted to, I had one who had a positive tweet I thought could be mine, but also a negative tweet that had great chances to also be mine. My Sherlock skills failed me and I still don’t know which one it was. But I didn’t get a request for a partial, so I’m leaning towards the latter. Then, I had another editor who I connected with so well, who understood what I was trying to do and liked my writing. Unfortunately, looking at the stellar group that also submitted to her, I knew my manuscript had too much going on to get it edited in a month (not to mention its size), so no partial request there either. The third one didn’t like my premise for the *exact* reason that the second one loved it (hasn’t sent out requests yet, but I’m not holding my breath).
Seeing the second and third editors have completely opposite opinions opened my eyes to how subjective the writing industry can be. And when querying agents, oftentimes they don’t tell you why they don’t like your work (have I made that clear in the past week of blog posts? ;)), which complicates things, because you could be rejected to different agencies for completely different reasons and never know why. Or, you could simply be querying to people who don’t understand or don’t like one aspect of your manuscript, which is the exact thing another agent is going to love, if you just have the chance to query them.
But, of course, they can’t just love it and that results in the fairy tale ending of a published book. There are other factors that come into play that makes me believe you have to be pretty lucky in order to achieve your goal. For example, an agent might love your story, but the market isn’t right for it at that moment in time, so it won’t sell. Or, perhaps you do get representation, work on a manuscript for six months, then go to try and find a publisher, only another book that is very similar got published a month prior (heard about that scenario in a podcast I listened to yesterday; talk about heartbreaking). Or perhaps that agent is perfect for you, but they aren’t accepting submissions for another six months. There are a lot of factors you can’t control 100% of the time. From grand things like timing and market to even something so simplistic as the agent’s mood that morning; sometimes, you’re just shit out of luck.
Seeing two different editors vastly different opinions on a, frankly controversial topic regarding my manuscript actually made me laugh, while also forcing me to remember that you can’t get discouraged because luck is definitely a factor in play. And sometimes, you can’t control it. Sometimes, the circumstances just don’t pan out in your favor. That doesn’t mean that it never will, however. You must remember that. For example, the editor whom I loved (and who loved me) sent me a really sweet email afterwards, explaining why I didn’t make the partial cut. It’s not that my work is lacking, but for the parameters of that specific contest, it is just too grandiose in scale, in comparison to others that make more sense, and fit what that contest asks for better.
Take heart! Something you can do to help improve your luck (or make your own luck, if you will) is research. Research, research, research. Know the market as best you can. You’re writing a western? Read westerns. Find the books on the New York Times #1 Bestsellers list that match your genre and read them. Read both the classics and the ones published yesterday. Find the ones in smaller markets and read those, too. Research their authors, know who represents them. Read interviews. Know the market, the trends, what’s selling and what’s not. Of course, you don’t necessarily have to tailor to those trends (I am a firm, unshakable believer that you write the story your heart is telling you to write; always), but knowing them won’t hurt you. Research agents. Know what they like, how they work and determine whether you would make a good fit, both as a team and looking at if they could help improve and truly represent your work. Then, tailor your query letter to them personally. Avoid form query letters, even if you’re querying in bulk. Stay informed on the agents that are looking for new clients and the ones that are full.
This type of research is something I neglect and I only hurt myself because of it. I spend so much time focusing on my work that I don’t want to spend the time staying on top of the trends, the market and everything else in-between. Yet if I want to be successful in this business–a business where so much is based on making a connection, of finding that right person in the right mindset at exactly the right time–this type of research is paramount. It is a skill I plan to hone before my next set of queries. After I finish this first draft of the new stand-alone and go back and edit the completed trilogy. Again (le sigh).
PS: Any tips on how you’ve researched or personal research stories? Share in the comments! 🙂