The First-World Problems of A Published Writer, Part One

My life is awesome, don't get me wrong.

When I was mired in the foxhole of query hell dodging rejection bullets while trying to reload with a better, more awesome query, I looked at published authors as people with no problems. Or at least, their problems were nothing in comparison to mine.

And I still think this is true. But...

Published authors have our own set of issues—marketing plans we don't agree with (Hey, at least you have marketing that you're not funding yourself!), a cover we hate (Um, an art department made your cover, not your cousin with her outdated Photoshop software!), a title change (Really? Because if a pub house wanted me I'd change my title to This Book Sucks & The Author is Ugly), or thematic battles with your editor (Hello!??! At least you have an editor!). 

And to be very clear, in case any of the fabulous people at Katherine Tegen are reading this (I love them all, along with every cell right down to its nucleus in every one of their bodies), these issues are not my issues. I'm culling these examples from years of conversations with other writers.

But the problems I want to talk to you about today are the everyday problems, little misunderstandings that crop up with people who don't understand the publishing industry—and you shouldn't expect them to. In fact, I won't even call them problems because they aren't. They're blips on the screen that have occurred enough times that you feel like it's a problem, like an eye twitch that happens one too many times in the afternoon. What's the remedy? Remind yourself to be grateful you have eyes and move on.


1) Where can I buy your book?—Well, a bookstore is a good start. Just saying. Or this magical thing called the internet. Don't say that. Yes, they might be the 1000th person to ask you that—and essentially it might feel like a silly question—but it's not their fault they weren't the first person to ask you back when you had patience. If they're the 1000th person to ask—and you answer politely 1000 times—you might sell 1000 books.

2) How much is your book?—This depends entirely on who is selling it. Seriously. Amazon is selling it cheaper than Barnes & Noble, and both of them are selling it more cheaply than the local Indie. It all relates to the magical Amazon algorithm and overstock and price gouging but Indies count on support and... oh wait, this person doesn't care about the politics behind everything. Just answer the question with the jacket price. If this launches them into a long story about how they found it cheaper on eBay, fantastic. Listen to it. Don’t launch into a diatribe about how the secondary market hurts you. It does, yes. But it’s only going to make them feel bad, and they just supported you… or at least they thought they did.

3) Can I buy it from you? - Technically, no. In order to do that I have to have a vendor's license and charge tax and declare it as income. Also, I don't carry my books around in my trunk like I'm selling roses on the corner or meat out of coolers. If fact, this is one of the major reasons why I went the traditional publishing route—I don't want to handle sales myself. Again, just answer the question. They want to buy the story that's published, not the long boring one you're telling in response to a simple inquiry.

4) Hey, I wrote a book too! Will you read it?—Here's the thing, 200 million Americans have written / are writing / want to write a book. Chances are you know a few of them, and if you don't already they are going to seek you out. The quick answer is no, however it's also a fairly rude answer that will make people think you are too big for your britches now that you're a fancy-pants published writer. Definitely say the no part, but say it nicely and with encouragement, along with a list of writing blogs and podcasts (this one is a good start), and suggestions on how to find a critique partner more suited to where they are in the journey. You might be passing on a chance to usher in the next Margaret Atwood, but that's not your job. Your job is to write, and you can't do that when you're mentoring someone else.

5) My cousin in Tucson bought your book! How did you get it in bookstores out there?—Yeah. Here's the thing, the general public doesn't know the difference between self-publishing and traditional publishing. Remember, 200 million Americans want to get published and they now have the opportunity to do exactly that (and more power to them). So those authors are selling their books themselves, they are hand delivering their stock to bookstores, and this is the average person's concept of how books get "out there" now that they probably know someone who is doing exactly this. Your publisher did all this for you, and you sank a third of your lifetime into getting the deal that made that possible. Explaining this will make you sound elitist, even if you're not. So what's the best answer? The simple one: my publisher. Period.

These are some of the tiny, silly, nagging little problems of a published author. It's not the questions, it's the repetition. And there are days when none of these are asked, followed by days where I get all five multiple times each and I want to drink bleach just to see how it makes my intestines smell.

Then I say to myself, "Mindy—you get paid to make up stories about things that didn't happen to people that don't exist. Shut up."

10 Writer's Resolutions for 2019 & 10 Things NOT To Do

Regular readers know that it took me ten years to find an agent, and another six months after signing with her to land a book deal. During that time, every New Year's Eve I'd stare down into my drink and resolve that this year I was going to get published.

That is not a good resolution. I'll tell you why.

A writer has very little control over whether or not they become published. Nuances of the market, trends, financial belt tightening in the industry, a book too similar to your own that breaks out... all of these things are beyond a writer's control. You might as well make your New Year's resolution that this year you're going to win the Westminster Dog Show - as the dog, not the handler.

(Side note - it's not impossible. In 1903 unaware Victorians named a lemur best in show for the Foreign Breed Class at the Crystal Palace Cat Show in London)

On New Year's Eve of 2009 I looked down into my drink (they were getting bigger) and told myself to come up with a better resolution, because the old standby of "get published" wasn't coming through for me. I decided instead that I would join an online writer's group.

And that changed everything.

My forum of choice was AgentQueryConnect. First I lurked, occasionally sending direct messages to posters whose commentary I enjoyed. Then I began posting, throwing myself into the world and meeting people that I continue to interact with to this day. Next I found a few posters that I thought would be a good fit for critique partners, and made that personal connection leap.

And as Frost says, that has made all the difference.

I continue to use the critique partners that I met on AQC, all of whom have gone on to become published writers as well. Through AQC I learned how to write a query that works, format a manuscript the right way, write a synopsis, and navigate the industry in general. I learned how to take control of the little things that could add up to "get published."

So here are some writerly resolutions that I suggest for 2017, ones that are entirely within your power to execute.

1. Join a writer's group or forum. AQC is my touchstone, but there are some other great ones out there such as AbsoluteWrite and the forum at Writer's Digest.

2. Get serious about tracking those queries. Sure, you've had rejections, but do you remember from who? Or even why? is indispensable, and I highly recommend going for the paid version. It's worth it.

3. Find a critique partner that isn't your mom or a friend. If you want a real critique it needs to come from another writer - not just a reader. Finding someone online to give you feedback takes out the awkward quality of a friend who might not want to tell you something isn't working, and also allows you the freedom to go ahead and cry in front of your computer without them ever knowing you did. A good CP should be at about the same level you are in terms of craft and career. Get online, find someone in your genre, and trade manuscripts.

4. Pay for membership in a writer's group that fits your needs. Whether you write mysteries, sci-fi, picture books or adult literary, there is a professional group that fits your style. Most groups offer different levels of membership depending on whether you are published or pre-published. Examples are SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators), MWA (Mystery Writers of America), SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America), ITW (International Thriller Writers) and RWA (Romance Writers of America). You can learn a lot from these communities and their publications.

5. Scout out local opportunities. I've met with various writer's groups that home-base out of a local library or private home. Ask your local librarian if s/he knows about any such groups.

6. Subscribe to a professional magazine that seems like your style. I highly recommend both Writer's Digest and Poets & Writers (even though I totally hear Adam Sandler's "Hoagies & Grinders" in my head every time I get a Poets & Writers in the mail).

7. Learn about what's going on in the industry itself. Yes, I know. You're a writer, not a business person. In this day and age you must be both. You can glean a lot of information about the industry from both online forums, writers groups, and professional subscription listed above. However, if you can afford a subscription and want to mainline industry info, Publisher's Weekly is the way to go.

8. You need to know what's selling if you want to position yourself and your work in the market. A subscription to Publisher's Marketplace will tell you who's buying what, and what agents are selling right now in your genre. This is not a necessity, but it can be a good tool.

9. Go to a writing conference in your area. I only attended one as a pre-pub - and it was romance centered - but it was close, convenient, and affordable. It gave me the opportunity to sit down at a table with agents and published authors, and most importantly, I learned how not to approach time by watching other people make snafus.

10. Lastly, write your book. Yes, that's what I put last. Everything above is instrumental in getting your work published, and most of them are actionable before you have something to show and share. If you have a finished manuscript, most of the above goals will help change and craft that ms during the road to publication. If you haven't started yet, you can still dive in and learn as you go.

Now, 10 things you shouldn't do in 2019... or really, ever.

1 Like I said before, don't set goals that aren't in your power to meet. Broad goals like get published aren't going to do you any favors. Find the baby steps towards that big goal and make those your aim.

2 Don't be frustrated by the success of others. Comparison truly is the thief of joy. If you're reading a book that has sold a million copies and you think yours is better, that's actually a good thing. Maybe yours will sell a million and one copies. Take heart. Getting angry only wastes your energy.

3 Similarly, don't trash other authors in public. If you think someone's writing sucks, that's fine. Is it really important for you to tell them that? In a few years you might find yourself looking for blurbs for your book, or your publicist might be trying to place you on panel - and that author you badmouthed will remember.

4 Don't be fooled by the positivity machine. This is something that has come up again and again on the podcast, but it doesn't hurt to reiterate here at the beginning of the year. People use social media to make themselves look good and authors are no different. In 2019 we're be posting our new covers, great blurbs, and book tour dates. Don't think for one second that we didn't go through a dark night of the soul to get there, or that that night only happens once. Writing is not easy for any of us. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.

5 Don't let anyone tell you there's one right way to go about writing. We all have our methods and many writers will tell you that each book requires a different approach. There's no quick and easy method. There's no magic bullet. What works for one will fail for someone else. Find your way.

6 Don't let anyone tell you there's one right way to get published. From self-publishing to small presses to the Big Five, you've got to find what fits you. That means learning your strengths. Are you good at marketing and promotion? Would you rather write than spend your time hand selling? Know the answers to those questions - and many more - before you decide which path to take.

7 Don't grind yourself into the ground. Seriously. One of the worst pieces of advice that I hear is never give up. It's fine to give up. In fact, it's healthy. I've said it on the show before but it bears repeating. It took me 10 years to get published but I wasn't sending out queries everyday. A person can only handle so much rejection and stay mentally and emotionally healthy. Take a break sometimes. For months, even. I did. Give up for a little bit. Then jump back in.

8 Don't convince yourself you're an undiscovered literary genius. Sure, there's a chance you might be, but it's much more likely that you're a good writer with a decent idea who needs to hone their skills a little bit more to break through. The tortured starving artist thing doesn't look good on anybody.

9 Don't blame the system. Yes, writing queries sucks. Yes, it can feel like you're on the outside looking in. Yes, the gatekeepers can feel like your enemies. They aren't. The system exists for a reason and that reason is because it works. The vast majority of the writers I know found their agent through cold querying, and it took an average of 7 years for them to find that agent. There could be many reasons you're not published yet: your writing just isn't ready, the market isn't right at the moment for your story, or maybe you're great at novel writing but aren't very good at queries. The answer to why you haven't broken in yet isn't the query process, and telling yourself so is only an excuse to not see the real reason.

10 Don't beat a dead horse. I meant that literally - why would do that? But also, don't keep querying a book that isn't getting anywhere. I received over 130 rejections for a particular novel, as well as partial and full rejections. I kept querying it. I was determined. This was my ticket. I started writing the sequel to the book that no one wanted to read. Then I got smart, realized I was wasting my time, and moved on to a new idea that was titled Not A Drop to Drink.


One Author's Journey From Aspiring Author to Agented Author

by Sarah Rowlands

Some writers work on many manuscripts for several years before finding an agent to champion their project. My journey was different. I worked on one book for two years, then found my agent. What can I say? I’m monogamous.

My querying journey begins with a desire to write a great story, backed up with perseverance and the unequivocal need to succeed at something I believed in. I finished writing the first draft of my manuscript at age 15. It was 28,000 words and I thought it was adult fiction. I knew absolutely nothing about publishing or story and thought I had an undiscovered masterpiece. But I wasn’t even sure what to do with it, so it sat on a floppy disc for almost 20 years.

When I unearthed it in my 30s, I realized it was not, in fact, a masterpiece, but a pile of shit. But I had a soft spot for it. I kept thinking about it as I read published books and really got into young adult fiction. Something began to stir in my brain… What if my old manuscript was written for a young adult audience?

And then suddenly it was there – the idea, the drive, the home for my story. I wanted to write again. I wanted my story to be great. And I wanted to learn everything there was to know about writing a story and getting it published.

So I joined writing groups online (Twitter, Facebook) and found critique partners at sites like Agent Query Connect and Query Tracker.  I read books on craft: On Writing by Stephen King, Stein on Writing by Sol Stein, Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, The Kick-Ass Writer by Chuck Wendig, to name my favorites.

I re-read and revised my manuscript every day, tweaking plot, character motivation, pace, etc. while following the advice of the above experts. When I felt I had something great, I shared copies of my manuscript with family members that loved to read. And while it was terrifying to show my work because I feared rejection, ridicule, failure, I learned that no matter their reaction, I had accomplished something. I was not failing even if they didn’t like it, because I had created something. I was proud of myself, even at this level of drafting. They did like it, though, and they encouraged me to keep writing. So I did.

I also researched publishing, learned what an agent does and how they champion your book by falling in love with it. I was determined to land myself an agent. So I made my first mistake: I queried agents too early. Looking back, I was about 2 years too early, because the manuscript was still in draft stages. I was too excited about my work to keep it to myself, and I hadn’t learned the valuable lesson of setting the manuscript aside and returning to it with fresh eyes. I didn’t yet know how to look at my work critically, how to think like a storyteller. I just wanted feedback.

In 2016, my querying stats were:

Queries Sent: 133
Partial Requests: 3
Full Requests: 4
No Response: 50
Rejections: 83

They’re not terrible numbers, but I see them now as opportunities wasted because my work was still too new to share. But it’s okay, because living is learning, folks!

Because I was on Twitter and readily communicating with the writing world, I became aware of #PitMad contests and Pitch Wars, among others. I participated in all of them, gathering interest from agents, but I also learned how to pitch my entire novel in 144 characters. It was a skill I still struggle with, but I learned the importance of the pitch -- discovering the marketability of your story with a succinct and interesting choice of words.

Here are some of my most popular pitches that garnished interest from agents:

1912. Teen heiress on run from fortune-hunting fiancé, teams up w/wild Irish fugitives to protect dark secret of her inheritance.

1912- Girl escapes conniving fiancé to a glen inhabited by Irish fugitives who reveal that her inheritance holds family secrets.

They’re not amazing, but they were interesting enough to spark attention. (Stats for those Twitter contests: 8 pitches, 15 “likes”) They all turned into rejections, but some were helpful and led me to more revisions….which is what I did for another year while querying.

Querying is hard. I both loved and loathed agent responses. I really wanted someone to fall in love with my writing, but no one was and I couldn’t figure out why. The subjectivity of querying is the worst part, because what one agent loves might be the reason another agent rejects. And that is excruciatingly frustrating!

I received this response to a query once: “Wow, what an opening! I love the levels of intrigue and mystery built in, and Estella is a girl after my own heart. Please send the full…” Dreamy response from an agent, right?! I was overjoyed and so, so hopeful. But the worst happened – it wasn’t even a rejection. I discovered that this agent was no longer working as an agent, and I had wasted a month waiting for her. It was a killer blow, and I remember spending most of that day listening to Adele’s “Chasing Pavement” on repeat just to wallow in self-loathing.

But the very next day, I pulled myself together because I was determined to fight for my dream. Remember the scene in A League of Their Own when Dottie whines about baseball being too hard? And Jimmy’s response is, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.” You’re right, Jimmy Dugan. Let’s work harder. Let’s OWN this.

I buried myself in the craft of writing. I listened to writing/agenting podcasts, which I recommend for all writers, querying or not: Writer Writer Pants on Fire (of course!), Shipping & Handling, Writing Excuses, and 88 Cups of Tea.

I participated in more Twitter pitch contests, like #sonofapitch, #PitMad, and #revpit. I entered Author Mentor Match, Query Kombat, and various critiques from freelance editors.

At one point, I received an offer of representation from an agency I didn’t quite trust. When the agent offered representation, she also suggested I hire an editor to review my manuscript, which didn’t sit well with me. I’d read enough agent interviews and articles to know that no agency or agent worth anything will ever charge you. So I declined the offer, which was actually hard to do because I was afraid I was blowing my only chance. But I believed my book and I deserved better than “good enough”, so I trudged on.

At another point, I received an offer of publication from a new and local small press. While I was excited that someone found value in my story, what I really wanted was an agent to champion my career as a writer, beginning with this manuscript and moving beyond it. So this wasn’t the right path for me and, begrudgingly, I declined publication.

I continued to make revisions to my manuscript: discovered a new title, re-named and re-shaped my characters, rearranged scenes, developed back story, identified higher and stronger stakes, even changed the narration to first person. But there came a point when I wasn’t sure how else to make it better. I’d been giving my newest versions to my critique partners, but I felt the manuscript needed professional help.

So I hired freelance editors who provided me with edit letters that pinpointed specific issues that perhaps were the reasons agents were rejecting it. This was extremely helpful and I strongly suggest looking into freelance editors when you feel you’ve perhaps reached a stalemate in your writing and/or with your critique partners. Here is an extensive list of freelance editors who might be taking on new clients.

I entered PitchWars in 2017, including participating in the blog hops, the aesthetics, and the community chats on Twitter. These little contributions to the writing community boosted my confidence in my story by re-acquainting me with my main character. When I found out I didn’t get into PitchWars, it hurt, but I’d gained something. I knew my story inside and out. I loved it still and I loved writing. It was nearly two years into this querying process, but something was happening. Things were changing. Rejections were coming, but they were detailed and encouraging, which made me believe I was on the right track.

My querying stats for 2017 were:
Queries sent: 170
Partial Requests: 7
Full Requests: 13
No Responses: 58
Rejections: 112
Offer of Rep (declined): 1
Offer of Publication (declined): 1

In the beginning of 2018, I applied for a remote internship with a literary agent. I saw the opportunity and wanted to immerse myself in all aspects of publishing. (I applied to roughly 10 internships at that time, hoping to get my foot in the door somewhere.) The agent needed a voracious reader to help with her overwhelming load of unsolicited queries and manuscripts, and lucky for me, she saw potential in me. I worked hard, reading as many as three manuscripts a month, including producing detailed and thoughtful Reader Reports for each.

This agent had also requested my manuscript several weeks’ previous to the internship application. She was so kind and encouraging, and clearly wanted me to succeed, so she asked her other interns to read my manuscript and provide Reader Reports. Then the agent shared those reports with me and told me to take what I wanted from them and revise at will. It was such a wonderfully helpful opportunity for me, and I relished those reports and analyzed the feedback to create my own revisions.

I must admit that at this point in time, I’d been revising so much, it took a lot out of me to dedicate any real focus. I was torn; I wanted to write something new, but I also couldn’t turn my back on my manuscript. I realized the only way I’d get through more revisions would be to actually take days off from work and stay home to write. So I did, and it pushed me into the mindset I needed to be in – I WILL NOT FAIL.

I submitted my revisions to the agent I worked for and queried some new agents, too. One agent in particular was looking for “gothic novels with twisty narratives and dark secrets”, which was exactly my book.

In July of 2018, I received an email from the agent who was looking for gothic books. She loved my book, but there were a few items that didn’t work for her. She offered me an “R&R”, a Revise & Resubmit, which is an opportunity to make changes she suggested and resubmit for a second look.

Honestly, I was basically devastated that this wasn’t an offer of rep. I worked so hard on revisions and now an agent was requesting more revisions. I ignored the email for an entire day, because for the love of God, I was sick and tired of not reaching my goal! I complained to my critique partner, but instead of agreeing with me, she asked why the hell I was so angry. She reminded me that R&Rs are rare in the agenting world, and if this agent was asking for revisions, I should think about them.

“If you are asked to revise, it’s because your message is worth getting right.”
(Admittedly, I don’t remember who said this. But I love it anyway.)

I rolled this quote over and over in my head until I realized I was at a crossroads. This was a choice: give up now at a point where I might be inches from my goal, or take this opportunity by the balls and charge forward. I had charged forward for two years. Why on God’s green earth would I stop now? So I chose to CONQUER. And I wrote to the agent to tell her I’m taking on this R&R.

Here’s what my revision process looked like this time around:

1. Re-read my manuscript as it is. I downloaded my manuscript onto my Kindle and read it like it was a real book. I made notes as I read each chapter while keeping in mind the agent’s suggestions. And guess what? She was smart! Her suggestions made sense and I could see where I might incorporate those changes.

2. Make a spreadsheet of each chapter’s projected edits. Text in blue represented easy and quick changes. Text in red represented changes that would take a lot of time and thought. I always start with the lowest hanging fruit, so I dove into the “easy” edits. Once the blues were out of the way, I could see the big, red picture – the difficult edits. One at a time, little by little, I attacked.

3. Decide on a deadline. Highlight that date in the calendar and STICK TO IT. Pick a goal for each day (a chapter a day / a scene a day, etc.) and REACH IT. Note to self: If you find you’re falling away from the goal, get up at 5 a.m., go to bed at midnight – do anything to stay on this schedule. Sweat over it. Breathe it. OWN IT.

4. Get outside help. After two months of working the manuscript to the best of my ability, I hired a freelance editor who had ten years of experience as an agent. We worked out a schedule where she would get her edit letter to me well before my deadline. This meant I would have time to work on her edits before my deadline, too. She was worth every penny, because she provided more than helpful suggestions; she assured me I was on the right path with what the agent outlined.

5. Find the strength to push your book away. Let it go.

After I addressed what the editor pointed out, I sat on it, scared to let it go. This was my last chance.

But I had nothing left to give. A day before my deadline, I submitted my R&R manuscript to the agent who offered it and to nine other agents who were waiting for the revisions.
Twelve days later, I received an email from the agent who offered the R&R: Sarah, I just finished reading and would love to chat with you about it. Do you have any time today? Looking forward to it!

I was at work, and I ran into my friend’s office, shaking, shrieking, going crazy. This was it and I knew it. I called my husband. “Play it cool, Sarah,” I remember him saying. I called my parents, texted my sisters, emailed my critique partners. And then I read the email again. It was still there. It was still an agent wanting to talk to me about my book.
I spoke with the agent that afternoon and she offered me representation.

Stats for 2018 querying:
Queries Sent: 132
Partial Requests: 7
Full Requests: 15
No Response 38:
Rejections: 92
Offers of Rep: 2!

I actually received another offer of rep the next day, but ultimately I went with the agent who offered me the R&R, whom I really felt had a strong grasp on my book, who seemed to understand what I was trying to do with it. My agent is Karyn Fischer of Bookstop Literary Agency and I couldn’t be happier.

I would like to note that I didn’t necessarily “nail” the R&R, but I was close enough for Karyn to feel she could take it on. She and I have embarked on another round of revisions, but I have her guidance now, so it isn’t as scary as it once had been.

There are many morals to my tale:

1. When you think you are brilliant and your work is genius, you’re wrong. Keep working. Make it better.

2. Don’t give up on yourself or your story without a fight. Or just don’t give up at all.

3. As Mr. Stephen King says in his brilliant memoir, On Writing, “You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.”

Be brave.
Push yourself.
Be your own hero.