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Seeking Stories: Not the Darlings

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know I have sort of created a Brand™ around being transparent about how writing failures have affected me, usually in long threads that should be blogs. They weren’t blogs because in 2019 I shut this website down due to, well, a perceived failure.

I have always written about failure, even before anyone knew me for being that writer who writes about failure. I just didn’t have a platform then. Weirdly, I didn’t have a platform to talk about failure until I succeeded. The four times I didn’t get into #PitchWars no one paid me any attention, then I got in and talked about all the times before when I hadn’t, and people started listening. All the posts I wrote on this very blog about how I was getting nowhere with querying went mostly unread until I finally got my agent when THAT post was shared dozens of times and read by thousands of people.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly grateful that people are listening, and that I have this platform to talk about rejection and failure and how hard this whole publishing thing is, but I still feel the voices we need to hear most are ones who are not yet successful.

Why?

Because regardless how long you’ve been at this, when you DO finally get there, it’s nearly impossible not to see all the struggle through a rose-colored lens. It’s hard for me, even now, not to look back on the past two decades of pain and loss and fatigue and failure and not think well… but I’m here now. And I learned so much. And built so much character. And maybe it’s for the best because maybe then I wasn’t ready for all the different reasons one isn’t ready. And maybe the advice that the only way to TRULY fail is to quit isn’t wrong and everyone does get their happily ever after as long as they keep trying. Toxic positivity is a hell of a drug, y’all.

Some of this might be true, by the way. A lot of it, even. It can also be true that when you’re in the middle of querying despair this is about as helpful as “Just keep going, pal!!”

Yellow emoji smiling while brandishing a thumbs up.
Image by Christian Dorn from Pixabay

What might be helpful is hearing the real stories from real people in the thick of it just like you. People who are not Cinderella stories. People who are struggling. Who might need you to read their words as badly as you needed to know you’re not alone. People you can connect with.

That’s what I needed for many, many years before I found success. Before I found my yes. But I had no platform. That’s the terrible cycle of this thing.

So, I am here to loan people mine.

The Premise

You, querying author who wants a place to tell your very own querying journey story, will submit it to me via email. In the email, you’ll give me some basic information about you, the book you’re querying, how long you’ve been querying, and if you wish to remain anonymous, use a penname, want accreditation, whatever. I will read the post, make sure it follows the rules below, edit for anything minor grammatically or to shorten if necessary, let you review the edits, and if you’re okay with them, I’ll post your story on my blog and Twitter. This will give you a space to connect with other writers in your position (if you want) or at least have your story out there (if you don’t). It will also give other writers a place to read stories like theirs so THEY feel less alone in this hardest of querying things.

The Rules

  1. No bad behavior directed toward agents, editors, publishers, or other industry professionals of ANY kind. This is intended to be a place to talk about the journey, not to rage against industry professionals. Please keep it professional, or I will not be able to accept your submission.
  2. This is a space for folks to talk about their struggles with traditional publishing only. Please no submissions related to self-publishing.
  3. No submissions that are racist, homophobic, xenophobic, or intolerant of any marginalized group will be tolerated. This is intended to be a safe space for all.
  4. This is intended to be for authors who ARE NOT AGENTED only. If you’ve self-published or published with a small press but are actively querying for an agent, you’re good!
  5. Please make sure to include all appropriate trigger and content warnings.
  6. No one-size-fits-all advice! As we all know by now, there’s no one-size-fits-all way to query, so if you have a tip to share, please make sure not to frame it as a universal. Tips (especially ones that are helping your mental health and might help others) are absolutely welcome, just not framed as This is the One True Path, please!
  7. If you are providing images please make sure they are freely sourced, public domain, or you have been given permission to use them. We are all artists, let’s not infringe on one another’s intellectual property. Also, alt text for accessibility is highly encouraged.
  8. I am going to try to publish one (1) story per week. If for whatever reason I get inundated, I will announce on my blog and Twitter that submissions are closing so everyone has a fair chance to have their story heard. That means this will be first come first serve (as long as you follow the rules).
  9. Please try to keep your posts under 2,500 words where possible.
  10. Be kind!!! To everyone but also me, heh. I work full time and am going to do my best to facilitate this in my small spare time so if I run behind, sorry!
  11. I reserve the right to modify and/or add to this list as situations pop up, so I can preserve the integrity of the premise.

The Format

Interested in submitting? Woot!

Please send me an email to aimee@aimee-davis.com with the subject line SUBMISSION: [Name of your blog post]

In the body of the email, please include any biographical information you’d like to include with the blog (or, if you’d like the blog to be kept anonymous, please specifically so indicate). Please also include any basic information about the book you’re querying or general info about your age group and genre. Don’t include anything you wouldn’t want included on the internet! So if you’re cool with a logline that you’d put up in a Twitter pitch event and want me to preface the blog with that, send it my way. If you’re not, please don’t feel obligated to do so, this is all about YOUR comfort.

Also in the body of the email, NOT as an attachment, please include the text of the blog you’re submitting for consideration (bearing in mind the above rules).

And Then…

The last thing you want when you’re querying is more querying. Please do not think of this as querying. I am not gatekeeping, I’m content moderating only. I’m not judging your posts based on anything other than the above rules and possibly my time if I have to close submissions which I will be transparent about. So when I’ve received your post, I’ll email you back as soon as I can letting you know I have it, and I’ll review it and be back with you shortly. If you’ve followed the rules, I’ll send you whatever edits I might have for your consideration, then let you know when your submission will post based on how many others I’ve received ahead of you!

When it’s your day, please feel free to share wherever and however! I will categorize all of these posts under the blog as Not the Darling and on Twitter as #NottheDarling so your post will be called NOT THE DARLING: [Title of your blog].

If for whatever reason I can’t accept your submission because I feel it’s breaking one of the rules or it is hitting a note that I think might hurt someone on the other side of the screen (or YOU, remember publishing is small), then I’ll tell you why that is and give you an opportunity to revise and resubmit if you want. Or not. Totally up to you. But IF I send something back please know I really just want this space to be welcoming and kind to everyone, including you, and I don’t want anything to go up on the internet anyone regrets later.

Questions?

Still have questions? Concerns? Please feel free to email me, hit me up in the comments, or message me on Twitter!

Can’t wait to hear from you!

Xoxo,

Aimee

Don’t Give Up… Too Soon

I know. I just wrote a How I Got My Agent post that was all about why it’s totally okay to quit. AND IT IS. To be clear. There is no right or wrong time to quit. Or to get back in the game. Or to leave it entirely. Or to try something new. Publishing is dynamic, and you can be, too. What you should not be is knee-jerk reactionary because you read some Bad Advice on Twitter™. Of which there appears to be a lot lately.

If you are new to querying, please go read my agent sib, E’s How I Got My Agent post first. There’s some Very Good Advice™ to be had there that we really don’t talk about enough. Like how pre-pandemic querying advice should be thrown out the window and some great tips on setting limits to help your mental health through this most arduous of journeys. My personal favorite being letting someone else have control of your query inbox. Which, by the way, if you don’t have a separate email JUST for querying, I do recommend setting one of those puppies up and giving yourself a specific ringtone for it that you can also just… turn off.

This post is sort of the reaction (not knee-jerk) to E’s post, which made me realize my own How I Got My Agent novella was great for those long-time queryers who were worn to pieces but maybe wasn’t considering the message I might be giving to writers new to the trenches. Fortunately, E to the rescue to rectify my oversight!

However, this post is also the reaction (knee-jerk, a bit, yes) to some new Bad Advice™ I’ve seen making the rounds on Twitter (again). Evergreen bad advice. Everyone’s favorite.

Evergreen tree to the left with opaque light shining down. Image by Pexels from Pixabay.

Luck is a real thing. It has nothing to do with you.

You could write an objectively fantastic book. It could hit all the right writerly things. It could have a great hook, a cool concept, a fantastic story arc, fast pacing, hit its beats with dynamite precision, and prose that makes the reader’s mouth pop open into a delighted little “O.” But let’s say for shits and giggles it’s a new adult portal fantasy about giant Donny Darko bunnies navigating their way through college who get sucked into a weird space/time dimension. Okay, clearly I don’t read a ton of sci-fi but DO YOU GET MY POINT? If the book is not hitting the right market at the right time, it can be the best fucking book anyone has ever read and no agent will request it because they can’t sell new adult right now, never mind portal fantasies that maybe are also sci-fi genre blending. This has NOTHING to do with you as a writer or your ideas or your book. Maybe in two years new adult will be a thing in traditional publishing. Or portal fantasy will be back. Or genre blending will be the next hot trend. But right now, that’s probably going to be a whole nope.

GIF of figure in bunny mask from Donnie Darko. Source: https://tenor.com/view/darko-donnie-gif-18843800

I don’t consider myself a very lucky person, but I obviously have been. Here are just SOME of the ways I have gotten lucky over the past couple decades of this wild publishing journey of mine:

  • At the very last moment a spot became available at a retreat in 2017 put on by MadCap Retreats and We Love Diverse Books and when I applied, I was able to snag it. There, I was able to make some amazing connections, many of whom are still my friends, CPs, and were influential in getting me where I am today
  • I got rejected from #PitchWars and #AMM and #RevPit a million times, yes, but I also made SO MANY friends and connections along the way
  • Two of the people I met at that conference in 2017 and one of the people I met during AMM helped me do BIG EDITS to the book that would FINALLY get me into #PitchWars
  • Being a #PitchWars mentee absolutely gave me a bigger platform than other querying writers
  • The #PitchWars showcase went very poorly for me, yes, but I again, made friends and CPs and supporters – AND one friend in particular who REFERRED ME to my now-agent (Gabriella you are amazing I owe you forever!)
  • My agent passed on my first book queried but was kind enough (and liked my writing enough) to request another book which is the one that ended up being The One
I sit in front of a monitor with my Pitchwars swag during another rewrite of the book that would eventually get me my agent.

A lot of things had to come together over a long period of years for me to get to that one single yes, and much of it involved luck and opportunity and yeah, hustle. I had to recognize the luck when it was happening and seize it, for sure. But to just pretend it was all me working my ass off and no just like… happenstance would be doing a disservice to other writers who are working THEIR asses off and no magic is happening.

Which is to say, if you’re working your ass off and nothing is happening, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re doing anything wrong. You could just be having shitty luck. There’s no way to control luck, but you can keep trying. Or not. Up to you. But don’t give up because someone said you had [arbitrary number of rejections] so you must be Writing Bad. Nope. No. Wrong.

Privilege is also real. Don’t minimalize it.

Privilege comes in so many forms. Whiteness. Straightness. Able-bodied-ness. Economic privilege has huge power in publishing. Connections. Networking. Who you can rub shoulders with (or not). A lot of the same things that fall under the category of “luck” for me can also fall under privilege.

  • That retreat in 2017? It was lucky a spot opened up and that I got in. But if I hadn’t had the money to afford to go, all the luck in the world wouldn’t have made a damn bit of difference
  • During the #PitchWars revision period, I was in the middle of transitioning jobs, which was actually just lucky timing, but I was economically privileged enough to be able to take a full month off between the two jobs to focus ONLY on my revisions. Many of my peers did not have this advantage
  • Do I think my whiteness and overall appearance of straight-passing/non-disabled in a profile pic helps me? I would be stupid not to

That said, the things you can’t see about me in a smiling photo on Twitter or my gushing about some kittens have hurt me. Almost destroyed me. Almost smashed this glass slipper of a dream against the cobblestone. Migraines. Broken teeth. Nerve damage in my back. Disassociation. My sexuality and coming out and what that has cost. The exposure putting my touch aversion and trauma on full display brings that I never really calculated. How talking about my recovery from addiction has ostracized me in IRL circles. So much incalculable pain to chase this thing I might never really hold to tell these stories the world might not even want.

It takes someone special to understand the unique experiences of people digging deep from these wells. That has nothing to do with you. It’s a them problem. Not a you problem. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt just as much, though. Your pain is valid and real, and I see you. But please do not let anyone drive you to quitting or changing your story or taking your identity out of it because of some un-nuanced hot take on Twitter. You are the only one who can tell your story. Finding someone to champion it, well, that’s the journey. If you want to take it.

Blue cake with a glass slipper on it with a bookmark that reads “You’re never too old for faerytales” next to a pink rose in a glass case.

Sometimes, it takes a few (dozen) books.

You can be writing good books now. Probably are! But if you love your writing and your craft, they’ll only get better. So, if you still love writing, and it isn’t taking a toll on your mental health, keep writing them! Don’t let anyone tell you you’re a one hit wonder. There’s always a chance to circle back on that other book that just wasn’t quite right for whatever reason. I know loads of people who have resurrected shelved books with their agents and gone on to sell them when the market was better for that book or their craft was better for that revision.

Also, if you need a personal example, a reminder that my agent passed on one of my books, requested another right away, and offered on it. So clearly it wasn’t “you suck as a writer” it was “this isn’t quite the right book for me right now what else you got?” And because I had been querying forever, there was in fact something else! Bonus to querying forever! So, for any new writers who are wondering, “Do agents really mean it when they say I hope you’ll consider me for your next project?” Yes! They do! A vast majority of my agented friends have agents who rejected previous projects.

Do not Self-Publish just because

Before I wrap this up, I do want to add this last part. Because hidden among some of the Bad Advice I’ve seen making the rounds on Twitter is some Good Advice. But it’s (of course) lacking some meat on its bones.

There are loads of reasons to choose to self-publish. You want the book in the world, have some money to spend (and know how much that will cost and how much you can afford), and don’t care how much money you’ll make as long as you can have something in your hands. You are a very savvy marketer who can write fast and have a great business plan and are ready to make a business of this whole self-publishing thing. You want a super expensive hobby and that’s cool if that’s all it ever is. The list goes on.

You should not self-publish because you’ve been querying for five months and have received twenty form rejections and fuck it. Self-publishing is a VERY big endeavor. It’s a whole business unto itself and you can incur tons of debt very quickly if you aren’t going in with your eyes wide open. Sadly, there are also a lot of folks who will prey off your desire to get your book into the world no matter the cost. Self-publishing should really be taken seriously and considered for a long time. Don’t allow rejections from traditional publishing to send you into debt if you’re not in a position to take it on. Instead, try some of the tips in my agent sib’s How I Got My Agent post to stave off (some) of the sads.

TL;DR I self-published two books in 2016 and 2017. I’m very proud of them, but I wish I had not done it. It cost me $10,000 that would have been better put to other uses. I made less than $1,000 on both books. This is a more common experience than the “I make six figures a month self-publishing and YOU CAN TOO*” stories you hear.

*All you have to do is buy my 7-book series on how to accomplish this and attend my $1,500 course on how to do it ‘right.’

Don’t let Bad Advice Get you Down

So all this very wordy post to say simply: Querying is hard. And shitty. It takes forever. And involves way too many things you have zero control over which is exactly why you see so many of these “Just do X” or “If you are getting X query response, then Y” posts. People are trying to help you (and probably themselves) regain some control over a process that is totally uncontrollable. I get it. I like rules too. And control. Boy, do I like control.

But I don’t like lies. And that’s what all that shit is, I’m afraid. Lies. There is no One Good Way to query. If there was, we’d all be doing it and getting our agents and taking publishing by storm. Or probably more realistically someone would be hoarding it and selling it to the highest bidders.

Either way, if you need to quit for you, absolutely do it. But don’t give up too soon. If people like E and me can tell you anything it’s that even when you think there isn’t, there’s a lot of story still left.

Xoxo,

Aimee

I Stand with the HarperCollins Union

Authors note: For those reading who might not be aware of what it is currently going on with the strike, please read HarperCollins Union’s press release and other info (including how to donate to the strike fund) at their LinkTree here. For purposes of this post, it should be understood that to “Stand in Solidarity with HarperCollins Union” as an agented author means that you have agreed to withhold submitting your book to any HarperCollins imprint until such a time as the bargaining unit employees have a new contract. For me, this means that if the union is still on strike by the time ALL HER WISHES is ready to go on submission, my agent and I have agreed we will not submit it to HarperCollins or any imprint of HarperCollins to honor our commitments to the strike (my agent has signed a similar pledge in relation to agenting, so we are 100% united in this commitment).

1/26/2023 Update: I started drafting this blog post a few days ago with the plan to publish it on day 56 (week 8) of the strike, which is today. Today, finally, HarperCollins management has agreed to mediation. THE UNION IS STILL ON STRIKE. HOLDING THE LINE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN EVER.

Taken from HarperCollins Union’s Twitter. Text reads: HarperCollins has agreed to enter mediation with our union. We are hopeful the company will use this opportunity to settle fairly and reset our relationship.

In my home, #Unionstrong is not just a hashtag on Twitter. It is a lifestyle. My grandfather was a steelworker from western Pennsylvania. My grandmother was a charge nurse in a nurse’s union during a time when many women weren’t “supposed” to be working at all. Much of the rest of my family has union affiliations running through their blood as deep as the coal dust from the mines they find themselves in. My partner is a shop steward for a local Teamsters Union. I have spent many a night sitting with him at our kitchen table, pouring over their contract and proposals while he texts his crew about whatever is going on in negotiations.

Graphic of white hand holding white pencil with text: I SIGNED The Strike Solidarity Open Letter

Interestingly, as it relates to my union affiliation, I spent over a decade of my career on the other side of the table: the management side. Before you skewer me, let me explain. I was a paralegal and benefits specialist for a law firm that had a unique relationship with labor, because we served as co-counsel to a ton of Taft-Hartley funds (multi-employer benefit funds that must be overseen by an equal number of management and labor trustees). We were not union busters; we were there to cultivate genuine relationships between management and labor.

You know, like how it’s supposed to work.

I have updated this post because today, finally, HarperCollins has agreed to mediate. But that still means that they went 55 days without saying a word. It means that their employees are still on strike for day 56. That’s eight weeks. Eight weeks that these employees have been without pay. Two months. Think about that for a second. Think about what going two months without pay would mean for you and your family.

Taken from HarperCollins Union’s Twitter. Text reads: This means our pressure campaign is working. The strike will continue until we reach a fair contract agreement. Please continue to hold the line. Thank you!

Now, think about the fact that this is a bargaining unit consisting of 250+ employees across editorial, sales, marketing, publicity, design, and legal whose average salary is $55,000 a year in New York City. You know, the most expensive city to live in in the United States. The city whose median home price is $850,000 and median rent can be anywhere between $1,900 to $4,500 a month. Source and Source and Source. Doing a little rough math for taxes based on that tax bracket and factoring in New York City taxes, assuming standard deduction, you’re talking about a take home pay of about roughly $1,600 biweekly if you don’t have deductions for things like healthcare, 401(k), a health savings account, or a flexible savings account, etc. So, less than that, really. Or an inability to have insurance. Or save for retirement. Cool options.

Now, think about donating to the strike fund HERE.

That’s all based on that $55,000 average salary that HarperCollins Union talked about in their press release. But the wild thing is that isn’t even the point of contention! While there are a few things at issue*, when talking cold hard cash the thing the union is striking for here is to increase the starting salary from $45,000 a year to $50,000 a year. A measly little $5,000 a year. Listen, I know my day job is in software, so I’m obviously a gluttonous snowflake who doesn’t work and feeds on the wokeness of the masses or something, but I’m telling you $5,000 a year for new employees to a company that reported $487 million in revenue and $39 million in earnings in its last quarter (a BAD quarter) is not a lot of money. Source.

*Union security being one which when I tell you how hard I laughed, like omg please union security clauses are standard and a non-issue, in a decade plus of doing this kind of thing I have NEVER seen a union security clause disputed like what is even happening there? Please explain, HarperCollins.

Oh wow, so I went wandering a bit. Sorry, I fell down a capitalism rabbit hole and couldn’t seem to find my way out. Give me a moment to just reset here…

GIF of Alice from Disney’s Alice in Wonderland falling down the rabbit hole.

Right so that’s all well and good but probably if you’re here you know all that. Well, you might not have known that specific level of detail on the math because that was maybe a little intense, but you probably understood the basics of HarperCollins is a big company that makes a lot of money, New York City is very expensive, and these people are underpaid because LOLZ who isn’t. Thanks, America.

But back to me, because this is my blog, and I’m here to talk about why I personally stand in solidarity with the HarperCollins Union despite the fact that it is scary as shit as a baby author to be like hahahaha no, who needs you, Harper? And your… million imprints. I… definitely… do not. Heh.

Graphic showing all of HarperCollins imprints. Taken from the HarperCollins Twitter. Original tweet reads: We’ve been getting some asks about this, so we wanted to clarify: we’re requesting that submissions, reviews, & freelance work are withheld from all parts of HarperCollins US, regardless of imprint, until we get a fair contract to minimize union work performed without us.

Wow, they just keep going, huh?

Anyway, I would be lying to say it wasn’t terrifying to have those imprints just POOF off your submission list when you’re a baby author. Still, when I had The Call with my agent, high on my list of priorities was that Keir knew I was with faer in the commitment to not cross the picket line. I knew Keir had signed on to the open letter put out by agents late in 2022 declaring they would withhold submissions from Harper in solidarity, and I wanted faer to know this was also my desire even though it was scary.

Why?

Because I believe in unions, like I said. They are a deep part of my life. I believe in fair wages, even if I don’t believe $50,000 is even pushing it far enough, but hey, it’s a start. I believe in diversity, and I believe it is more than a trend or a marketing tool, but if we want to make it more than that, we will have to work harder and be better and do the right thing even when it is the hard thing. Lord do I know that. I also understand the complexities behind making a profession passion-based and how it disproportionately excludes marginalized groups. I myself almost had to leave my publishing dream behind because of my disabilities. I got to the point with writing and querying and writing and querying and working a high-paced, full-time job to pay the bills that I was so burned out I was throwing up blood. I had migraines so bad I couldn’t get up for days at a time. I almost had to be hospitalized. I found myself at a crossroads: Keep it up or die. Pay the bills or publishing.

Too many of these employees are facing similar choices and publishing is already their full-time job.

We are watching publishing professionals leave the business in droves. Agents, editors, publicists, marketing folks. They’re burned out. They’re working multiple jobs, eighty hour weeks, and they barely have two pennies to rub together in the most expensive city in the world. This trickles down to authors and querying writers. Less opportunities, less people to advocate for us, longer wait times, heavier lift on what kind of work we have to produce but yet smaller advances. The list goes on.

What hurts one of us, hurts us all. That’s the whole point of a union. Stronger together.

So yeah, looking at that list and knowing those are opportunities potentially missed is scary. But what’s scarier is knowing that if I don’t do something in whatever small way I can might mean that in the end, we all lose. And that’s a future I simply want no part of.

#UnionStrong

Aimee

P.s. Have you donated to the Strike Fund yet?

How to Explain Publishing to Your Fam: A Primer

Author’s Note: This post is about traditional publishing. My days of self-publishing are behind me, but that comes with a whole other dynamic and set of ins and outs to explain to people. Godspeed me, having to do this multiple times with multiple methods now.

So we all have that friend or relative (or twenty) who has no idea how the hell publishing works. My mom thinks my agent is a publicist. My dad doesn’t understand editors work for publishing houses. Everyone in the world thinks that now I have an agent, my book is soon to arrive on the shelf of their local Barnes & Noble within the week. You too have friends, family, and coworkers like this. I know you do because I have never met a writer who doesn’t. And also because publishing is a legitimately strange business, so it’s perfectly reasonable that people who are not glued to Twitter/Querytracker/Publishers Marketplace don’t understand how it works.

For you, and your struggling family, I have created a primer. Complete with visual aids if that is your jam. Let’s start with a very bare bones flow chart, then break it down, shall we?

Obviously, this is all assuming you don’t have to go back to the beginning and start over, which you might have to do… multiple times. At multiple steps in this process. But let’s make this as clean as possible and assume we live in a utopia and you have one book that goes straight through. (Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaahaha)

Okay, so I know you, writer, understand all of this. But your well-meaning family doesn’t. And if I’m guessing right, no matter how many times you try to explain it to them, they still aren’t getting it. So let me break down some of these steps highlighting some of the most frequently asked questions I hear from non-writers and how I’ve navigated explaining them.

STEP ONE – WRITING BOOKS AND QUERYING

Writing books is mostly simple enough but querying really seems to confuse the shit out of people. And it’s hard to blame them. It’s confusing. Even for us. Who among us has not been tripped up by unwritten querying etiquette? Right. So here are some of my go-to favorite tips for trying to explain the whole querying thing to Uncle Donny three schnapps deep at Thanksgiving dinner:

Remember to tell them about the free bit. I don’t know about your family, but a few members of mine seem to get really hung up on the amount of unpaid labor that goes on in publishing. It could be the Steelworkers and Teamsters in them, but they seem convinced they must have it wrong about the free bits. Remind them. Often if necessary. In the simplest terms you can. In my household, I caveat almost everything with: THIS IS A FREE PART.

Compare Querying to Corporate. Query letter means nothing. But most everyone has prepared a cover letter and a resume. Many people have had to either take a skills test of some type or provide a writing sample. I have found this simple conversion to be handy in comparisons:

  • Query letter = Cover letter
  • Synopsis = Resume
  • Sample pages = writing sample

Keep it Simple. I have at this point entirely given up trying to explain to people who are not in publishing how requests work. Partial? Full? Meaningless. Pointless. Throw them out the window. Celebrate your wins with the people who get it. Is it mildly annoying that my dad STILL doesn’t understand what the difference between a full and partial is after I’ve been doing this for approximately 100 years? Yes. But not nearly as annoying as it is trying to explain it AGAIN. The people you love will be there to celebrate with you when that partial turns into a full turns into a call turns into an offer turns into a… you get the deal (ha! there’s a pun there!). Absolutely celebrate every win, but in my experience, cultivating who you celebrate the wins with can drastically improve your overall mental health and make the wins themselves much more enjoyable.

STEP TWO – AGENTS, SIGNING, AND SUBMISSION

Thissssss is where we really start to lose folks. Because at this point, if you’re having a normal querying journey, you’re probably a few (or more) years in STILL DOING FREE SHIT. That is admittedly weird in most every other business. Like even in the worst (US) economy most people are not job searching for 3-5 business years. Hopefully. But that is a totally normal thing to be doing in publishing. Add to that the part about how getting a literary agent is actually just ANOTHER free step and people are just checking out on you (or perhaps checking your temperature for a fever). Some ways I’ve found that can sort of help explain some of this:

Remind them that a new book or new revision means starting over. Just because I’ve been querying for three years or five years or ten years doesn’t mean it’s the same book or the same revision. Explaining that is helpful. “I decided to pivot and am trying to pitch a new book to literary agents. That means starting over from square one but hopefully this idea will hold more traction.” See, I say pitch instead of query. Again, query does not mean anything.

Literary Agent Comparisons. Most people do not seem to understand what a literary agent does. Some useful comparisons:

  • Real estate agent – They sell books instead of houses, they don’t get paid until they sell my book (to a publisher). Don’t forget to mention a BIG KEY DIFFERENCE: Except they exist in a market where there are waaaaaaaaaay too many houses and not enough buyers, so they’re only going to pick the nicest, fanciest, best ones (where your book is the house).
  • Recruiter – They are trying to land me the gig with the publisher and don’t get paid until they do so. BIG KEY DIFFERENCE: Except they exist in a market where there is like 1 job, 5 recruiters, and 100,000 potential applicants, so you (the author) have to apply first to the recruiter before you can even try applying to the actual job. This is probably a more accurate comparison but if the person you’re talking to doesn’t work in white collar corporate America it might not be that helpful.

Again with the free stuff. Yeah, you’re going to need to tell people that literary agents don’t get paid until you do. Call them a middle man. Remind people that yep, I am FIVE YEARS into pitching this book and have just gotten someone to agree to try to sell it. Correct. And they don’t get paid until they do it. Yes.

The Call. Call this an interview. Plain and simple. That’s really what it is anyway. The agent’s chance to interview you, your chance to interview them.

Celebrating. When you do finally sign with an agent, you’re going to celebrate the shit out of that win (as you should). This is going to confuse people though, especially if you’ve been querying for approximately forever. Because they’re going to think you’ve sold your book. Because really, why haven’t you? It’s been like… a decade. This is your opportunity to ignore the fuck out of them. Please refer to my earlier comments about cultivating the people you celebrate with. If your family calls your agent a publicist, or people blow up your Facebook or Teams messages wanting to know when they can buy your book, laugh and move along. Now is not the time to waste energy educating or get frustrated with people’s lack of understanding. You can do that all later. Now is the time to wear your tiara and celebrate.

Submission. Godspeed. Do we need another chart? Okay, yes. If only to break this long ass post up. I swear I write short books. Long tweet threads. Long blogs. Long emails. Short books. Do with that information what you will.

Submission is like Querying 2.0. Probably at this point even the people who love you most have dead eyes. They’re starting to wander off, checking their phones for the latest updates on… literally anything except this. Might be time to just go ahead and admit defeat. But if not, you can pull out the good old rinse and repeat methodology. Basically, submission is like querying version 2.0. Except, pause for effect, there is MAYBE MONEY AT THE END.

Three piles of coins with small sprouts growing atop each one. Image by Nattanan Kanchanaprat from Pixabay

STEP THREE – ACQUISITIONS

We are really only on step three, huh? Well, hopefully people have perked up because I mentioned money. We’re getting somewhere (finally). And yes, we are. Below are some optional steps to discuss about acquisitions if people have started listening again. If not, you can probably get away with simply saying acquisitions is when an acquisitions editor at a publishing house (the person with the buying power) acquires (aka buys) your book. Huzzah! BUYS! Money has arrived. I mean sort of, you know there are exceptions here but like for the basics let’s assume you’re getting some kind of advance and finally, finally, dear sweet baby Jesus, finally get paid. And so does your agent. Whoop!

Types of Sales. If you really want to get into this, you can tell people about the different types of sales traditional publishing has to offer, but I would recommend keeping it as short as possible so as not to get that dead-eyed stare coming back. Just keep letting them follow the money without getting too bogged down in the details:

  • Regular Sale – An editor read your book, liked your book, offered to buy your book. Sweet.
  • Auction – Multiple editors read your book, liked your book, and WENT TO WAR for your book. Admittedly, this is the scenario most of us are dreaming of but our families are like, “Whatever, greedy, money is money you’ve been doing this for free for 87 years are you really going to be picky?” And they are not wrong.
  • Pre-empt – Multiple editors read your book and liked your book, but one in particular really liked your book and decided to avoid the war they would make you an offer you couldn’t refuse and buy it before there could even be a war. For the publisher, this is sort of like that button on eBay where you can buy the item for the set price to avoid the risk of getting bid up at an auction, but you could also lose out on getting a lower deal. You as the author, of course, get the bird in the hand. This is also a Very Excellent outcome. Guaranteed any outcome that results in you no longer doing this for free anymore is an excellent outcome to your loved ones.

Advances. Okay, listen, we all know that advances are a lot to process. Not all publishing houses offer them, how they’re paid out is ridiculous. That publishing houses can take them back for sometimes no reason is wild. Want to explain earning out to someone not in publishing? No you don’t. Just tell them when the publishing house buys your book you get some money in advance and then some more when you fulfill other contractual obligations like turning in the final draft and the book going up for sale. Might also be worth telling them this is going to take a lot longer than they think (like all things publishing) and no, when your book sells they will not be seeing it stores near them in the next couple of weeks and/or months. Don’t we wish.

Editing (again). Time for that good old rinse and repeat situation. Just… repetition is everything in publishing. I’m going to have a chart about that here in a minute to summarize. Skip to the end if you want that because you, just like Aunt Darla, are getting glassy-eyed with this post. Yes, dad, I have to edit this book again. With someone who has the title of editor this time, though. Which is new. (Unless you’ve had your book edited professionally before you queried, which is also a thing that happens that I don’t even have the spoons myself to get into but am not knocking, to be clear).

STEP FOUR – FINISHING

I have a not very good title for this step because I have never found myself remotely near it (yet), but my friends have, and I’ve been in (?) around (?) traditional publishing long enough to know what goes on. So I have summed up all the fine tuning bits that make your book sparkle into a step called “Finishing.”

Line Editing. Yep. More of this. Just like… tell them it’s edited a lot. By lots of different people. Many of whom are underpaid and overworked. Remind them to support the HarperCollins Union.

Copy Editing. Rinse and repeat.

Title. No, you don’t get to choose your own title. Tell your family to get over it. No, cousin Susie, trust me, I don’t care what your friend from the office said or did or read on the internet, getting to choose my own title is NOT worth bootstrapping it on my own and self-publishing. Trust me. Oh boy, trust me.

Cover Design. Don’t get to do this, either. But someone who knows WAY more about the market and Photoshop does get to do it. It will be great. And if it isn’t, you will act like it’s great.

Formatting. The book is formatted (!) into a book looking thing (!) This is when you will finally be able to answer that annoying question every non-publishing person in your life has been asking you since you finished your first draft: How many pages is it? They probably don’t care anymore, because it’s now like… six years later, but you’ll be able to tell them.

STEP FIVE – LAUNCH

In my flowchart I labeled this “Marketing/Sale” because there are a few steps that happen in-house before the official go live date for your book, but the most important part of this step is:

Cat wearing a hard hat presses a red button with text that reads LAUNCH.

Marketing. LOADED QUESTION. PASS. Mumble mumble marketing stuff maybe there’s a lot of gray area TikTok mumble mumble not a lead title mumble mumble eARCs bloggers mumble mumble. OKAY, BYE IRENA, THERE IS STILL MORE PROMO THAN SELF-PUBLISHING, YES. But marketing is fraught and no, I really don’t want to talk about it that would need more words than you want to read because you’re probably already sick of me, right? MOVING ALONG.

Pre-events. Yeah, kind of same as above. No one wants to hear about the debate around whether it’s pronounced A-R-C or

An ark with a bunch of animals Photoshopped (poorly) onto it.

For the record, though, it’s totally the latter.

Distribution and Sale. YES. MY BOOK IS FINALLY AVAILABLE. IT IS OFFICIALLY PUBLISHED. AND MONEY. IT IS TIME ONCE AGAIN TO TALK ABOUT MONEY! We have arrived! You can BUY my book now! And review it, and add it on Goodreads, and do all the things you’ve been waiting to do! Here are some extra points to make now that we’ve reached the finale:

  • This whole process from start to finish if everything went absolutely perfectly and not a single thing ever went wrong (LOL!) would take 2-3 years. At best. Like if you fast drafted the cleanest book you’ve ever seen and threw it into the trenches and got a million requests right out of the gate and signed with an agent immediately and the book was almost perfect and went on submission right away and editors loved it and WENT TO WAR and pushed it through as fast as possible, you could MAYBE have a book on the shelf in 2-3 years.
  • This absolutely never happens to anyone. I mean maybe like three people ever in the history of publishing. More likely it is going to be a 5+ year process.
  • You will not be paid for most of it.
  • Neither will your agent.
  • You’re not quitting your day job anytime soon sobs.
  • You’re going to do the same things over and over and over (a chart on that is coming, I promise).
  • Publishing is not a meritocracy. It’s about luck and persistence and honestly privilege since it’s overwhelmingly white, straight, cis, able-bodied, and male. No, Uncle Earl, I do not give a shit what you think you saw on Fox News about book banning or white dudes not being able to sell their books. They can. And do. They’re fine. Sit down.

Royalties. Remember what I said about trying to explain earning out? I stand by that. Just… don’t. Royalties are sort of similar. We don’t want to talk about royalties. But if you have to, keeping it simple might go something like, “If I meet contractual obligations I’ll start to earn a small percentage of every sale after a certain point. The publisher keeps most, my agent gets about 15%, I end up with an amount less than that. Nope, I do not want to debate that with you.”

REPITITION

If you’ve been keeping track, there’s a lot of repetition in publishing. Which you and I know and can appreciate. But sometimes seeing it laid out can help people who don’t come from inside publishing understand where and when it’s happening, so they don’t think you’re just… I don’t know, working harder instead of smarter or some other corporate jargon that cannot be applied to this business. So, as promised, here is my repetition chart!

There are a couple of bonus features in my chart, yes.

And because I know this is probably The Most Important Thing to most people’s Nephew Ryan who is surely not a 24-year-old techbro running a startup in his mom’s basement just dying for the chance to mansplain to you about how you should really quit it with this “starving artist” thing and “get a real job” I present for you the Publishing Money Flow Chart.

Don’t hate on the graph, Ryan. This is just how our business works. I didn’t make the rules. Trust me, I would have made better ones.

IN CONCLUSION

Did I do a good job summarizing this succinctly? Checks the wordcount. No. Did I work out some deep-seated family issues I appear to have? Yes. Also, I made some pretty charts perhaps you’ll find helpful when next you confront one of YOUR family members who “just doesn’t get it” despite your 87th explanation of querying. At the very least, I hope I made you laugh a couple times as I tried to untangle this messy business we all know and love and so fondly call “Publishing.”

Until next time! Xoxo,

Aimee

How I Quit Writing Forever, then Got My Agent


Author’s Note: I revamped my old website so I could do this announcement post, and hilariously, the very last post on my blog before I shut down my website was titled “How I Didn’t Get My Agent.” Written in 2019, you can read that here. It’s been a looooong road, and this is going to be a long post, so please bear with me!

Content Warning: This post contains query stats. But don’t worry they’re probably some of the worst you’ve seen.


Sometimes, you have to quit to be found. In this story, I will not overwhelm you with toxic positivity or tell you to “Just keep going.” Because this is a story about how I was, at almost every critical point in my writing life, not the Darling or the Exception, or the Chosen One. And that got to me so much I quit. Several (dozen if you ask my friends) times. But quitting gave me the perspective to carry on which led me to the infamous single yes (really a single one in my case). So, gather round friends, it’s time for me to get On Brand, aka brutally honest.

Dramatic Kitten yells and falls back. For my #PitchWars peeps – I am the most dramatic kitten still, yes.

I sent my first query when I was 14. The manuscript was called IN THE LIGHT OF DAWN. It featured elemental magic, talking Pegacorns, and a villain clearly taken from many hours reading Magic Knight Rayearth fanfic. I wrote it during the summer between the 7th and 8th grade and never edited it. Why would you have to edit a masterpiece?

Pretty sure that first query (and full manuscript in all its messy glory) went to Tor, my dream publisher (if any editor from Tor is reading this, my books are way better now, call my agent!). I remember putting that big manila envelope in the mailbox and thinking, “Today is the first day of my destiny.” Because I was a prodigy. Obvi. When I never heard anything (bless whatever intern for not responding and shattering my fragile, pre-teen heart), I sent out other queries with sample pages. To agents this time (like I needed one, right? But I supposed I could give these fools a try)… Nothing.

I was not deterred. (Bless me.) I’d written the sequel, IN THE DARK OF NIGHT, and four other books in the same world, the names of which I do not remember but were all horrible, things like ocean depths and thorny something or other. I tried to look them up for shits and giggles but couldn’t find them, they’re probably on a floppy disk somewhere (yeah, I’m dating myself with that).

A stack of floppy disks. To the youths, they’re like old school flash drives. Predated CDs. They stored like 1.4MB of data or some nonsense. You could download one illegal song from Napster (that website that gave everyone’s computer a virus) and that was about it. Unlike Napster, this image is not illegal and was sourced freely via Pixabay.

In addition to the churning out of books, I was also winning every writing competition my teachers entered me in. Short fiction, poetry, essays, whatever it was, I was coming back with medals, and plaques, and awards. I cruised through high school feeling Destined. So when I was approached by UNC Chapel Hill to apply for the Thomas Wolfe Scholarship, a writing scholarship that would cover my full tuition, I was sure I had it.

I… did not have it. That rejection letter was the first rejection letter that broke my heart. Spoiler alert: It would not be the last. I remember lying on the floor in the kitchen, the cool stone beneath my hot cheeks, screaming. My dad called me pathetic. Maybe I was.

Maybe I was a spoiled, entitled 17-year-old who had always won everything. Who had never learned to lose. Or maybe I was a teen with C-PTSD and then-undiagnosed ADHD who had rejection sensitive dysphoria who couldn’t handle someone saying their soul wasn’t good enough. Maybe I was both. We do exist in multitudes, as they say.

I did go to UNC, ultimately. For creative writing. I competed mightily with the recipient of the Wolfe Scholarship (whether she knew it or not). I worked my way up through the ranks of a brutally competitive program where every semester you had to apply to get to the next level, and the class availability got smaller and smaller. Whittling out the weak. Teaching us, whether we knew it at the time or not, to fail.

“So much raw talent, but you’ll never make it in this program writing genre fiction.” That’s what my very first fiction professor told me. I wanted to make it with writing. It was all I’d ever wanted. So, I put away stories about goddesses of dreams falling in love with gods of night and wrote lit fic.

Girl with long brown hair lies on white bed, sleeping with a red rose in her hand and a crown of briars on her head.

I argued Chekhov and Hemingway. I dissected Faulkner and literally got in a fight with Stuart Dybek at a bar. For years, I had my work ripped apart twice a week with ruthless efficiency. I stopped crying. For better or worse, my writing would never look the same.

When I graduated college at age 21, I quit writing for the first time. For 6 years, I didn’t pen a word. I didn’t read. Instead, I drank. Until one day, rehab woke me up. And when I came home, I looked around and the first thing I noticed was that I didn’t have a single book in my apartment. Me, who had loved books all her life.

I went to Barnes & Noble and bought the Miss Peregrine series. The covers looked how I felt. Black and white. Nostalgic. Lonely. And when I had finished them, my fingers itched for a pen. So, I picked one up, and I wrote. Within nine months, I had four more books drafted.

Two of them would become my 2+ year journey in self-publishing. Another failure. I still couldn’t remember how to cry, but I remembered how to pivot. Back to traditional publishing I went. This was what I knew, and how I was trained, even if I was now writing the Big Terrible Genre Fiction. Brand new book. And the age-old query letter. My enemy.

That first book I queried was a YA fantasy, stats as follows:

  • Pitch Wars Entry 2017 (3 mentor requests, did not get in)
  • Pitch Wars Entry 2018 (0 mentor requests, did not get in)
  • Queries to agents: 51 – ALL form rejections or no response
  • Requests: 0
  • Offers: 0
  • Request rate on that book: 0%

While that book died in the trenches, I worked on another YA fantasy that for the first time featured a character with touch aversion and C-PTSD, like me. I would go on to query this book THREE times over the course of the next four years.

A vulture hides its beak in its wing against a black backdrop. IFYKYK.

Between 2019-2020 the revisions blended together and were not big enough to be a different set of queries, in my opinion, so for purposes of this post I am going to lump them together. Stats:

  • Pitch Wars Entry 2019 (1 mentor request, did not get in)
  • Pitch Wars Entry 2020 (0 mentor requests, did not get in)
  • RevPit Entry 2021 (Got cold feet and did not enter at the very last minute)
  • Queries to agents: 64 – ALL form rejections or no response
  • Requests: 0
  • Offers: 0
  • Request rate on that book for that round: 0%

The rejections for that book hit me hard. It was the first time since college I’d tried to write a character so closely related to my life experience it was impossible for me to separate the rejections of the book from rejections of me as a human. I quit writing forever again. Right in the middle of drafting this other book about a fairy godmother who hated her job. For about four (maybe six) months I didn’t write or read a word. Every book I picked up made me want to throw things. The professional jealousy was real, and it was beastly. Why did it feel like everyone was winning all. the. time? Hadn’t I suffered enough? Didn’t anyone give a shit about what was fair? Spoiler alert: Most people don’t care, no, but also, if you too are obsessed with the concept of fairness you might be neurodiverse (just saying, I wish I had looked into this sooner).

I’m not sure why I started writing again. I just… did. And then in four days, POOF, I had a finished book looking thing. It was adult, which was new. And missing a WHOLE bunch of words (which would turn out to be a POV), and was a mess, but it was done.

GIF of the Fairy Godmother from Disney’s Cinderella waving her wand.

That book would get me my agent, but not linearly. Because naturally. That book, ALL HER WISHES, an adult fairytale retelling, would also FINALLY get me into #PitchWars. Mentorship stats below:

  • AMM Entry 2021 (1 mentor request, did not get in)
  • Pitch Wars Entry 2021 (2 mentor requests, AND I GOT IN!)
  • PW showcase requests: 2*
    • *This was one of the lowest request rates of all the Pitch Wars mentees

After the showcase, I was a mess. Five years trying to get in, draft 11 of the book, 19,000 words cut to make room for 16,000 new ones. An ending rewritten THREE times, months of work and for… nothing. I’ve tweeted a lot about the post-PW angst, and I’m sure I will blog about it in the future, but it was brutal.

Mood board containing various pictures of me and text advice from my Pitch Wars journey. Including my fave: You don’t need Pitch Wars to survive publishing, but you will need friends – still appropriate, btw.

I queried because I felt like I had to, but I went in with a spirit so thoroughly broken I could barely see straight. Reminder that we’re a couple decades in at this point, if you’ll remember from 100 paragraphs ago. I have written like 14, 15, 16 books at this point, I can’t even keep track. It’s shit for me.

Like honestly, the whole thing is shit. If you’re in the trenches after a lot of years, and you’re feeling like it’s shit, you’re right. It is. I wish I had something inspirational to say to make it better, but I don’t. It’s just absolutely brutal when you aren’t lucky.

And if you’re wondering: What am I doing wrong? Is it me? Probably not. I mean if you’re following the advice, getting CPs, listening to querying tips, taking feedback and help, honing your craft, it’s probably not you. It’s just shit. And luck. And finding that ONE yes.

So, ALL HER WISHES querying, woof. That was awful. I went months and months without a single request. Dozens and dozens of queries. I lamented, cried (remembering how to do that very well at this point), screamed, didn’t sleep, didn’t eat, ate more than was comfortable, bothered my mentor SO much, considered small presses, ultimately decided no and shelved the book. And revised ye old YA of my heart (again, but seriously tore it up this time). For that new revision on the YA (which would be the THIRD time querying this puppy), I had somewhat better luck but still not great. Stats:

  • RevPit Entry 2022 (0 editor requests, I did not get in)
  • Queries to agents: 93
  • Requests: 3 partials, 1 full
  • Offers: 0
  • Request rate on that book: 4.3%

I quit writing forever again. I was pretty serious this time. Wrote a thread on Twitter about it and everything. But my now-agent had kindly passed on ye old YA of my heart with interest in ALL HER WISHES, so I figured I would give it ONE. FINAL. GO. Ultimate stats on the book that got me my agent:

  • Traditional queries (outside the PW showcase): 84
  • Requests: 1
  • Offers: 1
  • Request rate (not including PW showcase requests): 1.2%
  • Request rate (including PW showcase requests): 3.6%
White mood board featuring a pink pair of shoes, pink roses, a white woman with long blond hair in a gold dress, a lilac covered field, and a shaded glen. Text reads “All she could do was stare at the silk in her hand and wish…”

That’s three decades of writing and two decades of querying. Of quitting and returning. It’s starting and stopping. Failing and pivoting. It is not Destiny. It is Determination. It is loss. And grief. It is hundreds of rejections at every turn, some I can quantify and some I can’t. It is 98.8% more failure than success.

Are you waiting for me to tell you not to give up?

I won’t. Because giving up is exactly what gave me the courage to keep going. The day I gave up was the day I finally separated my identity as a human from my identity as a writer. It was the day I realized all those agents were not rejecting me, they were rejecting things I could not quantify. Luck. Timing. Market. Style. Preference. Were some of them rejecting me in that I write neurodiverse, bisexual characters with trauma issues baked in? Maybe. Probably (whether consciously or not, everyone has bias). But that’s a them problem, not a me problem. I have carried so much shame in my life, I don’t need to carry more, especially when it does not belong to me. Giving up gave me time and space to finally see some of this and to find a life on the other side of writing.

Yes, there were days it was hard. There were days I was angry at the stories the gatekeepers were (and continue) holding back. I grieved not only my loss but the ones I saw my friends suffering, too. That thing inside me that screams NOT FAIR revolted, slamming against the cage of my ribs like a feral cat in a trap. I told it to shut up and go to hell. Fair or not fair, life is life, and here we were.

But after awhile, I started to miss writing. A little twinge at first, then a tick, then a pang that turned into a steady beat like a heart, like a need. The grieving was done, but there was still a hole that nothing else would fill, and I was reminded why I started writing in the first place. For myself. For the kid still inside me, longing for escape. For kids like me who deserve to see someone like them being the heroes of their own stories. For kids who are trapped in chaos to know there’s an exit on the other side, an exit that might not be sexy but is real and true and entirely theirs. To have a platform to speak on this, on trauma, on neurodiversity, on socioeconomics, on so many things that leave the kind of scars society doesn’t often see.

Those lessons that led to reasons are what will help me through the 98.8% more failure I know is headed my way. So, I stand by my earlier statement.

Quit if you have to. Quit now. Quit tomorrow. Quit forever or for a week.

YOU are the story most important. Never forget that.

Xoxo,

Aimee

P.s. All the love to Keir Alekseii for making this post possible by becoming my agent. I’m totally kidding about 98.8% more failure, btw, we are going to be fiiiiine! Please pretend you never read that. Jokey joke!

How I Didn’t Get My Agent

2023 Update: This post was originally posted in 2019. It was the last post on my website before I shut it down. Now that I reactivated it to tell my very own How I Got My Agent story, it seemed fitting I leave this here as well, as a reminder. This is not always (or often) an easy journey.

Trigger/Content Warning: This post is sad. It is coming from a really dark place and is my mental illness speaking through me. If you’re not in a good place for that kind of dark content, please tread no further, I would never want the expression my mental health to hurt someone else’s.


You know the posts about How I Got My Agent? A lot of your favorite authors have them on their website. Most of them are stories of victory over adversity. They’re about the pains of the querying trenches all being worth it. They’re about how there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. They’re really cool and often so inspiring.

This post isn’t that.

I’ve been crying for three days. I can’t stop. Every time I think I have it under control, it starts again. My throat burns, and I’m having trouble breathing my sinuses are so choked. I can’t sleep, can’t taste the food I eat. When I go to the gym, I end up sobbing so hard I can’t keep going. The other day after another unsuccessful workout, I curled into a ball on the yoga mat I was stretching on and fell asleep. Things aren’t good with me.

I’ve been rejected. Again. From Pitch Wars, again. For the third time. It’s a new manuscript but the same results. This book was a bright and shiny beacon I was so, so proud of. But I was proud of the last one, too. And it was rejected twice from Pitch Wars and received 27 form rejections or spots of silence after that. The last manuscript didn’t receive a single request from a single agent I submitted to. It seems like this one is headed down the same path.

After I was sure I wasn’t going to be getting into Pitch Wars, I braved the querying trenches once more. I want this so bad. And this manuscript, I assured myself, is different. It’s special. It’s so much of me that someone has to see it for what it is. I have worked so fucking hard.

Not hard enough. I received my first form rejection within 24 hours of sending the first query. Here we go again.

I laid under my desk at my day job where I work as a paralegal, surrounded by smart people I really like but who I’m so jealous of because they will always be more important and make more money than me because they have a piece of paper I don’t, and I wept. And when one of my coworkers found me, I blamed my period and ran to the bathroom to continue crying alone.

This isn’t my period. I haven’t gotten my period in three years. The doctors say it’s stress.  Stress I put on myself, or the world puts on me, I can’t be sure anymore. So no, this isn’t that. This is something else. This is the raw, ripe, stinging pain of rejection after rejection after rejection with no shining hope at the end of the tunnel. I am not good enough. I will never be good enough. I am what I am and what I am is not sufficient.

No one tells you about this part. No one records it. It’s not hopeful or pretty or tied neatly with an HEA and a bright red bow at the end. It’s bad for your look to look like no one wants you. But it’s the truth. And if I had a brand, which I don’t because you need to have a product to have a brand, it would be truth.

Here’s the truth. We aren’t all going to get agents and book deals. There are far more of us than there are of them. We aren’t all going to be able to live the dream and make enough money writing to quit our day jobs and pursue our passion. So we need to have contingent dreams. If I could give any young writer advice it would be that: Have another dream. Have something else to care about. Have something else to pay your bills and sate your passion. Search for it if you have to. Demand it of yourself, even if it doesn’t come naturally, even if you’re sure the only thing you’ll ever want is to be a writer. Find. Something. Else.

For me, something else is photography and fostering kittens. Sometimes, something else can almost be my day job. But whatever it is for you, don’t let writing become who you are. Let it be part of you, but not all of you. Save some of you for you.

And when you’re down, find a way to get back up, no matter how hard it is.

Take care of yourselves,

❤ Aimee

Do Audiobooks “Count”?

Woo! Something bookish (besides a book review) to talk about two weeks in a row! Look at me!

So let’s get right down to today’s topic. Do audiobooks count as books read?

Spoiler alert: Yes. They do. And to be honest, I’m not really sure why this is an issue I keep seeing come up, but I do, and it’s starting to get me a little feisty, so here’s my take on it all.

First off, “reading” a book basically means absorbing it, understanding it. When we’re tested on reading comprehension we’re not tested on can. you. read. each. of. these. individual. words. We’re tested on can you string these words into a sentence and understand them. You don’t actually have to physically read the words with your eyes to string them into a sentence and understand them. Simply put, reading is not a physical act you need sight to complete.

Which leads me to my second point which is: it is ableist as hell to tell someone that audiobooks don’t “count” as reading. What about blind folks? Do they have to get a book in Braille for it to count, per this silly rule? Do you know how few physical books there are that are produced in Braille? And how expensive they are? A copy of The Hobbit is $72.95. Want a more recent young adult book? A copy of Ash Princess is $97.95. Game of Thrones$239.95. Audiobooks are expensive, too, don’t get me wrong, but they’re more widely available, and there are many more library options.

It’s not only blind people who this nonsense excludes, either. “Not counting” audiobooks also hurts neurodiverse people. Audiobooks are often used as an alternative method of teaching for kids (and adults) whose brains aren’t neurotypical. Just because some people mix letters up doesn’t mean they’re not able to comprehend stories and information. It doesn’t mean they don’t count.

I think this is really why this issue fires me up, to be perfectly honest. Because by saying audiobooks don’t “count,” it feels like people are saying those for whom audiobooks are the only viable (or affordable or accessible) option don’t “count” when they in fact do. Very much. They’re just as much a part of the literary community as everyone else. I want them as part of my audience. I want everyone as part of my audience. I want that tent to be as wide and welcoming as possible. I don’t care how you absorb stories; I only care that you do.

Ableism is point one and the most important, but point two is time. Some people don’t have time to read as much as they’d like (or at all). Single parents, workaholic types, people having to hold multiple jobs, people doing school and work, those with long commutes, the people who might make up this category are endless. As you get older and take on more and more responsibilities, you have less and less free time. And what free time you have is precious. Maybe you’re trying to get that side hustle going. Maybe you need to spend more time with your partner or children. Maybe you’re just too damn tired from struggling that you can’t make the words turn into sentences at the end of a sixteen-hour day. Audiobooks give you back a little bit of free time because you can read and do other things. I listen to audiobooks on my long commute, at the gym, while I’m cooking dinner, taking the dog on a walk, cleaning my house, etc. All things that need to happen, all things that cut into the time I have to read a physical book. To have the luxury to have so much free time that you can choose not to “count” audiobooks is a privilege, plain and simple.

Final point on why audiobooks definitely count as books read: because not counting them is silly, really. I recently listened to Furyborn by Claire Legrand on audiobook. I wasn’t taken with the narrator, so I read the sequel, Kingsbane, in hardback. Shockingly, I didn’t have to go back and read Furyborn in hardback to understand Kingsbane. I simply picked up the book, opened the cover, and started to read. This is because I’d read it by listening to it. I mean, this is not that complicated.

So, at the end of the day, this is my word problem: According to Goodreads, Aimee has read 55 books this year. If 27 of them were audiobooks, how many books has Aimee read this year?

Answer: Aimee has read 55 books this year.

As always, be kind to yourself, and keep at those Goodreads goals, however you reach them!

❤ Aimee

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Bookstagram photograph from @writingwaimee of audiobook version of Mama’s Last Hug by Frans de Waal surrounded by red butterflies.

All the Rules We Break

Author’s Note: I know I promised this blog yesterday, but it’s been hectic! But! Here it is, alive and well! It’s not edited well because I just flung it up in a rush, but I did the thing, which is great because this post is about YOU doing the thing!


For a good chunk of my writing career, I thought when people said, “Kill your darlings,” they meant that writers should kill their favorite characters. So I took that “advice” and ran with it. For awhile, I literally killed my favorite characters as a writing exercise, or a weird point of pride. Including at the end of romances, which um… did not go down well with romance readers (as it should not have, sorry, early readers at this life stage!)

I was younger then, and like a bright-eyed student thirsty for the knowledge of those older and therefore (I assumed) wiser than me, I took every bit of writing advice I could glean. When I had it, these gems, these treasures, these bits of knowledge that would surely make me Leigh Bardugo famous, I attempted to use them all.

As you might suspect (since I am not Leigh Bardugo famous), a lot of that advice has many interpretations and is quite subjective. A lot of it simply didn’t work for me. And if I’m honest, some if it made me really hate writing.

“Write what you know.” This is the oldest one in the book. Every writing student and aspiring author knows this one. “Write what you know” and “Show don’t tell” might be tattooed on the inside of my eyelids for how often they float through my mind.

I am not going to recreate what has already been done (both poorly and well) here. Google “Write what you know is wrong” and take everything you read with a grain of salt. Be especially careful about white dudes defending cultural appropriation for the sake of “art.” (Read: their Very Important™ writing). Not all of it is wrong, though. But “write what you know” can mean a lot of things. It doesn’t have to mean you can only write your memoir (although, if you have the urge to do that, do that, I need more memoirs to read!) “Write what you know” in the young adult spectrum might be more akin to, “Stay in your own lane” which I wrote about a few weeks ago. “Write what you know” could also mean that the most powerful writing you’ll do is when you’re writing about an experience that is intimately familiar to you. We all have unique experiences that only we can bring our perspective and voice to. But you also don’t have to do it all at once. “Write what you know” doesn’t have to be “Well, I’ve put every important thing on the page in this very first book and now I’m all dry and whatever will I do? I know nothing else!” Because I mean, that’s silly. We’re always experiencing and learning new things.

And now you’re probably wondering … wasn’t this post supposed to be about rule breaking? Why did you just spend 500 words defending The Rule? Well, partly it’s because when I was looking for a quote about writing what you know being flexible, I found all these articles about write what you know is wrong, and they espoused a lot of “cultural appropriation is okay for art,” and I got mad and had to come to The Rule’s defense. But it’s also partly because I wanted to make the point that all these “rules” are subjective. They can be used, and tossed aside, and bent, and broken, and rocketed into the sun strapped to a Tesla. As long as you have a book you’re proud of at the end, however long it takes you to get to that end, then you’ve done the thing!

Speaking of however long it takes, let me talk about one of the rules that isn’t that subjective and which I think is garbage (for me). Please keep in mind I mean in all of this for me. I always hesitate to give writing advice to anyone because everyone is so different. This advice is probably really helpful for some people. I have friends and professors and mentors who swear by it. But it doesn’t work for me, and I want to assure people here that if it doesn’t work for you, that is okay. You can still be a writer/author/creator without some a lot of this.

The advice goes thusly: “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” This quote is attributed to writer and activist Mary Heaton Vorse, but it has taken various forms across the years. Most of my writing professors used to advise taking at least one hour per day to write. To put your ass in the chair and get it done. To ground out words even if they sucked.

No shade to my professors, but as it turns out, academia makes a nice butt cushion. In my experience, 12-16 hour workdays don’t leave much time for the butt in chair exercise every day. My workdays start with household chores at 6:30 a.m. and don’t usually end until 8 p.m (on a good, 10 hours at work, workday). That doesn’t really leave much mental or physical energy for butt in chair time. I know people who get up even earlier to put their ass in a chair, and I admire that. But I have night terrors. If I go to bed at 11 p.m. and wake up at 6:30, with my nightmares, on a good night, I’ll be living on 5 hours of sleep. This is my life. Every day.

I’m not complaining, and I don’t want pity. It’s just my life, which is different than every other life. My life doesn’t have time for butt in chair exercises every day. That’s okay, though. As it turns out, I’ve been able to write 4 1/2 books in less than 4 years just writing when I can. Sneaking it in here and there when work is slow, taking days off solely to write, staying up late on days when I have the energy, putting a lot of time in on the weekends. But it’s not every day, and it isn’t consistent. Sometimes, I’ll go months without writing. I have to put food on my table and my primary job is what does that. No matter what though, I still get back to doing the thing.

And you can, too. You can do the thing. You don’t need every single “rule.” You can tell sometimes. Some stories need more telling than others. You don’t have to write every day. You can write stuff you don’t know (again, I mean like write about six-legged ponies, not cultural appropriation). You can write in tenses that aren’t active. You can throw jargon all over your damn page. You can write sentences so long even lawyers’ eyes will bug out at the sight of them. You can write how you want to write. It is your story and your voice and your art. There are really no “rules” to writing in the end. Only guidelines. Take what works for you and phooey on the rest.

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That said, what is your favorite writing “rule” (especially if it’s one you’ve come up with for yourself?)

< Always, Aimee

Dispensing with the “Classics”

This post has been churning around in my head for awhile now. For those who haven’t read the “About” section on this site, I was an English major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. As such, I’ve read a lot of books considered “classics” (or, in academia, those books which make up the Western canon). I read them because it was required of an English major, not because I liked them. I read them because I wanted to be an author, and it is widely known that to write, you must read. I read them because I was told they would make me a better writer.

And maybe in some ways, they did. But I’m no longer convinced it is these specific books that make one a better writer. In fact, I think in some ways, they can be harmful. Because the authors at issue are almost universally white, cisgender, straight men. Not surprisingly, that makes a lot of their work racist, homophobic, and patriarchal. They do not reflect the reality of the world around us, not anymore (and arguably not when their books were written, either), nor do they reflect the reality of any world I want to live in. To quote one of these men, Albert Camus, “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.” But how can the Western canon represent the current truth? How can it help us learn to write our own truths when it doesn’t even accurately convey its own?

Yet, the thing that haunts me most is the thought of what we could be missing out on by encouraging our students to mimic a Western canon that is no longer relevant. Think of all we could have if we didn’t force this trite old sameness down the throats of every high school student in America. We could have more readers, more writers. We could inspire more voices to tell more stories, more truths. We could lift up creativity, in all fields, across all specialties and scopes. I mean, what if Black students didn’t have to read about the “heroism” of Atticus Finch? What if they were never subjected to a lecture on why it’s “okay” that Twain used the n-word 219 times in Huck Finn? What if indigenous students didn’t have to read the words “the only good Indian was a dead Indian” written by some white woman who didn’t know the first thing about their culture(s)? What if female students didn’t have to read about an all-male cast descending into chaos and savagery (and thereby be forced to contemplate what their role is in placating this behavior) in Lord of the Flies? What if our students didn’t have to follow around a main character who sexually assaults two little girls in A Clockwork Orange? What if none of these children were ever forced to sympathize with their oppressors? Would that really make them worse writers?

Or would it make them better?

Would it make the writing less or would it simply make it different? If we didn’t have these “influences” would we be more or less free? I mean, isn’t literature about freedom? Expressing oneself in the fullest and truest way possible? And how can you be free to write from your own experience and your own culture if none of your “influences” saw you as human?

What kind of impact would it have if instead of To Kill a Mockingbird, we passed out copies of The Hate U Give? Hell, what kind of impact would it have if we just went ahead and accepted the fact that a lot of the Western canon is simply boring? I mean, how many people out there do you think hate reading because someone handed them Moby Dick and they read three pages about how white some whale was and decided books were not for them? Seriously though, even the whale is white? What if we gave them Six of Crows instead? Why can’t books be both instructive and interesting?

The thing is: they can. And they are. There are a lot of books out there that are both; books that academics (and even teachers) snub their noses at because they’re classified as “young adult” or “fantasy” or “genre fiction.” I mean, I have actually seen educators, good educators I know, say things like, “THUG was really great considering it’s young adult.”

Like… what? Seriously, though. What?

Anyway, I think it’s far past time we stop and ask ourselves: Why are these labels seen to be bad things? Is it who writes these stories that make them less? Because if it’s that, it should really be evaluated. Or is it that reading these stories is fresh and interesting and fun? And if it’s that, whoever said that reading had to be boring or painful to be worthwhile? I mean honestly, what kind of message are we sending with that notion?

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Anyone else think it’s time that we cancel the classics? And if not, why do you think they should stay? Anyone want a good mix of both? Let me know (respectfully, please) your thoughts in the comments.

❤ Always, Aimee

Inspiration

Trigger/Content Warning: Discussion of physical and emotional violence against humans and animals in dreams, as well as discussion of sexual assault in dreams. Trauma, nightmares, childhood fears.

Anyone who has written well, just about anything, will have heard this question before: Where do you get all your ideas from?

It’s one of the most basic writing questions of all time, and it remains so because it varies for every single person. Some people get their inspiration from life events, from people they know, from observing what happens in the world around them. Some people get their inspiration from their travels, from their neighbors, from the kids on their block. Some people get their inspiration from politics, from social situations they want to change, or history that fascinates them. Some people get their inspiration from other writers, from poets, from songwriters, from artists of all kinds.

I get my inspiration mainly from nightmares.

My very first memory is of a nightmare. I still remember it as viscerally and vividly now as I did when I was small. In it, I am young–maybe four. My hair is as white as the lace nightgown I wear and hangs just to my shoulders. My pink blanket trails behind me as I walk, barefooted, to the base of a mighty black volcano.

I want to shove my thumb in my mouth for comfort but even there, in my haunted sleep, I think of how my mother says big girls mustn’t suck their thumbs. So, because I’m a big girl (and have always been expected to be), I fold the satin edge of my blanket into a sharp point. Holding the fold together with my thumb and middle finger, I run my pointer finger over the once-soft, now-sharp satin again and again, allowing the pain to ground me.

For reasons only the nightmare knows, I start my ascent to the craggy, gurgling summit.

By the time I reach the top, the volcano is erupting, spewing red-hot lava in all directions. There’s no smoke, and it’s warm (not hot), probably because my young mind still doesn’t know anything about volcanoes other than what it’s seen in books or on TV, but I am afraid nonetheless.

Afraid and not alone. Because awaiting me at that summit is the character I fear most, a horror figure I still–at thirty years old–cannot stomach seeing: Chucky.

His hair is as red as the lava, his demented, painted on smile focused entirely on me. My heart hammers in my chest, but the sound of it is drowned out by the toy’s hysterical laughter.

He’s smaller than me, and he moves like a dead thing–stiff and disjointed. Yet, in this nightmare with its strange, uncontrollable dream logic, I don’t think to run, or fight, or even scream as his short, chubby arms reach for me.

Instead, I do what I’ve always done–what I’ll continue to do for decades more–I freeze.

He lifts me up and chucks me into the angry, open mouth of the volcano. As I fall, tumbling into blackness and certain death, my pink blanket floats down with me, followed by the sounds of Chucky’s maniacal cackle.

Never once do I utter a sound.

This is only the first of many. Over the next twenty-six years (from four to thirty), I will have dreams where I am the villain — bashing in the skulls of girls who tease me. I will have dreams where I am already a ghost, staring at my dead, white body hanging from a noose that hangs from a tree. I will have dreams where people I love are cut up and fed to me. I will have dreams where my dog is shot repeatedly at my feet. I will have dreams where random strangers have their limbs sawed off, and I stand there and watch as they are funneled down a bloody conveyor belt into a large vat. I will have dreams where I am being tortured and brutalized. I’ll have dreams about being raped, a lot.

They will all be different, but they will all be vivid and horrible and full of rage and fear and panic. I will wake from them screaming words like, “Get me down!” or “Don’t touch me!” Sometimes, the screaming will be completely incoherent. I will wake from them ripping my hair out of my head in chunks. I will wake from them with blood and flesh under my fingernails from where I’ve gouged my chest or face. I will wake from them sweating, or crying, or whimpering, or shaking, or some combination of all four. I will wake from them and run to the bathroom to wretch and vomit. Sometimes, I won’t wake from them at all, either because I’m too drugged from the latest cocktail the psychiatrist has cooked up for me, or because the emotion wasn’t quite intense enough to wake me, and there I’ll reside, trapped in the dream until dawn. It will go on and on and on until I wake up naturally, my teeth loose and my jaw aching from the constant gnashing and grinding.

Very few of these nightmares will give me anything except bile and panic and exhaustion. But some–some will give me inspiration. Some will provide me with a vivid picture, a snippet of something that could be. It might only be a character, some sparkle of good in these terrible dreamscapes, or it might be one scene that brought me joy in a night full of horror. But sometimes, an entire plot unveils itself.

And when I wake, I write.

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What about you? Where does your inspiration come from?

❤ Aimee