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

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!