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 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