Writing advice

The “I Know This Book Will Sell” Myth

Like most newer authors trying to navigate the publishing waters alone, I did something I probably shouldn’t have done. I wrote a book I thought would sell. I convinced myself the book was what agents and/or editors would want! It’s not that I regret writing the book, because having a finished book is never a bad thing. What gets me is the expectations I put on myself and the book.

When we write what we think others will want instead of what we’re passionate about, we set ourselves up for failure. What I mean is we get it into our heads that the book is a sure thing…when we all know there is no such thing as a sure thing.

So why do we do it? Why do we hype ourselves up and trick ourselves into that way of thinking?

While I can’t speak for anyone else, I know I did it out of frustration. I had parted ways with my literary agent and dissolved a three book contract. I had been hurt by the industry and wanted so badly to succeed. I lied to myself.

I’ve learned a lot over the past two years. More than I thought I would, and in different ways. I went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. I sought validation through a project I just knew would sell. And even though I’m proud of the book I’ve written, I don’t think it was the right decision at the time. Plus, putting such lofty expectations on it only left room for failure…because anything other than selling that sure thing would be just that, failure.

Navigating the publishing waters is difficult enough. It’s even harder when we put such ridiculous expectations on our work. There is a difference between confidence and believing you have a sure fire hit on your hands.Every author should stand behind their work. If we didn’t, we’d be little more than frauds. What we shouldn’t do is think we have some kind of golden ticket.

I posted some time ago how I was writing a book based on a successful short story of mine. I thought if the short story sold and was received well, the book most certainly would too. The truth is I never got that far with the book. It never felt right. The timing still doesn’t feel right. After much thought, I decided to write the kind of story that makes my inner geek excited. It’s a sci-fi and horror mash up similar in tone to the Aliens franchise. Survival horror always makes my heart sing.¬†(Believe me, I don’t like talking about doing something without having done the thing first. I think it makes me look like a braggart d-bag.)

Don’t get me wrong anything that helps an author finish a project is a good thing. It simply rings truer when the creator is behind the project body, mind, and soul.

Minor Note: The “I know this book will sell” way of thinking can work. You just need to be a successful author with a proven fan-base first. If you don’t have either of those things, the “I know this book will sell” mentality won’t work because you have no track record of success.

What about you? Have you ever written something simply because you thought it would sell? If you have, let us know how that turned out. We’d love to know. Until next time, thanks for reading…and be good to one another.

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What Happens After You Leave Your Literary Agent

Before we get started, some of you may have noticed I haven’t been very active here for a while. The simple truth is I didn’t feel like I had anything important enough to say. I got down on myself. It took a lot of thought and soul searching for me to find my voice. You see, this all goes back to my childhood of abuse (both mentally and physically)…that “quiet” mindset – keep your head down, be quiet, and bad things won’t happen.

I’ve struggled with self worth my whole life. Most days are better than others. There are always moments when self doubt creeps in. Scratch that. It’s always there, in the back corner of my mind. Most of the time I don’t pay any attention to it. Sometimes is won’t be ignored. BUT, I’m a practical guy. Even though it took me a little longer to shake the yuck from myself, I finally did.

Okay, now on to the post.

I’m not going to get into specific dates, times, or use names. Slinging mud publicly isn’t my thing. The purpose of this post is to share some of my experiences so other writers can get an idea of both the good, and the bad, of publishing.

Have you ever wondered why authors/writers rarely talk about parting ways with a literary agent?

While I can’t speak for anyone else, it made me feel like a failure, like I did something wrong. Quite often, as growing writers, we see agents in a mystical light. When we sign with one we can’t wait to shout about it from the rooftops. That kind of enthusiasm is a good thing, but it’s often coupled with naivety.

I was lucky when I left my agent. I knew what I wanted and what I wasn’t getting from her. I also wasn’t afraid to let our relationship fail. Which is terrifying considering my career was on the line.

I also want to be clear about how I signed with my former agent. I came to her with a three book deal on the table. I queried the hell out of my book with every literary agent who repped anything remotely similar to my book. I was rejected by all of them. A few gave me constructive feedback. My former agent was one of those agents. I filed that away. After striking out with agents, I tried small presses. If anyone has submitted to small presses, you know this takes time. Months and months. If the editors are seriously considering your book it may take six months to a year before you get a final verdict. Eventually I got an acceptance from one of my top choices. Not only did they want my first book, but they wanted me to write two sequels. A trilogy! I was excited. But not excited enough to just sign on the dotted line.

It’s important to remember that through the entire query process I learned. Whether it was dealing with potential literary agents or editors or any other literary professional. As newer writers we must not get star struck. Before signing anything we must remember that our future is at stake. I think my upbringing and time in the military served me well in this regard. I got excited, sure. But I never let it cloud my judgment. I remained cautious, vigilant. I always made sure I was looking out for myself.

Now that I had a three book deal on the table, I felt like I had some leverage. So I used it. I remembered one of the agents who treated me like a human being. Because let’s face it, querying feels so cold, hollow. And not because writers don’t get what we want (representation), but because most of the time we don’t even get a response. We’re made to feel less, like we’re not worth an agent’s time. As a result I tended to notice the agents who treated me like an actual person when they had no reason to. I sent off an email stating who I was, past interaction with the agent, why I was reaching out now, and what I wanted. Looking back, I should have seen her rejecting the manuscript, but offer representation after I had a book deal, as a red flag. You live and you learn. I had to take a shot.

Another red flag came during “the call”. My agent requested that I call her. Each time we spoke, I called her. Looking back I suspect it was to save the long distance charges. Plus, during our calls, she always cut me off. There was always something more important than her newest client. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t clingy, or mental, calling and needing to talk constantly. All I wanted was a monthly chat, either by phone or email just so we could stay on the same page. From day one, communication was an issue. I filed that away.

As time passed it became clear may agent was only my agent for the guaranteed paycheck that three book deal represented. In all the time I had a literary agent, I never once received feedback on manuscript. I don’t believe she read it all the way through. Why bother when an editor already acquired it? At least that’s the feeling I got.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand publishing is a business. Literary agents need to eat too. Money is money. But we were supposed to be a team. Coming from the Air Force, I knew a thing or two about teamwork. Looking back, I never felt we were a team, let alone on the same page.

Fast forward eight months. The small press changed their business practices overnight. They gave authors who hadn’t been published yet an out. I couldn’t, in consciousness, stick with a deal I felt was unjust. Since my trilogy wasn’t scheduled to release for another couple of months, I requested a dissolution of my contract. I emailed my agent and told her what I wanted and why. She agreed, but I felt like she thought it was a mistake. She always suggested I never leave money on the table and that if a publisher wanted another book, you give them another book. Like I said, I couldn’t stick with a deal I no longer believed in. It would have been different if I knew everything before I signed. Things changed. I changed with them.

After the dissolution of my book deal, the plan was for my agent to go over my works in progress and together we would discuss our next step. Something that should have taken a couple of weeks stretched on for months. This is where I decided to step back and see if my agent really cared about me. After an email each month for two months, I waited. And waited. And waited to see if she would get back to me. After an additional couple of months, I definitively knew I had to part ways with my agent. There was no communication. There was nothing.

My next step was to voice my concerns and giver her a chance to explain things. Each time she had a reason why she didn’t have time for me. So we repeated the cycle a few more times until I said I couldn’t accept things the way they were any longer. I gave my former agent numerous chances to rectify things. I tried to behave in a professional manner and believe I did. When I requested my leave, she didn’t try to talk me out of it or anything. To me, it seemed like the guaranteed money was gone, so I didn’t matter anymore.

There I was with no three book deal and no literary agent. I went from thinking things were awesome (insert the LEGO movie song here) to absolute rock bottom.

What do you do after you part ways with your literary agent? You press on. Just because I didn’t have a book deal or an agent didn’t mean I stopped believing in myself or my work. I had two books finished and several short stories published. I had to have been doing something right.

The most important thing, at least for me, was to remain professional. I like to treat others the way I would like to be treated. As long as we can do that, it’s okay to have differences of opinion.

I’m grateful to my former literary agent. She negotiated my contract and got me the best deal. She even got it dissolved when I requested it. Her business skills were great. I learned a lot about contracts because I asked questions and stayed involved. I no longer feel lost when a publisher sends me a contract for a short story. I don’t want it to seem like my entire time with my agent was bad. It wasn’t. It just wasn’t what it should have been.

Most authors will advise up and coming writers to do their homework before signing with a literary agent. This can only take you so far. There are some things you can’t learn from an agent’s interviews or a half hour phone call. Unfortunately, you have to get in there and discover things for yourself. If you realize you’ve made a mistake by signing with an agent you’re not compatible with, be honest. Try to work things out in a way that will benefit everyone. There’s no reason to stay with an agent who you don’t feel has your back. Why would you want to?

The next time I’m ready to sign with a literary agent, I’ll know exactly what I’m looking for. I’d like her/him to communicate easily, have some common interests outside of books, and be honest. I want to know if I’m messing something up or if she/he thinks I can do better. Even though I’m creating the stories, she/he has the expert knowledge of the publishing industry. We should compliment one another and make one hell of a team.

As up and coming writers we mustn’t get caught up in the myth of instant credibility we believe having a literary agent brings. Signing with a literary agent, while exciting, is only a step on our career as published authors. Having a literary agent doesn’t make you better than anyone else. Nor does it guarantee success. We all have to put in the work. Agented writers too. As long as we can be kind to one another and keep improving, then I have to believe that we’ll all find our way eventually. And if you’re sitting there wondering if you’ll ever find a literary agent, just remember my story and know there are worse things than never signing with an agent. You could sign with the wrong one. Nobody wants that.

Keep writing. Keep improving. Stay as positive as you can. Have a little faith. You’ll get there. I know you will.

You’re a Writer. Deal With It.

Writing means many different things to many different people.

I mean, you’d have to be absolutely insane to write something you don’t know anyone will like, or want and send it off into the world. Yet many of us do just that. We get an idea. We get it down on paper. We submit it to agents and editors. Most of the time it results in rejections. But that’s to be expected. Sometimes, if you’re good enough and lucky enough, you get an acceptance.

The thing is sometimes even acceptances can turn into rejections.

Things happen. Publishers go belly up. They can change how they conduct business. I know, it happened to me.

You’re a writer. Deal with it. It may sound harsh, but it’s true.

If we want to be successful in this business, we must learn to adapt, evolve, and find a way to press forward. No excuses.

I had and lost a three book deal. I had and lost a literary agent a few months later. Those were tough decisions I had to make on my own. There is no guidebook. Bad things can, and often do, happen. If I can keep going you can too.

The thing is, it’s hard when you’ve been knocked down, kicked, and left for dead. For me, there is no quit. I plan on writing for many more years. I write these words because somewhere out there a writer is on the verge of taking their ball and going home. They’re about to quit.

If writing is important enough we’ll find a way to keep going. Maybe it’s rejection, the business side of publishing, or something else is twisting the knife in our writerly guts. Those of us who want if bad enough will walk through hell to make our publishing dreams a reality. I know it hurts. I know you feel like shit. You can do it.

If we can concentrate on how badly we want to be successful instead of how shitty everything seems, we can push through the worst of days. If every literary agent on the planet rejects your book, write another one. If every editor rejects your short story, writer a better one. Show them why they shouldn’t have overlooked you. Prove that you belong. But do it through your writing.

There’s a saying that says a published writer is one who never gave up.

Goonies never say die. Writers shouldn’t either.¬†Persevere. Even when writing is the last thing you want to do.

36 Goonies GIFs That Never Say Die

Writing Life – Peaks and Valleys

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about writerly things. Part of me thinks I’m not important enough, and another part doesn’t know if anyone would care. Another part knows there’s a writer out there in a similar situation who wishes they had a little guidance. Maybe I can be that guidance.

Like the title of this post says, any writer’s life is full of peaks and valleys, both professionally and privately. I often wonder how much I should share and what to keep to myself. I mean, there’s no shortage of other writers who take to social media for just about everything under the sun. What I have going for me is my unique experience.

Each writer is different, unique. And, each writer has unique experiences. No other writer has seen, or done, exactly what I have. Just like I haven’t seen, or done, what any other writer has done. I think it’s important to remember that.

It’s also important to remember that we should each be rooting for our fellow writers and authors. The world of publishing is just that, a WORLD. A world is big enough for EVERYONE. Yes, even if you don’t necessarily get along with everyone, you shouldn’t harbor any ill will (within reason). Unless someone purposefully stole your husband/wife, manuscript, or pizza. Get it? Good.

Back to the peaks and valleys.

When 2015 started, way back in January, I had a literary agent. I don’t anymore. Former literary agent, Nathan Bransford, recently posted How to Know When to Leave Your Agent. I couldn’t agree with what he said more. Sometimes we can’t know how compatible we’ll truly be with an agent until we work together. Above all, remember to remain professional, even if things go south. What comes around goes around. If you act shitty, even if you’re justified, it’ll come back to bite you in the ass. Hang on to your integrity. Your future self will thank you.

Part of being involved in the business of publishing is knowing when to walk away. Not every deal is a good deal. Not every publisher is a good fit. It’s up to each of us to figure these things out. Unfortunately, we have to do it on the fly. There are no flotation devices. Dive into the vast ocean. Sink or swim.

And sometimes, despite our best intentions things simply don’t work out the way we hoped they would. One moment you’re riding high, the next you’re picking yourself up after crashing and burning. It’s happened to each author, albeit in different ways. It’s part of the growing process. We do. We learn. We grow. What we can’t do is be afraid of making mistakes.

I don’t regret where I am. I don’t feel like I’ve taken a step backward. On the contrary, I’ve learned so much in the past seven months. I have more experience today than I’ve ever had, both creatively and with the business side of publishing. I also recognize exactly what I want out of a publishing house as well as a literary agent. It would have been easy for me to hang my head and lament what I don’t have. Instead I tried to see the glass as half full. I was put in those situations for a reason. I came to grips with it. Learned. Moved forward.

What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.

Despite my lack of an agent and a book deal, I’m optimistic. My writing is better. I have several short stories published in different anthologies. My first sale was at a pro rate. How many other authors can say that? Life has been ample amounts of both good and bad.

Even our non writing life has peaks and valleys.

When I was thirteen I watched as Cancer took my grandmother. Apparently it wasn’t done yet. My father has stage-4 Cancer. Out of respect to my family I don’t want to go into specifics. Even though my parents and I don’t have the best of relationships, it weighs on me. Life often has a way of testing us. We can either throw in the towel or we can fight on. My father has been fighting for over a year now. It puts my writing situation in perspective.

My thirteen-year-old niece has a crooked spine and a hole in her heart. She will need open heart surgery.

That same thirteen-year-old niece is a world class french horn player. She’s been accepted to a renowned youth symphony and will travel to Europe for a tour.

Peaks and valleys. Valleys and peaks.

No matter what we do, or where we are, we each experience peaks and valleys. We have good days and bad days. We must remember to push forward. It may sound cliche, but never give up. As long as we’re making progress, no matter how small it may seem at the time, we’re still moving in the right direction.

We can’t always control what happens in our lives. We can control how we react.

When you feel yourself going under, face everything and rise.

Writing Horror For Today’s Market

I stumbled upon this series of articles a while ago and meant to share them earlier. It’s a four part series written by David Taylor (no relation), for Socialpolitan about what makes a good horror novel. As with any advice, take it with a grain of salt. The same things won’t work for everyone. I thought it was an interesting read. Maybe some of you will too. Enjoy!

How to Write Today’s Horror Part 1: The Seeds of Horror

How to Write Today’s Horror Part 2: What Today’s Readers Want

How to Write Today’s Horror Part 3: What Today’s Readers Don’t Want

How to Write Today’s Horror Part 4: Horror Novel Checklist

Reading Can Help Improve Voice

I’ve been reading quite a bit lately. My goal was to read at least forty books this year. I’m already at twenty which is a lot for me.

It dawned on me mid way through one of my latest reads that I was analyzing what I wouldn’t do as an author. I was in the middle of a fantasy book that was taking too long to get going (The first major action doesn’t happen until over 200 pages in.) Don’t get me wrong, I understand that fantasy, in particular, is granted some leeway when it comes to world building. This writer’s characters were well done. The writing itself wasn’t bad at all. Yet, I found myself yearning for action to drive the story along.

Another book I tried reading took fifty or so pages to build up to a significant action scene only to have the POV character fall and hit their head. They were knocked unconscious and woke up five hours later. Not only did the character miss what happened, readers did too. I felt duped, misled. Why build up to an action scene only to skip it? As a reader I was annoyed and frustrated, so much so that I stopped reading.

Many authors suggest up and coming writers read often, and widely. I never quite understood the whole reason…until now.

As we grow as writers, our skill level should increase. When we pick up a book we should be able to see what makes it work, or not work. Granted this will vary from writer to writer, as no two people will view any book the same light. If I can pick out why I don’t like an author’s choices in their book, I can avoid those things in my own work. It’s logical to assume that if I can avoid things I perceive as negative, my work, and voice, should strengthen.

For me, I wouldn’t want my readers to slog through two hundred pages of world building without any significant action. I also would never build up to relevant action only to have it take place “off camera”. It’s easier for me to see what makes for a good read both technically and structurally now that I’ve been writing for a while. I’ve always been a stickler for details. Now it seems my comprehension is also expanding.

I’ve always been a big believer that writers should never stop learning. Reading can certainly help. Grab a book. Discover why you like, or don’t like, it. Look at it structurally. Pick out it’s strengths and weaknesses. Ask yourself how that information can benefit your writing? Understanding can lead to a breakthrough. Apply what you learn to your writing. You should see improvement.

If we want to be included in the same breath as some of our favorite authors, we must not be afraid to walk among them. That means analyzing someone like Dean Koontz, Stephen King, or Anne Rice. Don’t be afraid. Pull on your big kid pants. Dive into a book. Walk among the greats. Hopefully one day we’ll be lucky enough to be counted as one of them.

NOTE – I’m not suggesting copying our favorite author’s style of voice. Most inexperienced writers try that at some point and their words always come across as disingenuous. Copying a particular style or voice won’t help anyone discover their own voice. They only way to work on your voice is to sit down and write. Your words. Your story. Your way. Rinse and repeat. You’ll likely be frustrated. Work through it. Learn as you go. Things will get better with time and experience.

Shut Up And Write

“It is always wise to look ahead, but difficult to look further than you can see.” – Winston Churchill

If I could go back and scream one thing at my past self it would be to shut up and write. When I was learning the basics of writing I would spend way too much time on this blog talking about my latest breakthrough. What I should have been doing is writing and writing some more. Why didn’t anyone tell me that?

That’s my advice to anyone listening. Stop talking about writing and just do it. Talk about your latest project afterward. Talk about how you just signed a contract to publish a short story or a book afterward. You could be the best undiscovered writer in the world and it doesn’t matter if you haven’t produced anything.

Don’t make the mistakes I used to make. Don’t be the person who shouts about every little breakthrough in their personal writing process. The hard truth is it only matters to you. Eventually you’ll look back and see you spent more time talking about writing instead of actually writing. You’ll be left with a bunch of dusty blog posts and nothing to submit.

Do yourself a favor and get behind your computer and write. Everyday. For an hour, or two, or three, or however you create. Just do it. Pretty soon you’ll have multiple finished projects. You’ll be well on your way to calling yourself an author. I know you can do it. Deep down you do too, or you wouldn’t be trying. We want to celebrate your successes with you. In order for that to happen you have to finish, and submit, stories first.

Well, what are you waiting for? There are plenty of readers waiting for something awesome to read, myself included. Don’t keep us waiting!

“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.” – Jim Rohn