A writer’s life.

So for those of you who dream of writing a novel or of publishing an already written novel, here are my experiences so far.

On the 1st of January, 2021, I completed my novel.

When I first researched novel word counts, I read that most novels were considered to be true novels at around 100,000 words, and so that’s what I aimed for. I’m lucky to have a pretty good feel for narrative and word count while writing. My actual novel came to just under 109,000 words. I thought I did well. Then I discovered other sites, like Writer’s Digest’s Word Count for Novels and Children’s Books: The Definitive Post. There I discovered that an ideal novel length is between 79,999 to 89,999 words. A novel between 89,999 to 99,999 words is “generally good”. Novels between 100,000 to 109,999 might be “too long”.

Damn it.

Now I’m straddled with a novel that might be too long. I might be able to cut down the novel but everything is tied together in such a way that it’s not simply a matter of removing blocks of text. It’s more like a game of Jenga where every block leaves a hole and the whole is more likely to collapse as a result. The undertaking would not be minor and the novel would inevitably lose some of its richness.

So, we’ll see; but that might already be a strike against me.

I submitted my novel to agents starting in the first week of January. I’ve heard back from none of them. I submitted to a second round of agents in March and they’ve also chosen to pass me over (or that’s my best guess). Just today, and for the entire day, I started a third round of submissions. I think I’ve done a much better job writing a query letter and synopsis. Once again I consulted Writer’s Digest based on the recommendations of another agent’s site—How to Write Successful Queries for Any Genre of Writing.

I also submitted the novel to a Hybrid Publisher in Austen, Texas (Greenleaf) and one in Montpelier, Vermont (Rootstock). I didn’t expect to be accepted by Greenleaf. They seem primarily geared toward easy money makers—self-help and ten step books. Among the questions Greenlead asked in their submission form was a multiple choice question asking if I’d like to spend anywhere from $5000+ to a $100,000+ on the publication of my own book. My first thought was: If I had a $100,000 to spend on a book, I sure as hell wouldn’t need to be a writer. My second thought was: I think I’ll choose the $5000+, tight-as-the-god-damn-bark-on-a-tree, Vermonter option. Just last week they politely declined my novel. I’m still waiting to hear from Rootstock.

To be honest, I’m not sure I see the difference between a hybrid publisher and a vanity press. As far as I can tell the only difference is that a hybrid publisher is selective in their choice of authors. But so what. Unless a Hybrid Publisher has skin in the game, then it’s hard for me to see what incentive they have to market a book they haven’t paid for. The investment is entirely the author’s. Conversely, it’s in a traditional publisher’s interest to market your book. They’ve presumably given you an advance, even if a small one, and have spent as much (if not more) money getting your book edited and in print. Whereas a hybrid publisher may offer you upwards of 65% on royalty (because it was your money that paid for the book after all), 65% on a book that isn’t marketed or sold is less than 6% of a book that has the marketing power of a major publisher behind it.

So there’s that.

But I have more to learn about Hybrid Publishing and if Rootstock offers to take up my novel, I’ll have a list of questions ready to go.

I’m already thinking about my next novel. I have some ideas but nothing settled. A novel between 79,000 to 89000 words seems like child’s play after writing 109,000 (which publishers apparently consider a thousand short of War & Peace) and I can write 10,000 words on a good day (and upwards of 10 on a bad day). I’ve read that publishers are less interested in the novel they buy than the novel you haven’t written. The thinking goes like this: If you’re a debut novelist, then your first novel is the ice-breaker. Your first novel makes your name but rarely makes the NYTimes best seller list. It’s the next novel that’s the potential money maker (after the marketplace has been primed). On the other hand, if you’re first novel is a best seller, then they’ve already locked you into a follow-up. So, in a sense, what agents and publishers are really interested in is your nonexistent second book.

So, note to self, get started.

Also, I see all kinds of references to publications that list agents, like this one—the Guide to Literary Agents 2020. And yet, in all the reviews, I invariably read that a significant portion of the information is obsolete and/or out of date. I’ve been searching for agents online and so far I’ve found online listings to be far more reliable and current (for obvious reasons). With age, I’ve grown skeptical and suspicious of any individual or group trying to make money off writers who are trying to find publishers—including publishers like Writer’s Digest (and that’s based on personal experience).

All that said, I remain an abject failure. Even a glorified vanity press has turned me down.

If anything changes I’ll let you know.

upinVermont | May 25th 2021

10 responses

  1. Is your novel still accessible through your website? The last I saw of it you were only about halfway through. I recall the narrator’s steady sympathy with the girl’s situations but sometimes the plot seemed to outrun the characterizations. If you start it over again, you might consider changing the title to something like “Boy and Girl” – and include diary-depth long-distance exchanges they have via email (or snail mail) through their various traumas and ordeals and the deep sympathy they develop for each other—though yet to meet or use their real names. The ultimate plot-twist and challenge for the girl could be to find out that this boy she has practically grown to love and idealize is the son of the southern redneck who almost drowned her–this at a point when they already believe they owe each other their personal sanity. I would aim for only novella length or nothing longer than anything Kurt Vonnegut ever wrote.

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    • Okay, to be clear, that doesn’t sound anything like my novel. That said, I posted an early draft but only behind a password. At this point, and the novel being done, I should probably remove the draft.

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  2. I feel your frustration. I spent countless hours on novels, short stories, and 3 full-length plays, and by the lights of maturity have no regrets that none of them was published or produced. My plays, believe it or not, were relentless self-immolations of Freudian/Marxist critique while most of my novels and flash fiction began as vengeful neo-confederate propaganda screeds—yet compelling enough, ironically, to leave even democrat friends mesmerized and complimentary (of my talent at least). A side effect of one medication I took was a spate of sexually perverted sketches written in a flawless high style that excelled Nabakov’s. But the good news is I can re-read my 110 poems with complete serenity.

    Anyway, such are the bona fides I brought to your novel, which I will certainly give another gander should you see fit.

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    • As far as rejection goes, I’m not frustrated. Yet.

      I’ve only been submitting for half a year so I don’t really have a right to complain. It can take considerable time. If 2 yrs from now, I still haven’t gotten anywhere, then yes, I’ll be frustrated.

      What does irritate me though is 1.) when agents say they want to be wowed and won over by a sparkling query letter all while their own biographies/wish-lists are dull and vague as ditch water and 2.) when they say they want X, Y and Z and that is precisely what you’re offering them—X, Y and Z —but they write back, without having read the MS, to say that the MS, which they haven’t read, isn’t a good fit. If that’s the case then they’re not really looking for X,Y and Z and need an editor to help them sort out or update what they’re really looking for and stop wasting my time.

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  3. I’ve really enjoyed your story as far as I’ve read… I need to finish it 🙄 I’ve been so busy, I neglected that.

    I’d be interested in knowing what you are wanting or expecting from a publisher. If you want to shoot me an email (raw.earth.ink at gmail). Maybe I can help out in some way.

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  4. Have you considered submitting it to those contests where people who have never published a novel before submit their manuscripts? I know you’re not too fond of contests, but, however arbitrary they may be, it may be your best chance to get some eyes on your novel. I know there are some specific to my city, and those would be best due to the smaller pool of competitors. Also, have you hit up Fomite publishing, the people who published Meanwell? From the outside at least they seem pretty cool. I just looked on their site and they are closed form submissions right now, but they will def be interested I think. :) also don’t call yourself a failure; it’s cruel to those of us who struggle putting sentences together xD. Also I have so much — TOO much — on my mind. I started reading Moby Dick and you know it reminded me a lot of the notional content of Shakespeare and the metaphysicals– I can’t get that analogy you had about S.’s poetry being like a fugue where the intellectual and the sensual are in concert with each other. I get the same sense from Melville. He has such a perfect metaphor for theodicy: what we lose when we take away suffering is what we lose when we moor an iceberg into the Caribbean– all the complexity and rigidness is melted away into calm, temperate water.

    Coldest regards,
    Rillie

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    • I’m open to submitting my novel to competitions. Not my poetry though.

      I was just looking at a list of some twenty competitions but the submission guidelines (of all but one) excluded my book. They were either, regional, age-related, tied to race and/or ethnicity, limited to certain genres or required publication elsewhere. The only competition that would have accepted my book looked frankly pretty sketchy to me. But that was just one site and I’m open to any tips. I just looked up Fomite and they’re closed to submissions. Also, just this morning, I checked out two other publishers and both were both closed to unsolicited submissions due to the pandemic. But I’m still looking. :)

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  5. Btw, an old schoolmate acquaintance recommended Amazon publishing to me, telling me it had worked quite well for him and he actually gets royalty checks from it. But his book is on dove hunting and shotgunning. I’ve seen a copy of the book and it looks as professionally designed and printed as something you see from Norton. But that was three years ago and since then Amazon has starting censoring and dropping even academically published books for politcal reasons. But I recall nothing in your novel’s encompassing humanism that might trigger this reaction from them.

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    • It’s not something I would write off.

      My impression however is that once a book has been published with Amazon Publishing, then no traditional publisher will ever consider the same book at a later date. That may or may not be a problem. I think it depends on the genre in which one is writing. If one is writing Romance novels, a novel a month, like the woman I wrote about in the earlier post, then it could be a great option. It’s possible that fantasy and sci-fi would also do well at Amazon, given the age and savvy of the genre’s readers. But all that also depends on marketing. Marketing is key. Amazon will allow you to “publish” their book as a Kindle book, but they won’t market it.

      The biggest potential drawback, though, is that one’s book will only ever appear in and be sold through Amazon. It’s doubtful that any independent reviewers or “book club” readers would ever pick up or nominate a Kindle published ebook (for example).

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  6. My motivations may be a little different from yours. Take my poetry. I have no interest in marketing to a mass audience, but prefer to play my solitary slot machine for THE PERFECT POEM. And once you or William Logan confirms I’ve written it I’ll go from there–perhaps comfortably–to the crowd. So, putting myself in your shoes, I’d probably find a retired book editor with a history of marketing in your genre to critique the novel and offer suggestions for improvement. Getting strung out in the developmental phase among several opinions concurrently would probably be counter-productive (at least to me). I even find this short thread, sympathetic though we are, somewhat harassing. Whatever our preachments, everyone needs to be left free enough to create for his own mind. Although, having had to pay 3 bills today, I can appreciate how pleasing the crowd enough for a couple million of them to shell out $20 a copy might also help with that.

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