Just Another Struggling Writer

The lamentations of yet another person struggling to write a novel.

The Exception

Hello everyone and welcome to another ~discourse~ edition of Just Another Struggling Writer. I’m just another struggling writer. 

Well, friends, if you are in the writing community over on the bird site, chances are you’ve caught wind of the latest chapter in the “agents vs authors” drama. If not… hoo boy. 

It all started when a (probably, I hope) well-meaning agent posted a thread about how agents aren’t trying to shit on your book when they reject queries, but because publishing is a business they have to take on projects they believe will sell, so writers should try to be kinder to agents who are, after all, only doing their job.

At least, that’s what I think she was trying to say. Trouble was, she went about it in such a confrontational, and at one point outright self-contradictory, way that it ultimately muddled the message and ruffled quite a few feathers on the other side of the querying trenches.

See for yourself.

I think we can all agree there’s a lot to parse here, including the text itself, the tone, and what was left unsaid. 

There are plenty of people out there already talking about the devaluing of the work writers do, the evident lack of passion this agent has for her job, and the overall attitude that perpetuating a business model that leaves marginalized authors out in the cold is fine actually, because agents have to make money somehow so fuck queer writers and writers of color lol. So, I’m going to leave those topics lie and focus on something that is buried in the subtext a little bit. 

When Business and Passion Disagree

One of the very first pieces of writing advice from an agent’s perspective I heard when I embarked on this long, strange journey was succinctly put, “You might be the exception one day, but you don’t want to be the exception today.”

Meaning, George R.R. Martin can get away with writing a 250,000 word novel because he’s established. Neil Gaiman can bend genres and James Patterson can crank out novels every few weeks because they’ll reliably sell regardless of the contents. 

Debut authors don’t have that benefit of the doubt, and so if you want to land yourself an agent, and beyond that an editor and book deal, you need to fit the mold of what has already been successful time and time again. 

Yet writing what is marketable, writing what publishers (rightly or wrongly) ardently believe readers want, is not always compatible with an author’s idea or vision of their novel. I prefer writing in present tense, yet I am told repeatedly that many readers don’t like present tense. When I first started working with Scribd on romance novellas, I was told explicitly to switch to past. Yet, present is what I am good at. Present is where my voice lives. 

On the other hand, writers are told repeatedly not to write to the market. “Write what you’re passionate about” panelists at conferences the world over urge us. “If you just write to a trend, we’ll be able to tell that you don’t care about your own story.” Or, my favorite, “oh, the market is so oversaturated with vampires/fey/time travel books, it’s too late for yours.”

So which is it?

Biased Business Practices

This is all to say nothing of the inherent biases publishing has long been known for. How many times have authors of color been told no because a publishing house already has a “Black book” on their list? How often has a queer writer been told “not this time” because this editor or that press doesn’t want to be seen as “too political?”

And honestly, anyone who wants to uphold that sort of system because “oh but this is my career and I need to make money, even though I am by my own admission not passionate about it and could be doing something way more profitable with my degree” can pound sand.

I shudder to think what the literary world would be like with books like The Broken Earth Trilogy, a fantasy story told partially in second person POV, across three different timelines, about a middle age Black woman. On paper, in a query or a pitch, does that sound marketable? Does that seem like something that will reliably sell? Of course we know now that it did, but would we know it if an agent hadn’t taken a chance on what probably seemed on paper like a long shot.

In summary, basically I think that what that agent was trying to say and what she actually said are completely divorced from each other. Yes, agents have to reject some queries and sometimes it might not have anything to do with the book’s merit or quality. However, the suggestion that agents are completely beholden to the business side of writing and writers are not at all is flat out wrong. The suggestion that you’re only a real writer if you’re previously published is insulting. And the admission that agents are only making decisions about your book based on how it profits them is saying more about that particular person than the writers who are understandably salty about it.

For all my fellow writers out there, aspiring, querying, published and all: go out there and be the exception today. Don’t wait because some industry hack who will only ever see you as a cash cow tells you otherwise. 

Kerry Share

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One response to “The Exception”

  1. Very interesting to see this as a person who’s not on Twitter. But I feel like a lot of agents these days would love a series like The Broken Earth trilogy (if we take out the part about the second person POV), at least based on what I see them saying on their websites/MSWLs. Of course, I don’t doubt that things used to be different and that there’s still a long ways to go.

    Liked by 1 person

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About Me

Kerry Share’s love for writing started, as it so often does, as a love of reading at an early age. At age 11 she wrote her first short story, a Harry Potter knockoff of dubious quality, and her love for creative expression was born. Throughout her teen years she continued to foster that passion through derivative work, and at 23 she turned her eye to original fiction.

Now in her thirties, having taken a break from creative endeavors to cope with an ever changing life and landscape, she is determined to make her dream of a writing career reality.

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